“So, you’ve found the closest thing to paradise here.”
“I have found the closest thing to paradise…I and my family…”
“And you’re going to keep it a paradise.”
“I – we – will be doing everything we can to keep it a paradise, as you say.”
“And a template for responsible development in tropical regions?”
“A template? That’s a good word. Yes, we’d like to think it’s a sort of template.”
Tricia Fitzwarren, at forty-six, still did not need to try with men. Echoing comments she liked and ignoring the rest, she worked by subtle reward, not argument. When repeating a man’s words, she gave a look of shrewd complicity and a smile which was almost a flirt – but never quite. This reverse flattery quickly had men trained.
It might have been too much if she were that type of blonde, with outsize lips and eyes, and a petite snout. But Tricia had “structure” and that gave her features the needed gravitas to go with with the glamour. Her voice was not exactly plummy, but it had enough of the throaty resonance of a North Shore matron to baffle those who, as she said, “seek to stereotype contemporary style and the contemporary activist”. Likewise, Tricia wore no symbolic or mystical trinkets, no suffragette-purples; and, needless to say, there were no dolphin tattoos stamped on the patrician hide of this cetacean lover. She was long and tanned and, with regard to clothes sense, perfectly rehearsed in that imperfect and unrehearsed look she herself titled “Beachmummy”.
Dressed in simple white top and calf-length jeans, strolling her own beach with a suitably entranced male reporter and two post-teen male technicians who were beyond entranced…Tricia Fitz was as in-element as it was possible to be.
The interview continued, with Gavin Roote shooting tense glares at his inexperienced colleagues to keep them concentrating on the task. At some point there would be a Sixty Minutes moment, a few words, a toss of the head…and camera and mike would need to nail it. Of course, Tricia Fitz knew what they wanted, and would provide it, but only as part of a natural flow. Tricia was all about the natural.
“So, Tricia, we see a woman with a career in modelling and acting still beckoning, in spite – dare I say – of the embrace of motherhood and advancing years…”
“You may dare say, Gavin. Motherhood and advancing years are both to be embraced, after all. And, as you say, other doors have not closed. Modelling is not a priority, but theatre remains a dream for me, after so much film and television. But right now I – or rather, we – have been adopted by this piece of wilderness, and there’s an overwhelming sense of obligation.”
“Obligation?” A faint jerk of the head to the technicians. This could be the Sixty Minutes moment.
“Yes, obligation. This is the front line in a war. It’s a war to save our mother, the Earth. Right here. It’s about fighting or dying.”
Yep, thought Gavin. That was it. That big green message, done in a ten second bite. He could only hope the camera caught “the steeliness within the glam” (a theme-line he’d written in advance). Gavin had been a young cameraman. He would have nailed it.
At that moment, a shrill, juvenile voice from up the beach. As a native boy came rushing toward them, Tricia opened her arms.
Gavin to his colleagues:
“Keep shooting…keep shooting…Get this…Get all of this…”
Now the little boy lunged into those beckoning arms, shrieking: “Missie Trish! Missie Trish!”
Tricia turned to the reporters, aware of the camera – as always with cameras – but by no means overplaying to it:
“This special bundle of joy is called Wili. Son of our maintenance manager, so he can live here with us – sometimes. He’s my little mate, aren’t you Wili?”
“Wili! Me Wili! Play rugby, me! You friends Missie Trish?
“Yes, they’re friends, Wili.”
“Come for big round thing?”
Tricia Fitz laughed.
“When Wili asks me what we’re doing I explain about caring for the planet. We call the planet the big round thing, don’t we, Wili? As we were installing the solar panels on the guest extension I told him it was for the big round thing. He understood. We want to be nice to the big round thing, don’t we Wili?”
“Big round thing! Yes!”
“And when we installed the waterless toilet he was the first to try it out. And the greywater system to the gardens, the solar pumps…he understands about all that, and why it’s important for the big round thing…”
“Yes! Nice for big round thing!”
Wili beamed, the others laughed. Tricia lowered the boy but kept a hold of his hand.
Gavin had an inspiration: “Wili, tell this man with the camera about the planet, about the big round thing we need to look after.”
Wili immediately made a big circle in the air with his free arm.
“Missie Trish and me nice for big round thing!”
Another inspiration: “Tricia, why don’t you stroll down the beach a bit with Wili. Just the two of you, as you might normally. Nothing contrived, of course…”
“I understand, Gavin. Just the two of us, as normal. We can do that, can’t we, Wili? Come for a walk with me, Wili?”
As the woman and boy moved off the filming continued. Gavin explained to the technicians:
“Blonde with black. You can’t go wrong. No sound. We’ll add some harp music or something later, for a closing shot. You just let this sort of vision do the work for you…”
The sound man asked, his voice low:
“So, do we ask about the extension to the airstrip? That old bloke back at the village said they wiped out two acres of garden, and five families had to leave the island.”
“Mate, it’s not that sort of story. This is about Australia’s hottest MILF saving an island paradise. What do we know? The place probably needs a decent airstrip. For doctors and so on. Apparently they buggered a fair slice of reef getting all the materials in by barge, so an airstrip is going to save a lot of reef in future…”
“Isn’t there a story there? Hauling truckloads of building crap over an untouched reef…”
“Forget it. Different story for a different time. Get your gear ready. We’ll keep the interview going on the way back to the house…Tricia! Thanks for that! Thanks, Wili! The planet thanks you, mate. The big round thing say…it say thank you!”
“Wili nice for big round thing!”
There had been some confusion in setting up the interview in the enormous new house with its bizarre origami design. The place was strangely dark – except where it was far too glary – and windows looked out on corners of building, or on other windows, so it was hard to escape the ubiquitous “folds” of steel and concrete. Getting a shot of ocean and foliage through a window proved a chore. When they at last had the one internal position with the external views they needed, Tricia Fitz cautioned:
“Look, guys, we’re still ironing out some bugs here, so if you start to feel a bit hot just bear with us. We didn’t want to build a Bali Hai cliche thing, as if to imply cutting edge architecture has no place in the tropics…”
Another Gavin idea: “Tricia, that’s a perfect topic as a centrepiece. We can talk a little about…Jesus, it is bloody hot in here, isn’t it?”
“I was going to say. What we thought was perfect in a beach house on the Mornington peninsular wasn’t, well, even perfect for the Mornington peninsular, as we later found out. We’d fallen in love with Bernard Szabo’s mathematically referenced designs…you know…this origami effect. But it’s proving a bit too cutting edge and complex for ventilation. They’re bringing in some batteries and other equipment today by barge and we should have a more powerful ventilation system connected by next week. The barge is another problem, environmentally…but till we get the airstrip extension finished…so much work needed for that…and it all has to done sensitively. Anyway, as to the house, the unusual roof shape means we need more solar panels, cut and shaped a certain way, but especially we need more batteries…So if you’ll bear with the heat…”
“How can you sleep here at night? Without ceiling fans…”
Tricia Fitz was just slightly edgy in replying to the young sound man. “Oh, none of us is here much, not right at the moment. When Andrew’s not handling mine business he’s between Strasbourg and Denmark, negotiating wind turbine purchases and policy stuff, the boys are in Grammar, boarding. There’s just me here, intermittently. Wili’s family has agreed to go back to the village when I’m around, so I can sleep in their shack, which was the original homestead. But once we get on top of this ventilation problem…”
Gavin cast a sharpish glance at his too inquisitive colleague. Gavin Roote liked a lot of control. “Okay, let’s continue our profile. Camera’s on you, Tricia. We’ll reshoot me asking the questions afterwards, but they’ll be the exact same words, guaranteed.
“So, Tricia, I come through pristine tropical wilderness and stumble upon this amazing house. It’s not the usual Bali Hai tropical cliche I’m beholding.”
“No, it’s not, as you say, the usual Bali Hai cliche. We fell in love with Bernard Szabo’s designs and knew that we wanted to bring that…that almost defiant mathematical spirit to a soft tropical setting. It was about achieving a frank contrast, not a false harmony. Rather than insult the local indigenous traditions with our mimicry, we thought we’d confess our blow-in status through our choice of architectural styles…Christ, am I coming across too heavy, Gavin?”
“No way. And we can always edit. So, you were saying you feel like blow-ins.”
“Well, that’s what we are. We’re intruders into this culture and this ecology. I think the house – while not leaving a heavy footprint – is a narrative about us as first worlders, a commentary on our outsider status. Topological purity is Bernard Szabo’s expression for how he designs. To me that just means confessing, through architecture, who and what I am: an educated Australian woman of the twenty-first century. The last thing we wanted to do was take scarce and endangered local timbers to achieve a phony heritage look. This house is a product of 3D software and modern synthetic materials, as well as artistic reaching. We wanted to remain Europeans, sure, but not play the European bwanas, you know, lolling under big ceiling fans, surrounded by timber and rattan, acting out a Somerset Maugham story. When you sit in a Szabo space, just as I’m sitting now, you are meant to feel certain challenges, certain ambiguities…Shit, Gavin, is all of this a bit heavy for your viewers? I’m sounding like a ponce. I don’t even know if I’m making sense. This bloody heat…And I didn’t mean anything racist when I said bwanas. You’re not going to include these comments…?”
“Don’t worry. We can cut. Always do. But we might need to wrap up quickly. It is hot in here. Hotter than bloody hell.”
“Yes, sorry about that…It puts one in such a mood, the heat…”
Just then, an explosion. Then a second explosion.
They all stood on the beach and looked out. There was no question but that the water swirling toward them was different in colour and speed to the norm. The reef, very close in on that side of the island, had suffered a massive breach.
The sky beyond the reef was darkening, there were rumbles and flashes.
Tricia Fitz had been unable to stop filming of the aftermath of the dynamiting. Not even the pliable Gavin Roote had been willing to miss such juicy footage, though he kept assuring her it was just a matter of keeping a factual record. He also muttered things about ethics and journalistic duties, the young techs nodding in agreement. God knows what a Sunday Special reporter might consider his duty, and what he might mean by ethics. Put together with the farcical interview in the stifling house, this dynamiting of the reef might be framed as nothing less than…
A scandal! Tricia, with a stab, recalled that her husband’s gold mining interests in New Guinea were already under a cloud due to heavy metal contamination of the Fly River. Put this together with that! No, she would have to go on the attack, and straight away. Everything they had, everything she stood for, was suddenly at stake – with the bloody media looking on, by the worst of all chances.
She turned again to the owner of the mini-barge (which was moored further down the beach, where workmen from the village were moving its load to trailers). Tricia may have quickly reflected that Warwick Riordan is the last man in Micronesia anybody should take on, over anything. She may have heard some rumour to the effect. But what choice was there?
“Warwick, I can’t believe what you’ve done here. I mean…to dynamite a reef…just to get a load of batteries and equipment through. What were you thinking? It wasn’t life and death. Surely you know how we, of all people, feel about the enviro…”
Riordan, a leathery, wiry Australian, had been listening impassively, with just the faintest grin. Now he interrupted:
“Yeah, I like reefs. Sort of why I live in the islands…
“But why don’t you tell these people the reason I had to risk crossing this bloody reef today with a big load. It’s certainly not because I’m in need of money. Wasn’t it because you begged me? And when I radioed you three hours ago you told me the clearance was fine for a maximum load on this tide. Said you’d sent a boy out to check, twice.”
“Surely you’d have an idea yourself…”
“I’ve never come across this reef. Why would I? You contacted me on Main and asked for my barge as a special favour because the owners of transport boats are sick of scraping their arses on your coral. The only way I can know about conditions is if you tell me accurately.”
“Well, if you weren’t happy with the clearance, why proceed?”
“Loaded like this and half-way in with the tide dropping, you think we’d just turn back round to Main Island with that afternoon storm brewing out there? It was either dump the whole toxic bloody load on the reef or blast. I didn’t like having to get into the dinghy to lay dynamite, let me tell you. And you’ll be paying for the blasting, let me tell you that as well.”
“I utterly resent…”
“And here’s some architectural consultancy that’s free, tax included. If you want to make that squashed opera house of yours liveable, you can forget batteries and solar panels and special little ventilation gismos. You’re going to need some big diesel units running air-con round the clock. Someone could die inside that pile you’ve erected. This is the hottest and least breezy part of the whole western Pacific. Most people notice that, and build accordingly. Of course, you’re not most people. You probably spend your life not being most people.
“But if you’re thinking of making trouble for me, just ask around any of these islands about Shocka Riordan. I’ve got connections all over the archipelago; some of them are a bit dodgy, some have official titles in Palikir and wear suits. Complain about me. Go on. Go for your life.
“As for the press…you’ve got them right here!”
Perhaps the journalists, who had returned to the village to wait for their plane, would keep their word and say nothing. Perhaps her husband, who had plenty of associates connected with this-and-that, would be able to exert some influence on the network and keep the footage out of circulation.
Tricia Fitz was now alone on the beach. She needed to get back inside before the storm hit, but she knew that, if the rain proved heavy, there would be more leaks due to the bizarre and complicated roof shape – as well as insects and insufferable stuffiness. She could go straight to the old shack nearby, but it had few amenities, and was really only for sleeping, with its one large ceiling fan, powered by an old diesel generator, whirring through the night.
She stayed on the beach in the cooling atmosphere and stared out. A dark, inert shape was floating toward shore. A branch?
The shape got closer. It was some sort of fish. She stood up for a better view.
Wili had come up beside her. His voice was faint, his face was serious. He pointed and made sweeping motions to indicate the damaged reef and unfamiliar eddies forming near the breach.
“Missie Trish…This for big round thing?”
“No. No, Wili. This just accident…just accident…Wili, you see fish there?”
He dashed into the water, waded out and grabbed the carcase, dragging it ashore by its tail, and dumping it at Tricia’s feet.
She looked down with a wince.
It was a young spinner dolphin, rigid in death.
“This good for big round thing?”
But Tricia Fitzwarren had nothing to say about that big round thing, or about anything. All she could do was stare at a stiff fish.