mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Sport 8: Autumn 1992

♣ Phyllis Webb — The Drover's Wife—Again

page 89

Phyllis Webb

The Drover's Wife—Again

Hazel and the rotten landscape dominate everything. Gordon, her husband, stares at a reproduction of Drysdale's famous painting called 'The Drover's Wife'. I'm not a drover, I'm a dentist, Gordon says, grinding his teeth as he thinks of big-boned Hazel and her stained underarm patches. He hates that—her clumsiness, her silliness, her sweat, her gentle face that other women like. Rotten landscape. Rotten Hazel, who walked out on Gordon and their two kids, leaving a note pencilled on butcher paper, I am just going round the corner.

Adelaide is a small town. It's been hard for Gordon. She could be anywhere in the vast Australian landscape. She's carrying her suitcase in her left hand, hiding her ring, Gordon thinks. He would. Hazel hasn't given a thought to the damned ring since she vamoosed with the drover thirty years ago. That's him in the background now, bending over to feed the horse or adjust its halter. Gordon peers closer: either that man is a small character or it is a ruddy big horse. Gordon pulls out a magnifying glass to get a better look at his rival. Nothing but brush strokes. Well, aren't we all.

But he's drawn again to the figure in the foreground and can see she's still unhappy, has put on weight, just look at her legs. She's leaving again. Or, perhaps, she's uncertain. Distance = doubts.

I have never seen the original of this painting. I am distant and doubting, stealing words from a short story of which no part may be reproduced by any process without written permission from the publisher. I look in vain through Murray Bail's collection of stories for permission given to reproduce in black and white the painting of 'The Drover's Wife' (20x24" , 1945) by Russell Drysdale.

I pick up my bag. It's hot. I flick the flies away, which the artist neglected to render. I walk in my sandshoes off the edge of the rotten landscape, nothing but brush strokes, heading for a coral reef, gentle faces. I am just going round the corner-flick, flick-I am just going round the corner ...