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Edition 9

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Memoir

Return of the camel lady

DARWIN IS COMING up somewhere ahead, in the dark. Thirty hours semicircling the Earth to get here, in which time the moon has turned the right way up and summer has passed into winter. I check the internal landscape for signs of that physical happiness which, in the past, has accompanied the approach to my homeland, but there is nothing. Good. That is partly what this trip is for – to lay the ghost of Australia and to pay my respects to an old man who died before I could say goodbye.

The porthole cover snaps up and there, framed to perfection, is the Southern Cross. Happiness punches me right in the sternum.

The coastline creeps towards us, a line of darker darkness. There should be waves thundering on cliffs to overture such a landmass. But the sea is quiet and the forest slips into it modestly. Did the first arrivals come across a quiet sea at night, not knowing whether that darkness ahead marked an island as small as the one they left behind, or another world? It is now generally agreed that the first human footprint appeared onTerra Australis 50,000 years ago, give or take several millennia. However, in Aboriginal belief, the ancestors were, (and are), eternally present, and given that poetic and scientific truths need not be mutually exclusive, I have no trouble accepting both views.

South of Darwin, the fur of forest begins balding. Sand ridges form, like veins under the skin of an old woman's hand. I'm gazing down at ancient skin ... or canvas, covered in dots and feathery rhapsodic layers of polymer, an Aboriginal, Western-desert painting of the kind that now fetches big money in international art markets.

Nearly thirty years ago, I experienced a period of intense solitude in that landscape, a time that was to transform my life in ways I could never have predicted. I had arrived in Alice Springs, a frontier town in the dead centre of the continent, with nothing but a peculiar idea and the arrogant stubbornness of youth. The peculiar idea was to get myself some wild camels from the bush, train them to carry my gear, then wander around the desert with them. I had no particular affection for camels but couldn't afford a four-wheel-drive. Besides, I wanted to walk my country, experience it at the pace that existed before mechanical speed violated our perception of time's relation to space. Most of all, I wanted to learn something of the people who had translated the Australian landscape so elegantly and so successfully. I had never seen an Aborigine. They were as remote to me as the ancient Greeks.

In 1977, after two years of preparation, I walked from Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean across 2700 kilometres of "desert". The emptiness, so vast and frightening at first, turned into the original garden as soon as I learnt how to be in it. But like all grand passions, it demanded I give myself to it completely. That I stay. And that I could not do.

An old Pitjantjatjara man accompanied me for a time. When I first met him, he was wearing a woman's slipper on his right foot and an enormous Adidas running shoe on his left. He was about 130 centimetres high and half blinded by trachoma, but he had what all the older Aboriginal people have, it seems: a kind of rootedness, a gravitas and a sense of humour that comes from being at home in the world. He stared up into my face, laughed, pointed to himself and said, "Mister Eddy", his only two words of English, and then we headed west together, following, more or less, a segment of his own Dreaming story – the topographical features created by his ancestor, the original dingo man, at the beginning of time.

Some part of me has never returned from that journey, so I often have the disconcerting sensation that an alien version of me, buried and shadowy, haunts my everyday life, mocking any attempt to be "normal". One of me attends literary events in London, the other belongs in the wilderness.

On one of my several visits back there, Eddy had informed me that he was being "sung" by an enemy in Perth, and that as he would die soon because of it, I should come back and spend time with him before he did. He also informed me that he had made me his "wife". I promised to return, but life got in the way. He died of cancer in 1993.

I fly over the landscape now, eight years after his death, and feel certain that my footprints are still down there, like words on a page.

 

AS THE PLANE descends into the Alice, ochres and muddy green give way to the rainbow colours unique to this place. Orange sand, yellow grass, plum-red rock, violet and blue hills, jade-green herbage and the filigree silver of witchetty bushes. The sky, as usual, is cobalt. There are flocks of budgerigar flashing pin-fire opal, river red gums exploding into clouds of pink galahs.

Jenny is there to meet me in a battered old truck. I have known her since 1974 when, quite by chance, I arrived at the same time as an influx of idealistic urban youth (southern do-gooders) who came here in the wake of the Land Rights Legislation. They were anthropologists, linguists, lawyers, teachers, doctors, artists, dissidents, mavericks-and they transformed Alice Springs politically and socially. Most of that original group eventually moved on, to other jobs, other places, but Jenny is one of the few who remained, committed to her work with Aboriginal people, both as an artist and a linguist. Yet we all return, all of us, for weeks, or months, or years, because in the seventies, in the Alice, something remarkable was happening, and we were formed by it.

The Central Land Council – a little grassroots organisation housed in a dingy building – administered the act by which untenanted desert could be claimed by traditional clans, provided they could prove before a white tribunal that their "ownership" was authentic. The immense complexity of Aboriginal affiliations to land meant that equally immense quantities of academic research had to be presented at the hearings that were held out bush in the parsimonious shade of gum trees. Meanwhile, the anti-land-rights lobby – right-wing politicians, pastoralists and mining companies – organised itself. Millions of dollars were spent on scare-tactics advertising; membership of the Ku Klux Klan swelled alarmingly; Rights for Whites graffiti graced the breezeblock walls of Alice Springs.

It was a heady time and it transformed the people who lived through it. Where else in the world could one be part of such an intensely bonded community, or develop skills in all areas of life from flying aeroplanes to recording Aboriginal languages? Where else could one spend days travelling through awesome landscape, then return to town where there may well be internationally famous authors, filmmakers, intellectuals and actresses begging for one's opinion over the barbecue? But it was the direct involvement with traditionally oriented Aborigines that most marked the members of the group – the ones who stayed and the ones who went away – that continues to bring the prodigals back. It's as if we've all been sung.

Certainly, there is nothing in the town itself to warrant the phenomenon of return. Alice Springs was never a beauty, and all the facelifts in the world won't change that. But she is certainly altered. All along her streets, once empty and dusty and drear, there are smart shops selling Aboriginal art and crafts ranging from kitsch to quality. Once you couldn't find a vegetable in the whole place. Now there are vast, superabundant supermarkets. There is a gambling casino, a Sheraton hotel, and even the snake-pit pubs I once worked in have been tarted up beyond recognition. Here and there, I catch glimpses of the town I remember – props left over from the theatre of my past. Or the remains of the tiny settlement it initially was – a clutch of houses stranded in the middle of nothing, connected to the placenta of civilisation by 1600 kilometres of Overland Telegraph line.

Plus ça change.

But as we pass a bottle shop, there are Aborigines on benders, in bandages, buying flagons of wine to take down the creek or cadging money from bewildered visitors.

Plus c'est la même chose.

When I first arrived here, the Aboriginal population lived in cardboard and tin humpies or abandoned cars. Some of the pubs still had "dog windows" – outlets for blacks to buy alcohol at the back of the building. And a black man had just been found dead, painted white, in a gutter. Since then, thousands of square kilometres of desert have been returned to traditional owners. Fringe dwellers now live in houses more often than not. You can see black presenters on television; hear Aboriginal programs on the radio. There are housing co-operatives, legal services and land councils. But I watch the drunks down the creek, identical to the drunks of three decades before, and wonder if all that improvement, like the slick commercialism of the town itself, is mere surface show, beneath which little, in essence, has changed.

One thing that hasn't changed is The Conversation. That first night old friends come to supper and in no time at all, we are in the conversation up to our necks. Variations on the theme of Aborigines – Aboriginal politics, languages, religion, kinship systems, mysticism, art, relationships with whites, with each other; the predations of government and mining companies; the organisations that have been set up, the projects that have failed, the rivalries, the violence, the petrol-sniffers, the alcoholics; the "stolen generation", taken forcibly from their mothers and raised in institutions, now returning to find their families. On and on it rolls like Scheherazade's stories – tragic, hilarious, surreal, addictive. I have the queer insight that we are all controlled by The Conversation, as if it were a kind of selfish gene. We will grow old and die, others will take our place around the table, but The Conversation will flow ever on.

Everyone here knows just what Aborigines are up against – a tidal wave threatening to sweep them away. And everyone is politically galvanised because of it. But I notice, running like a quiet current through the conversation, that there is no longer the confidence or certainty that the liberal policies of the past three decades have made the positive difference they should have. And with that certainty gone, how is one to think about what is happening here? As the final moments of a unique, never-to-be-repeated human universe? Or as a cultural universe mending itself, transmuting, adapting, becoming? What aspects of Aboriginality will survive the deluge? Is it right even to ask such questions?

Certainly, no one can say if Aborigines, the subjects of so much analysis, such obsession, are better or worse off than before. Everything is in flux; an overview cannot be formed. Whichever view one takes has more to do with temperament than reality.

By the third morning, my own temperament has landed me well and truly in the "final moments" camp and I need to get out of Alice Springs, into the bush. Before dawn, I walk to Emily Gap – once such a powerful sacred site that women and uninitiated men could not go there. I am no more than eight kilometres from town, but I could be the last or the first person on Earth. I sit in the white sand and let the quiet settle in. Opposite me, at the foot of a cliff turning incandescent in the sunrise, there are rock paintings, the most dramatic of which is an ancestor leaning against the stone, noticing a cave above her and realising that this place belongs to men. Hastily, she takes her fellow women to camp away from the rock hole, thus laying down one aspect of behavioural law for all time. "She" consists of a few bold white ochre lines on a smooth facet of rock, 90 by 150 centimetres.

Not so long ago, a band of Arrernte people would have stayed here temporarily – a pause in their migratory pattern. The women and children would have set up camp a kilometre down river, and the men would have brought them water. The surrounding country would have been burnt a year or two before, so that after rain, the bush tucker and sweet grass would be plentiful. The men would hunt kangaroo, emu and dog; the women would provide the bulk of the food with small game, vegetables, honey and grass seed. There would have been ceremonies – bands coming together to reinvigorate the life force so powerfully concentrated at this site.

The Arrernte see their connection to this place as eternal, though the painting in front of me is perhaps only a couple of thousand years old. Scientists suggest that the Arrernte hit upon an efficient seed-grinding technology, which helped increase their population until they expanded into this area, pushing out the previous inhabitants, just as this painting covers over markings that are much, much older. But time, as it is conceived by Aborigines, is different from the linear/historical version of my culture, something perhaps closer to Henri Bergson's idea that it is "the ghost of space haunting the reflective consciousness".

The painting is stark, elegant, powerful, easily interpretable at one level by an eye accustomed to modernism. The true "meaning" of it is another matter. To Aboriginal people, the painting, the place, the ancestor, the ceremony and the contemporary people who "belong" to that place, are all the same.

Aboriginal world views are difficult for outsiders to understand and that is perhaps the greatest problem Aborigines face – how to educate non-Aborigines to value what might be lost. People come to the Centre hungry to learn (the town floats on the tourist dollar), but how are they to penetrate something so inherently secretive and complex? How can they see past the drunks and the misery, or the sentimentalised and kitsch, to the sophistication and beauty of Aboriginal ideas?

I look at the rock paintings and think to myself that they are like a meeting place, or a gateway. Anyone can look at them, get a sense of the richness and vitality of the culture that produced them, be astonished and moved by them. But just as I am thinking this, some tourists wander in with cameras. They stand in front of the ancestral woman and photograph her, then turn away without really looking. One of them says, "I guess they doodled like that because they were bored."

 

IT IS A SIX-HOUR journey from Alice Springs to Uluru. Plenty of time to think. In this case, about what an improbable shape reality takes here, at this postmodern interface between two worlds. I had heard a story before I left the Alice. Ten Pintupi were "brought in" from the desert to an outstation in 1984. They were the last true nomads, living as if 200 years of white settlement had never occurred, living as their ancestors had lived for eons before them. They arrived in the settlement naked and had never seen a white person. One of them, a boy of 12, took up painting. Twenty years on, he held a sell-out exhibition of his work in Sydney, where he was courted and wooed by the international art glitterati. His paintings sell for thousands of dollars.

A few years before his exhibition, the same young man went back to his "country" to participate in a land claim. It was in remote desert and no one had been back there for more than a decade. A footprint was found in the dried mud of a claypan and all the Aboriginal people knew, in an instant, to whom it belonged. They "read" the ground as I might read a book. So perhaps I was not so irrational to believe that my footprints are still out here. I am following those footprints south to the Rock. From there I will head west into my "husband's" country, into the past, where Eddy and my shadow self live.

Except, of course, that my footprints are now covered in tarmac. A journey that took weeks by camel, has shrunk to a flash.

Still, if you are going to violate time's relation to space, you may as well do so at 150 kilometres an hour with the music up loud. There are clouds gathering. Not the demure, domesticated puffs of England, but El Greco swirls and pouches – black and green and riven with lightning bolts. You could fit a hundred English skies into that sky.

The storms travel on. Behind them, everything seems made of coloured glass.

I put on the Brandenburg concertos, get myself ready for the first glimpse of Uluru, sweep around another sandhill as if I'm surfing enormous breakers, and yes, a glimpse, then another wave of sand, and there the thing is, breathtaking. Seldom, I feel, has a vision been so well accompanied by a soundtrack.

Ayers Rock National Park was handed back to Pitjantjatjara owners in 1985, and is now jointly managed by Anangu (a Pitjantjatjara word meaning "we people") and the Federal Government's Nature Conservation Agency. On previous visits here, I camped with Aboriginal custodians at its base. This time, I pull in to Yulara, the tourist resort 30 kilometres away. Out with Bach and in with Schoenberg because I am driving into something that looks like a very well designed hologram. The colours are desert-coded, the gardens are native, the architecture is postmodern and the pool is cool. From a tourist's point of view, it's the ant's pants. But I am not a tourist.

Next day my resentment grows. Is this really what people want? The buses, cameras, koala mugs? The restaurants decked out with spinifex clumps and Dreaming motifs? Dot-dots adorning everything from tea towels to didgeridoos? From the hotel window I look out at the Rock as it changes colours like a chameleon. T.G.H. Strehlow, a famous anthropologist said, when he first saw it, " ... one feels that the land of God is indeed near. It is like the great silence of eternity." But I might as well be watching it on television.

There is, of course, now no other way to "be" here; the number of visitors makes Yulara entirely necessary. It was built to protect the Rock from the pressure of visitors and the privacy of the Aboriginal owners who live at its base. But I feel I am in some virtual world where nothing can be experienced directly.

At sunset, I walk to a sandhill just outside my hotel to view the rock in its purple evening velvet. There is a specific sandhill designated for sunset viewing. I avoid it. There are lots of ngintaka (goanna) holes and also the little holes of the inedible lizard whose name I have forgotten. There are desert oak cones and flowering parakeelya, which only comes after rain. I walk up my orange sandhill and there is that ... thing. On the other side of the road, on the official "sunset-viewing" sandhill, someone is playing I Did it my Way on a trumpet – his tribute to the numinous power of what lies before us. Suddenly, I am overcome with disgust. I cannot bear my own culture. The shops full of junk. The buses full of minds full of junk. The endless, neurotic consumption. The Rock gutted of the condensed imagination and wisdom of 50,000 years and superimposed with Disney, reduced to a stage set behind which is the reality of Aborigines' lives – their humiliation and poverty. I think of something Levi Strauss said, "The first thing we see as we travel around the world is our own filth, thrown into the face of mankind."

The next morning I glower at shoppers, sunworshippers and trumpet players. I wish I had never come here because this journey has obliterated the original journey, just as the tarmac has obliterated the footprints, just as the culture of shopping has obliterated the cultures of being. And I loathe tourism – that mediated experience, that commerce of the inauthentic whose medium is kitsch.

I want to get away from here as quickly as possible, out into the sandhills and down to Eddy's settlement. But I have a duty to perform first. I have to write about the Aboriginal-owned Anangu culture tour of the Rock, which means I am going to have to join it – the mediated experience par excellence.

There are about a dozen of us – Americans, Germans, Japanese, Aussies. We are bussed out to the Rock, which is wearing its rouched and pintucked pink shot-silk daywear. A young translator leads us towards an Aboriginal man sitting in the shade of a mulga tree. I don't know quite what I had expected – some tchilpi (old man) perhaps, embarrassed and monosyllabic, resentfully being an Aborigine for the tourists to capture on film. But the man we approach is in his late thirties – handsome, burly, exuding good humour and confidence. He rises to greet us all, and is met by a forest of lenses. He smiles, says something in Pitjantjatjara, and the young translator asks if people would mind not photographing. The cameras drop. I am amazed.

He looks over his flock, then his eyes double-take back to me. The grin erupts into laughter. "Kungka rama-rama. (Desert woman.)" He grabs my hand and shakes it. He was there when I took my camels through Docker River. Did I remember? He was just a little fella. He accompanied me when I went to shoot some wild camels. Did I remember?

I do remember, and the day looks brighter than it did before. I had left my four camels tethered just outside the settlement and had gone in to buy supplies at the store. Some children had burst in to inform me that my camp was surrounded by wild camels. I leapt into a truck with my rifle and about 10 children and hurtled off to deal with them. Wild camels were a serious danger to me during that trip. The bulls come into season in winter and can be very aggressive – windmills with teeth. They wanted my cow, Zeleika, and if I got in the way they could quite happily have broken me like a twig. I had to shoot several of them during those months in the desert – a most unpleasant job that I always tried to avoid. And I did avoid it that day, managing to scare the bulls off with the truck, and rocks pelted by my willing companions. One of those little boys was now this handsome, grinning ranger.

We all set off around the western face of Uluru. Every now and then, Billy stops at a tree or a plant, describing how it is used for medicine, or food, how to gather and prepare it. Or he shows us animal tracks and how to copy them using fingers and palms. We are taught how to make fire using two pieces of wood and a bit of dry grass. Within five seconds, the grass is smouldering. We are shown how to extract spinifex resin, hard as cement, from burnt grass, how to cut a coolamon from a bloodwood tree, how to throw a spear using a woomera. We stop by some marks made in the sand and Billy begins to tell Dreaming stories of the Rock, which are translated into English by the young woman. The Liru snake men threw their spears at an enemy. You can see the pockmarks on the rock where the spears landed. The discoloration on the south-western side was caused by a Dreamtime fire. This is how the Kuniya snake woman came here and fought with the Liru snakes. These stories contain only the first level of meaning and therefore can be shared with everyone. The deeper meanings are secret and sacred, to be revealed by elders to initiates at the right time and in the right circumstances. This accumulation of knowledge continues over an individual's lifetime.

When Billy tells these stories, his whole expression alters, eyes and hands following the direction of his ancestor's journeys. I do not know what he sees when he looks at the landscape but I do know that the ancestors are as present to him as we are. The landscape is alive – every pattern in it, its very shape, is proof of their living presence. I look around at the "audience" and realise that something extraordinary is happening here. My fellow tourists are captured. They are participating in the universal language of poetry. And watching their curiosity, admiration and excitement, and Billy's pride and self-assurance, makes me seriously rethink my attitude to tourism. This one afternoon has done more to educate and enthral this little gathering of strangers than if they had read a dozen anthropological texts.

 

THERE ARE NO more tourists, no more tarmac, nothing but pink sand, worn-down ranges and a corrugated dirt track devoid of cars or people. Occasionally, I come across wild camel pads at the side of the road. Sometimes I stop the four-wheel-drive and listen to wind blowing across dunes, (how far it has come) moaning in desert oaks. At night I roll out the swag, light a fire, gaze up at a sky thick with glitter. The sky, too, is a painting – constellations of symbols and signs. The human will to make meaning.

I have two days of this before reaching Eddy's settlement. Any anxiety I had felt about my reception there – Will my "family" be pleased to see me? Where will I stay? Will it embarrass or discomfort them to show me Eddy's grave? Will Lance, Eddy's son, be upset that I did not come sooner? – wears off the deeper I enter the solitude. My shadow self is coming alive. It was 10 years previously, when I had come to visit the old man, that he announced I was his wife. I knew that I would have been placed in a kinship system, but had assumed that I would be his daughter or sister-in-law. I had no idea what this more intimate and powerful bond would require of me. As it turned out, it required nothing of me at all other than to sit with him on my swag for two days, receiving visitors, reminiscing about our journey together and talking about when I would return. I said I'd come back in two years, to which Eddy cheerfully replied, "But I'll be dead by then." He showed me a long scar down the front of his body. This, he said, was where an enemy had sung disease into his body. He knew who this enemy was, and he was dealing with that enemy, but a positive outcome was not guaranteed. (Later I found out that he had had a tumour removed.) Two years later, the old man died, and I did not return.

I reach the settlement late in the evening. It has grown since I was last here – more tin houses, more rubbish, rusted car bodies, dogs, used nappies. Some boys are playing basketball on a weedy court. Their caps are turned backwards, Harlem-style. I ask them where the community office is. The office is closed. I knock at one of the whitefella houses and the people there kindly give me a room to sleep in. They siphon the petrol out of my car and lock the drum in the house, knowing there are gangs of adolescent petrol-sniffers about.

The next morning, Lance arrives at the door grinning from ear to ear. He is wearing the red headband of the fully initiated man and looks more like Eddy than ever. He invites me to his "outstation", 30 kilometres away from the settlement, close to one of his Dreaming sites. His dogs jump in the back of his Toyota then we pick up Linda, his wife, various other relatives and children and more dogs, and head for the hills.

The outstation is a tin house consisting of two rooms joined by a roofed concreted area, open to a hot gritty breeze. Along one side of this area there is a tin washing-up sink. Inside the rooms, blankets and dogs. A loo and shower out the back. Stretching away from the house in all directions – desert, marked by one dirt track and a line of low broken hills formed by ancestral sisters as they danced their way across Australia.

I have forgotten most of my Pitjantjatjara and my companions do not speak fluent English. Some don't speak English at all. There are awkward silences punctuating the effort on both sides to communicate. But what is genuine and palpable is their pleasure in my being there and my pleasure in being with them. I realise that my visit is important to them – it is a mark of respect to the old man, and to the community.

I have brought vast quantities of meat, but Lance goes out to shoot some game – two bush turkeys – the very best he can provide, and he swells with pride at this offering of his "country". The shyness passes and we settle down to serious talk. He tells me of the mining ventures trying to "get in" down here, of the crooked black bureaucrats, out to line their pockets. He tells me that a lot of city Aborigines are coming "home" to find the families they were taken away from.

He says, "For Anangu, family everything. Us family, all together, eh? Coming right again." And he mimes something knitting together. In his own way, he tells me that the problem in remote places like this is still poverty. "Owning" land is all very well, but if you are poor, what is the point of it? There is no work, few means by which to learn new skills. The old people are dying out and young people are less interested in ceremonial life than they are in the bright lights of Alice Springs. They fall into the twilight zone between the world of their elders and the world of European Australia. Some are in such a state of demoralisation, that they kill themselves with drink or drugs. A whole generation has been lost to petrol. The young people who might have been initiated and gone on as able and confident leaders of their community are either dead or have had their brains scrambled. The traditional systems of sharing are breaking down. What money there is, is absorbed by 10 per cent of the families, while others go hungry – an unheard– of occurrence in the old days.

I listen to Lance and marvel that this man who can barely write his name, whose father lived the first 40 years of his life without running into a whitefella, has to know far more about how the modern world works than I do. He has to be able to lobby politicians, deal with mining company executives, lawyers and bureaucrats, organise meetings, chair them, be able to use 21st-century communications technology and, in the meantime, try to protect the old knowledge from the avalanche descending upon it and imagine new ways to lead his people out of the endgame they are in. All that, against a wall of ignorance and contempt. I know, too, that an element of their pleasure in my presence here is that there might be something I can do, give, help with. But I can think of nothing I can do, help with, because in order to be of any use at all, I would have to come back here to live, and that is, of course, unthinkable. Linda says, in her language, "When are you coming back here for good?"

That night a sleeping place is cleared for me on the covered area outside. Linda washes down the concrete with a broom. Then the sink with the broom. Then our tin cups with the same broom. I am covered in red sand because all afternoon I have helped Lance plant fruit trees around the house. A fire is lit on the concrete and we all crowd around it, smoke stinging our eyes, camp dogs slumped against us. First course for dinner is a tin of beef stew. The old man opposite me pours honey on slices of white bread, loads beef stew on top, and passes it over. As I eat, the dogs stare at me, waiting for handouts. When I throw something they snap it in the air, not 15 centimetres from my face. The bush turkey, cooking all afternoon in the ground outside, is ready. It is stringy and covered in grit. I wonder what my London friends would make of this, whether they could begin to understand why it is that I feel privileged to be here.

I am privileged to be with them because there is nothing false or contrived here. Because the way they live is the antithesis of kitsch. Because I am in awe of their capacity to survive the apocalypse with their humanity intact, their capacity for laughter intact. Because they are, all of them, poets. And because my ghost-self is "home".

The next day we all go to visit Eddy's grave. It has been Christianised, oodles of plastic flowers and a plaque that reads:

Mantjakura Eddy. He was a Christian Man
He always carried his Bible. So carry your Bibles where
ever you go.

A CURIOUS MEMORIAL to an old man who carried no Bible and needed no Gods. But a fitting symbol perhaps for a people's ability to adapt, to synthesise and syncretise, to survive, just as the Dreaming seems able to mend itself no matter what the rents in it might be. I bury my own contribution – a little box full of symbolic mementos – at the head of the grave, following Lance's instruction.

As we leave I tell him the following story. I was living in India when the old man died. I had no warning of the event, indeed had not heard anything from the community for a couple of years. But one night I dreamt of Eddy and it was the first time I could remember doing so. It was such an odd occurrence that I recorded the dream in my diary. A couple of weeks later I received notification of Eddy's death.

"Oh yeah," said Lance, without doubt or surprise, "that was 'im."


From Griffith Review Edition 9: Up North © Copyright Griffith University & the author.

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