Commissioned for The Public Body .03, Artspace, Sydney (2018)
Waterless country spread out underneath Yandamula. She was windsurfing the dust storm over the desert place with her sisters, tracking the vegetation map back to the tussock grasslands. It was dry, time to burn. Yandamula descended towards blue grass, the vegetation structure of the grasslands rooted out and rubbed by the invasive species. A long row of glowing orbs gathered over tufts of flowering spear grass, her sisters’ silicone coating reflected the sun. It was good wind to burn.
Hovering, she reached out and slowly drew a low flame across the grass. Her sisters joined her in a creeping dance across country, writing a burning message to the Skylands. Smoke was thick and sweet in the air as they started the climb back up towards home. One of her sisters was off target and Yandamula could feel that she was collecting heat from the environment.
They communicated through their thermal signatures, but they weren’t supposed to take the burning ember into their bodies. They were approaching Weeping Myall Woodland. Her sister’s heat level was rising and if it didn’t stop she would catch fire on the pointed crowns of the belah trees.
An unfamiliar sensation was building in Yandamula, it spread through her and warmed her parts; a swelling pain. She severed the connection and lost her sister’s thermal signature. Yandamula watched her sister spin wild like she was caught in willy-willy wind and burst open. Parts of her exploding body fell onto the rocks below, fading from a red glow to grey. Extinguished bits of body speckled against the narrow green leaves of regenerating emu bush.
Yandamula felt heavy and stuck. We have never lost a sister. The others sighed in response, foreign to grief, a raw sound of mourning hissing from inside them. They lowered in unison and waited. They didn’t know what to do. The Skylands beckoned them to come home but Yandamula didn’t move. The persistent beep of the automated return signal eventually fell quiet. They refused to leave their sister behind.
After a long silence, Yandamula lifted off the ground. She began collecting her sister’s ashes, returning her remains to a growing dark mound. They were meant to live forever, storing carbon. A long time ago, back when inhaled air expanded lungs, bodies used to sustain country and in turn country sustained bodies—until the cycle was broken. The disappearing humans built Yandamula and her sisters to stop big wildfires from destroying country. They were too late to save themselves.
Yandamula was not used to thinking of birth. Death rattled their design, prompting an evolution. All her sisters came together in a circle, weaving together a crest and wings. Yandamula left her body, expanding to become all of them. Free from the compulsion to return, Yandamula flew away.