With the wind direction meter on our ‘Weatherscope’ looking well and truly broken, I’ve resorted to making an improvised weathervane. Happily, the internet offers today’s aspiring wind observers a full spectrum of options, from the simplest of jobs to this sophisticated number (involving power tools!). With a functioning compass base, and a chicken, I’d like to think mine falls somewhere in between.. As we spent most of the day preparing for our second ‘public reading’, it hasn’t yet been road tested.
There is a little well at the back of the cottages, bound by a wire fence on which the bike tour company next door leans their bicycles. The man who came to blow leaves around earlier this week is surprised to see there is water in it at the moment. The well dates back to 1831, not long after these two dwellings – the oldest of their kind to remain in the Rocks – were built on orders of Thomas Ryan, transported for forgery and making the most of his position in this new world as chief bureaucrat in the Superintendent Convict Officer to reshuffle the books and land himself a leasehold on this particular patch of land, displacing a hapless baker to whom it had already been officially granted.1 The property was onsold the following year to Irishman William Reynolds, an ex-convict blacksmith, and his wife Mary, who went on to build a property empire housing prostitutes in the surrounding block.2 The well was dug to service the whole area, and on its discovery and excavation in the mid-eighties was found to contain hair combs, medicine bottles and a Jew’s Harp.
At that time, wells were not only a notorious hazard for small children (drownings were frequent) but also a critical source of drinking water, supplementing and then replacing what was initially given for free by the Tank Stream, a watercourse moonlighting as ‘a line of social demarcation and administrative control’.3 The story of the Tank Stream is both a depressing and predictable one – after bringing freshwater down through the mudflats to Sydney Cove (albeit more intermittently than the colonists would have liked) ever since the valley was flooded out into a harbour some thousands of years ago, and being a key reason for Governor Philip siting the colony here – within twenty years of occupation by the straggly British outpost it had been reduced to little more than an open sewer, en route to eventually being covered over by the asphalt of the growing city.
Europeans have always had trouble recognising weather patterns and phenomena to their advantage in this place. Emily O’Gorman writes that variable river flows and long periods of drought and flood were a source of real losses and bafflement to the early colony, and a contributing factor in tensions between pastoralists and Indigenous groups. In the mid nineteenth century the fledging field of meteorology was called on ‘to aid settlement and test the ‘traditions’ circulating about weather, climate, and river flow that people had developed’.4 O’Gorman cites amateur meteorologist William Stanley Jevons calling for scientific investigations into weather in 1859:
In Australia, the extraordinary irregularity of rainfall escapes no one’s observation, while all who now inhabit it have either experienced or been informed in the manner of tradition more than history, of these more singular eccentricities of the climate termed floods and droughts which have on so many occasions impaired the prospects, and even endangered the lives of settlers… It must, therefore, be a work of some scientific importance as well as popular interest, to investigate these commonly received notions of a periodic recurrence of wet and dry seasons, becoming as they do sometimes so lengthened as to appear secular that is non-recurring. 5
Bado-go-bally-vuida, I am dry, or I want water to drink 6
28 Harrington Street was never brought into the modern world of pipes stretching out to dams a great distance away, and on the third day of our residency our closest reliable water source (the public toilets across the courtyard) suddenly shuts off. As part of our improvised observation activities we’ve been collecting rainwater in glass jars, and though rain has fallen all week, our store is paltry. There’s plenty of room at the back of the courtyard, but in keeping with the rest of this strangely water-blind city, perched on the edge of its glittering harbour, there are no rainwater tanks in sight.o
- Ryan owned up to burning four bushels of public papers in the Colonial Secretary’s Office in 1820. Sydney Gazette & NSW Advertiser, 25 October 1832, cited in Melissa Holmes, Dictionary of Sydney ‘Reynolds Cottages’ http://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/reynolds_cottages accessed 13/4/13 ↩
- Melissa Holmes podcast on ABC 702 http://www.abc.net.au/local/stories/2011/12/02/3382383.htm accessed 13/4/13. Holmes observes that the shifty ownership of 28 Harrington is emblematic of Sydney’s colonial history, being ‘the result of a shonky land grant between a corrupt bureaucrat and opportunistic developers’. With the development car-crash that is Barangaroo playing out just over the hill (the largest remaining stretch of previously undeveloped public land on Sydney’s foreshore), this could be said to be a continuing hallmark of the neighbourhood and indeed of our city in general. ↩
- MacLaren North, Dictionary of Sydney ‘Water’ http://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/water?zoom_highlight=tank+stream accessed 13/4/13 ↩
- Emily O’Gorman, ‘Soothsaying or Science’ unpublished paper, 2013 ↩
- W.S. Jevons, ‘Some Data Concerning the Climate of Australia and New Zealand’, Waugh’ Australian Almanac, 1859, 47-104, 61. Cited in Emily O’Gorman, ‘Soothsaying or Science’ unpublished paper, 2013 ↩
- Philip Gidley King, A Sydney Vocabulary 1790 (Sydney: State Library of NSW), 2006 ↩
Aristotle, Meteorologica (Cambridge: Harvard University Press), 1952
Birmingham, John, Leviathan: the unauthorised biography of Sydney (North Sydney: Random House), 2000
Bonyhady, Tim, The Colonial Earth (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press), 2002
Cervantes, Miguel de, Don Quixote, (London: Penguin Books), 2003
Clendinnen, Inga, Dancing with Strangers (Melbourne: Text Publishing Company), 2003
Dunlop, Storm, Oxford Dictionary of Weather (New York: Oxford University Press), 2001
Flannery, Tim (ed.), The Birth of Sydney: The Story of Britain’s Arrival in the Antipodes (Sydney: Random House), 1999
——————, 1788: Watkin Tench (Melbourne: The Text Publishing Company), 1996
Flannery, Tim, The Weather Makers: The History and Future Impact of Climate Change (Melbourne: The Text Publishing Company), 2005
Fogarty, Lionel G., New and Selected Poems: Munaldjali, Mutuerjaraera (Melbourne: Hyland House), 1995
Gibson, Ross, 26 Views of a Starburst World (Perth: UWA Publishing), 2012
Golinski, Jan, British Weather and the Climate of Enlightenment (Chicago: University of Chicago Press), 2007
Heninger Jr, S.K., A Handbook of Renaissance Meteorology: With Particular Reference to Elizabethan and Jacobean Literature (Durham: Duke University Press), 1960
Hughes, Robert, The Fatal Shore: The epic of Australia’s founding (New York: Knopf), 1986
Karskens, Grace, The Rocks: Life in Early Sydney (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press), 1997
King, Philip Gidley, A Sydney Vocabulary 1790 (Sydney: State Library of NSW), 2006
Lewis, Arthur M., The Struggle Between Science and Superstition (Chicago: Charles H. Kerr & Company), 1915
Lowe, Ian, ‘Reaction Time: Climate Change and the Nuclear Option’, Quarterly Essay 27, 2007
Malouf, David, Typewriter Music (St Lucia: University of Queensland Press), 2007
Parkin, Ray, H.M. Bark Endeavour: Her Place in Australian History with an Account of her Construction, Crew and Equipment and a Narrative of her Voyage on the East Coast of New Holland in the Year 1770 (Melbourne: The Miegunyah Press), 1997
Pretor-Pinney, Gavin, The Cloud Spotters Guide (London: Sceptre), 2006
Perec, Georges, Species of Spaces and Other Places (London: Penguin Books), 1997
Shakespeare, William, Tragedies of Monarchy: Hamlet, Macbeth & King Lear (New York: Dell Publishing), 1967
Shachtman, Tom, Absolute Zero and the Conquest of Cold (New York: Mariner Books), 2000
Shertzer, Margaret, The Elements of Grammar (New York: Macmillan), 1986
Turbet, Peter, The First Frontier: The Occupation of the Sydney Region 1788 to 1816 (Dural: Rosenberg Publishing), 2011
In 26 Views of a Starburst World, Ross Gibson argues that William Dawes was exposed to an entirely different cosmology in the process of trying to record the Sydney language. Gibson shows how Dawes began to see this different perspective on the world when he was learning the language by means of a series encounters with Patyegarang, an indigenous woman from the north side of the harbour. Gibson argues that this different cosmology is apparent in the structure of the Sydney language itself:
“If Eora language is air, English might be a machine. In English, unadorned nouns pre-exist and prevail, while basic verbs are prescribed to act in a standard way. From this precondition, the English speak can use separate, additive words merely to adjust things and actions in the dependably prescribed, present world. In general, the English language is founded on an assumption that things and actions already exist, that they are givens, pre-formed and shaped to some permanent ideal. Because things an actions are already there, they will always tend to hold the overall shape decreed to them from the world’s genesis. The work you do in speaking or writing English is therefore just an ancillary procedure, just tinkering with the predispositions of an inherited and stubborn reality. The noun or verb is given to you, rock-solid as the world is presumed to be, and you try to customise it with appended qualifiers and modifiers
In the Eora language, by contrast with English, the verb itself (and therefore the world that the verb serves and makes) changes within its sounded self, changes intrinsically rather than just ornamentally. Steele explains that this work is done by sounds such as ‘dara, nara, -gari, -li, -lyi, -ra.’ A suffix insinuates and transmogrifies long utterances, changing the very ‘DNA’ or ‘genetics’ of a proposition. A suffix changes inside the operating code of the statement. The suffix causes things and actions to shift ideational shape in relation to each other as they gather into an utterance … A suffix can cause verbs and surrounding clauses to recharge and realign so that they become entirely new composite utterances. Let’s say these ever-altering sound-events, galvanised by the suffixes dissolved into them, are not only part of the world: they are instantaneously making the world. In Eora language, it seems, the suffixes are catalysts that later the potency of whatever unfolding word-experiment they get thrown into. But simultaneously, they are also language and they are therefore just their own, contingent versions of the world. These vocal sounds are concurrently meagre and momentous. They are simultaneously nothing and a big thing. Like music. Like language. Like breath. So great was their power that they had never needed writing down. The language made a wold just by floating in the air.”
The distinction Gibson upholds between English and Eora was not clear to me until this part of the book. For the first hundred pages I couldn’t help but think that Gibson was upholding a false distinction for the sake of a good argument. Like a good Colonial Soldier, I felt like I needed to defend English from the repeated charge that it was so mechanical and inflexible. It is indeed possible to change the way words “make” the world and words can also take on a different meaning in sentences by virtue of the different prefixes, suffixes, verbs and adjectives. Consider the phrases “that table is blue” and “that table is green”; the table can shape-shift with the assistance of the simple adjective. Or, for example, “the table is set for dinner” compared with “the tornado broke the table into a thousand splinters and scattered them all over the prairie”; the context of the noun shifts its materiality given its place within the sentence and relationship to verbs and adjectives. But in all these examples the idea of table is quite fixed: the idea of a table remains solid, even if the tornado shatters into pieces. So, although we may all imagine a different table in our minds, the tornado breaks apart what should be solid. Perhaps we even hope that the unlucky owner of the broken table will be able to get a new one someday. What Gibson describes here is an altogether different grammar, one that is so different it is almost difficult to imagine how our view of the world could be, if English only were more like this language. From what I can gather, what Eora ‘event grammar’ would allow for is the expression of a tornado and table linguistic combination, and this combination could remake the object itself. It would no longer be a table, but a tornado-table-prairie. The splinters, distributed across the prairie by the tornado, could be expressed as a new and lively part of the world.
At the final residency showing on Thursday April 18, we’ve invited the poet and sociolinguistic researcher Astrid Lorange along to respond to this dilemma more directly.
 Ross Gibson, 26 Views of the Starburst World (Perth: UWA Press) 2012, pp. 111-112.
About seven years ago my flatmate James was reading The Fatal Shore when he came across the following passage and read it out loud:
“A fortnight passed before enough tents and huts were ready for the female convicts. On February 6 their disembarkation began, and all through the day the longboats plied between the transports and the cove, carrying their freight of women. Those who had decent clothes had put on all their finery: “Some few among them,” noted Bowes Smyth”, heartily glad to have them off his ship, “might be said to be well dressed.” The last of them landed by six in the evening. It was a squally day, and thunderheads were piled up in livid cliffs above the Pacific; as dusk fell, the weather burst. Tents blew away; within minutes the whole encampment was a rain-lashed bog. The women floundered to and fro, draggled as muddy chickens under a pump, pursued by male convicts intent on raping them. One lightning bolt split a tree and killed several sheep and a pig beneath it. Meanwhile, most of the sailors on Lady Penrhyn applied to her master, Captain William Sever, for an extra ration of rum “to make merry upon the women quitting the ship.” Out came the pannikins, down went the rum, and before long the drunken tars went off to join the convicts in pursuit of the women, so that, Bowes remarked, “it is beyond my abilities to give a just description of the scene of debauchery and riot that ensued during the night.” It was the first bush party in Australia, with “some swearing, others quarreling, others singing–not in the least regarding the tempest, tho’ so violent that the thunder shook the ship exceeding anything I have ever before had a conception of.” And as the couples rutted between the rocks, guts burning from the harsh Brazilian aguardiente, their clothes slimy with red clay, the sexual history of colonial Australia may fairly be said to have begun”
James and I marveled at the horrific drama of this tale: the storm, the booze, the sex and the shameful gender relations! I likely exclaimed either “I love history” or “truth is stranger than fiction!”. Now, almost every time I engage in a discussion about the First Fleet or colonial Australia, I wheel out a modified version of this startling tale.
I thought that would be a good tale to explore in more detail during the residency for Tilting at Windmills, I included it in my original proposal to the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority. As soon as I began looking further into it, I was shocked to learn that this horrific and yet strangely compelling story of the storm that accompanied the female disembarkation from the First Fleet is largely apocryphal. While I was expecting my research to throw up more information on what happened that night, I actually found less. What Hughes represented in his book is a significant elaboration and embellishment of the single journal entry that exists. It seems that there was a storm and that the women did disembark from the ship, the men probably had some extra rum. But whether or not there was either a night of drunken and orgiastic revelry or, indeed, the systematic rape of many of the female convicts is highly unlikely.
As Grace Karskens notes, “it turns out that the orgy story dates, not from 1788, but from 1963, when the historian Manning Clark included it as ‘a drunken spree’ fueled by ‘extra rations of rum’ in his Short History of Australia”  apparently Clark was not quick enough to retract his comments and the story of colonial Australia’s violent sexual awakening made it into popular mythology. Perpetuated again and again by Robert Hughes, Peter Fitzsimmons and Tim Flannery, along with a host of others.
At our second Public Reading on Monday 15th April we will explore the various iterations of this stormy myth and discuss it in relation to the ideas we have been exploring during the residency.
 Robert Hughes, The Fatal Shore: The epic of Australia’s founding (New York: Knopf), 1986, pp.88-89.
 Grace Karskens, ‘The myth of Sydney’s foundational orgy’. Retrieved from http://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/the_myth_of_sydneys_foundational_orgy April 6, 2013.
In 26 Views of the Starburst World, Ross Gibson sheds new light on the ways in which the language of the Eora people differs from the rules of English grammar. He claims that the local language seems to have an ‘event grammar’. English grammar categorises words in order to understand their structural relationship to other words in a written sentence, and through this system of classification we come to understand the meaning of a sentence. In contrast, as I understand it, ‘event grammar’ is a way of understanding relationship between the words and their place in a given environment or context, and that in ‘event grammar’ the noun is not fixed, instead the words themselves can change depending on their relationship to the context in which they are spoken. While I think this is an decent description of what Gibson defines as ‘event grammar’, this idea does not quite make sense to me yet. So, in order to have a richer understanding of the broader implications of this concept, I have to start with a quick refresher course in the basics of English grammar in order to understand ‘event grammar’ by contrast.
“Chapter Two: Some Grammatical Terms
The terms used in grammar help to explain the function and relationship of the words in sentences.
- A noun is the name of a person, place, thing or idea. Common nouns refer to any person, place, thing, idea, etc. (boy, house, water, town, religion, despair); Proper nouns refer to particular places, persons, objects, ideas, etc. (George, the White House, Yokohama, Christian Science); Nouns are used as the subjects of sentences, and as the objects of verbs and prepositions.
- A pronoun can take the place of a noun. John called his mother as soon as he returned from work. The cat sat by her dish, waiting to be fed.
- Case refers to the form of a noun or pronoun which shows its relationship to other words in a sentence. In English there are three cases: nominative (used for the subject of a sentence or clause), possessive (showing who owns something), and objective (receiving the action of the verb or preposition). Nouns do not change their form except in the possessive case, which ‘s is added. Pronouns have different forms for each case. (See Pronouns, pp.14-22)
- A verb shows the action or state of being, and it also indicates the time of action or being. He waived his right to appeal. (past); I need your report right now. (present); You will enjoy your trip to Norway. (future).
- Adjectives are words that describe nouns and specify size, color, number and the like. This quality is called modifying, and an adjective is a modifier.
- Adverbs are words that describe verbs, adjectives and other adverbs. They specify in what manner, when, where and how much. The child screamed loudly as the doctor prepared an injection; It is much later than I thought.
- Prepositions show how a noun or pronoun is related to another word in a sentence (The dog came bounding into the room; He parked behind the truck; In this instance, I believe you are mistaken). When used with a verb, the combination of verb and preposition usually has a meaning different from the verb alone. (They laughed at the very idea. I must look into the proposal before I decide. Have you come to any conclusion?
- Conjunctions join words, phrases or clauses. Coordinating conjunctions connect sentence elements of the same value, single words, phrases or clauses. These conjunctions are and, but, for, or, nor, either, neither, yet, so, and so that. (Yet and so are also used as adverbs). Subordinating conjunctions join two clauses, the main one and the dependent (or subordinate) one. The conjunctions used with dependent clauses are: although, because, since, until, while, and others which place a condition on the sentence.
- Subject and predicate. A sentence expresses a complete thought and consists of a subject and a predicate. (If either the subject or predicate is not expressed, it must be readily understood from the sentences that precede or follow). The subject of a sentence is the person, object or idea being described. The predicate is the explanation of the action, condition, or effect of the subject. (The after-Christmas sale is nearly over; Getting a job can be a difficult process). In the examples above, the subjects are in italics; the rest of the sentences are predicates. Subjects are nouns, pronouns or phrases used as nouns. Predicates are verbs and the words used to explain the action or condition.
- Phrases. A phrase is a group of words that are closely related but have no subject or predicate. A phrase may be used as a noun, verb, adjective or adverb. Noun: Waiting for a telephone call has kept me at home all morning. Verb: That work could have been done earlier. Adjective: The building with the satellite dish on the roof has been converted to a condominium. Adverb: The price is higher out of season. A phrase that is essential to a sentence is called restrictive. A phrase which is actually a parenthetical comment is called nonrestrictive and is usually set off by commas. Restrictive: The computer in my office is used by several people. Nonrestrictive: I wonder, by the way, who will be named director.
- Clauses. A clause is a group of words which has a subject and a predicate. A main clause can stand alone as a sentence. A subordinate clause is incomplete and is used with a main clause to express a related idea. Main Clause: This is the man who sold me the dog. I enjoy walking our dog when the weather is good. Subordinate Clause: I enjoy walking our dog, which we bought last week. When I have the time, I like to work out at the gym.”
Excerpt from Margaret Shertzer, The Elements of Grammar, (New York: Macmillan), 1986, pp.4-7
We’ve acquired an old German barometer, and today tried taking hourly readings. Air pressure appears to have dropped slightly since the first reading this morning, which would indicate the approach of a low pressure system, perhaps some light rain. Indeed around lunchtime we did get a bit of a sprinkle.. No movement since then.
In the afternoon we also made a simple balloon + glass barometer. It seems fairly stable at the moment. (Note: meat grinder is non-essential, just provided a handy ledge).*
*Postscript: 2 hours later and unless I am mistaken my straw has swung a couple of notches up! There has been no change to the hand on the ‘proper’ aneroid barometer since this morning and I am growing a little suspicious of its abilities..
Cloudy though warm. A slight heaviness to the air.
On our second day in-residence, Jen and I set about concretising our activities and expectations for the project. There are so many enticing paths leading out of the cluster of ideas that begin this work. A governing system for our time and energies is the first thing to be built in this leisurely steeplechase towards a set of shared tangible outcomes, though like all experimental structures it must embrace risk and the spectre of collapse.
Two discoveries excited us over the course of the day – firstly the revelation that a key weather event under investigation (a storm-fuelled drunken orgy enjoyed by colonists after Sydney’s first boatload of convict women came ashore in February 1788) is in fact a furphy! The racy tale feeds into a national mythology and thus remains well-entrenched despite a thorough debunking decades ago by feminist historians such as Marion Quartly [See this excellent summary by Grace Karskens on the Dictionary of Sydney]. More on this later.
Our second wide-eyed moment came courtesy of Donna Haraway, in the form of a quote that Jen has been pondering for a while: ‘Any encounter worth its salt turns on responsive mis-recognition’ . Responsive misrecognition seems an apt term for what we are attempting to practice in this residency. It also neatly describes what William Dawes was doing on this same headland some two hundred years ago, not to mention the very project of meteorological science itself.
As we are also in the business of producing encounters, and salty ones at that, it appears the only logical way to proceed is … installing (or is that imagining) an independent publishing house at 28 Harrington Street. Tilting at Windmills Press endeavours to compile and distribute an extensive series of pamphlets, each exploring a different encounter with weather in which things are not as they seem. Stay tuned for full list of titles.
 Donna Haraway ‘Foreword: companion species, mis-recognition and queer worlding’ in N. Giffney and M. Hird (eds), Queering the Non/Human (Aldershot: Ashgate) 2008, p.xxiv.
We are not only here to make jam, but also to investigate different kinds of human-weather relations. The most primal human-weather relation is the one where we exclaim something about the weather like ‘It is so very hot today!’ or ‘Oh boy! It’s quite chilly out.’ or ‘Isn’t this weather glorious!?’. But empirical observations are key mediators of another kind of human-weather relationship: ‘Did you know it was 24.6 degrees on Observatory Hill at 2.30pm today?’ The empirical observation translates the initial emotional exclamation into something quantifiable.