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‘Metal contamination levels in some of Tasmania’s lakes are among the highest in the world, a new study has found, while those within the state’s Wilderness World Heritage Area have also been badly polluted by mining.’ —Guardian Australia, 9 February 2019


Our peaks are filled with metal. Now our lakes are catching up.’

The slogan for our Experience is painted over the gate and I like to hum it on my way to work on the lake. There’s no tune for the words, but there is a hum and it tumbles through my lips as I dip my toes in the still water, hidden from the queue leading up to the platform by a screen of prickly plastic bushes.

‘Next!’ my boyfriend Danny calls out. He opens the gate as a young guy in shorts and a hoody leaps through. The guy stares at the lake for a few seconds and turns to give a thumbs-up to his friend. His friend takes a photo, then sticks out his own tongue. The camera clicks again and they ask Danny the question.

‘Hey, can we swim?’

‘No,’ says Danny, blond ruffles shaking. ‘You can’t.’

‘Are you sure?’ asks the hoody. He leans against the safety fence like he is trying to push it over.

‘If you swim,’ says Danny, ‘you’ll die.’

The young guys kind of shrug, then cheer and walk back through the exit, past the multicoloured queue of people that speckles the track up from the carpark like a millipede slumped on the ridge.

‘Next!’ calls Danny.

An older couple stumbles to the platform. The woman gives the thumbs-up sign as her husband takes a photo.

‘Can we swim?’ she asks.

‘No,’ says Danny.

‘Are you sure?’ the older lady asks. ‘It’s so hot today and it looks gorgeous in there.’

‘Yep. It’s gorgeous. But you can’t swim.’

Actually, you can. We swim every day and the glow of the water holds us up.

‘Why can’t we swim?’ asks the woman.

‘You’ll die,’ says Danny.

‘Okay.’ The older woman says this like maybe it is still worth thinking about, then she takes a photo of her husband making another thumbs-up sign. They cheer and start trudging down the gravel path.

‘Next!’ calls Danny.


We have to explain all the time. You can swim in the ocean. We know, the algae. The glowing phosphor-something. We know. This is different. These are heavy metals. What’s so bad about heavy metals? the tourists ask, and Danny and I have to admit that we don’t quite get it, but these metals are really fucking heavy. Maybe they stick to your skin and pull you down drowning? It’s a wonder the lakes haven’t slipped down the hill; it’s a wonder the water evaporates at all.

But the glow isn’t from the metals. The glow is from the lamps. The tourists don’t know, but it’s not like the lakes are radioactive or anything. No way. They’re sweet little jewels round the mountains’ necks, or the sky made small; the biggest has a white, round rock poking from its depths, and we often hear the tourists whispering about the moon. The lakes are always watching the clouds flashing by and sometimes I lean back in the dirt and take a moment to follow them myself.

Mostly we get really good numbers. The company buses them in from Hobart and the cruise ships, and some of them stay in the old mining village they’ve built near the river. They like the bush, and the Experience helps them like it even better. Me and Danny live across the river in the staff quarters and have a room all to ourselves. That’s part of the deal. We heard about it back in town where the hotels are scrubbed and the ground is swept and the trees seem to be carved from those blocks of wood they dig from the rivers; we were working with icy faces that the tourists slipped past. They’d come to see something and it wasn’t us. Danny got sad about the long days and said, ‘Silvie, why don’t we start finding people who are happy? Maybe we’ll feel happier?’ I felt pretty happy in town, but I figured for Danny I could come out here because it’s a special place, like nowhere else on Earth, where everybody’s faces glow like they’re reflecting the water and not the other way around.

And it is good. I get tired, but the fresh air makes my hands tingle. The trees further back from the lakeshore are real; their dry bones sand at our skin and the prickles in the leaves make small cuts in our fingers that we let bleed a little because we know it’s good for us. Clouds cover the sky and we feel just as shy so we stay inside and let the rain pound down a party of wet. When the sun sneaks out we hurry to meet him, but then it feels crowded and we plod back inside until we have to work again. Often, we get these chills too, which means we stay on the old couch a lot. Sometimes I forget we’re showing tourists the Wonders of Nature; like we’re still in the city where the concrete is hard like the setting hours. But then I notice how my legs ache from all that walking and I remember we’re breathing new air.

Again, Danny calls out, ‘Next!’

I swirl my toes in the lake and the surface has a special sheen, just for me. The sunlight gets lost in the water and blends with the glow of the lake and the flashing pulses around my toes. I look across the hills, and for a moment I think there’s a girl standing on the slopes above me, a girl who is short and dark like me, as though I had climbed up there when I was younger and somehow part of me stayed. I watch her on that hill and wonder what she can see; then my eyes drift back to the lake, float and sink in the trembling surface.


Every morning Danny and I have to monitor the lamps buried in the water. If it’s tricky we use the scuba gear, but mostly we just splash down and run a few checks. Are the batteries charged? You can’t have them flickering. Are the filters spreading the flash evenly? Are the cables secure? It’s cold and we use wetsuits, but when we get back to the gas cooker our fingers ache like there are sharp wires pushing through our veins.

Sara from the hut next door won’t do it. She says she’s allergic to the tannins. I reckon she’s just spooked by the company’s story about the metals. But that’s silly. She knows the glow’s not real and the swimming is just so good. It makes us fresh and hungry, so we shovel down coffee and flatbread for breakfast. We don’t really need a shower; just heave on our uniforms and pour the Glowpowder in at the lakeshore. It makes a big difference, and I always watch as the water spreads with shine; it’s so special for tourists who have come so far, and it warms me up like we’re not out west and the rain isn’t tumbling down. I want them to love it as much as I do. Sara once said she doesn’t like how we’re fooling people, but I don’t see it that way. It’s more that we paint these lakes so they’re lovely, and everyone else seems to like them too.

After we’ve opened up, Danny does all the greeting and I sit on the side behind my screen and dream my feet in the water, because it’s really just a one-person job and Danny does better when he’s busy. He calls on me if he needs to take a break or if we get a weird one making trouble about the metals. Sometimes I think he feels bad about dragging me out here away from the city, but honestly, I like it. And the sickness we get isn’t too bad; Danny says it’s just mountain sickness, and I’ve heard something about that.

It’s so pretty out here. People come for miles to get a photo. They come from countries we’ve never heard of and which might not exist, because sometimes tourists like to joke. ‘Uzbekistan,’ they say.

At night, we make them pay double. Most tourists don’t want to climb mountains in the dark, but some of the rich ones pay for a helicopter to take them up in the evening and we hear its drumbeat pounding from the sky. If we’re on that night and there are no people about, Danny and I might dance, swirl and jump in the lakes. We try to clap in time, but the beat is too fast and too wrong.


Danny opens the gate and a girl of about fourteen steps through. There’s no sign of her mother or father. She walks towards the platform, looks at Danny.

‘Do you want a photo?’ he asks.

She seems to think about it. Nods.

‘Silvie!’ he calls. There is an edge to his voice like he’s getting one of the headaches, but I’m already drying my feet and slipping on sandals. I make sure none of the Glowpowder is stuck to my legs, then hurry out of the plastic bushes, grinning.

‘Need a photo?’ I ask. ‘Easy. Just give us your phone and pop up to the platform.’

The young girl coughs and shuffles.

‘Hey, what’s up?’ I ask. Danny will be getting impatient. The queue will be folding and unfolding. I lead her off to the side so someone else can do the thumbs thing. ‘I just need your phone. Won’t take long.’

‘I don’t have a phone,’ she says.

‘Oh right! Your camera?’

She shakes her head. ‘I just want to swim,’ she says.

‘Oh!’ I say. ‘Sweetie, you can’t swim! If you swim, well…’ I don’t want to say it. Danny always does that bit. I don’t get the chance to practise, and she’s just a kid. ‘Well, you know, it’s no good for you. The metals, they’ll make you spew or something, and nobody wants that.’

‘I saw you,’ she says.

‘What?’ My skin feels cold all over like the water is still clinging on. ‘Saw what?’

‘I saw you swimming,’ she says. ‘I want to swim too. Please?’


As we make our way down, I can see Danny watching us. The plastic bushes are pretty good cover, but he will be super mad when he finds out. I whisper to the girl: ‘Just here, on the edge. You can’t go out into the middle of the lake. If you do, we’ll be in so much shit!’

She nods at that. ‘Okay.’

I remember her standing on the hill and wonder how she got here and who is taking care of her. Somehow, she seems like me again as she strips down to her underwear and pokes her toes in the water. Her face shines as the touch of the water is drawn up through her roots. Then she looks back.

‘You can go a bit further,’ I say, ‘get under.’ As she ducks down into the lake I feel the glow will light up her skin, but really the water just flashes and her body disappears.

I look across the hills. They’re filled with scrub like messy hair, and I like how the peaks slide out. One day it would be nice if I had the energy to wander out there and find some lakes that don’t glow and see if they are just as pretty, or if they are a bit dull like they’ve been sitting there too long and have aged like a bunch of old lakes sitting in their chairs. Maybe we could go and throw rocks in them and there’d be no worries about the lamps. Danny and I could go over on a good day, and he’ll hold my hand and we’ll feel the warmth of the rocks on our skin. Maybe we’ll swim there too.

There is a lot of yelling and holy shit, the girl is freestyling right into the middle of the lake. Everyone can see her. I hear Danny swearing as the queue surges forwards. ‘Look, look!’ they are yelling, and I don’t know if they’ll jump the fences, tear off their clothes and leap into the lake, all that sweat washing from their skin, the glow curling up and cradling them as they laugh and maybe just bask in the moment of it all.

But there’s none of that—just a sudden quiet like a storm is rolling in.

The tourists are waiting on the edge of the lake. They’re wondering who will be the hero, like they’re watching a person grabbed by the surf or a shark, or a shark in the surf, and who will it be, they’re thinking, who will jump in and save her? All of a sudden I am knee-deep and Danny is staring daggers at me, but I know it’s up to me to rescue this girl who doesn’t need rescuing, drag her to the side of the lake to save our jobs and the whole Experience, wrap her in a towel and call for a chopper that will beatbeatbeat against the hillside, and I will be sitting on the edge of the lake with Danny by my side and I will be fine, just fine, but nobody will know, and they’ll stare at my tired eyes and red, swollen skin and they’ll look at me as though I am dying.

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