'TIS THE FLOWER FOR THE SEASON.
By MEG MOONEY
My mulga tree is looking very festive. The bright red flowers of wire-leaf mistletoe are a feature of this time of year and the mulga has lovely big bunches of it.
There's also some maiden's mistletoe - excuse the name - with pale green furry leaves. Fine threads of petals make frilly green flowers.
Speaking of which, the threadpetals have tiny papery purses of seed now, they make a tinkling noise as I walk through patches of the plant.
The mulga tree is the domain of spiny-cheeked honeyeaters, one of our resident birds. They love the berries of ruby saltbush, which grow through the base of the tree.These big mottled honeyeaters are partial to mistletoe nectar, and no doubt the fruits too. I recently saw one chasing off a pair of mistletoe birds.These little birds are a delight. The male flowerpeckers, as they are also called, have shiny black backs and bright red breasts, the females are grey. They zip around the branches of the mulga, making their sweet, high-pitched calls.
It's the birds that are responsible for all the mistletoe on the mulga. They deposit the seeds on branches in their droppings.
I'm not sure if my mulga could cope with any more mistletoe, even with the water it gets from the vegie patch.
The final mistletoe delight of this season are the bright blue butterflies also feeding on it.
I see these satin azures - part of the blue family of butterflies - fluttering near the mulga. Then they settle on branches and disappear.
The underwings are a pale grey-brown, beautifully patterned with winding trails, like insect tracks on bark. So when the butterflies sit and fold their wings, they blend in with the mulga branches, become almost invisible.
The azure caterpillars are protected by gangs of ants, which the caterpillars reward with a sweet liquid they make. Some of these caterpillars even shelter by day in ant nests under mulga.
I find one of the vanishing butterflies with my binoculars, suspicious triangular leaf swaying on a branch.
Finally there's a big gust of wind and the butterfly opens its wings to their full, brilliant blue, flies off and disappears in the sky. I hope it takes good tidings.
RIEFF FAMILY'S TREASURE CHEST.
By JOSE PETRICK
After my first article about Simon Rieff (Alice News, Dec 15), I was able to contact Simon's second eldest son Ivan. Ivan kindly loaned me a box of some of his father's photographs, treasured papers and memorabilia, which enabled me to write this follow-up article.
Among the papers were two letters which may help solve the mystery of the missing tabernacle door on the first altar in Our Lady of the Sacred Heart (OLSH) Church, Alice Springs.
Father Frank Flynn, MSC, in a hand written statement wrote that the door was purchased by Mrs Jenkins.
Mrs E. M. Jenkins, in a statement addressed The Ritz, Alice Springs, dated 12. 12. 52, wrote that she had loaned the door to Mr Simon Rieff.
She was told by the priests of OLSH that Mr Rieff had presented to the church, most of the stones in the door. Ivan told me his father returned the door to Mrs Jenkins.
When I showed the two letters to Fr Brian Healey, he said they would explain a long standing query among the clergy and the congregation.
Long time Alice Springs resident and staff member of the then Department of Works and Transport, Doug Boerner wrote a biographical history of Simon, describing him as "a man of many attributes, explorer, prospector, landowner, miner and keen observer of natural history. A keen gardener, his home in Hartley Street became a showplace and brought a needed touch of culture and beauty to the dusty little township".
He was also a devoted husband and father to his six children. Many photos showed him playing with the children in Alice Springs, at their Hatches Creek Wolfram Mine or on holiday at the Adelaide zoo or beaches.
Ivan said Noonie, a young Aboriginal man, made the bricks for the original Rieff Building shops in Hartley Street (now under threat of demolition), using a steel mould on the block.
Ly Underdown, of Hotel Alice Springs fame, held Noonie in high esteem. He brought Noonie with him to Alice Springs from his Wintinna Station, Oodnadatta.
Ivan also said his father planted the native vine, Tinospora smilacina, which for now still festoons against the wall and over the side gate of Bill Robinson's Optometrist shop. Simon planted the vine to form an archway over the side driveway of the Rieff home.
Simon was a keen gardener. Photographs of the Rieff residence in Hartley Street show a large comfortable home with a windmill and overhead tank and a rainwater tank beside the back door. The extensive garden shows creepers, flower beds, a small swimming pool shaded with creepers, a lawn, pedestal bird baths and brick paths around which the children rode their tricycles and pulled a small play cart. A creeper formed an archway over the front gate and a hedge grew along the front fence.
Trudy Hayes (nee Johannsen) recalls meeting Simon's future wife Dorothy Ratcliff when Dorothy first came to Alice Springs. Trudy was then cook for her father Gerhard Johannsen when they ran Bond's Tours. Trudy told me Dorothy and her sister, who came from Melbourne, travelled on a tour with them. While in Alice Dorothy met Simon and they kept in touch. They subsequently married in Melbourne on 14 June 1935.
Later Simon asked Trudy to keep Dorothy company in the Hartley Street house when Dorothy was pregnant with Barbara and then to stay there when Dorothy went south to have Barbara.
Returning to Simon's papers, photographs of furniture he made show his ingenuity and imagination. He built the back and sides of a garden seat from pieces of windswept sandstone with a solid piece of sandstone for the seat, sculpting faces in the back. He also sculpted faces in the wings of two chairs he carved from timber.
Three letters from Hartley Street School acknowledged Simon's generosity.
The head teacher, Donald Quin wrote to Simon on 15 June 1936 to thank him for donating "your splendid gift of a cyprus hedge for the front of our school yard. Such interest and support in my effort to instil the ideal of 'Civic Pride' in the younger generation is greatly appreciated".
The School Committee wrote a letter of thanks to Simon on 20 November 1939 for his "handsome gift of a Cyclone horizontal swing and for its erection in a concrete base".
In a beautiful copperplate hand written letter, dated 29 November 1939, Heather Neck (later Mrs Bob Clough) wrote "Dear Mrs Rieff, I am writing forall the boys and girls of Alice Springs School to thank you and Mr Rieff very very much for the lovely present of the Swing which you have put up in our yard. It is wonderful! Perhaps you will allow Barbara and Sonia to come over and swing with us sometimes. We will take care of them. Thank you very much from us all, Yours sincerely, Heather Neck".
Letters of recommendation of Simon were written by Special Magistrate for the NT, and Mining Warden Norman Bell. Mr Bell wrote of the potassium nitrate discovery in the Western MacDonnells. The mineral was found by an Aboriginal man prospecting with Simon. When Simon threw a piece on the open fire it "fizzled and popped". Simon took specimens to the Adelaide University to show Sir Douglas Mawson, South Australian geologist of Antarctic fame, who reported it to be potassium nitrate used for gunpowder and fertiliser.
A newspaper cutting undated, said Sir Douglas advised Simon to take a sample of the potassium nitrate to the Commonwealth Geological Advisor, Dr Woolnough, in Canberra.
The cutting added Simon said he had offered the Commonwealth the use of the deposit without charge for the duration of the war. However the government decided the distance from the coast was too great to make it an economical venture.
Sir Douglas and noted geologist Dr Cecil Madigan, came to Alice Springs and Simon showed them the outcrop. Sir Douglas wrote Simon a six page report also saying that although the mineral was of very high quality it would be uneconomical to mine.
When The Granites Gold Rush started late in 1932 Simon was one of the first there to peg leases and went to Adelaide to sell them. An Adelaide newspaper reported on October 4 1932 that of the 80,000 gold shares that changed hands that day, the greatest proportion was "in those companies that had shares in the Granites gold field in Central Australia".
Chapman's Gold Mines also featured in the market. 'Pop' Chapman founded the Pitchi Richi Sanctuary south of Heavitree Gap.
A three column article in an Adelaide newspaper dated 28 October 1932 written by "our Special Representative with the Madigan Expedition" (E. R. Baume) stated that the track from Alice Springs to the Granites was "a tragedy of desolation, 386 miles (600 kms) of heat, flies, dust and spinifex!"
The Madigan Expedition followed the Overland Telegraph Line to Ryan's Well. Two wells on the way supplied water for travelling stock from the Top End of the Northern Territory.
At one, two police boys were working "in the blazing heat, the temperature was 114 (above 40 degrees C) when we left Alice Springs".
The rains took their toll on the track. One bog took six hours and another two to overcome. Simon and George working methodically with spades and axes, cut down little gum trees for corduroy and drove out. The next night they camped at a creek where the truck was bogged for hours. The water was brackish but drinkable. "Unless it is crawling," say bush men, "you drink it".
Just before midnight dingoes began to howl. The next day the temperature was 120 degrees in the shade.
"As we jogged and jolted over spinifex and sand the trucks became torture chambers. Occasionally a lizard scurried out of the way but there was no other sign of life. The ironwork of the trucks burned the hands."
So monotonous was the trip they welcomed the sight of naked warriors at a soak. The warriors left their spears in the spinifex and enjoyed a chew of tobacco and sweets after Dr Madigan put a sweet in his mouth, as the Aboriginals did not know what to do with their handfuls. The warriors said the soak was full of water but it contained only a few inches of filthy fluid.
The article concluded the trip to the Granites was a hardship to well equipped parties, every ounce of gold was earned through sweat, flies and sickness. The old prospectors drove their camels till they died, to the loneliest gold mine in the world.
In Simon's box of memorabilia were several photos of the Hatches Creek Wolfram Field, where he owned the Treasure Mine. Simon built a large home in a picturesque valley. One picture shows a collection of enormous marrows and watermelons from their garden. Other photos show the family at the glorious waterholes after rain with verdant green grass reflected in the water. For several years his family lived there with him until the older children needed more schooling. Dorothy then took them into Alice Springs.
For health reasons Dorothy had to go south and Simon advertised his Treasure Mine for sale in The Advertiser dated 16 February 1952. "One of the best and most developed Wolfram Mining properties in the Northern Territory. Please contact Mr S. Rieff, Box 2, Alice Springs."
During Simon's youth he was a Cossack and gained outstanding skills in riding and horsemanship. Doug Boerner in his notes wrote that the late Mrs Fred Khan recalled some of Simon's trick riding in the dusty streets of Alice Springs when the town was still named Stuart (before 1932).
Mr Norman Bell wrote on 13 December 1952, "Since coming to live here in Alice Springs in 1939 I have come to know Mr Rieff intimately and have met him with his wife and children in their own home which is very comfortable.
"The excellent behaviour of the children, the well kept garden and the large unique and artistically displayed collection of minerals which Mr Rieff has gathered in his many years of mining in Central Australia speak eloquently of his home life.
"As a townsman, Mr Rieff has been exceptionally generous and Alice Springs would be a much better place in many ways if a few other residents did as much for its progress as Mr Rieff.
"Actions speak louder than words and Mr Rieff by his actions has amply demonstrated his loyalty and his worthiness as an Australian citizen."
2004, A BUMPER YEAR FOR SPORT.
By PAUL FITZSIMONS
In the festive season of 2004 sports people of Central Australia have plenty to smile about as the achievements of the year become memories.
2004 started on a high note with Rugby Union and Cricket competitions sharing the limelight. The Warriors under the watchful eye of Robin Shelford turned the Union upside down when they went from bottom to top, and in doing so dethroned the Eagles who had enjoyed life at the top for two years.
Cricketers also experienced a change in command when Federal, after many seasons of disappointment, conquered the reigning premiers RSL Works.
While the local competitions were being played out, the AFL claimed another promotional coup. None other than Collingwood and Port Power came to town to battle out a Wizard Cup fixture. While Port won, and went on to claim their first AFL success, it was just what the doctor ordered for Centralians. Crowds flocked to Traeger Park, and in supporting the big night out proved that civil behaviour and attendance at a sporting fixture can go hand in hand.
Also claiming the limelight was the Imparja Cup. Since its humble beginnings as a contest between Indigenous players from Tennant Creek and Alice Springs, this Carnival is now one of national standing. All States sent a team to the Centre and complementing the interstate fixtures a Plate competition for communities teams was conducted.
On the local front Easter saw elite cricketers travel to Darwin to compete in a form of the Calder Shield – in reality a possible versus probables game prior to the NT side selection. This use of the Easter break, and in the name of the Calder Shield, seems a long way from the original intent of the carnival, which was to give City, Country and emerging juniors a chance to celebrate the game in a carnival atmosphere.
Back home in Alice the traditional Pre Season Lightning Carnival was again a crowd puller. Aussie Rules teams from throughout the desert region zeroed in on Traeger Park. Most significantly the final was played without a CAFL team being on the field. The rapid improvement of communities football was illustrated as the big Yuendumu Magpies just got to the line over the smaller but pacier Ltyentye Apurte outfit.
The season of AFL was then up and away in earnest with the most significant innovation being the timetabling of games. The CAFL opted for Saturday afternoon and evening games for their Seniors while the Under 17 competition was conducted on Friday nights. Sundays were then dedicated to communities football.
Meanwhile the Alice Springs Turf Club were "flat strap" in preparations for their April carnival. In the weeks preceding the Carnival the track itself was all but re-laid which by Cup Day proved a winner. Standout performances in the sport of kings were recorded in the Pioneer Sprint and the XXXX Gold Alice Springs Cup.
The Peter Moody trained Al Tayar lived up to expectations in the Sprint and later in the year was rewarded with the title of Horse of the Year. Then on Cup Day Nev Connor's Solario, the outsider at double figure odds, swept all before him to take the coveted Cup.
From the Alice Carnival the local contingent to the Darwin Cup Carnival experienced rather slim pickings compared to their dominance over recent years. Nev Connor as usual quietly moved his team north early and was rewarded with wins in lead-up races to the Carnival. Then the three year old Not Abandoned raced a treat in the Derby to bring home the bacon for Viv Oldfield.
By the Queen's Birthday weekend the traditions of the Finke race had both locals and visitors thinking very little about anything except fast machines and good times in the dust. This, the 29th year of the race, was significant in that finally the race had a home of its own. Through government support the start/finish line became a permanent fixture with housing for administrators, a realigned run in allowing better spectator vision, and further improvements in store.
In terms of the race David Fellows and Tony Pinto reunited as a team and claimed outright victory in their Jimco 2500cc buggy. On the bikes Stephen Greenfield, a rider in the Masters Class (35 to 44 years), led the charge home on a Honda CRF 450.
The winter sports finals then stole centre stage through August and September.
At the Pat Gallagher Courts the Sundowners dominated the A Grade competitions and recorded an historic sixth consecutive win on grand final day.
Next door at the Soccer (as it was known) the S&R Vikings played in their debut season and took all before them with a premiership.
At Anzac Oval, despite a controversial lead up to the finals, West were allowed to play although unfinancial and duly took home the flag.
West also celebrated at the Aussie Rules grand final when they held South at bay to record their second flag in three years.
The memories of 2004 were far from complete, however, as in October Centralians staged the 10th Alice Springs Masters Games. From the opening ceremony with Billy Thorpe to Marcia Hines at the finale the Games proved to be the best of all time. Races were run, medals were won, some athletes came to win, others to participate, but by the end of the week it was unanimously agreed that the Friendly Games certainly lived up to their reputation, catering for a capacity crowd, and doing it in style.
WALKING THE DESERT AND GIVING IT FORM.
By KIERAN FINNANE
Her desert is a place of roiling dust storms, of heat haze and leg-wearying distance that barely reveals the shapes of living things, plant or animal.
For all its vast spaces it is a claustrophobic place: there's no escape, from the grit in her eyes to the far horizon.
It imposes its omnipresence and she strives to give it form.
Suzanne McLeod has come to know the desert through close acquaintance. She's walked every inch of the way from Victoria to Alice Springs – not in one great epic walk but in some serious walking nonetheless over the last 13 years, that took her first to the Flinders Ranges, then to the Pitjantjatjara Lands and finally on to Alice.
Some of this walking was done with a one year old child in her arms. All of it was done in the company of dogs and camels.
So her desert is not a lonely place, though in her show of paintings at Watch This Space late last year there's a sense of the desert changing the way everything looks and feels.
The show, The Space Between Us, was dominated by abstract works. In being abstracted they lost none of their essential relation to her subject. They conveyed qualities of the desert, or rather, of being in the desert with a subtle focus, from the inside out.
The representational works, particularly the life drawings of camels, revealed McLeod's draughtsman's talent and observant eye, but the abstracted works are evidence of a deeper process at work – the presence, the memory of it, the imagining of it, its associations, all recreated as a new presence, the work.
In ways suited to her subject, it was an exploratory show: she showed pages from her artist's notebook, that were interesting for the immediacy of her impressions; she also used a wide variety of media, including different print-making techniques.
McLeod studied print-making as well as ceramics at the then Centralian College but last year devoted herself to painting, three days a week, in one of the studios at the Space. She intends to keep at it again this year, with the concept for a new show already taking seed.
Her ambition is to show her work beyond the Territory but in the meantime she relishes the artistic freedom of Alice Springs, accompanied as it is by the conversations and critical feedback of the artists around her at the Space, both resident and visiting.
FICTION by JACQUELINE LONSDALE CUERTON
"How are the plans for your project, Pete?" he asked, looking around at the faces gathered in a rough circle in the large room. It's as if the room itself is smiling, he thought, himself happy but also aware of the great changes and the responsibilities that came with them.
Pete looked through his papers.
"Fine. Everyone's here, housed, practicing … Dalli knows all that side," he said, his eyes finding the woman in the circle. "Basically," he continued, "we are following the format of the first Yeperenye Festival…"
"I was here for that one," wheezed an old man. "Forty-nine years ago, more than your lifetime, Rod," he said, eyes soft as he looked at the first speaker. "I'd been living here four or five years by then, supposed to be moving on but you know how it is; your Mum was settled here already. That was the first visit of your Gran, too, that Festival. She loved it. Came every winter after that. If she came by 'plane, she'd start by describing the patterns below – the colours, textures, how she wished she could paint it. Gave her an aerial photo and she started buying local paintings.
"She'd look at the Range against the sky. It wasn't just the colours, orange-red against the blue, grey-green lower down – she felt something; then she'd have to go and find the nearest hill and actually touch it. 'Connecting,' she said. 2001, it was. Celebrating the Centenary of Federation. She'd be so excited now, eh. Prob'ly try to run the show, though."
He stopped, breathing hard, the silence broken only by the odd chuckle among the three or four elders who remembered her.
They knew he'd start again and although there was much to do, they liked hearing him talk. He was eighty-eight, been around a long time, much loved and revered. And time was different here, in the Centre. Planes and trains arrived and left on time but the quality of the air, the deep spirituality, that mostly quiet passion that was in everything, the trees, rocks, water-holes, made the ticking of clocks meaningless. Time here was forever, old, now, then, nothing, everything. Space and matter were the same.
One of the Arrernte elders thought of that Yeperenye Festival in 2001. He'd been one of the school kids, with his lantern, in the long procession. Ee, it was a cold night and there'd been delays, but his slight shiver was more from the excitement he felt then and the pride and passion he still felt for his place and the events now. All kids born in Alice Springs had been encouraged to participate, he remembered. Part of his tribe's inclusiveness. They didn't harbour hate or hold grudges; deep inside they felt pity for their gaolers, the pale men who didn't understand the land or its people. Yes, they'd shed many tears over the stolen children and the young men who died confined in small dark rooms. Our spirit needs the air, earth, sky. No, they didn't fight, not really, for their belief in their Dreaming never wavered and they knew, eventually, they would all find their own place.
The old man's thoughts were on the grand spectacle that told the story of the Caterpillars, their journeys and struggles, their cocoons releasing the beautiful hawk moths, until their final metamorphosis into the MacDonnell Range. He reckoned it was held about halfway through where his life is now. He thought of his own journeys, his struggles, the invisible hooks that prevented him from going too far away from the Centre once he'd arrived. On the surface it seemed his kind of place, the weather, the laid-back lifestyle called to him. But his passions ran deep like those of this place. He thought of his own achievements and the progress of the town, the rapid changes, a certain transience of population but those who stayed, the good friends – all important. He felt close to the heart, here, protected. He could understand the creativity that flowed from the centre. He chuckled at the thought of the big beanie exhibition, wearable art now developed into an international event. "Hey," he said aloud, where are the photos of that festival?"
A young teenage girl slipped away, returning with half a dozen albums. "Here, Grandpa," she said, "do you want to look at anything in particular?""Where's that old poem about it? Read it out to me.""Here it is," she said, leafing through the loose pages tucked between the photos. In her young, clear voice she read…"Welcome to my land, brothers, sisters/ you, who have come across the sea and mountain range/ to this federation of many flags and languages./ Let us share our dance and song,/ brothers, sisters,/ welcome to the family of One,/ the lost, the stolen, come,/ join under sun, the moon, the stars/ that belong to no-one, brothers, sisters/ but belong to all/ the whole world through."Blackfella, whitefella, welcome,/ brothers, sisters./ Follow the Caterpillar tracks/ to Yeperenye Dreaming/ and if your spirit has been lost/ revive it here,/ brothers, sisters./ Children, candle-bright/ carry forward hope/ while understanding history/ and the passions of the mountain range,/ the beauty and the drama that is here/ brothers, sisters."
"It was that time those planes flew into the Twin Towers in New York, do you remember?" said the old man after a pause. "That was when the mob here started talking about faith and belief and one Creator.""Yes," said one of the Arrernte elders, "we were luckier here, keeping our space, more in touch with our life. But we never objected to the idea of a place where everybody could gather and pray to their own gods. That competition caused a bit of a fuss, all 'round the world. Some leaders said it would never work, others said 'why not' and we didn't know what an avalanche of entries we'd get.
"I reckon it showed there are more people with vision than not. One of the letters in the paper said it would look like an elephant as described by four blind men but here it is, another of Australia's great buildings and used for the purpose of praying. Two of our newly graduated architects from here won it. Buildings around the world with their name on them, now. Reminds me of a bird, circling in the air before taking off on a long journey."
The old man took up the story, "I suppose it helps that Jews, Muslims, and Christians have different days of worship or they fit their times around each other. Hindus and Buddhists work in with the others and there's the great centre for corroboree. It all flows, no corners and you can see the sky; no roof over the middle and light pours in from all directions to the other sections. Comes back to being at the centre, the heartbeat of the country."
Rod quietly tapped the table, but enough to get the attention of the group. "Okay," he said, "can we get back to business here. The first visitors will start arriving in a month and we need to check, double check, that everything will go smoothly."
The to and fro of conversation, the checking of lists, times of arrivals, respective accommodations, catering, being mindful of dietary laws, forms of address – some kings and queens, clergy, still favoured formality – it seemed endless but the youngsters, winners of citizen awards, sat quietly, taking it in and those elders, there mostly out of respect, nodded and made only the occasional remark. The old man's thoughts went back forty-six years, to the birth of his son, Rod, president-elect of the Republic of Australia.
Who would have thought it then, he mused to himself. We'd just got the train right through from Adelaide to Darwin. The beginning of the criss-crossing of lines across the country: more ecologically sensitive than roads. This Centre, the birth of so much. World peace started here, I reckon. As soon as that mob stopped all climbing on Uluru there was an energy surge and things happened. Eh, the first time my mum saw it, it was raining. A group of Japanese tourists were there and she kept on telling them how lucky they were to see it in the rain. Bright sunshine next day and she thought she was blessed, seeing it wet and dry. She felt it was completely friendly, benevolent. Funny how I remember things from way back, don't know what I had for lunch yesterday. She was interested in rock, the different formations. He turned to tug at his granddaughter's arm. "Get me some more of those old bits of writing, will you, love," he whispered. "Yes, this is another nice one," and he slowly read it to himself, his granddaughter reading over his shoulder …
"Those interior textures/ flinty, glinty, sharp/ as history./ Dry bright colours of mountain/ clash with unbroken blue/ of clear sky./ Laughter bounces in the hills/ sound can sometimes turn/ to thunder./ And god's great lightning spark/ gives birth to fire on land/ rebirth begins."He remembered the birth of his son, quiet, strong but whose name will go into the history books. Sort of prophetic, in a way, his string of names. Each one important to someone, his mother, me, his grandparents. The mixed blood, indicated by choice of names, contributed to his love of words and music, justice and leadership. Words, he thought. The three grandparents waiting all day for the birth, playing word games.
For the naming ceremony, all their friends met up on Undoolya Hill. Late afternoon, his mother had described the weather as 'soft'; strange word to describe weather but it was a lovely warm winter afternoon. They watched the sun go down and a full moon rise. Words were said, toasts made, food eaten. His mum, my darling wife, got most of the way through what she'd wanted to say and then got too emotional. Gave the bits of paper to me, but I didn't do it justice. Pretty quickly asked mum to say a few words. Bit of a worry there 'cos you never knew if she was going to be able to stop. She didn't go over the top though. He let out a sigh and then remembered with a grin the clean-up before they left. They turned on the headlights and everyone collected wine corks, wrappers, everything they'd brought in. Friends' kids were well trained. She wrote about the naming, too – did she know?"We were high up on Undoolya Hill/ I felt as wrapped in something soft/ the light, the air, the breezes/ God's gentle gleaming eye, soft breath aloft./ And we knew the babe belonged to us/ yet naming gave no lock and key./ While overlooking Alice town/ the wind breathed, he is free./ The friends who gathered there/ brought love, soft toys and sparkling wine/ and in their special ways, unique/ added to the Centre's shine.
"And yes, there's rubbish in the river bed/ an old man sleeping in the street/ but they didn't ask for us to come/ and time it takes for minds to meet./ Minds to sort out differences/ find the point of mutual good./ Who knows how high can soar ideas/ enough to quell a flood?/ That flood of mild indifference/ of knowing where to start/ finding words that say 'I'm sorry'/ and mean them, speaking from the heart./ For I feel greatness in this place/ destiny has spoken./ Who among the attendant crowd/ is given more than just a token?"
The talk continued around him and the days turned into weeks until the day arrived. Excitement was electric, sparking. He watched as dignitaries were shown to their seats. The huge marquee filled, the loud-speakers and TV screens outside had been checked. Not only here, but people all around the world would be watching this. His son walked to centre stage and started to speak.
"Thank you, thank you," he paused, his words hardly heard above the cheering and shouting and clapping of the crowd. His face was one big smile as he raised his hands, waving in a downward motion, asking for silence and for the audience to regain their seats as he said again, "Thank you".
"It gives me great pleasure to welcome all of you. For those who have travelled a great distance, welcome to the heart of this great nation and into our own individual hearts. At the special corroboree this morning, the Arrernte people welcomed and blessed you. I honour and give thanks to the ancient custodians of land, spirit, Dreaming through their descendents."
Both his hands went to rest on the lectern, his head bent and in the several seconds of silence, thoughts whirling, the enormity of his task threatening to overcome him, he drew on the strength, the passion, that is the Centre. He pictured those places, a rock, a tree, that were 'his', places of comfort and inspiration. The people important in his life – parents, friends, children, elders, some gone to their own Dreaming but still with him, giving him strength – slid through his mind.
His body relaxed and he looked up, continuing, "Today, mid-way through the twenty-first century we are gathered to celebrate the new status of this nation. That did take some time to achieve but what did not was the changing of the capital of Australia from Canberra to Alice Springs. When the idea was first put forward it gathered momentum and quickly arrived at the conclusion. Not everyone agreed with a republican Australia but the strength and passion that is and flows from the Centre could not be denied and both these things are now reality.
"One of my friends," here his eyes rested on the tall black man in the front row, "gathered his strength and that of his spirit ancestors to become Head of United Nations. And the emphasis is on 'united' for now the world is. We are all free to be, to roam, to return. We all know where 'home' is and we are free to go there. There is a saying, 'Home is where the heart is,' and the heart of this country is here. We came to know it; the people of Country have always known it.
"In 2001 this country celebrated the Centenary of Federation. The first event was 'New Dawn', held on the red desert plains not far from here. In the September it was the great Yeperenye Festival. Indigenous people from all parts of Australia travelled here and told their stories through dance and song.
"Paintings, artefacts, were on display. The Arrernte people showed their generosity and inclusiveness by insisting that all Alice Springs born children be invited to participate in the enactment of the Caterpillar Dreaming. The simple caterpillars, going through their life stages, not without struggle as ours, fought with the Stinky Beetle Men, eventually becoming the Ranges now forming part of the horizon before you. As history, on a large scale, and our lives on a smaller one, go through various rites of passage. Our particular journey has brought us to this point in history. National history and a point in individual lives that will be talked of by our descendents.
"The impact of that spectacle was not just visual; it awakened in people, both Australian citizens and visitors, a hunger to know more of the history of this land. For the history stretches back many thousands of years before the planting of the British flag. I believe the country started to come of age when people wanted to know the ancient past and have it become part of today's culture that will one day itself become ancient.
"We lost some of our arrogance and realised the importance of indigenous languages. Unfortunately some were already lost, but with both hands the others were tightly grasped. More teachers were trained so they could teach in their own languages with English as a second language. This expanded to teaching Aboriginal cultures.
"Many of you here today have entrusted your children to the care of one or other of our excellent boarding schools. In including Indigenous studies, we realised we were losing touch with western classics and philosophy. We saw the sense of a fully rounded education and today our graduating students can go anywhere, do anything.
"I have been saying 'we' but I had no part in it. I was not born until after the Yeperenye Festival and I grew up with the evolving ideas of my elders. I became interested in Republicanism and it felt right that government should flow from the centre.
"When I was born, the competition for a design for an all-faiths building was in full swing. I was well into my teens before the building was completed. You can imagine it caused controversy. Sometimes it seemed it would be the cause of World War Three but quiet dignity, strength of belief gently held it together and after many consultations with all concerned, we have the first building of its kind. "Its separate parts flow into the whole. This morning you sat in the centre, open to the sky, for your welcoming corroboree. Other events will be held there in the coming days.
"You will see the creativity that stretches in a multitude of directions covering art and science. Traditional work is on display with young artists keeping the essence of tradition but some new innovation creeping in. There are multi-dimensional ecological displays. It is an understatement to say we are proud.
"It is my belief passion begets passion and as we all observe, respect the passions of the ancient Dreaming, that passion comes into us, allowing for the creativity, the peace, that flows from the Centre. Before you all, I again humbly seek the blessings of the Ancients as well as the working hands and minds close by as I assume the role of President of the Republic of Australia. Thank you."
And the cheers reached the outermost stars.
LET THE SPORT BEGIN! A PREVIEW OF WHAT'S IN STORE FOR 2005.
By PAUL FITZSIMONS
Christmas is over and Centralians should be coming back to reality in the coming weeks.
On the sporting front the world game of football will resume on Tuesday the 11th with cracker enjoyment ensured for all divisions and their supporters.
Cricket and Rugby Union will also resume with their competitions going through until the Easter period.
At this stage it would seem that the Vikings will be hard to toss in Seven a Side Soccer; Federals continue the season with a commanding lead on the premiership table; and Eagles have found new vitality at the helm in the Union.
However, in between times a couple of real showstoppers are also coming our way. The Imparja Cup in cricket has attracted nominations from all states and this along with the Communities Plate competition will set the Alice up as a cricketing mecca later in the summer.
Not to be left out the Wizard Cup circus will again touch down at Traeger Park. The last two visits by AFL teams to the Centre have seen premiership winners emerge. Last year Port Power downed Collingwood to go on to take out the ultimate prize. Prior to that it was the Adelaide Crows who benefited from a game at Traeger before claiming an AFL flag.
By Easter the flavour of cricket will again be in the forefront with the staging of the Calder Shield in Alice. Unlike recent times when the Calder has lost its purpose, this year's event should rejuvenate the idea of cricketers across the Territory being able to come together and compete, be they from the city, the country or under age players.
On April 9 and 10 the local Aussie Rules players will again gather for the season's pipe opener, the Lightning Carnival. This event attracts teams from throughout the bush as well as the Alice's CAFL teams.
With some 25 clubs represented a top weekend is assured. Last year it was Yuendumu who downed Ltyentye Apurte. A question to be asked this year is whether or not a CAFL club can make the final?
From there the season proper will begin with Under 17s playing of a Friday night; the CAFL on Saturdays; and the Communities of a Sunday. After the success of last year's inaugural City versus Country game, a rematch is a certainty thus creating another Centralian football tradition.
In the same timeframe netball will take to the courts starting with their grading day The big news for A Grade is that seven teams may line up this year, with Centralian Masters nominating for elevation. The consequences of this would be that teams would be able to enjoy an occasional bye during the season, and no doubt the level of competition will be improved with a seventh side competing.
At Anzac Oval the four team League competition will again be conducted, supported by a strong junior following, making for Saturday morning games in under age formats.
April is the premier month in town for racing and this year will be no exemption. The Turf Club have again attracted major sponsorship and with a growing number of horses being stabled here quality fields will be assured through to Cup Day on May Day.
FINKEAn event that has been brewing for a few years now, the thirtieth running of the Finke Desert Race, will take place over the Queen's Birthday weekend. Organisers expect entries to double for this anniversary run, and much work is being undertaken to attract all past champions back to the desert classic. The presence of Geoff Curtis, the inaugural title holder, and the likes of Randall Gregory, Phil Lovett, Stephen Gall and maybe even Dan Ashcroft (the winner who disappeared with the Perpetual Trophy after his 1996 win) would make for an historic occasion.
At the other end of the spectrum it should be remembered that Alice Springs caters for up to 100 sports and recreational activities. Social bowls can be enjoyed at the Memorial Club where Mary Meldrum always keen to welcome newcomers. The Golf Club offers members the opportunity to play on one of the finest desert courses.
And at the Town Pool the YMCA can provide a myriad of aqua based activities for young and old. Cycling in a variety of forms is on offer on the track, the road or in the bush. The list of opportunities for sporting enjoyment in Alice Springs in 2005 is seemingly never ending.
AT THE BOTTOM OF AN ANCIENT SEA.
By MEG MOONEY
I'm driving out west with a friend. The drive to Glen Helen is my favourite drive in Central Australia. Partly because of its great beauty, partly because it reminds me of driving home to Papunya, where I lived in the late 'eighties.
There's also some great geology along this road.
To the south, as you leave town, is that magnificent winding ridge of pink quartzite, a sight I'll never tire of.
Depending on your point of view, this is a dreamtime caterpillar or the first layer of sand deposited by an ancient sea. It's both to me.
The little round hills to the north of the road and all around Alice Springs were, according to the geology theory, the land the ancient sea lapped on.
Even in geological terms, the granites that make up these hills are very, very old, around 2,000 million years.
The ancient sea, the Amadeus Sea, spread from west to east across what is now Australia around 800 million years ago.
That ridgeline, the caterpillar, was the sandy bottom of the sea around the time multi-celled animals, like jellyfish and worms, first appeared.
There are amazing fossils of these creatures in a quartzite around the same age in the Flinders Ranges of South Australia. These fossils are world famous, one of the earliest records of such animals.
The Amadeus Sea was there for over 400 million years, depositing kilometres of sand and mud, which now stretch from the MacDonnell Ranges to the Petermanns. These sands and muds were buried, hardened into rock and tipped near vertical.
Quartzite is made of sand grains squashed together, a very hard rock that often stands out as ridges and peaks.
Back on the Glen Helen road, the Amadeus sands and muds are the layers of rock, which run east-west like the road.
These layers make stripes across the hills, the stripes cut into scallops by gullies. There are remnants of red sandstone like stegasaurus plates on some ridges, grey limestone like castle turrets on others. Sometimes there are great walls of rock, like ruins.
Further on, bare backs of orange rock tower over the foothills to the north. This is the quartzite again, somewhere around Jay Creek it quietly crosses the road – it's eroded there, so you don't see it.
We follow this old shoreline, a little way offshore, all the way to Ellery waterhole, where we swim under the cliffs that were the sand on the bottom of an ancient sea.
THE LONG ROAD TO PACKSADDLERS.
PROFILE by KIERAN FINNANE
Gerry Baddock: it's a name associated with formidable letters to the editor and with the equally formidable 'Auntie' over decades to many of the town's dogs and cats.
But after 45 years in Alice Springs and 84 on earth, there's a lot more to her story than that.
"Who wants to hear about an old woman?" she challenges me, more than once as I exasperate her with questions.
But she's leaving and I don't think that should go unnoticed, so I persist.Next winter Gerry will bundle up her dogs and cats – there are lots – and move to Burnie in Tasmania, near to her only son and his family.
She's built a house there that is pretty much a replica of Packsaddlers Ranch in Alice, perched on the banks of Charles Creek on the northern edge of town, where she's lived for the last quarter century.
The weather will be more like what she grew up with, in Kent on the south coast of England.
It will be a kind of going home, though a good part of what home is for Gerry was wiped from the face of the earth by the calamity of World War Two.
She probably regrets that she mentioned this to me.
"The English don't talk about things that are painful to us and others," she tells me sternly.
"There are many people who know what the south coast of England was like during the war, we don't run around saying 'poor bugger me'. That's what irritates me so much at the moment, the endless grizzle and re-hash."
That could lead to a long discourse on current woes in the Centre, but it's her story I want to hear, how she came to be here.
"The Germans ruined one's life," she starts. "Two wars in 20 years and there was nothing to stop them starting another, so I left."
Her entire family had been killed: her grandparents, aunt and mother by a doodlebug missile in Kent; her father, uncle and first husband in combat, "fighting the bloody Germans".
Gerry, her aunt and mother had all been working as 'VADs', in the Volunteer Aid Detachment of the Red Cross, a role much closer to the horror of war than I had realised."Not until the last couple of years have I started to even think about the men in my ambulance who died before I could get them to hospital," Gerry tells me.
"The hospitals were all full. There were auxiliaries all over the place under canvas. You'd have to find one and sometimes the men died before you could."
Not surprising then that the decision to turn her back on Europe came readily.
She tried Canada but had such a strong reaction against it that she didn't even take her trunk off the boat.
One day in 1949 she happened to be waiting for a bus outside Australia House in London. There was snow and ice on the ground. She remembers watching her "beautiful suede shoes" take in water.
"Those shoes were like a bar of gold, especially to one who had walked around in old black lace-ups for the whole war."
As the chances of a bus coming were "remote" and the underground too far away, she took shelter inside Australia House.
To the man behind the counter she said, "I suppose I'd have to wait forever to get to Australia."
He told her if she had a passport, she could go immediately.
There was only one person to say goodbye to, her uncle's widow.
"I came out through Tilbury that night and I didn't go back for 30 years."
Happily, Gerry's memories of a "beautiful childhood" stand in contrast to this bleakness.
She remembers "10 glorious years when nobody knew what was brewing".
Born in 1920, the Great War was behind her.
"The only reminder we had of it were the sanatoriums for returned soldiers who'd been injured and gassed. We'd see them in their sky blue uniforms with red ties and white shirts.
"We had no idea we were building up to another war.
"Night followed day, I don't remember that it ever rained."
The men in her family on both sides had made their careers in the Indian Army.
She grew up in the household of her mother's parents, going to boarding school from the age of five until she was 17.
The atmosphere was disciplined, at home and at school. Gerry feels that this supplied great security: it was "a non-worrying childhood".
"Children were seen and not heard, we didn't expect to be. We ate our meals in the nursery. Children and adults in those days were not in the same ball park. They were marvellous days."
Her grandmother had beautiful kennels where she bred bull terriers as a hobby.
Gerry shows me a photograph of her. A 'woman of character' is the phrase that comes immediately to mind.
"She owned a magnificent stud dog called Barge, who used to travel all over England and Scotland."
So, that's where her love of animals comes from. But Gerry won't have a bit of that.
"It doesn't grow in you, you're born with it, you either love them or you don't," she says firmly.
In any case, many years were to pass before animals in number came into her adult life.
Part of the deal in coming to Australia as a ten pound migrant was that she stay for two years and work at a job offered by authorities.
She had done 18 months training as a nurse and had her VAD experience, so she was assigned to a nursing position at Pentridge Gaol in Melbourne.
Her ship had docked in Brisbane and she travelled south by train. Once again, her "beautiful suede shoes" played a role in the turn of events.
She had taken them off and placed them in the luggage rack overhead. An old merchant seaman – "drunk!" – threw his duffle bag on them. In the ruckus that followed a far more couth sailor offered to buy her a cup of coffee.
He was Keith Baddock."Three months later I married him."
Gerry wears her married name with pride. Even the name Gerry is one that Keith gave her and she's not interested in any other.
His "people" were at the station as the train came in, so that was one hurdle dispensed with.
Then as soon as he'd found a flat he asked if she'd like to get married.
"That was as good a reason as any, a better reason than some people have and most opportune.
"Why do people still get married? There's no point. Now it's an easy bed-swapping exercise. It ought to be because people want to live together.
"We lived together for 37 years, one month and six days."
War, however, wasn't over for Gerry.
Keith was in the Fleet Air Arm of the Australian Navy and served 10 months in the Korean War of 1950-53.
"He was a totally different person when he came back. He took to drink as did most of them. People can't understand, so it's no good trying to talk. He lost a lot of weight, his teeth fell out."
Apart from the mental anguish of war experience, Gerry believes he and the other men on his flight deck carrier were exposed to contaminated water in Korea.
Keith would eventually die from cancer of the pancreas, but that wasn't before the couple, with son Ricky aged nine, headed north from Nowra, NSW, for the Centre, where Keith took up work as Connair's chief engineer.
They arrived in Alice Springs on June 6, 1960.
Keith's job was "24 hours a day".
"We didn't get any leave until 1965, when we brought the first Subaru back to Alice Springs after a short, freezing cold holiday at Goolwa."
Keith loved his work.
"I didn't see a great deal of him. He was a technical man, a sailor, more at home with other men.
"We had two separate lives but we lasted."
Gerry describes this time until her son left home as her "idle years".
"I read, wrote, sewed, gardened and ran my home.
"In a town of barely 6000 the women were mostly wives of men with the Department of Works, the Railways, Welfare, and Connellan Airways. Very few had jobs.
"I did the Red Cross trolley for many years. I remember the dear lady who showed me how, suggested I should join the CWA."I was sadly mistaken thinking that the Alice Springs CWA bore any resemblance to the WVS [Women's Voluntary Service], which all of the female members of my family supported.
"I spent my first visit to the CWA in Gap Road in complete silence. I got the message and never joined any female organisations in Alice Springs again."
'Idle' for Gerry and 'idle' for other people probably mean two different things, because apart from her work for the Red Cross, she also volunteered for the St John Ambulance, attending events around town as a First Aid officer, including 11 years of rugby matches "during which I can proudly say I only missed one match and that due to an eye operation".
As well, she put a huge effort into establishing the Centralian Air Rescue Squad, spurred to action after a woman fell from the top of King's Canyon and rescuers took three days to reach her.
The squad was made up of young men, mostly Connellan engineers and members of the volunteer fire brigade. Gerry trained them in First Aid in the evening when they were on duty waiting for fires.
At weekends they practised emergency rescue procedures."I was hauled up and down cliffs at the Gap in a bamboo stretcher."I paid for their equipment, the overalls, badges, aircraft hire and the parachutes they jumped with, as well as their insurance."
The whole thing folded two months later, sabotaged, Gerry feels, by Darwin bureaucrats.
During these years Gerry also got involved in producing pantomimes to raise money for a war orphanage at Can Tho in Vietnam.
"Those were the days when people worked hard to raise money for their projects and the very bad habit of applying for grants had not yet developed!"
She recalls "unsurpassed performances" by Wally Howard and Eddie Florez as Cinderella's ugly sisters, Margaret Baker as a Bunny Girl, Bryn Williams getting his first taste of the stage as a pageboy, and "Pat Smith and Laurie Webb brought the house down as Widow Twankey and Aladdin's uncle".
Ricky joined the Navy in 1970 and suddenly Gerry's house got very quiet. As she was decidedly "not a morning coffee person" she needed a job. She went to work at the hospital, spending there "probably the happiest 11 years since before the war, in the company of happy smiling brown-faced people who always treated me as a friend and still do when I sometimes see them".
It ended unhappily though, in what Gerry feels was a 'job for the boys' sidelining of her.
A few years later she bought Packsaddlers Ranch from her friend Ian Builder, who she says "slid" her into relocating his kennels there.
"I've never been quite sure how he did it."
Keith died in 1988, a hard death, and Gerry says now she should perhaps have closed the kennels then.
"I ought to have sold the property and gone to Fisherman's Bay [where Keith had bought a house to retire to] and got on with other things but I didn't have anywhere for the dogs to go. If I had I wouldn't have this to go through now. It's hard now. I've been here too long.
"But days go on without me looking back. It's not one of my failings, looking back."
Her secret has been to always have "a dream in my pocket – something I might just do one day".
On leaving, Gerry says she will "miss some people dreadfully and they know who they are".
But it wouldn't be Gerry if there weren't a "but".
And to keep faith with her I shall end with a typical salvo: "I shall not miss the dirty violent badly run town and the know-nothing know-it-alls who are so tiresomely vocal."
I'm sure we haven't heard the last from Gerry Baddock.
DRURY COMES HOME.
FICTION by DARRY FRASER
He drove across the border at nine in the morning, the sun already warming his beard-stubbly cheek and deepening the colour of his right arm. Clear, hot Northern Territory air blasted in through the open window.
The border signalled a short couple of hours' drive before he arrived in his beloved Alice, so now officially on Territory soil, he grinned broadly.
"We're coming home," he shouted. "Home, home, home!" All the years he'd spent getting on with life everywhere but here, and yet on a twist and a turn, he was coming home.
Drury Campbell let the prickle of emotion rush up from his toes. He'd forgotten the overwhelming love he had of the place, and every tree and rocky outcrop welcomed him back.
He swiped away a push of happy tears before they left tracks on his dusty cheeks to tell tale on a man who never shared his feelings. He kept grinning, rubbed his nose, sucked in the warm breath of baked, dry soil he knew so well to be his Territory's signature scent.
So familiar: the hot earth shimmering, blurring the black ribbon of road which led to the pretence of hills in the distance; the blue sky, deeper for its contrast to the myriad of reds which built the Territory's masterful landscape; the casuarina trees, the corkwood trees, the tyre trees …And still there was something else, something that remained out of reach, a connection he couldn't verbalise, or even construct in his mind. Perhaps it was just Coming Home. It was a sense of ownership.
Yes. That felt right. Ownership. No – not that word in particular – it was more like a Belonging to something rather than Owning something. That was it. That was as close as he could come. He Belonged here. "We belong here," he said aloud and glanced at the rear vision mirror and into Blue-dog's eyes. "Don't we, boy?"
A slurp on the back of his neck and one dog-word in agreement indicated that Blue-dog was happy about it.
Drury laughed aloud again as he passed through Kulgera, a tanned arm out the window, fingers splayed to catch the breeze as he pushed into his world, his for the taking, his alone.
All thanks to Uncle Daedo, who'd left him with a peculiar little shack on a few acres just south of the Gap. He knew the area well, but hadn't lived with Uncle when he'd been in Alice before. He'd visited the eccentric old Centralian – his mother's uncle – often, but had always declined the invitation to live at the house.
Daedo Campbell was of the old stock: crusty, boozy, hard-working, rich. He had an RM Williams look about him: wise eyes, gentle features, capable hands. Drury had no idea how old he was, but he must have had a few decades under his belt before he died in his sleep at the Old Timer's Village. His mother thought he was perhaps around the mid-nineties.
Drury thought at one stage that Uncle Daedo was about two hundred and ten: for heaven's sake, only someone that old would have a name like Daedo. Where the hell it'd come from no one was old enough to remember except Uncle, and he had no clue either. Nor possibly could remember if in fact he ever knew.
When the time had come for Drury to leave and explore the outside world, his mother also packed up and left town to enjoy small city life in Adelaide. And Drury never looked back, made his way through life with all the get-up-and-go of a bullet train. He hadn't spent a lot of time over the years thinking about, or even contacting Uncle Daedo. Of course, the inheritance changed all that, and he and his Blue-dog headed for Alice as quickly as possible after Uncle's death.
He mourned little for his uncle: he hadn't felt that close, yet now he experienced a certain shame that he'd missed seeing Daedo in his last years. Drury had even missed the funeral, being overseas at the time. Well, he couldn't help that: he hadn't been able to get a flight home in time, had he?
He slowed up coming past Jim's Place, over the Hugh and at last on to the final thirty kilometres before he could turn left and drive towards the Gap. His head swung side to side every so often as well-known outcrops of rock appeared before him, or a lone tree atop a bare stony, baked hillock. He remembered this one, and that and that one, and marvelled at how deeply embedded in his memory were these small icons of his beloved Cental Australia.
And there they were: the ranges, the Gap, the three towers. Drury's heart expanded, and now emotion gave his chin the tremors.
Blue-dog spoke two dog-words and stuck his head out the window, his face flattened by the wind and the speed of the car. Drury laughed with him.
When he pulled up at the shack, the first thing that struck him was how well looked after it seemed.
The garden was open, native flora only, untidy and exciting, just as he remembered. He followed the higgledy pathway savouring the bush, inhaling the dry, warm mid-morning air. And when he emerged from the yard, the verandah of the house offered a comfort he'd forgotten.
He sucked in oxygen deeply. Daedo's rocking chair was still there by the door.
He bit down on his lip, the memory of the old boy vivid, as if he were still sitting in that chair. Daedo had taken strongly to Blue-dog, then just a puppy who'd sit by the rocker at Uncle's feet when they visited with a six-pack of Coopers. Together they'd listen to the silence of the arid country.
Drury avoided the chair and opened the front door. Light spilled across the sparse furniture of an old Centralian living room and his gaze settled on an envelope propped on the mantelpiece. He recognised Uncle's big, bold scrawl.
Oh no, Drury thought, a Letter from the Dead. He looked at Blue-dog and the dog looked back at him. Maybe Uncle Daedo was going to make him do some weird sleuthing or whatever to pass a test before he could legally take over the house.
That wouldn't be right. Drury had the title in his name already.
His heart beat an extra thud as he approached the fireplace. He reached out, and his hand only shook a little as he turned over the business-sized envelope. Lowering himself to the floor with Blue-dog, they both stared at it. It was a moment or two before, with a deep inhale of dusty, musty air, Drury peeled it open.
"By the time you get this, I will of course be gone. As you can see, I write this on the day you leave Alice Springs and go off adventuring somewhere …Drury glanced at the date. 19 February, 1994.
"… and no doubt to make your fortune. Good for you.
"I decided to leave you this land and the house, and whatever money I have left because in truth, apart from your mother, there is no-one I would rather give it to.
"I'm not a bloke to run to a lot of words, so this is short.
"Don't be a selfish, lonely old fool like me. I watched you leave without a backward glance today and it told me I should have a care that you don't turn out like me. Share your new life here, make this house a happy place it never was with just me rattling around in it. Be the best Drury you can be.
"I loved the times we had together. You made me see I should have shared more. God bless you, boy."
The signature was as steady as Drury remembered, a great heavy scrawl across the page.
The world blurred for a time then, and Drury was hard put not to wipe his nose on his sleeve many times. For a long time, Drury thought about Uncle's message.
Uncle Daedo had shared; he'd left over four hundred thousand dollars as well as the house and land. There'd been no secrets divulged in the letter, no sleuthing to get through, just a message: Drury had to be the best he could be.
And Drury wasn't lonely like Daedo, he was just alone and hadn't needed company before. Didn't really want the hassle of it. He was content, just as he was. Was that selfish? He didn't know. He decided he didn't care. But did that make him a fool?
He swagged it that night on the verandah, Blue-dog dossing down on his blanket beside him. As he drifted towards sleep, Drury wondered why no-one from the Old Timer's had called him to come see Daedo when he was dying. Perhaps the old boy hadn't wanted anyone to visit.
The night sky filled him with peace and he slept soundly. Neither he nor Blue-dog knew if the other stirred during the night.
The morning dawned as usual, but today the day would be different. Drury cranked up the old gas stove, noting it was clean of dust and dirt. He put a billy on to boil, ducked into the bathroom to check for hot water. All still on the go he found, so he shucked his clothes, stood under the prickly needles of hot water and soaped up.
Later, just dressed, he heard a knock on the front window. Blue-dog gave one dog-word, the one that meant "stranger".
"Hello?" a female voice enquired.
"Hello," Drury replied, pleasantly surprised as the woman stepped through the door.
She was as tall as he, and dark haired, her face free of make-up, or so he thought. She smelled good, sort of citrusy.
Blue-dog sniffed and she reached down to scratch his ears. "I'm Fran." "Drury." They shook hands.
"I nursed your Uncle. He asked me to put that letter here once he passed over." She lifted her chin in the direction of the mantelpiece. "I'm returning the key – I did a bit of cleaning, but it didn't need much."
"Thanks. For everything," Drury said. "For nursing Uncle Daedo. I bet it wasn't easy."
"I like old people. And he was good fun. Right to the end."
"Oh. Good. Um, billy's just boiled …" Drury said and thumbed towards the kitchen.
"Love one," she answered.
He poured water into tin cups, dunking Irish Breakfast teabags. Blue-dog had taken a seat beside Fran. Dog approval.
Drury asked what Daedo had spoken of over the years.
"Lots of things in the short time I knew him," she replied. "I was his nurse for maybe a year. He rarely spoke of you," she said, watching him. "When he did it was to wonder why you hadn't come back earlier." She was silent a moment. Then, "He knew you'd come back some day. He always said, 'The Centre's a hard place to stay away from and Drury Campbell knows it.'"
Drury laughed at the way she'd pulled her chin in, dropped her tone to the deepest she could and boomed out Daedo's philosophy. She was pretty good. Blue-dog agreed with a dog-word.
She stood up to leave. "What will you do now you're back?"
Drury watched the sunlight tickle an earring of hers. "I'll do whatever. It really doesn't matter now I've come home. But I am a qualified geologist."
"Ah," Fran said. "The draw of the land, is it?"
He wondered at her mockery, then ignored it. "Of this particular land, that's true. I finally feel like I belong to something. But it's even more than that. It's in my psyche somehow, in my blood. It's as if I'm of it, like it is with the Old People. Do you see?" He wondered if his tongue had run away with him.
Fran's eyes were green, with a most unusual fleck in them, black lashes. Her dark eyebrows lifted in mild surprise. "It sings to you, does it?"
"It is a spirit thing," he agreed, and shuffled awkwardly.
"Tell me," she asked, her gaze steady. "Would you have come back if Daedo hadn't encouraged you with what was in his will?"
He held her gaze. "Eventually," he answered, perhaps a little more stiffly than he intended. He shoved his hands into his pockets. What was it to her, anyway?
"He missed you a great deal."
"He didn't ask for me," he protested. "I would've come sooner."
Blue-dog moved to sit at Drury's feet. He looked back at Fran dolefully.
She softened. "It's all right," she said. "I've no business being angry with you. I told Daedo I was angry for him; he told me not to be, that he knew you better than you knew yourself. That you weren't really a selfish person."
Drury felt the rush of guilt flaming his face. "If you think I came back only because Daedo left me the house, you're very wrong."
Fran tilted her head to one side. "Daedo knew how to get you back. That's all he wanted for you. Sort of guiding you, I think."
He clenched his hands still stuffed in his jeans. "I would've come back sooner if he'd asked for me," he repeated, firmly.
Fran nodded. "He was lonely."
The pain in Drury's chest swelled. "He never needed anyone before."
She smiled then. "He told me he didn't want you to be like him."
She checked her watch. "Don't want to be late for my shift. Nice meeting you." Blue-dog shuffled on his bottom until she reached down and patted his head. "See you, boy." He gave one loud dog-word, then another.
She had gone through the door and was down the steps before Drury could clear his head.
"But I'd like to know more about him," he called after her, striding on to the verandah. "You could tell me. You could give me a chance to know him more. He was family, you know. We belonged here."
Blue-dog gave another loud dog-word behind him. He rushed at Fran, launching himself from the verandah and landing just beyond her, herding her back.She laughed at the dog, and it sounded like a clear bell in Drury's head. "When?" she asked, her cool gaze meeting his bemused stare.
"Tomorrow. Same time for breakfast."
She nodded. "See you then."
Drury restrained Blue-dog from tagging along behind as she disappeared down the raggedy path.
Uncle Daedo had missed him. How could Drury have known that? How could he not have known?
The old man hadn't left him any clues before, only what was written in the letter, and just now a few pointed words spoken by a woman who'd only known him in his last twelve months.
Drury felt gutted, bereft. The homecoming was spoiled somehow, stained with a guilt he hadn't realised he carried.
He read and re-read Daedo's letter, tucked it in his shirt pocket, walked around the boundary of the property, retraced his steps and walked it all over again. By dusk he and Blue-dog were ready for a beer on the verandah.
Sitting there, he gave respectful thanks to Uncle Daedo, apologised for the years of neglect. Blue-dog looked at him as he spoke aloud to the stars. "I'm sorry you missed me. It's no excuse to say I didn't know. I should have known."
He wanted to say more about Uncle's gift to him, but his voice remained stuck in his throat. Blue-dog laid his head on Drury's knee.
That night they bedded down in Daedo's old room, he in his swag, Blue-dog on his blanket.
His last thought before sleep crept in was that it felt good to be back, to be home. He belonged, he knew it, and for all his faults, his childishness, his self-absorption, he'd found his niche. With a little help, he conceded, from Uncle Daedo.
The next morning dawned much the same as it usually did: sunny and dry, and with a hint of lemon scented gum wafting in from somewhere close by. He'd find that tree and make sure to plant others.
By mid-morning Fran hadn't shown. It made him feel worse than ever, that perhaps she'd decided to forget about Daedo's selfish nephew. He brewed himself a third cup and he and Blue-dog took another boundary walk.
This time he noted the fence sagging here and there, the odd clump of discarded building materials, an old fire pit and the beginnings of what might become a revegetated area.
He climbed to a high spot and turned slowly, gazing at the view in the bright, hard light until his heart settled, and his mind released the tension. He would fix up the place, meet some people, entertain, get a good job, work hard. He would make it work, because it would work for him, with him. Things flowed here; the energy was tangible.
When he trailed back to the house Fran was sitting on the verandah steps. She held up a bottle of red wine. "First thing about him," she said, "was that he loved his red. Good full-bodied shiraz."
After a moment in which he tried to sort his relief from his pleasure, then gave up, he said, "Must run in the family."
He watched her drape an arm around Blue-dog's sturdy shoulders. Watched as his dog sat snug beside her, grinning at him.
"Glad to hear it. Runs in mine, too," she said. "So, how do you feel about things today?"
He shifted his gaze to her face. "Like I've got what it takes," he answered her challenge.
"That's a good start," she said. "Welcome home."
THE BIRD AND THE MOON.
FICTION by PAMELA CALMER
They had been barrelling along for hours when the old red ute hit a washaway and almost rolled.He jumped out with a curse. By the time Jan managed to open the cranky passenger door, he was half under the tray, his toes pointing sulkily at the sky.
With the silence singing in her head, she gazed around her at the empty plain. Without consulting her, he'd turned off the highway onto a track that had been disappearing and reappearing for hundreds of kilometres. They hadn't seen a human being all day.
Now he was sliding out, his bare legs and shorts powdered with red dust.
"What happened?" she asked.
"Puncture. And maybe an axle pin." He spat out the words like gobs of saliva.
No bloody wonder, she thought. Ever since they'd left Darwin, he'd been driving like someone pursued by demons.
"Can I help?" Her question was tentative.
He shot her a scornful glance, but didn't answer. Then he went to the tray and dragged out a jack.
Shrugging, she moved away. The plain spread unbroken to the horizon, dull red and patched with yellowish clumps of spinifex. She thought they looked like languid echidnas. To her left, a small table-top mountain rose like a protest against the unrelenting flatness of the plain.
Suddenly there was a thud, followed by a scream of pain. Racing back to the truck, she saw that his right hand was trapped beneath the wheel rim.
"The jack slipped," he rasped.
She struggled with it until she managed to lever the rim a few centimetres off his hand. He held it against his chest, panting, and for a couple of seconds they stared in silence at his crushed fingers. Then, for the first time in many months, her teacher self emerged. She hurried to the back of the utility.
When she returned with a small first aid kit, he was still gazing expressionlessly at his hand. Blood dripped slowly into the red dust and vanished.
Taking out an antiseptic solution, she began to clean the wound. He looked away, but she could hear him grinding his teeth. She knew he needed to go to a hospital, but her voice was controlled when she spoke.
"I did a first-aid course not long ago. Back in Melbourne."
He inclined his head, but kept his eyes averted. He looked close to fainting.
She bound and taped his hand deftly. Although the finished job looked neat and professional, she knew it was inadequate. Now what? she wondered.
Oddly, he immediately echoed her thought. "Now what?" His tone was dead.
"How far is it to Dunnawarra?"
He looked down at his hand. "About fifty kilometres."
A small willy-willy did a devilish dance in front of them and then blew itself out.
"Do you think you can walk?" Jan asked. No one had any idea where they'd gone. There was no point staying by the utility.
She helped him up. He swayed for a moment or two, then disengaged his arm and walked unsteadily to the back of the truck. With his left hand he pulled out two grubby blankets and handed them to her.
"We'll need them to keep the sun off," he said, turning back to the tray. The effort of lifting out the container of water made him sway again. He held onto the truck for support as he spoke. "There's a compass and map in the glove box."
Jan went to the front of the ute, put the map and what was left of their supplies in a plastic shopping bag and handed him the compass. After draping their heads with the blankets, she bent down to get the water container.
"I'll take that." He stared at the old ute for a moment and then walked off down the track without looking to see if she was following.
Neither of them spoke. She could tell by his gait that he was using all his strength to put one foot in front of the other. What she could see of his shirt was dark with sweat.
The sun-glitter of the small hard stones hurt her eyes, but every time she closed them she stumbled on the uneven ground. Her depression had lifted while she attended to Carl's injury. Now, as she checked her watch, she felt it descend again, filling her skull like a wad of black, wet cottonwool. Melbourne was an hour and a half behind them – it would be four thirty in the afternoon. Automatically she wondered what Ben was doing. Whatever it was, he'd be doing it with her. He was no good at entertaining himself.
She started to fumble in the plastic bag for something to mop her perspiring face, but was diverted by the struggle of a ginger-coloured ant. It was dragging a dead moth, twice as big as itself, to some secret place. Watching the tiny creature labour around stones and over ridges in the earth, she was impressed by its perseverance. She, on the other hand, had immediately collapsed under the weight of Ben's treachery.
Her mind went back to June. The bleak day had turned to dusk, but thin rain was still falling soundlessly as she came out of the shopping centre and put up her umbrella.
Then she recognised Ben. He was walking across the half empty car park with a woman, his head bent against the rain.
She stopped dead, completely unmindful of the shoppers detouring around her until one of them brushed against her with an impatient exclamation. Automatically she moved out of the way.
As Ben and the woman receded, the rain became a misty screen. She lowered her umbrella and followed them until she could see their outlines more clearly. The woman climbed into a small hatchback and wound down her window. Ben leant in, presumably to kiss her. As the hatchback pulled away, Jan saw that his car had been parked next to it.
She stood there for a long time, staring mindlessly at the wet concrete. It was streaming with the coloured reflections of neon lights.
Carl coughed, and she came back to dry, blinding light. As if she were hovering above them, she saw their lonely figures trudging south, trapped within an immense bell jar of unbearable heat and light.
He interrupted her thoughts by falling to his knees and letting go of the water. His face was the colour of sour milk.
"I have to stop for a while," he muttered.
She stood the container upright and filled two paper cups with water.
"Go easy on that," he protested weakly, but he accepted the proffered cup. As she handed it to him, she saw that his bandage had turned dark red. Settling the blanket over him again, she sat down to drink.
It was then she became conscious of the bird of prey hovering above them, its wings black strokes against the cerulean sky. The sight of it triggered a macabre vision of their bones, polished white and anonymous, contrasting terribly with the matt red of the plain.
Her apprehension took her by surprise: she'd been feeling like killing herself for months. Glancing at Carl, she noticed that he was still sitting where he'd fallen, shrouded in a silence thicker than his blanket.
She'd met him in a bar three days earlier; he was looking for someone to share travelling expenses to Perth. Despite the fact that his manner was gloomy and unsociable, she'd agreed to leave with him the following day. She'd felt a kind of wry satisfaction in the arrangement. We'll make a good pair, she'd thought.
The first night, they'd made camp a few hundred kilometres southwest of Katherine and lit a fire. The aroma of searing meat and the ragged brightness of the flames raised her spirits. She was prepared to be friendly, but his eyes were sockets of bitterness in the firelight. They warned her off, so she ate her meal in silence.
As soon as he'd eaten, he'd unrolled his swag and gone to sleep. She'd sat on until the fire lost its warmth, moved, in spite of herself, by the pulsing stars and profound silence.
The bird was circling lower. She licked her lips and thought she tasted death as well as dust on them.
"Come on," she urged, picking up the water. "We've got to keep going."
Some time later, the track faded out. She assumed it would reappear, but she felt panicky all the same. It was the only sign that other human beings had made their way through this shimmering wilderness. He still has the compass, she reflected, but what use was that if they wandered too far from the track? It was clear that they'd never make it to Dunawarra without help from a passing vehicle.
To keep her mind occupied, she encouraged him to talk about Perth, but his responses were so laconic that she gave up. Whatever his reason for going west, he chose to keep it to himself. He was as much an enigma as when she first met him.
Finally, they reached bushes thick enough to throw down some shade. Carl rolled up his blanket on a flattish rock and went to sleep, leaving her with nothing to do except gaze at the silent plain. As she sat there aching for something to relieve the loneliness and boredom, she remembered the novel her sister had given her months ago. She'd left it, unread, in the ute.
Recalling the last time she'd seen Lynne, she was suddenly grieved by her own tepid response to the news of the coming baby. Perhaps she would never see it. Her throat thickened with self-pity and something healthier.
When her tears finally dried up, she saw that Carl was propped on one elbow, staring at her. He looked offended.
"What's the matter with you?" he asked when their eyes met. It was a rebuke, not a question.
She wiped her eyes on her tee-shirt before she spoke. "We can't all sit around po-faced till we cark it," she snapped, sick to death of him.
He muttered something under his breath and got to his feet, turning his back to her. She gathered their things and followed at a distance until his pace became so slow that she was forced to walk alongside him or leave him behind.
Deciding to be conciliatory, she pointed to a darkish line in the distance. "That looks like trees. Perhaps there's a creek or something." She imagined drinking from a cold, clear pool and then immersing her whole body in it.
His lips moved, but she couldn't hear what he said. She wondered if she would have the callousness to leave him if he dropped. The bird hung expectantly in the sky.
As the sun dropped lower, streaky cloud floated in from the west, and the earth began to change from red to brown. She stuffed her blanket under her arm so that she could feel the faint wind on her face. He clung on to his.
It was sunset when they reached the trees. Although there was no surface water, the ground was softer, whitish and sandy. The presence of trees gave her the deceptive but comforting sense that they'd reached a destination.
Dropping his blanket on the ground, he lay down on it, accepting a few sips of water, but refusing to eat. "I'm too tired," he said, closing his eyes. Blood was seeping through the bandage.
She propped herself against a gum. Above her, the sky ran gold and crimson, turned purplish grey and quickly deepened to black. Then the moon rose, huge and white, eclipsing the evening star and bleaching the . There was no sound except the thin piping of insects.
She dozed for a while. When she awoke, she saw that cloud had streamed across the moon, trapping its brightness. She felt an irrational empathy with it.
Carl groaned in his sleep. He's going to die, she thought, and I'll have to leave him alone with the bird. There's nothing I can do.
It had vanished with the dusk, but she knew it would be back in the morning. She pictured herself plodding southwards until she, too, fell to the earth and was consumed by the sun and the bird.
He stirred restlessly, so she got up to check him and forced some water through his resistant lips. She knew he wanted to die.
When she stood up again, she saw twin pricks of light bouncing erratically in the distance. Her heart began to beat raggedly. She hurried from the cover of the trees and began to wave her arms.
Eventually the vehicle drew up beside her, and an Aboriginal man got out, leaving the headlights glaring. She stared uncertainly at him and then at his car. It was too dark to tell if there were other people in it, but she could see the outline of a dead kangaroo on the car's roof.
"You lost?" he asked.
She nodded and motioned towards Carl who was groaning quietly. The man squatted down beside him.
"I think he's dying." Her voice was low.
The man straightened up. "He already dead long time ago."
She was shocked. How on earth did he know that?
"And me?" As the words burst from her lips, she was embarrassed by her foolishness. Yet she wanted to hear his answer.
"You all right," he answered. He continued to avoid her eyes, but she thought he was smiling faintly.
"Do you think you could take us to Dunnawarra?" she asked.
He nodded and signalled with his chin. A boy emerged from the passenger seat, and together they managed to heave Carl into the back. She heard him cry out.
Then the man gestured to her. She climbed into the car, squeamishly avoiding the thin paw dangling from the roof. She had to slam the door three times before it closed.
They drove through the blackness of the night. Listening to the two men talking in language, she was gladdened by the sound of their conversation, even if she couldn't understand a word.
Suddenly the sleeping landscape was flooded with milky brightness. Looking up at the moon, she saw that it had sailed free.
Born in Melbourne, Pamela Calmer has lived in Alice Springs for the last 12 years. She was Head of English at St Philip's College for a few years before teaching literacy and numeracy at the Correctional Centre. Her daughter married in Alice and Pamela, now retired, has two little grandsons to cherish. She is also writing a novel (for young people) set in Central Australia, as well as trying her hand at poetry and short stories.
DON'T STAND IN THE SMOKE OF THEIR FIRE.
FICTION by GERRY BADDOCK
(Based in part on a true story)
The first time I saw Rose she was sitting in the dry riverbed naked, except for streaks of white paint. It was a bright sunny morning and I was mending my fence because it was easier to keep Tinkerbell in, than to get her back in once she had got out. Tinkerbell was a big fat cow who had grown up with my grandchildren and missed them so much that the sound of children would cause her to gallop wildly round her paddock and crash into the fence, and there were children in the river that morning.
As I struggled to pull the wire tight and nail it at the same time, a skinny little Aboriginal girl with a fat baby on her hip came up the river bank and stood beside me for a minute, then she put the baby down on the ground and pulled the wire tight for me.
"Oh goodness don't put the baby down in the dirt," I said, "he's got no pants on."
"He's not old enough to wear pants," she said.
Tinkerbell had spotted the baby and was pushing her long rough tongue through the fence and I said, "Come up to the house and I will find a rug to put the baby down on."I gave her a blanket and some oranges and as she was going she said, "You got any foil?"
"Tin foil?" I asked.
"Yeah, for cooking, I got pork head," she said.
I carried the blanket and oranges and foil to the gate, admiring that beautiful shiny laughing baby, who must have been heavy for so skinny a child to carry, and already I was starting to worry about a life style different from anything I could ever have imagined, when, looking down into the river I saw Rose.
"Oh, good God," I said, "there's a woman down there and she's got no clothes on.
"Yeah", said the girl, whose name was Janey, "ole man dead, she got to sit here now."
"Whatever for?" I asked.
"Cos," she replied, brown eyes looking hard at me, "she got to sit there cos her husband dead".
"With nothing on?" I asked. "For how long?" I was quite indignant.
"Bout two month," she said as she set off down the river bank.
"Well, who is she?" I asked.And very casually, over her shoulder she said, "Her name is Rose, she my mother."When my husband came home I told him about the naked woman in the river, who had to sit there for two months because her husband died.
He just laughed and said, "Don't worry about it Pom, you'll never get the hang of what Abos do."
He always called me Pom when the viewpoint of English and Australian were widening, so the subject was closed, as far as he was concerned. Then right out of nowhere he said, "Don't stand in the smoke of their fires".
"Why ever not?" I said.
"Because they won't let you go", he said.
She was in the same place in the river the next morning, so I cut a big red rose and took it to her and a mug of tea, and slid and scrambled down the river bank. I got nasty prickles in my hands and in my backside, but I got there, to be confronted by a man with only his trousers on and drawings in white paint on his chest. He looked at the rose and let me walk over to Rose.
I put the mug down beside her and offered her the flower, she didn't move so I said, "A rose for Rose", and held the flower to her nose. She smiled but didn't say anything, and I suddenly realised that she didn't know she had been named after the loveliest of all flowers. Somewhere, long ago a Sister on a mission had called a baby girl Rose. As I went past the man, he said, "She not got to talk".It was not surprising that I did not recognise Rose the next time I saw her because she was dressed in a pretty blue dress and white cardigan, she was with Janey who was pregnant again, and probably not more than sixteen years old, and Janey's husband, a tall well built young man wearing a football jersey with a number six on it.
He was carrying the baby who was just old enough to wear pants. They were a lovely family group, and we chatted for a moment, and Janey introduced me to Rose who was nicely spoken and very shy. Janey and Rose were saying goodbye to him as he got into a car with a group of footballers.
Later that evening, just on dark, I saw that Janey and Rose and a group of old ladies were camped on a small island in the middle of the river.
The electricity went off at about nine, so with no TV and no lights I went to bed, and then I heard a sort of roaring noise, and people shouting, and then screaming, and the screams were coming from the river. I put on my dressing gown and ran down the drive. The river was nearly up to the top of the bank and there was at least eight feet of ugly brown swirling water between me and the island, where the people were clinging to trees with water already up to their waists.
I ran back to the house, praying all the way, "Just don't let the bloody telephone pole [which was a small iron pole in the middle of the river] have been swept away ." It hadn't been and the emergency services were there within minutes.
I drove the car to the top of the bank and the lights shone down towards the island, where all I could see was the reflective stripes on the jackets of the rescuers as they got a rope to the trees and pulled the people to the opposite bank.Next morning the only water in the river was two shallow streams on either side of the island, so I put on my wellies and slid down the bank to see if I could help the people on the opposite bank, collecting anything they could. Just a few pots and tins and a few soaking blankets spread out to dry. However when my wellies touched the bottom of the bank they sank into a nasty thick black ooze. I screamed as my boots filled up with the ghastly stuff, and I had no way of lifting my feet with nothing to hold onto on the bank. My screams brought the women rushing over and they pulled from above me, and tugged at the boots, and soon we were all covered in mud and the screams were now of laughter.
There was no way of getting me in the boots out of the mud, so they climbed up the bank behind me and pulled me out, and how they laughed when they saw my white skinny feet which were quite unable to walk without shoes. So they gave me a hand and carried me up to the house.
Never was a bottle of bubble bath enjoyed as much as it was by those ladies, and afterwards as they sat on the verandah, wrapped in towels while they waited for their clothes to dry, we had tea and biscuits and listened to my 'old' music.
Later that evening I took some dry blankets down to them, and talked while they struggled to get wet wood to burn. That must have been when I first stood in the smoke of their fire.
TO BE CONTINUED - SEE ISSUE 1205.
FICTION by TYRONNE SWIFT
We are exploring again. That is me and my brother Alex, short for Alexander you see, but you probably knew that. There's this huge tree, I swear it must be about a hundred feet tall. Alex has climbed it twenty times if he has climbed it once.
I don't understand what it is that seems so exciting to him at the top of it. The view maybe. Not that it's any different to any other tree, it's just big is all. You know kids though, right? Young ones anyway, if they get an idea in their head then that's it. It's in there to stay.
Not that Alex is all that much younger than I am, only two years, which makes him ten. Every now and then I try and talk him into climbing a different tree. He's done it a few times but he says it's just not the same. Kids, hey?
Once when we went camping, we climbed this other tree. Alex didn't really want to, but I made him. I can do that sometimes on account of me being the older brother. Anyways, we climbed it and about halfway down, Alex cut his leg open on a bit of bark. Not a real deep cut, or anything, just kind of like a scrape. He treated it like he'd had his whole bloody leg off, I swear, you never heard so much racket, and from a little scrape. He kept yelling at me that it was my fault, that I'd made him climb it. Even though it was true, I don't think he needed to blame me. God, I felt bad.
He kept going on about the tree on our street never cut him before, which isn't completely true anyway. When he was crying his eyes out, I promised him that when we got home I'd climb 'his' tree (I always call it 'his' tree, it kind of makes him happy in a way) with him five times, and I wouldn't get sour about it or nothing. You know what he did? He bargained with me! He made me promise to climb it TEN times! Cheeky bugger, don't you think?
He's alright though, for a little kid anyway. He gets this, like, grease on his arms, like he's been working on cars, or something. It goes from his wrist right up to his elbow. Mum and me always ask him where it comes from, but even he says he doesn't know. How could someone get so dirty and not know how? I think that's weird, but what do I know?
You want to know another thing about Alex? He tells lies. Not bad lies, or anything, not that anybody gets upset with him, or anything. Just that he tells these stories that don't even sound like lies.
Like one time he said that Dad let him drive the car. I believed him, then about an hour later he said that he'd made it up. I kind of felt stupid for believing him, but then I asked him why he said it and he just shrugged his shoulders and tilted his head.
When he does that you can't be mad at him. I swear he knows when he's being cute. Ever since he was a baby he puts on these little faces that make old ladies nearly croak it. They just get all flustered. I have to admit he is cute. His eyes are real blue and his skin's really pale, so it makes his eyes look even bluer. You should see the way he does it, you'd probably chuck your lunch up, I know you would.
He doesn't talk much. He talks to me and all, just not that much to other people. Everyone always says how quiet he is, but I don't notice, probably because I'm used to it.
He wrote this story for his teacher last year, and he won an award. He's pretty smart really. Anyway, he won, but the problem was he was shy last year, when he was nine. He was too shy to collect his award in front of assembly, so the teacher had to give it to a different student. Alex didn't even care. The other kid's story was about his trip to the beach, or something boring like that and Alex's was about a kid who had cancer.
Alex's was probably a thousand times better than the other kid's. Alex just shrugged his shoulders and said that it didn't matter because the other student might grow up to be a writer and all Alex wants to do is climb his tree. Alex and the other kid both ended up sitting at the top of that bloody tree for about half an hour.
I always tell Alex that he is gonna fall out of his tree some day and break his neck, but when I say that he says that he doesn't care because he knows that I will carry him home and look after him until the doctor gets there. I like it when he says that. It's like he trusts me heaps and I'm not even that much older than him, but can you imagine me walking down the street carrying Alex, broken neck and all? I would though, if he needed me to. He's not bad for a brother.
When Alex started losing his hair, me and him would make jokes about it. Because his skin's so pale we would call him Uncle Fester. You know? From the Adams Family? After the doctors said that the chemo wasn't working, Alex didn't even cry. I kind of did, but only at night when I knew he wasn't listening. Mum cried at the funeral, but I didn't. Me and Alex just kind of looked at Mum and I could tell he was sad, but of course he wouldn't admit it.
I've got to get going now. You know how I told you I promised to climb Alex's tree ten times? Well, I'm up to number eight and he wants to go again. I would probably climb up there even if I didn't promise. All he'd have to do is ask. I'd say no at first, naturally, but then I'd give in. I wouldn't even make him wait very long. I reckon he thinks I'm alright for a brother.
BIO: Tyronne Swift has been guest-writing for the Alice Springs News while completing his NTCE at Charles Darwin University in 2004. He scored 20/20 for English Communications, earning a Certificate of Merit from the NT Board of Studies. His film 'Alex', for which this story provided the narration, won Best Film and Best Screenplay at the recent Gorilla Awards, featuring the work of Year 12 Media graduates from CDU.The pictures here arestills from the film.
ALL ROADS LEAD TO THE CENTRE.
STORY by ELISABETH ATTWOOD
"A palm reader told me I'd come to Alice Springs," says Tony Gribble, musician and artist, currently percussionist at the Sounds of Starlight Theatre on Todd Mall.
"I was living in Sydney and working as an art restorer. I was delivering paintings to a gallery, talking about palm reading with the owner. I had my palm facing up when an Indian man came in and said he was a palm reader. The most insightful thing that he told me was that I would soon be painting red."
"My 50 per cent sceptic was telling me he meant a house painter. I wasn't a bad drawer but I wasn't really an artist, I was only a restorer of art."
But later that day two other significant things happened to him.
"My second destination after the gallery was to deliver an Aboriginal dot painting I'd been restoring to a lovely old couple who lived in a suburb of Sydney. They'd bought it in the mall here in Alice Springs but it had got squashed in their suitcase. I'd never restored a dot painting before, I'd mostly been restoring early Australian paintings.
"The couple were very pleased with the result, and as we chatted I commented on some enlarged images of Uluru, Kata Tjuta and Central Australia that were on their walls. They looked incredible photographs, so sharp.
"The lady asked me if I painted myself, and said I should go. 'The land is so red' she said.
"My last destination of the day was a gallery in the city – it was my best client and I had some work to pick up. As I walked in the gallery owner turned around and said he'd just been talking about me. 'How would you like to go to Central Australia?' he asked.
"It was then I realised that something larger than life was going on, and I had better follow it."
Tony was commissioned to be artist in residence at the Sheridan resort (now Sails in the Desert) at Uluru. He stayed for a month, taking 30 paintings with him and setting up a studio and gallery of his work. He painted local subjects like sunsets at Uluru and Kata Tjuta, desert oaks and red sand dunes, enjoying his new experiences immensely.
As well as painting, Tony has been interested in music from childhood, and has been playing the 12-string guitar since he was nine years old. To date, he has recorded six CDs and tapes of his music, and plays percussion and didgeridoo as well as the guitar.
It was his music that took him on his next steps into life in Central Australia.
"The night before I left to go back to Sydney I went down to the amphitheatre at the resort. It was about midnight and I started to play my guitar. I wanted a nice chillout time for my last night. What I didn't realise was that the resident didgeridoo player heard me. After I'd finished he said I had to come back to Uluru and set up a group with him."
So after a week of sorting out arrangements in Sydney, Tony came back and stayed at Uluru for 10 years. A group was formed with a percussionist and called Indiginy.
"We wanted to encompass and embrace indigenous cultures from around the world, so that language wouldn't be a barrier for people to enjoy the playing, the music would be the language."
They began playing at one of the restaurants at the resort, but after the venue was being packed to the rafters each Friday and Saturday night, the manager of the hotel agreed that Indiginy play a free concert at the amphitheatre.
"We packed it out ," smiles Tony.
The group asked a dancer from the Bangarra Company, Marilyn Miller, to join them, and Indiginy played 1200 performances, of Tony's own compositions, and were recorded by the conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, Robert Bachman.
Tony played with Indiginy for five years, and afterwards took up various jobs at Uluru using his talents as an artist and musician. He became affectionately known by his colleagues as "the guru of Uluru" because of his knowledge about the history, geography, language and culture of the local area and also about "who was sleeping with who at the resort…"
For a year Tony and his partner lived at the community of Mutijulu as part of his job for the arts cooperative which operated at Uluru's Cultural Centre. It involved going out to 20 communities over a 1500k square area and purchasing Indigenous art and craft and distributing it through the gallery and 60 others in Australia.
"I experienced 24-hours a day for a year what life was like in an Aboriginal community," remembers Tony. "It was a fantastic time. Lots of Australians only see Aborigines in Redfern or at tent city in Canberra but I was fortunate to experience first-hand a 30,000-year-old culture in 2004.
"And the Pitjantjatjara people loved that I was learning the language and finding out about their culture."My initial connection with them was through music – the young men love playing the guitar and country and western music so we used to play together.
"I became close to the brothers of the Brumby family. Quite often we'd go to their place and sit and drink tea, or they'd come to mine and we'd have sandwiches or something. It was a sharing situation – I was extending their knowledge of playing the guitar and they were extending my knowledge of their language. We gained mutual respect.
"Something I felt strongly about was to show them alcohol and making music didn't necessarily go hand in hand – good music can be created without feeling out of it. I'd had close friends pass away through alcohol and I didn't want it to happen again.
"Eventually we became like brothers – we called each other that, and their parents call me their son.
"I saw their children being born and I was invited to ceremonies. I learnt about their culture and embraced the central desert environment, learning about art, craft, flora and fauna and the geology of Uluru."
Although the experience was a very special one for Tony, he says that there were moments when he felt frightened living in the community.
"It had its ups and downs. My partner was Israeli and it was a bit of a culture shock for her.
"And I had some life-threatening experiences – I would go to the communities every six weeks to pick up commissions but when it came time for payment, there was always confusion about who should get the money.
"In Aboriginal culture everything is shared and some of the young men wanted to be paid for the work that their aunts, for example, had done. Because I was the source of the money, it meant I was the source of the problem.
"I was physically threatened at times. I'm not an aggressive person but I wasn't about to get my head bashed in by a boomerang."
After a decade of living and working at Uluru, Tony's relationship with his partner "went disastrous". He moved back to Sydney but only lasted a year. "It was great to be near my family – it was where I grew up and was born.
"But I just had the calling to come back to Central Australia."
He was offered a job at the Sounds of Starlight Theatre in Alice, operated by didgeridoo musician Andrew Langford. "We'd been friends for years, and I also knew quite a few other musicians here. The Brumby family now live in Alice Springs so it was pretty easy to settle in."
He firmly believes fate brought him here.
"I don't adhere to any spiritual denomination but I've realised that instead of being in control of my own destiny, a huge part of it is influenced by the exterior.
"I am absolutely certain in saying there is a guidance in place that took me to Uluru. It's not a neurotic spiritual point of view, it's fact.
"I didn't come to the place for any sort of ultimate spiritual experience because I wasn't interested in it. But I had multiple experiences that would convert even the most sceptical individual to become more spiritual.
"I think you can either ignore your insights or let them guide you."
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