John Clare Writings

High Wind & The Australian Open

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The streets are full of lashing greens of many shades and the sky is darker with imminent rain than the road beneath the overarching trees. Grey bitumen, grey sky, frenzied greens. At mid-afternoon it seems closer to night than day. And why do these suburban cataclysms exhilarate and sooth the lone rider? Because he believes deep down that temperate Sydney is tame despite impressive tantrums, death by drowning, attack by shark, king tides in days of old, seas of foam and heavy dumpers; hail, torrential rain and high winds, but no typhoons, no blizzards. A gunman might kill me here, but not nature. In fact I am so dangerously introspective amid turmoil that my mind’s eye is allowed to fly through to a curious parallel. Swordsmen are slashing, thrusting and grappling on stairways and battlements and down on the drawbridge a hero in Lincoln Green is drawing a longbow back with unnatural calm. That vision is abandoned instantly before I should have crashed my bike. Reality is not so tame as you might think. Trees are rocking in their frames and oscillating like agitators in a chemical mixing process while all the upper leaves are waving frantically as if they were hands held up high by people on their toes. Booming rugs of wind are beaten clean of the dust they have lifted. The leaves are sweeping the air and clearing themselves of their yellow dead, which sprinkle upwards and fly away.  In Derwent Street there are giant figs with buttress roots. The limbs of these contorted elephant-grey trees are like those of dinosaurs, the tentacles of  giant octopusses or the legs of diseased sumo wrestlers. There is a massive shock of pressure and suddenly they are mainsails filling, creaking, and billowing toward me alarmingly. The roots grip deep through bitumen. The trunks are masts, the branches cross-trees. The grey bitumen does not tilt. Amazingly, it does not tilt. Nor the ship’s deck, which is the street. The ship does not heel. Trees are not uprooted. The earth is strangely stable under this wind, yet it is turning at tremendous speed. If it slowed down or accelerated we would feel it. We would be filled with terror and instantly black out. The volume and density of trees in this inner west suburb is surprising now due simply to the mighty wind spreading them out, bringing forth more leaves from the core of foliage,  thumbing through them – a multiplication and disgorging of leaves – spread-eagling the branches. A billion leaves are waving. Everywhere I look are maelstroms of leaves. There are so many greens.

Trees bend far back and twist like fast bowlers about to hurl one down. A blast shakes me. I shape-shift and shrink, by hunching my shoulders to lower wind resistance. I lie flat along my bike. The wind does not seem to slow me as I glide down the hill. I am not sure from how many ways it is blowing with such angry violence. It shakes me this way and that. It seems to have the power to lift and hurl me onto the bitumen, which is soft grey under all the sweeping, lashing leaves. It is not really soft. In the front yards of several houses are towering thin palms. Two of these reach well above the roof of a three story terrace whose balconies are fenced by green-painted cast iron much the colour of the segmented varnished trunks of the palms. The green of garden hose and of a moray eel I saw at Coogee slipping between the rocks, surprisingly big so far from the barrier reef. The effect of New Orleans is somehow heightened in this wild grey day. Though their crowns are thrashing, the long trunks of these trees are not so bendy as you might imagine. They are drawn to a certain point, like longbows, then bend no further. If they were metal their ductility would soon be exhausted and they would snap.

At the bottom of the hill on the cross street there is a dancing ring of yellow leaves. Actually a number of rings – a spiral, turning and then miraculously still. Turning again with mechanical deliberation. Beyond that a horde of leaves rushes at me along the road, juddering, bouncing on their tiny points; leaping, perhaps shouting, in tiny ranting voices I cannot quite hear. I charge my mount straight into this mad hoard of leaf goblins. They are still there when I whip round and glance back. The dance of the leaves’ dead.

I know from the sky that elsewhere it is raining and trees are being uprooted. Specially gums whose roots will pull out of the waterlogged ground. They will fall across roofs, across power lines. I will see it tonight on television. Home is just around the corner.
I love the cosy feeling of being inside when wind, hail or rain or all of these are letting us have it. But I am in no hurry to go in. Just knowing that the stillness inside exists makes me feel cosy and strangely excited. I will look out through the rattling windows. Rain will probably fall here now, so heavily that the view will blur and run, grey and green, on the glass. But I will not go in just yet. I will not relinquish this excitement. Not just yet. I am still out in it, alone. The streets are empty. Everyone is inside.

Or so it seemed, but while I was battling home, alone in my green world of writhing thrashing trees, the Australian Open – golf that is – was being played (with a two hour halt)  at The Lakes. I see on television that a result has actually been obtained. At 53 the aptly named Peter Senior has become the oldest Australian Open winner we have had. His son carried his clubs. His caddy in other words. The television scaffolding collapsed I see.

Next day I learn that the drummer James Hauptman attended the Open, arriving during the hiatus, giving up and going home before play resumed. Pianist Matt McMahon watched from the comfort of home. He tells me there were many double and triple bogies. I am surprised that any ball found a hole. Could anyone drive into this wind with any sense that this was more than a game of pure luck? No one fires a long bow calmly into this turmoil, nor wields a bill hook or battle-axe as far as I am aware, but Peter Senior manages to relax and swing, and cast his fate to the wind – which was an unusual hit song accompanied by a jazz piano trio. When Peter Senior was rather younger, in fact only a boy. I am 19 years older than the champ and I remember that song well.


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