Sunday, December 06, 2009


I recently finished reading Eucalyptus, by Murray Bail. It's quite a slow-moving story, but I found it very captivating. On the surface the book is about a father who decides that the man who correctly names every eucalypt on his property will win the hand of his daughter, but it turns into a series of loosely connected stories suggested by the scientific  (i.e. Latin or Greek) names of the various eucalypts.

It reminded me a lot of Ovid's Metamorphoses, which likewise is a loosely connected series of myths, and at some points the resemblence goes even deeper. Have a look at the following passages and see if they remind you of some of the myths you might find in Ovid:

The first man who saw Ellen naked was the only son of a local tractor dealer, Molloy. He was popular, a stroong footballer. His father had recently given him a motorbike with an iridescent petrol tank.

There was that dirt road alongside Holland's property: it had no other function but to go onwards towards town, while its twin, the similar-coloured river, took a sluggish lunge away from the road, establishing on the distant curve a density of River Red Gums which never failed to attract the eye of sportsmen, even if meant crawling on all fours through the undergrowth. There was a sandy pool on the curve, concealed by overhanging branches which mottled and browned the water to tortoiseshell.

On a very hot day Ellen splashed in... came up with both hands sweeping her hair back from her eyes. For a while she lay on her back, eyes closed...

On both sides the fat gums appeared as an entourage of sturdy older women, raising their skirts above their knees, about to wade into the water...

Young Molloy was behind a tree... Accelerating away with legs splayed around the engine, increasingly slit-eyed, watery, he began yelling out at what had been granted to him. Without much warning he felt it all slip on the dirt under him, the engine spun, and he yawned as he met in the face by the barbed wire, which tore off most of his nose.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -  -

He'd been attracted to the sullenness of the waitress, and when he asked around and heard she had something on her body so zealously guarded no man had managed to report its details he decided he would not leave town until he had seen it for himself.

With this in mind he took all his meals at the Greek's. At night he made sure he was the last to leave, even if it meant ordering another coffee. But he soon found the technique which had given him such success across dozens of country towns - namely flattery and obviously absurd exaggeration, and the same old jokes while fixing his eyes on the woman in question - was getting him nowhere...

After a week of rejection he decided to give himself on more night... Without trying to win her over on that last night he finished eating and didn't even order a coffee. He waited outside for the place to close. There wasn't anybody around. When her bedroom light went on he went behind the cafe.

Carefully he climbed the picket fence. He felt like whistling a little tune. Why hadn't anyone else done this before... At the louvred window he stood on tiptoe.

In her room the young waitress was stepping out of the last brief piece of clothing. Casually she turned. He almost gasped at the bulging strength of her nakedness; the rich tangle of black beneath the hips. To see it more he stretched: and there he saw it on her legs, a dark stain, as if she was up to her knees in ink.

At that moment she faced the window. Although she didn't cry out, he stepped back; or so he thought. Something solid met him from behind. He couldn't move. There was no point in struggling. He could still see into the room and the waitress's pale body. His arms disappeared into his sides. And he felt himself merge into something altogether hard and straight; unusually tall. Foolishly, he realised he should be getting back to his home in Sydney. His head became cold. He then began to hear voices.

From the waitress's muscular legs the stain was transferred across the short distance of chicken wire, bottles and tins, lengths of useful timber etc., over the grey splintered fence to the base of the new telegraph pole, Karri, which would stand in all weathers with a clear view of the Greek waitress in her room, regularly naked.

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