Recording the mystery that accompanies the process of writing is almost
impossible. What can be seen are traces - the collected patterns, images,
and motifs from an unconscious research, souvenirs of the semiotic world,
which are collected in the process called the research journal. As such,
the journal's facility to hold onto primitive transactions, of rhythmic
and imaginary language, the unconscious exchanges between the
novelist and herself, can be reminiscent of the imaginary exchanges
within the maternal world, and in object relations. This paper will
describe the enactment of a body dialogue, in the journal's holding
onto, and 'projective identification' of, traces of unconscious
fantasy, imaginary language and emotion, left behind in the daily pages
of the novel. The paper will document this intimate and poetic language,
of a body called the research journal, as it contrasts with the more
abstract, public and [phal]logocentric order of the academic thesis.
In the course of the paper I hope to express something about my developing
realisation that the most valuable contribution I might make to the
fields of writing and creative arts are possibly contained in this unofficial
document, and its particularly intimate, critical engagement with my
research. I will posit that because journal writing theorises from practice
- and in my discipline, from the practise of writing - the
research journal should be considered a most valuable and rigorous resource.
There is no Country but childhood's. - Roland
Spend time down by the water. Listen to the water. - Yvonne Koolmatrie,
Ngarrindjeri weaver and Cultural Educator 
Through the peninsula system, there's huge midden mounds which tells
us a lot about our history of the people, our people who lived on there.
For ten years or more, Tom and I have been bringing groups over here,
showing them the peninsula, walking it, and looking at the midden mounds.
We tell non-Aboriginal people who visit us that's just not an Aboriginal
problem to look after these sort of things. Those things hold a lot
of history for us, us as Australians, not us as just Ngarrindjeri people
alone. - George Trevorrow, Ngarrindjeri Cultural
Historian at Camp Coorong, Centre for Race and Cultural Relations
You're my murrawirri. - Stephanie Gollan, Ngarrindjeri
Cultural Instructor and weaver 
Explore thyself! / Therein thyself shalt find / The
Undiscovered Continent - Emily Dickinson 
The Coorong is a significant landscape of approximately 2000 square kilometres
in the south-eastern region of South Australia, covering a large proportion
of the traditional territory of the Ngarrindjeri People. It is a landscape
which has been described variously as an area of Aboriginal archaeological
deposits that are unequalled in their volume and vastness; an irreplaceable
resource; an environmental landscape of rich coastal wetlands and sand
dunes; a National Park; a dune and water system; a series of companion
lagoons and wetlands near the Lower Lakes of the River Murray; a saline
estuary more than 100 kilometres in length, separated from the Southern
Ocean by the high sand dunes of the Younghusband Peninsula, which begins
adjacent to the mouth of the Murray River in South Australia.
As a writer I have been exploring my old relationship with this
place known as The Coorong, and coincidentally revisiting another place,
The Coorong of my imagination. As I improvise the landscape of
my fiction novel in progress ,
the novel's story, written after The Coorong, takes me into another
unconscious landscape, the country of my childhood.
Through the early childhood of the four years spent writing and researching
my creative thesis, I have travelled back and forth to this palpable 'landscape
journal' known as The Coorong, and from it discovered the world
and concerns of my novel and its inhabitants.
The Coorong is a deeply strange, spiritual land, of which the Ngarrindjeri
People  are the living custodians. One of the
important directions for my research was to meet with Ngarrindjeri people
and acknowledge the longevity of their relationship with the landscape
of my novel and my childhood. I asked for a meeting because I wished to
inform the Indigenous custodians of the intentions of my creative project
involving their landscape. I wished to inform myself of the Ngarrindjeri
Dreaming, to illuminate my imaginary narrative. I sought a critical
discourse because I hoped that the custodians of my formative landscape
would tell me if what I was writing was authentic in its creative visualisation
of wilderness as imagination.
As a writer I was deeply interested in the possibility of a conversation
with the original landscape writers of the country of my childhood,
about the narratives that might be improvised from that place. I also
wanted to be sure that what I was writing - the way that I was telling
the landscape - was not offensive to the Ngarrindjeri custodians. I wanted
to check that the practical aspects of my work, its uses of motif and
symbol for example, were not considered inappropriate for the region that
has been the Ngarrindjeri's homeland for six thousand years.
Country and Body
Writing the novel has taught me, as I have progressed, about the layers
of language and memory, and childhood. And about other languages,
perceived from experience, carried in the memory of the body. In his beautiful
essay "La Lumière du Sud-Ouest", 
Roland Bathes writes about this record held within
the body's knowing:
To read a country is first of all to perceive it in terms of the body
and of memory, in terms of the body's memory. I believe it is to this
vestibule of knowledge and of analysis that the writer is assigned:
more conscious than competent, conscious of the very interstices of
competence. That is why childhood is the royal road by which we know
a country best. Ultimately, there is no Country but childhood's. 
Julia Kristeva also writes about going back, way back in time, to the
vanishing point of Freud's royal road to the unconscious. Kristeva
talks about the "imaginary", and the "semiotic" state,
before we become separated from our mother, before we become "subjected
to words". A fantasy time, of sound images, of transfers of messages,
other than language, other language, between the mother and child.
Kristeva talks about the loss of this voice when we enter the "banal
ordered world of logical language - of social communication - when the
first semiotic language is repressed". She observes, in many, depression
where the absolute killing off that imaginary voice has occurred. She
encourages such sufferers to go searching for the archaic imaginative
contact with the maternal body that has been forgotten.
This "search" for an "archaic imaginative contact"
speaks directly to the searching for lost landscape that is at
the heart of my novel:
...what she knew but could not say, was that she loved the paradox
of her instability being made to feel at home there, in that outside
place, that outside coming in. So that the looseness of her inland sea
felt typical there, even connected, to the natural scenes of the art
of undoing. Like the emptied dumps of Neelie, washing-in her wake at
the side of the road, closing-in her passage through the spell of the
sand dune mountains. She dreamed and trailed her somewhat smaller hand
in the soft and sandy foam mounds of dissolving time. To her surprise,
in their lightnesses, the shapes seemed like only yesterday. (Milte
Bastow, Dissolve, novel in progress)
The novel has the working title of Dissolve. My writing process
moves back and forth between the novel and the research journal's observations,
and between the journal and the creative exegesis. All of my writing explores
a relationship between landscape, body and language. The exegesis researches
through a critical engagement with a combination of psychoanalytic, feminist
and cultural theories, which surround the study of fantasy, subjectivity
and the practice of words. The novel and the journal speak by the means
of a more mysterious meditation or language.
As a writer I am happiest when working with this latter, wild language
- the language of the landscape of my imagination. The sessions when I'm
remembering what the landscape felt like when I was little, when its form
was all I had. Its originality was like nothing else, its shapes were
my toys during the days spent swimming in its waters, fresh and salt,
making underground caves in its damp dunes that always smelt like rainwater,
even in summer.  It
was a relationship of my body, a language perceived in the memory of my
body. For most of my life I've looked and listened for something that
can match it, replicate it. As yet, I still haven't found it
When I began the novel I intuited the need to keep the journal. I felt
that I was about to leave on a journey, which would necessarily involve
going through an experience of not knowing where I was. Milan Kundera's
talisman for writers taken from his lonely planet guide to the
novel  had prepared me
for that much: "to have as one's only certainty the
wisdom of uncertainty." 
As a safeguard I filled my suitcases with the faces of the books and
the critical essays that have tutored me for making the journey - all
the letters home from the extraordinary travellers. But as much as any
documented experience that I could take with me, I still felt that I needed
the support of a place to come to, a base camp in the wilderness, some
where I could locate myself, within that space of not knowing.
So it began. Like a child at a typewriter, who writes her name, lower
case, because she has nothing else to write yet, I wrote inside the front
cover of a blank journal:
Learning to be alone. Journal to accompany me on this adventure.
February 1999. 
Listening to the water
Creative writing is the ability to transpose the chaotic and imaginative
relationship that accompanies a journey, bring something of its wilderness
back into our daily lives. Searching for our story is often a searching
for that lost voice of the first imaginary experience. It involves
a returning, to reconcile a separation, a longing to and from our (m)other,
our place of origin. Kristeva argues, "Our experience of the semiotic
memory - the mother and infant holding (chora) - produces poetry
in language. If we don't hear it, or we forget it as part of ourselves,
we can become strangers to ourselves." 
On the other hand, creativity can restore our sense of the pleasure of
our original relationship. When we remember this maternal relationship,
we remember the possibility of creation. Kristeva posits, "Every
type of creation, even if it's scientific, is due to the possibility of
opening the norms, towards pleasure, which refers to this archaic experience
with a maternal pre-object." 
So journeying, listening to or for story, is about the search for something
indigenous to us, something imaginative and, possibly, forgotten. I've
been listening for invisible words and stories, under my breath, for most
of my life. Listening to them in silence, in the nothingness of childhood,
the work of childhood - the work of becoming a writer - then listening
to the other writers, to what the other storytellers have heard and spoken
Now I am listening to and remembering the lost narrative of the landscape
of my childhood, The Coorong. Travelling the problematic road back to
what I am [unconsciously] trying to remember to tell myself. Seeking out
what I need for my novel, the story within my imagination - a voice, a
theme, a motif, a situation, a character - all of the above, speaking
under my breath; the threads of my fable, latent words, material from
The Dream 
The day before I met with the first of my Ngarrindjeri contacts based
in Adelaide, I began my research by walking in the field alongside my
childhood experience in the silence of The Coorong dunescape. Absorbing
and retracing my history, memories of the special, never forgotten days,
when our family made the crossing over the lagoon to the hummocks beyond.
And at the same time walking beside another adult experience of tracing
the available history of the Ngarrindjeri People, culture resting extant
in the landscape. Ngarrindjeri history that was only available to me on
another level of consciousness as a child growing up in the 1960s
culture post the State and Commonwealth Policy Conference on Assimilation
. It was during this reflective field trip, in the presence of myself
as child and adult, that I stumbled upon a significant detail, which moved
me profoundly. It is a detail that has confirmed my desire to continue
with the project of my research and my novel.
Returning from a long guided walk 
into the dunelands, an experiential engagement of the kind that can make
you feel utterly inadequate as a writer using English to talk about landscape,
I came across a small shelter, which had been constructed since my childhood
by the traditional owners. In the hut there was a description of the Ngurunderi
story , my first physical encounter
with the Ngarrindjeri Dreaming and its significant motifs.
Until that moment in the shelter I had unwittingly been made ignorant
of the Ngarrindjeri Dreaming. During the 1960s the primary school
curriculum of my local State School denied its students any exposure to
the otherness of Indigenous Aboriginal culture. I was not given
the opportunity of an education in the Dreaming stories of the
Ngarrindjeri children who attended my school and were my friends, because
their culture was in the process of being actively erased, or Assimilated.
My childhood experience was not uncommon in my town of Meningie. In her
paper "Veena Gollan's Story", Ms Veena Gollan, a woman born
in 1952 on sacred Ngarrindjeri tribal land at Raukkan [formerly Point
McLeay], refers to her experience of the Meningie Area School thus:
As a young child I did not know, or understand, the laws imposed on
Aboriginal people... It was the early fifties and the Assimilation policy
stated that all Aborigines were expected to eventually attain
the same manner of living as other Australians and to live as members
of a single Australia.
It was at this time our family moved away from Point McLeay [Raukkan]
to the local township of Meningie
Going to the Meningie school,
the teachers certainly did not know or understand Aboriginal issues
at that time
Curriculum did not reflect accurate information about
Aboriginal people, simply because Aboriginal people weren't invited
to participate in the development of the curriculum.
Despite my parents' awareness of, and compassion for, the impeded culture
of their Indigenous friends and neighbours, their knowledge, such as it
was, did not extend to discussions with their second youngest child during
the years 1961-1968. No one explained to her that the Aborigines of her
town were largely Ngarrindjeri people, a group originally numbering
3000 , who had been dramatically evicted from
fertile tribal lands in The Coorong. The young girl had no access to an
available local Ngarrindjeri history. Her town was not yet in possession
of a museum. She was not aware of any Aboriginal lore yet available, published,
in any form, in any local cultural or historical references.
Her - my - our writing is often about this experience, this story, of
the isolation from information. Mine is a novel based on lack.
I remember, as a child, perhaps because of that missing information, the
feeling of perceiving something important that was missing, or
invisibly present, in the empty landscape that surrounded me.
Braille. Feel it seeingly. (Milte Bastow, Research Journal
in process, 5 April 2000)
There is also another - more recent - explanation for my ignorance, and
it is more personal. As part of my writing and research I did not seek
to investigate the Ngarrindjeri Dreaming earlier because I had
a strong desire to write from this childhood instinct, and in isolation
from all else but my imagination and the other information it
had given me the child. I wanted to begin writing from a direct vocabulary,
formed out of the 'introjection'  of
the subversive language of The Coorong landscape that had surrounded and
worried my imagination as a child. I did not want to pre-empt my other
story, which my experiential knowledge of the landscape had already told
me. Perhaps it was for this reason, even up to that day of 1 July, mid-winter
2001, and the guided eco-tour walk on The Coorong hummocks, that I remained
reticent about entering an information shelter, because I still wanted
to explore the desire of a lack.
After a day spent walking in the silence of the dunescape I found myself
alone within the Ngarrindjeri's shelter, in the presence of an extant
Dreaming. As I read the story I realised that the way in which
I had imagined The Coorong in Chapter Two 
of my novel was significantly related to aspects
of the Ngarringjeri Dreaming story of Ngurunderi. I
had unconsciously used two of the most important motifs of the Dreaming
for The Coorong to describe the place of my dream: the central
figure of a "black man", or "Ngurunderi", and the
"Milky Way", the "resting place of Ngurunderi". The
realisation of this unconscious connection was a powerful moment, which
I felt in my body, as an emotional shock - or a combination of awe and
After years of creative wandering I felt received by the landscape
of my imagination, that by trusting the journey [and the journal] of a
mysterious language path - a "Dreaming path", as Lillian
Holt  might call it -
and drawing upon my unconscious, which was informed by a childhood spent
playing within that other language and its narrative, I had in
fact made essential choices. It was a moment that seemed to enact
Reconciliation, a moment that expressed to me the failure of Colonialism
to eradicate an Indigenous culture extant in the landscape. My experience
also suggested to me the level of trust required to enter into other ways
of telling and understanding that is a pre-requisite for Reconciliation.
The experience in the shelter was also a profound moment of personal
reconciliation, of reconnecting the child with the adult, giving me a
sense of arrival that came from the impalpable and innocent feelings of
childhood being palpably placed in my adult
Outside, the fresh night wind lit up her eyes and made them shine.
In the daylight Neelie had grey-green eyes. They were almond- shaped
and wide set in her face. A strong face, with thick eyelashes and natural
brows. When she was sleepy she had a habit of looking young, almost
childlike. Tonight, with her head thrown back searching for the available
skylight, her face was as pale and as smooth as the freshest dune, the
human face of the dune, prone, skyward facing.
Stepping along the flat path the sand pressed back through the tight
skin of her man-made soles. Twiggy storks of ground cover snapped beneath
her, like when she was little and wore cotton nighties to bed, the ones
she got all the Christmases in a row. She felt like a big girl, wobbling
precariously among the floating sea-grapes of the random beach garden.
Some of their faux fruits popped open, sounding their channel warning.
With the crunch of shell-grit to navigate by, she somehow crossed the
ambiguous front lawn to go round the back of the night-time holiday
house. Then, as she turned the corner of the shack, circumnavigating
the outrigger water-tank, she sensed it. A presence of something. Just
off the edge of her waking. Its being made all of the small hairs on
her body stand up ready. Neelie felt it before she could make it out.
Just there, already close. At the tip of the invisible point of
the isthmus, just beyond the floating edge of Frank's world. Hard to
read in the dark, at the edge of the vagaries of her night blindness,
still more a sense of presence than of seeing. The vaguest outline.
Its silent back. Its black body, too perfectly camouflaged by the missing
moonlight, revealing itself more by its shadow, its openness eclipsed
behind the night. Neelie had a feeling of being drawn. The space was
waiting, lying in wait. It knew she would come. It always knew she would
wake up and come out to find it.
Sleepwalking towards the dissolving edge. The stillness becoming
more darkly emergent, stronger in its blackness, shining as dull as
charcoal now. The smooth black of its distance - unfolding the long
sweep straight out ahead, going right over the veil of the water, to
reach the ghostly stand of the lunar sandranges on the other side, hard
to tell, perhaps a mile away? Then up and down, where the imaginary
waterlands came from, as far as the eye couldn't see, a hundred miles,
It didn't matter. All that space was present, available,
there somehow before her. If anything, it's like poetry, Neelie
thought in her prayer to herself, her thought clear, like a train of
water, a part of the imagination, distilled and fertile, lying at her
The reverie of their exchange kept her standing, for an unknown
time, shivering, at the thin edges of the waterline. She wondered. Someone
had left the gate open, the way to the cut-off place, the place where
you couldn't go, was wide open, possible. And tonight, under the deep
water of the winter moonlight, the fluid black before her was less inland
ocean stream than painted night sky. Neelie standing in the shallows
of the Milky Way.
She could see the light happen intermittently, through the ripples,
the dream pathway of the long water stretching back through time, with
its potent mixture of animal and mineral and drowned star. Neelie caught
herself, with unexpected tears, very old tears. She knew them but could
not remember why. They felt like love, for the sudden sleeping body
of the arbitrary water, the vast and latent estuarine water she'd left
behind, the thought she'd lost. For the joy of not seeing it, and because
of that, seeing it, and its difference, perfectly, out of place, shifted.
She always knew it was there, she never expected it to matter that much.
When she turned to walk back up the short sand beach to the dunny, it
was as if she was walking on the moon. (Milte Bastow, Dissolve,
novel in progress)
Still standing in the shelter I looked back with relief at the uncertainty
I had experienced about my novel in progress, as recently as that same
morning in the field; at the choices, which, until that moment in the
shelter, I couldn't reconcile. The artistic decision to have my female
lead arrive in The Coorong at night, and see it for my reader for the
first time in darkness, when, since childhood, it had been for me a daylight
white image, one of bleached sand and salt, desiccated bone and shell,
and light on the water; or that I chose to see the living water as a "black
man", instead of a zoomorphic image, perhaps a snake or a fish. I
had been concerned that the image I felt so sure about, the "black
man", might be offensive to the Ngarrindjeri.
In the week 2-5 July 2001, I met with some Ngarrindjeri women in Adelaide.
I spoke to them about my apprehensions, and my connections of that day
spent in the field of The Coorong. Initially I spoke with Ms Veena Gollan,
the Ngarrindjeri Indigenous Education Worker referred to previously in
this paper. Ms Gollan is the daughter of Mrs Bertha and Mr Leonard Gollan.
I also spoke with Ms Stephanie Gollan, Veena's sister. Ms Stephanie Gollan
is a NAIDOC awarded Cultural Instructor and weaver. One feature of Ms
Stephanie Gollan's cultural work is to guide tours of the Australian Aboriginal
Cultures Gallery at the South Australian Museum.
During both conversations I was reassured by the Ngarrindjeri women as
to the aptness of my novel's choices, its uses of motif and symbol for
a narrative improvising their Indigenous landscape. It was the image of
"the black man" that was immediately recognized by both women.
Ms Veena Gollan responded to my story by saying, "We know who that
man would be: Ngurunderi. The Dreaming Ancestor of Our People." Ms
Veena Gollan went on to talk to me about the history of her People in
and around the Lower Lakes of the Murray River and The Coorong. She suggested
that I continue with my research by studying the Ngarrindjeri collection
and resources held in the Australian Aboriginal Cultures Gallery at the
Museum of South Australia. She also suggested that I follow up my interest
in imagining The Coorong by contacting Ms Yvonne Koolmatrie, a renowned
Ngarrindjeri weaver who was raised in The Coorong landscape. I am grateful
to Ms Veena Gollan for her valuable directions. Later in the same week
I met and spoke with Ms Stephanie Gollan, who also instructed me about
the history of the Narrindjeri People, and about the Dreaming myth of
"Ngurunderi", the Ngarrindjeri's "Dreaming Ancestor",
the custodian of The Coorong or "Karangk".
The "black man" of my writing became a shared vision that enabled
me to enter into a creative discussion with Ngarrindjeri women, educators
and artists, about our different and related readings of the landscape
that was so particular to all of our individual childhoods. As a writer
I found the meetings constructive, challenging and creative. For the child
in me, who had been living away from The Coorong for a long time - since
I was ten - it was a moving reunion with other women who had grown up
playing in the same landscape. What I encountered was a willingness to
share in the imagination of a unique landscape we all knew, or loved,
variously, or similarly. Perhaps the primary enabling connector for us
all, extra to the establishing figure known by the Ms Gollans as "Ngurunderi",
was that we all believed in a story that The Coorong had told
I was privileged to share in a discourse of other narrative with
Indigenous women. We spoke of the mystical and the fantastic in the landscape
that informed my creative vocabulary as a child, playing there in the
same sand, the same waters; living across the other side of the lake from
the women who were now talking to me. I also discussed, with the Ngarrindjeri
community so affected, my childhood memory of perceiving a landscape emptied
of people, and my associated memory of an unexpressed sense of guilt.
Guilt, which the psychoanalytic theorist D.W.Winnicott might argue is
natural to a child, and which accompanied the lack of dialogue surrounding
the history contained in my childhood. It is my body's memory of that
unspoken history, which makes me challenge the policy of the current
Howard government, in its refusal to recognise our Nation's collective
guilt and responsibility for the removal of Indigenous people, from their
fertile homelands, and from their families.
In a discussion of Ngarrindjeri history and mythology
 the contemporary story of the Ngarrindjeri
People's involvement in the politics of gender, knowledge and ownership
must be mentioned. I am referring to the events surrounding the Hindmarsh
Island Bridge Act of 12 May 1997, and the associated cases put forward
by differing groups of Ngarrindjeri women surrounding the protection of
sacred places in the Goolwa landscape's mythology. For the purpose of
this paper I wish to make the distinction that although Hindmarsh Island
remains acute Ngarrindjeri territory, the Goolwa district is not my childhood
country. Early in this paper I quoted from Barthes' ultimate essay on
childhood and writing, "Ultimately, there is no [other]
Country but childhood's." My writing is located in the Country of
my childhood, in The Coorong, a landscape experienced by me to include
a lake at my doorstep; and at my side, a "long, shallow, saline,
lagoon separated from the sea by the sand dunes of the Younghusband Peninsula".
[This description of The Coorong, another entry in the politics of description,
is taken from the South Australian Department of Environment and Planning
Reference Guide.] My childhood, and my adult memory of it, did not extend
beyond the lake mapped as Lake Alexandrina, a lake so vast it is classed
"ocean" by the pilots who cross it. Nor did it extend over the
closed concrete barrages that were laid across the lake, to a foreign
country: the unknown, unseen [by me] Hindmarsh Island. However contemporary,
and however connected to Ngarrindjeri women and their story, that world
is another novel, another childhood. Indeed, in the imaginary landscape
of my childhood, Hindmarsh Island remained a "secret".
During the experience of The Coorong field trip I revisited the cockle
shell middens, original white-coloured kitchens, cultural artefacts 3000
years older than the pyramids, scattered on the beaches that I played
on as a kid. I loved the difference of the midden's white colour when
I was little. I loved it even more when the previously mentioned Ngarrindjeri
weaver and Cultural Instructor Ms Stephanie Gollan asked me - to enable
my story weaving of landscape - "What colours do you like?"
And to make it clearer to a white writer, "Why do you see the midden?"
The meeting with Ms Gollan was a gift, for what she perceived about my
fiction writing, and for the engaged way she talked to me about my writing
and seeing, through the colour system of what she called her "invisible
vision": "I see the colour of the landscape. Colour is technology,
it's an invisible vision. Colour is looking at you." 
Ms Gollan talked to me about the visual design for
my book, about colours and images, and basket weaving, such as the "coil"
pattern original and indigenous to the Ngarrindjeri. She showed me and
told me about the Ngarrindjeri "Sister Baskets"
, with their "two sides the same".
She encouraged me to use the image of a "Sister Basket" on the
cover of my novel when it is ready for publication; and on the back, a
picture of "that green colour, with the two different waters mixing
up, [her] favourite place, with the salt and the fresh water coming together".
I told Ms Gollan about my attachment to the landscape and to my favourite
play places, and my feelings of being drawn back by the landscape when
I stayed away for too long. I talked of a time when I wanted to make poems,
out of the sticks and reeds and mosses of my secret places, how I didn't
know then that anyone would want to read them. I told her about the times
in my adult writing life, going hours out of my way on visits back to
Adelaide, and taking my partner, and later our two children, over the
years, just to be there with them in that landscape of difference. About
the experience, one trip, of finding, and holding, the hard, grey grinding
stone left amongst the cockle shells in the midden - the small hand-sized
rock, with one sharpened edge and five finger prints worn into its palm-shaped
dome. About putting it back and seeing it there, still, where it remains
in my imagination.
Ms Gollan told me about some of her childhood play spaces such as the
"big hill", and about games of hide and seek and daydreaming
by the lake. We talked about swimming in the same water, and our shared
fear of tigersnakes; the big one that chased her from the sandbank in
the lake when she was nine; the same one that chased me from
the lake onto the shore near the burning reeds when I was about the same
age. At the end of an afternoon spent talking together about landscape
and the "technology" of storytelling and weaving, Ms Stephanie
Gollan said to me, "You're my murrawirri."
I asked her, "What does that mean?"
She replied, "My sister. You're my sister."
...The two sleepy women followed each other, single file,
picking out the path along the fragile shoreline. Their eyes not particularly
drawn to the blank shapes of the moon-coloured rocks, yet aware of them,
perhaps, on some deeper level, by some other form of vision, which knew
of the latent forms among the shallows.
The stones were well camouflaged to the lake. Their water shapes
curved and fleshy, just rising above the water line. Some were prominent,
sharp as shoulder blades, which made you wonder how slack water could
carve such angles. Others were more open, the yet to be chiseled faces.
One had tresses of green waterweed hanging in her eyes. Some stones
had their arms full of the tumbled and dried reeds. Some lay about like
girls, with the light hair of puberty, just damp, where the water lay
between their legs in pools. All the sleeping figures in the rocks,
still as they were then, still as they were now, hanging lightly from
the spilled-over edges of the water, as children will, attach themselves,
loosely, to the edge of the land, and float without trying.
The two walkers looked like children. They found their footing
variously across the loose rocky going. Neelie, being tall, and with
the added problem of her narrow-heeled boots, had the habit of winding
up her arms, to get her balance, even though the stepping-stone was
never more than some inches above lake level. She admired the natural
composure of her guide. Being shorter, the woman ahead rarely wobbled.
She would leap softly onto the least obvious stone, confident of her
light footing, even buoyed up by her rotund shape.
They crossed the short beach without speaking, Neelie thought of
it as a journey in miniature. When the rocks ran out - abruptly there
was an edge with no land, just a dense peninsula of spear-like reeds
bursting into the water - Neelie remembered with joy the solution of
an invisible opening, a secret place: the reeds separated, and a sandy
track appeared. The woman leading her disappeared into the realm of
the unknown, a pathway where it seemed she could walk across the water.
She moved lightly across the fresh-smelling sand path. She passed an
emptiness lingering there, a memory of another child playing on a narrow
stream of sand, sheltered by the rushes, absorbed by their silence and
the blanket lake coming in within their edges. A tunnel of memory, unrolled,
flattened out; the unravelled landscape of childhood, as it was, is,
will always be, held in the swamp of memory.
Neelie thought deeply, quietly, as she followed, as if she was returning
to the body of the water, the fluid space with its unique quiet, its
ordinary daily rhythm moving between the intermittent sigh of the waves
and longing deep intervals of silence. It was a language told by relationship,
only learnt by being within it.
Both women walked and remembered a different pattern, of lost hours
spent playing amongst the abundant and natural technology of childhood.
Woven there amongst the rushes, nestled into the same curved body of
the green sleepy lake, lying in the damp bends of its waist, suspended
on the resilient bed of the reed bank or in the water below it. Neelie
wondered at the mystery of games which seemed to come teasing out of
the landscape. (Milte Bastow, Dissolve, novel in progress)
These "unconscious feminine"  dialogues,
the kind I have been discussing and writing about, conversations about
trusting the authenticity of experiential connections, are one and the
same with the dialogues of my research journal in process, which seems
to write herself, when I trust her to.
Mother and Child. Trust me. I'm a mother. Play, I'll watch.
(Milte Bastow, Research Journal in process, 15 March 2000)
Looking at an image like this, I am reminded of Kristeva, and her caution:
"Not hearing the semiotic, not giving it room, kills the maternal
and the primordial link every subject has with the maternal,
exposing us to a depression, to a feeling of strangeness." 
Encouraged by the connections I have made, by the
field trip, and the crediting of the other [female unconscious]
experiential knowledge I carry inside me, I have learnt to credit the
semiotic language of the research journal, and its invaluable "holding"
language, its dialogues. For me, the research journal is an object less
book than body map. I have learnt to trust the process of going back to
it, with necessarily imprecise rhythm, to write out what I haven't said
in the novel, in the exegesis, as if it needed another place - a place
like The Coorong - for a different dialogue. A place for the responses
that emerge from the feminine unconscious, outside the phallogocentric
structure, when, consciously, I've switched off from the project of the
thesis. These responses are more often suggestions of where I might be,
murmurs and images of things, which I become aware of when I am not thinking
- under the shower-water, for example - utterings that become known through
the body, my body, under the stream of the running water
Today I'm spending time by the water. Writing there. Taking my
time. Time, which stopped there. (Milte Bastow, Research Journal
in process, 14 March 2002)
The research journal believes me. It helps keep the content of the novel
and the creative thesis alive to its poetic ear - the ear tuned
to the subversive or unconscious voice, and what it wants to say. An ear
that is aided by the unstructured nature of the writing in the journal,
and its process, one of rumination, and talking to yourself, when only
your unconscious is listening.
Water colour words
There is an interesting addendum to this story. I left my study window
open for the cat, a window in the low, attic roof above my desk. It rained
hard that night. When I woke my research journal was completely soaked.
The pages had glued themselves together like a blotter. Many of the variously
coloured blue and black inks were washed away, sentences recording the
careful icons of my progress into the interior had smudged into each other.
I felt a deep sense of loss.
But what is this grief about losing the word path in the book I began
"to accompany myself on this journey"? I can see now, now that
I've reached this place, looking back four years into the project, that
the journal is the childhood of the novel; it is the record of
a new space of separation and of silence. To improvise Lacan, it is the
record of the space of lack that I desire to, and from.
And the journal is a record of myself changing, myself the writer
in process, deepening my understanding of this craft and the way
I can study it, and write about it. Gilles Deleuze theorises about "writing
being inseparable from becoming" .
Michael Leunig speaks about the process of creating, and of "entering
into these things, which change us forever" .
I was taking the poor soggy thing apart, rescuing the pages - laying them
as if they were a "poorly" 
across the still warm bed and the quilt - reading
the smudged poetry there, writing that articulates its contribution with
love and without fear. I saw in the evolution of the words, the carefully
constructed layers of the creative thesis, layers of deep thought, and
their blending as the various levels were deposited in their natural form
into the pages. The formation of the landscape of the writer: the unconscious,
the body, identity, and memory.
The recovered journal went back together again. Once the pages were dry,
I collected them with all the other totems from along the way. Feathers
encrusted with salt; flowering stone grasses; pieces of abstract poems
written in the car going and coming; old poems dragged out of folders,
when at last they made sense to me - mementos from the Dream. I
reinserted the fragments in their collated moments in the journal. I threaded
the red ribbons through the buckled binder holes, and tied them up again
with slipknots. And I glimpsed something - a fragment that I'd seen earlier
on that drowned, autumn morning in my study, but wasn't able, or yet ready,
I thought about my creative thesis, and the world of my novel in progress;
about water and landscape, wet and dry; the second chapter of the novel
called "Dried Water". And the strange process that accompanies
a piece of deep research, incorporating all of you in its wake
- the significant motif from the last lines of chapter two of my novel,
as the character "Neelie" enters The Coorong, and trails her
"somewhat smaller hand" in "the wake" of her memory.
And I remembered, when I first discovered the soaked journal, how some
part of me thought the washed away sentences so beautiful, like a rainwater
colourist's painted landscape; a calligraphy, which had bled through the
page. It was then that I saw it: when that day arrives, and I know
my words in that way, when I re-know the imaginary landscape in my pages
through and through; when it has seeped into me again, then I will know
my subject, my imaginary landscape, from the inside out. I will have it
blended and absorbed, like the smudging of sentences after rain, when
ideas become fluid and begin to bleed together. Then the sentences will
reveal their strange contribution, like the most original of exchanges:
exchanges from within the first landscape of the semiotic world.
Mother tongue - the language of landscape introjected. (Milte
Bastow, Research Journal in process, August 2001)
Helen Milte Bastow is a PhD candidate in the School of Creative Arts,
University of Melbourne. Her short fiction has been accepted for publication
in Quadrant (2003). In 1998 Helen was awarded the Emeritus Professor
Derick Marsh Shakespeare Essay Prize for her Honours dissertation on King
Lear. This paper was first presented at the Dangerous Dreaming AAWP Conference,
held in the School of Creative Arts, University of Melbourne, 23 November