In Mona's final post about Women at Work this month, Eila Jameson-Avey shares her poem, 'Barbed Solitude', that she wrote during the coldest winter in memory in the Central West. She writes about her time fencing their property, and the menial and heavy labour she was tasked with as she stood in icy cold water and felt the wind blowing off what seemed to be a nearby glacier.
The twang of wire
The only reminder of distant company
A lone silhouette bent and straightened
Too far to discern an expression.
He’ll soon disappear leaving me to
Cut, bend, twist or clip, take another step
On this slow peripheral journey.
Alone in this prehistoric landscape
Marking arbitrary boundaries.
The landform unaltered for aeons
Elongated leaves of tall gums whisper, tips of pines sway
Dismissing the capricious fence line.
Tiny shrubs break through damp earth below the taught wire
A multitude of footprints, like ancient fossils,
Defy the newly formed perimeter
Cut bend, twist, clip and step forward
The archaic surrounds sigh
At the insignificance of the wire structure.
A kookaburra laughs above my desolate figure
Immediately a multitude of insubordinate cacklers surrounds me.
Currawongs swoop, clicking and trilling
Cut bend, twist, clip and step forward
And then twang.
Immediately I search for an explanation,
The silhouette long since gone.
A wallaby gapes at me,
Confusion at the primeval wallaby track’s
A shimmering slither of silver thwarting an eternal passage.
The creature sits on haunches a second longer
Before hopping away seeking escape.
Eila joins Mona's fiction and poetry editor, Lauren, for an interview about her piece and the work that inspired it.
In your poem, 'Barbed Solitude', the female persona seems to be left with the menial tasks. In spaces both domestic and public, how do you see the divide of labour between men and women?
The need to fence our property grew because I run with my dogs on the property most days. The youngest of the two—being female—wants to run off and explore and so I would run with her on a leash, which is very treacherous in the bush.
It was always our intention to fence, but after some astronomical quotes, we decided to do the job ourselves. My tasks always involved fetching and carrying and finally the clipping and tying (which I am still completing but now I take my phone and listen to a book).
I suppose the division of labour was a natural fit for us but, yes, too often women are tasked with the lesser jobs in society. As a teacher, I always wonder why, when most teachers are female, it’s the men who rise to principalships or higher positions.
Perhaps it’s as Scott Morrison said, ‘we don't want to see women rise only on the basis of others doing worse’.
You capture a moment when the persona observes her impact on the natural order of the environment. Why have you chosen to represent this moment as intricately involved in the work the female persona is completing at that time?
We moved to Mudgee over five years ago. We bought a bush block as we didn’t want the work involved with pasture lands. We cleared a small area for our house and despite mowing the house yard, wattles, gums, and pines continue to shoot up.
I spend some time each day in the bush and have come to recognise the birds and creatures that inhabit it over the seasons. Seeing the confusion of the native animals traversing the land to find it blocked, I thought about the First Nations Peoples and the first fences and the dreadful massacres that followed. Peter and I have tried to keep our footprint negligible but as humans that’s impossible. We are consumers.
Why do you consider writing about women's experiences to be important?
When I first heard the quote above from our country’s leader of the time, I was reminded of very similar discussions that I encountered back in the eighties when I was one of the first generations of women ‘privileged’ to continue working after falling pregnant.
I was often reminded that I was “taking a husband’s job who needed to support his family”.
It appears little has changed since that time. I believe that literature is an instigator of change. It offers an escape but also opportunities to experience and feel other people's emotions, and hopefully, develop an understanding and empathy for diverse groups of people.
Eila has taught most of her working life, embracing her love of writing again in her 50s, knowing one is never too old to change their spots. Since that time, Eila has published a middle-grade book, Simon Goes to Spain (2019), and another, Wellworth—an adult thriller—is due for publication in late 2022. In 2021, Eila won the prestigious national Lane Cove Literary Award for memoir. Her love of education sent her back to school and she recently completed my Graduate Certificate in W&L. Currently she is studying for her Master's in W&L at Deakin University. Follow her antics at https://eilajamesonavey.com or on Facebook or Instagram.