We lived and farmed, my convict father and I, on the last
clear patch by the Cudgegong River, our hut right beneath
the enveloping hills. On each flat-top there crouched a beast
of stone, these animals glared like sphinxes through a wreath
of trees, guards for the far, black mountains, set to keep
us from their gates. And this land of the valley had a breath:
the tribe. They swam through the bush as an eel in the green deep
of the river, weaving through the dimness. Two peoples, one place
with water, and where the land was fat for game or sheep.
More settlers arrived, and after drink men threatened to chase
that mob of blacks away. From his old scars, so aware
was dad of persecution, behind whatever face,
that he warned me away from the boy. We'd met by the river last year
on the hunt for one quarry, and had fallen in together.
To see me, he'd lean on our gum out the back, standing there
till I'd slip away from my jobs, then we'd go fishing or slither
through the reeds to hunt. I even learnt a few words of their talk,
though never thought to teach him ours, and ignored my father,
happy to see the boy beneath our tree, and walk
after him through the bush. When agate faced, with no laugh
or sign as usual, he grabbed my wrists, then turned to stalk
between the wattles. One heart beat's halt and I headed off
to follow, sticking close behind, though he took a track
far from the valley, among steep hills where the going was tough.
My doubts were surrendered to his sure stride and his lack
of hesitation among the sandstone walls, till I
was lost beyond my own returning, no going back
before the dusk. The last of twilight had left the sky
when we stopped by a creek, merely a skim of water on sand,
here the boy mixed ochre, red and white, to apply
in streaks on our chests, and on our cheeks with prints of his hand.
We'd come to a secret place, a ground for ceremony:
one tree, and in a ring, thousands of prints in the sand
treading, re-treading round the white trunk like the many
long years spun on this axis. All ages seemed to twine
together, so that turning about and about in the honey
of thickened history, could concentrate, in this time,
some thing of the past to be touched. Ritual performed we sealed
the tree with our palms in blood-red ochre as a sign,
ending our dive through ages, and slept till dawn revealed,
among gullies scraped out by claws of darkness, our track
to home. Where at midday we washed and I hid behind a shield
of wattles to watch my father. He was sitting, his back
to the door, when I'd stepped out and said, trying to be bold,
I got bushed the other side of the river.' Not with that black,'
he retorted. No, alone' I said. That's what I told
the neighbours, that you were missing, taken away by him.'
I was led inside to eat. My old man didn't scold
or ask another question, but stared over the rim
of his cup at me as I worried the cold meat and damper.
That's when the shooting started, bangs that by the whim
of the wind echoed round the hut. A party of campers
perhaps, but the sound had built and built. I'd tried to shut
tight my ears to the rolling climax and, like a dog, scampered
by instinct to the door. My father held it closed, stay put!'
was all he said. I curled on the mattress, each shot a pound
in the guts, though I'd no grip on the happenings a mile from the hut.
But I'd seen hunts: when startled by dogs a grey would bound
big-eyed through the trees, and then the shot and then the roo
would collapse in a rolling tumble, to kick and thrash on the ground.
Then the dogs would pile in. If you wanted to keep the meat, they'd shoo
them away, but if it was near the end of the hunt, with enough
in the bag, to keep them keen, the pack would be let go.
And the men would stand and watch. There was firing on and off
into the night and later, with father asleep, I stared
at the moonlight splayed, shot on the dirt floor, silver and soft.
Of course some got away, to the pathless country, and speared
a sheep when they could. I was part of that people, by rite
and by guilt, and when in town with those men I never dared
to look up, knowing I was an excuse for that night,
and I chucked my guts when I saw blood on our gum at first light
- 96: NO THEME IXSUBMIT NOW with M Gill and J Thayil 95: EARTHCOMING SOON with M Takolaner 94: BAYTCOMING SOON with Z Hashem Beck 93: PEACHwith L Van, G Mouratidis, L Toong 92: NO THEME VIIIwith C Gaskin 91: MONSTERwith N Curnow 90: AFRO AUSTRALIANwith S Umar 89: DOMESTICwith N Harkin 88: TRANSQUEERwith S Barnes and Q Eades 87: DIFFICULTwith O Schwartz & H Isemonger 86: NO THEME VIIwith L Gorton 85: PHILIPPINESwith Mookie L and S Lua 84: SUBURBIAwith L Brown and N O'Reilly 83: MATHEMATICSwith F Hile 82: LANDwith J Stuart and J Gibian 81: NEW CARIBBEANwith V Lucien 80: NO THEME VIwith J Beveridge 57.1: EKPHRASTICwith C Atherton and P Hetherington 57: CONFESSIONwith K Glastonbury 56: EXPLODE with D Disney 55.1: DALIT / INDIGENOUSwith M Chakraborty and K MacCarter 55: FUTURE MACHINES with Bella Li 54: NO THEME V with F Wright and O Sakr 53.0: THE END with P Brown 52.0: TOIL with C Jenkins 51.1: UMAMI with L Davies and Lifted Brow 51.0: TRANSTASMAN with B Cassidy 50.0: NO THEME IV with J Tranter 49.1: A BRITISH / IRISH with M Hall and S Seita 49.0: OBSOLETE with T Ryan 48.1: CANADA with K MacCarter and S Rhodes 48.0: CONSTRAINT with C Wakeling 47.0: COLLABORATION with L Armand and H Lambert 46.1: MELBOURNE with M Farrell 46.0: NO THEME III with F Plunkett 45.0: SILENCE with J Owen 44.0: GONDWANALAND with D Motion 43.1: PUMPKIN with K MacCarter 43.0: MASQUE with A Vickery 42.0: NO THEME II with G Ryan 41.1: RATBAGGERY with D Hose 41.0: TRANSPACIFIC with J Rowe and M Nardone 40.1: INDONESIA with K MacCarter 40.0: INTERLOCUTOR with L Hart 39.1: GIBBERBIRD with S Gory 39.0: JACKPOT! with S Wagan Watson 38.0: SYDNEY with A Lorange 37.1: NEBRASKA with S Whalen 37.0: NO THEME! with A Wearne 36.0: ELECTRONICA with J Jones