Despite doubts about his Lunar Mound, Howard Jacobson is swept away by thoughts of Broome as the new Jerusalem
It has not dropped below 35Celsius for three days, but tonight Mimi is freezing.

The Australian Opera has come to Broome to do highlights from La Boheme. And there is no heating in Mimi's Paris garret.

In real time, the Bush is burning. I woke to the smell of it. Slightly sweet, as though someone had thrown yams on to the barbecue. Now that darkness has fallen, you can see the flames; not the flicker but the unchanging glow, as it will look on the ferryboat to hell. Birds have been beating their retreat from the fire all day. Tonight, it is the turn of the fruit bats, black against the sky like the devil's raiding party, come to town to maraud, to feast on unripe mangoes and hang upside down from telephone wires.

We are not quite the right way up ourselves, unsteady under the blistering stars, worried for Mimi. Don't die, Mimi. Don't leave us. Wrap up.

In the bars of the Latin Quarter, Musetta flirts in her high fluting voice. European naughtiness. Minus .00000001 on the Richter Universal Life Force Scale.

Mimi shivers, hits her notes, and is no more. We applaud her expiry. "Bravo!" While out on Roebuck Plains, the snakes sizzle on the barbecue.

It could have been even more culturally confusing up here still. We could have been turning out to watch The Kimberley Hassidic Male Voice Choir performing highlights from Leviticus. Encoring the abominations scene, where all the forbidden foods are listed in a not very high-kicking finale to Act 1. For this wild remote corner of Australia was very nearly the new Jerusalem, a refugee state for the displaced Jews of Europe. I'd always known there'd been vague schemes mooted in the Thirties for turning the Kimberley over to the Jews - the Jews needing to be somewhere safe, the Kimberley needing a population - but it wasn't until I read Leon Gettler's An Unpromised Land the other day that I had any idea just how close those schemes came to realisation.

The Western Australian Government was persuaded. The churches were persuaded. A majority of the Australian people was persuaded. If anything, the most vehement opposition to large-scale Jewish settlement of the Kimberley came from existing Australian Jews themselves, fearing it would dilute the ambitions of Zionism proper, and not relishing the prospect of their uncouth eastern European cousins turning up on the beaches of Oz in their yarmulkes and tefillin, thereby undoing all their own efforts at making themselves invisible. Not that they could put it quite like that. A better argument was that the Kimberley was too intractable a terrain for any white man to settle. It was one thing to make the desert bloom in Palestine. Beagle Bay and the Fitzroy River were a different proposition. A tropical wet that lasts half the year. A pitiless sun. Cyclones. Sandflies. Goannas as big as kangaroos (and forbidden by Leviticus, to boot).

The doubters prevailed. Which is why surfing in your yarmulke and tefillin never properly took off in Australia. But I am determined to show we could have done it. To prove once and for all that a Semite can hack it in the Kimberleys. Day by day, little by little, I grow more feral. Already, I have my hair up in a high Samurai's pigtail, by way of reference to Broome's Japanese pearl-diving history. I wear a batik sarong, by way of reference to the Malay influence, a crocodile's wisdom tooth on a buffalo leather string around my neck, by way of reference to outback survivalism, and a bracelet of coral and pearl-shell about my ankle, by way of reference to everything else. I am not yet pierced, but that is temporary. I am still deciding where I want the hole.

I have become a planetary. Every evening, I watch the sun go down on Cable Beach, then I charge across to Roebuck Bay to watch the moon come up. Three times a month, in season, the moon performs a particular trick, reflecting its own image on the mud-flats, creating a magical staircase to itself. We gather above the mangroves like cultists, and wait, in silence. The moon comes up red here, like a rival sun, and we gasp as the sky begins to redden in the blackness. Every impulse, in this extreme place, is towards the colour red.

But we could have handled that. Esau was red. And when God appeared to Moses it was in a burning bush, a wild acacia shrub - so He, too, was red.

Some Broome essentials I can't yet manage. I cannot power-walk in bathing trunks, ankle socks, Reeboks and a baseball hat. And I cannot do Feng Hooey or whatever on the beach, breathing in through the soles of my feet, re-balancing my energies. According to Madame Moonglow, who reads my palm on the Saturday morning ferals market, I am having trouble with my energy fields. There is not enough spring in my Lunar Mound. I am expending too much and not getting enough back in. I am buffeted, she says, by emotions. Worn out by compunctions. I listen to Madame Moonglow. She's watchful and astute. She's been right so far about the massive intellect that is etched across my palm, the soaring creativity, the largeness of heart; so she must be right about the energy.

But the implications of what she's saying worry me. We are getting perilously close to the all-thinking no-dancing Jew of mythology. Am I to understand that my people would have mastered the landscape, no worries, only to have gone down to flabbiness of the Lunar Mound? Would we have thought too much to make it in the Kimberleys?

I refuse to yield to that analysis. We could have made it, we can make it up here. Tomorrow, I will find a silver ring for my little toe, and think again about having my body pierced

Comments