Payback in ’78

1 August 2012

At Bre’ the Rainbow Serpent flows from sponges
in colours pre-mixed in tins. Children reach up
to spread the curving back along the school wall
clammer to track his path in psychedelic spots

The river is a creamy slurry waiting for rain
They show me a bend in the gouged-out stream
Words point at fast currents folding in

‘See he goes under there’

Their gravel voices fill with stories
legends of canoes, paddle steamers lost
Uneasy fingers twist through hair, check
with a side-ways look as they whisper
his name. Their sleeping giant

‘No one swims here any more’

*

‘Missa, Missa them blacks out there
gunna’ burn our town!’

Someone had burned the station one night
They’d already torched the only pub
Hotel swings from the Liquor Outlet now
a no-frills affair: roller-doors down at ten

And we’d heard talk of wild kids, good with fire
living on the edge of the next failing town

*

Goodooga’s a cross-roads place shrinking
from drought, the end of our ‘Outback’ tour.
A lonely petrol pump’s the last truck-stop
to ‘Brissy’. All roads lead to places livelier
than this, branch off in dust, heading straight
to homesteads. Station-runs standing still.

*

The aluminium space fills with children’s voices
claiming the Rainbow Serpent story.
Young men, bros and cuz, come in from Dodge
take control of our ‘Art in Schools’. Paint
the silent magic of their Muruwari Dreaming
Leave their pride in an air-conditioned hall.

Dodge City‘s on the edge of nowhere. Off-limits
to finger-pointing tourists or ‘blow-ins’ like us

This painted landscape is already too old
or too new for change. Shaped
by late-model cars
– white goods rolled in dust
Useless inclusions in houses
that never had power or water

The people remember centuries of water holes
in scrubby grass. Shifting to camps, penned up
like sheep. They watch other tribes move in
take over towns: living well on their country

Made guerrilla war in lightning strikes
with the only weapon they knew

Bre’: Brewarrina NSW
Dodge City: Former Aboriginal Reserve

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