The Shaman in the Tasmanian Bush

A poor young man with only a year 12 education got a job in an accounting firm in Hobart as a clerk, where he worked hard for two years to perform the role. He then came into property, and aware of his social status, he was determined to improve it. He went to the local pubs frequented by the people he esteemed to be learned and eminent in their professions, and he enjoyed their conversations, but at the same time he realised he couldn’t contribute much originality to the discussions.

He resolved to become a real student, and he enrolled at Tasmania University majoring in economics. He also began to accumulate books on subjects outside of the curriculum. History got him going first. Those of Gibbon, Fenton, and Manning Clark were eagerly consumed; but he never connected dates and circumstances, so that these authors scarcely left an impression on him. Philosophy next engaged his attention, and he pored over many volumes but the terminology proved too difficult and he could not engender an original argument. In hasty succession, philology, anthropology, the social sciences, and theology, occupied his mind. About four hours per evening, on top of his university lecture notes and assignments, were devoted to reading. Two years of this extracurricular activity had certainly exercised his mind, but not much discursive thought came of it. He remained a dunce.

He deferred his studies and went on a long bushwalking holiday in South West Tasmania’s wilderness. For days he walked alone, occasionally bumping into a tutor of his, hoping he might empty his mind and have it refreshed by the air and scenery which surrounded him. He followed many walking tracks but then he decided to leave the marked ones and explore what he believed to be largely unexplored terrain. He imagined himself following the paths of Dombrovskis, Truchanas and Denny King. He was well provisioned and he had an Epirb and a well charged mobile phone. He had walked and camped in button grass plains, in the myrtle forests and hills above. Also he was alone he felt accompanied by the spirits of the Aborigines and Macquarie Harbour’s convict escapees.

He had been walking through what appeared to be an animal trail which veered off the button grass, and just after he had gone round a rock which obstructed the way ahead, he saw on the same path, not far above him, a man who was throwing his arms about like a maniac, and who at last tumbled to the ground flat on his belly.

“Whoa!” said the young man in his head, whose name was Angus Hereford, “This person must surely be some sort of shaman or madman, for he is showing a dreadful display of distress. I will see if I can help him.”

When however, he ran to the spot where the man, who appeared to be wearing a faux thylacine skin, lay on the ground, Angus found him to be old and trembling, with fixed green eyes. And in spite of his efforts to lift the old man and set him again on his feet, it was all in vain. The unfortunate one, also, did not seem to notice that someone was beside him. On the contrary, he continually looked around with moving gestures, like one angry with the world.

At last, however, after much trembling, and convulsion, he curled himself up and began rocking from side to side, crying out:

“Who’ll keep me warm, who loves me now? Give me hopeful longings! Give me heartening quoll and bandicoot! Prone, outstretched, trembling, like me, half dead and cold, whose feet are cold, and my shaken body, ah! By unfamiliar fevers, shivering with sharpened, icy-cold frost-arrows, I am pursued, I fancy! Sore-frightened! You huntsmen behind low cloud-banks! Now I am lightning-struck by you, your mocking eyes watching me in my darkness. Here do I lie, bent, twisting myself, convulsed, with every eternal torture, and smitten by you cruel huntsmen, too familiar to be any sort of God! Smite me deeper! Pierce through and rend my heart! What is the meaning of this torture of dull, indented pine shards?  Why do you look at me in animal pain, with mischief-loving, manly flash-glances? Not murder me will you, but torture, torture? Why do you torture me, you mischief-loving, unfaithful hunters?

Ha! Ha! Ha!

You steal away nigh in midnight’s gloomy hour. What would you really like to do?   Speak! You crowd me, press me. Ha! Now far too closely! You hear me breathing,     you hear my pounding heart, you ever hungry ones! Of what legend of me, pray tell, are you jealous? Bugger off! Off! Are you trying to get in to my heart in-tender? To my most secret conceptions in-chamber? Shameless ones!  You impossible ones. Thieves all! What are you seeking by stealing? What are you seeking by your rot footed clamouring? What do you get from torturing the likes of me? Would you like me, as dingo pups do and roll over playful before you? And crooning, enraptured, my tail’s friendly waggle!

In vain! Goad me further! Cruellest of goaders! No dog for your game just as I am you cruellest trackers! You are the proudest of captors, robbers behind the waterfalls.   Speak finally you lightning-veiled ones! You secret ones! Speak! What do you really will of me, you bush-rangers, what? What do you will, unfamiliar humanity? What?     Ransom-money? How much of it? Solicit as much that subdues my pride. And be precise when bidding for my skin!

Ha!  Ha!

Do you really want to hurt me? All of me? And torture me, fools which is your art, and dead torture me to kill my pride. You could love me and fill me with warmth. Is that so hard? Give me tenderness. Give me food and shelter. Give my company. No? Go away then. Be sure to flee, my greatest foes, my executioner gaolers! And never come back with all of your great tortures! To me the last of lonesome ones, let my kind come back. All my salted tears in streamlets trickle on their way to them. And all my hearty fervour pounds for a reunion. Oh, that they would come back, familiar prey, familiar kin, oh my joy, my final bliss!”

By this time however, Angus could no longer restrain himself and he took out his bottle of water and rushed to the thylacine skinned wailer with it. “Please take this,” he cried. And he tried to give the water to this old man who suddenly laughed wrathfully and yelling at Angus “Stop this, you Mother. You false benefactor! You liar from the very heart! I know you well! I will soon make skinless legs of you, you evil magician. I know your types very well. ” And he knocked the water bottle aside and was lunging at Angus.

“Back off,” said Angus, and sprang up from the black striped jerking carcass. “Keep your arms to yourself. You are ill. Can’t you see man! This situation is not for my amusement! You muttering nonsense and throwing yourself around. That kind of thing belongs to performance art. I just want to put to you this offering as proof that I am no hunter, not gaoler, nor tracker.”

The thylacine skinned old man sat on his haunches and said “You have yet to give me an idea of yourself. What is your name?”

“Angus Hereford.”

“Is that the truth? You look no cattle to me!”

“Yes it is,” answered the impatient Angus, now also getting agitated and frowning. He was beginning to sense that he was being lulled into a conversation he did not want.

“You are nothing but a stage-player from the heart! You are false. What do you know of truth?” And he went on. “You rooster of roosters, you soup of vanity. What do you represent before me, you evil do-gooder waving a water bottle. Am I meant to believe you? Tell me.”

Angus had never been called a rooster before, let alone a rooster of roosters. He was intrigued. And quite taken aback by the encounter. This old man spoke in a way which disturbed him. And for a long time he sat before the thylacine man in silence. This silence also had an effect on the old man. He sat though he was wary.

“The restless in spirit” Angus then said, “is something I’ve read but is perhaps inspired by the likes of you. The selfish who turn their spirits against themselves, transformed from being frozen by their bad conscience, to being warmed by compassion.”

“So you believe in my distress when you were offering me your water?”

“I heard you wail and carry on, speaking gobs-babble and wondering how little that you love yourself, let alone this wilderness surrounding you”.

The old thylacine man then said” You may have deceived subtler ones than I, but I am on my guard against deceivers. I must be and with caution. Thus is my sorry lot.”

“You appear to be someone who must be deceived, as far as I can gather. Trust must be unequivocal, tri-unequivocal, even quad–unequivocal to you!” said Angus. “Even what you now say is neither true enough nor false enough to take very seriously!”

“You are a bad imposter, Mr Beef, and how could you be otherwise! Your very malady is a stain even if you showed yourself naked and washed to your mother.”

“So all this is for your amusement is it? Punch and then counter punch. But there is seriousness within, otherwise by now you would have run away from me.” Angus replied in a steady voice.

“I understand you very well. You are enchanted by this world but there is nothing about you which defines you, except that you are enchanted with yourself!”

What a cheek thought Angus. This old man might be a shaman but he is also very rude.

“You seem to think disgust be your only truth” retorts Angus. “What is left of your words that are genuine? And anyway, any disgust is mine, which leaves my mouth at any time.”

“Who are you to say this?” cried he with defiant voice. “What punk are you who dare speak to me, the greatest man now living?” And a crimson flash shot from his eyes at Angus. But immediately after he changed his tone, and said sadly: “I am weary of life, I am disgusted with my loneliness. I am not great, which is why I grumble so! I sought greatness, yes! A great man I wanted to be, and I persuaded many. But I said lies which came from nowhere. And on them do I collapse. Everything is a lie in me. And when I collapse, my collapsing is genuine!”

“You honour me” said Angus rather gloomily, looking down with a sidelong glance. “You honour me by your seeking of greatness. In this state you are no worse than me. And I betray myself also. For I too am not great.”

“You are young and you too say that you have become weary of yourself, by saying ‘I am not great.’ Methinks the old and the young have things in common, but which are rarely discussed between them.”

“I honour you old man as a penitent-in-spirit, and for the twinkling of your eye, which showed that in one instant you to be genuine.”

“But tell me, young savage, what are you seeking here in my forests and glens? Why are you putting yourself on some kind of resourceful test?”

“There is nothing I seek, and yet I have found you!”

And here there arose a long silence between them. Angus, however, became profoundly absorbed in thought, so that he shut his eyes. But afterwards returning to the situation, he grabbed the hand of the shaman, and said, full of politeness, “I thank you for your time but I must leave you to your animal friends, and the wedge-tailed eagles. There is no point in asking you to come back to Hobart with me because I can see that you made your decisions long ago.”

The shaman looked at Angus, his eyes sorrowful, and said” I myself, to be sure, have no need to go where I do not belong. Civilised people would only see me as one who stretches and inflates himself, and the people would only cry: ‘Behold; a mad man!’ So what good are a shaman’s bellows! The useless wind comes out eventually. I burst like an old frog which has inflated itself for too long, and then out comes the gas. To prick a swollen one in the belly, I call that a good pastime. Hear that, boys and girls!”

He appears to have forgotten about Angus, for he continues “Our to-day is of the masses who think they know what is great and what is small!  Only fools seek greatness out of smallness. It succeeds with fools. They seek for great men, these strange fools! Who taught them to think like this? Is to-day the time for it? Oh, these bad seekers, why do they still look for me?”

And he got up from his sitting position, comforted in his heart, and went laughing on his way leaving Angus behind. And Angus sat for a time before he went in the opposite direction and he followed the track he had initially went off on until he found a main walking track and from there he walked and camped overnight in huts here and there, before alighting at Lake St Clair and returning to Hobart.

Upon his return Angus’s friends and acquaintances began to perceive a considerable change in his personality. Though naturally out-going, he became somewhat introspective, and careful about what he would say. Before this, he was somewhat boisterous and self inflating. Shortly he began to complain that he could not sleep, and long nights passed restlessly.

Fever became frequent, accompanied with delirium. By rest, and ordinary medications, these symptoms were removed, but he was remained in extreme weakness and not eating well. As he recovered from this, his habits became materially altered. He would lie in bed for several days, after which, he would suddenly rise and jog for several kilometres. Personal cleanliness and dress were neglected. Sometimes he’d fast for two or three days, and then binge eat takeaways. Afterwards he became suspicious that excess salt and sugar had been mixed with his food. It was necessary to confine him to his flat, after his attempt to castrate himself. But somehow he did it anyway. And when asked by his psychiatrist why, his only answer was that he met a man in the wilderness who did the same thing, yet it made him very wise to the world.



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