Thursday, 21 April 2016

On A Red Sand Road To The Sky


Going out towards the wide white pans
Where salt lakes spread like mirrors
of the thirsts, the hungers of the sky.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Both Barefoot Stereotypes


Remembering the thick hard shoe-like
soles of lifelong discalced who
callous up of barefoot experience
I see before the very picture
of kicked-off contradictions
in presumption about

For the last people in
late entrants into athropology
out of the Great Sandy Desert
the Bindubi come from that sand
into the gibber and cut-stone country
make for their long sand-softened
feet sandals for a season or more
woven on to their feet from
the string-long bark strips
torn form a duneside bush

Monday, 27 July 2015



Usually perched oasis-like on
the very brink, taking their big drink,
edging along a long bar of open water

Pandanus spiralis, on elbows, its palms
of long leaves lean up off slouching stalks
in twisted waves of air-swimming hands

unwashed, untidy, shambolic as any bushie
they lounge across all the best places
sticking the place up with gun-spines

that hide the water's edge, that cover
up the small paths down, the wallaby tracks
or pirate haven carnivore-eyed drinking places

beside the lagoon, billabong, water-hole
where crocodiles might be if water-roads
channel them in, like palm-skin relatives

of the ancient orders of life, reptile
and palm, old allies of the primordial
times now relic under jet-trailed skies

where pineapple-like clusters of pandan fruit
attract flying foxes, those night-fruit bats
that drug-sniff them out orange-red and ripe.

Live As We Go


Watching the road,
watching the wide road
a picture rolls out to us
a pavement goes under us
right and left brushes the sides;
better than movies,
bigger than TV;
a never-ending unscripted
picture-show coming live
as we go,

Watching the wide
wide roads, world's slow
to a stop and go past us,
country gets over us
and by us, we're pilgrims
watching the road to find
which way to go, where
to go for a way to be,
for a place to belong, or
a new direction to turn.

Watching the road
wide of the atlas
looking for a map of
the heart; discovering
the directory of the soul,
poring over side tracks,
and possibilities, possible
ways through the pathlessness,
searching for the next bend,
the right way, for a call
which echoes home.

Watching the uncharted
road, and going there
where we're watching,
off maps of roads already
travelled, or beneath them,
on a journey to the outer-
most step, at the stockgrid
of heaven, for the next
never-ending picture show
coming live as we go,

* * *


Watching the deep
road, walking over
the graves of the past
to find the back story of here
where we might find how
it all came to this, how
the end might be, or could be
as what might have been, but
was not, can be seen again to
inspire with the example of
the congregation of saints
and then caution of the sinners
we travel over in time...

All the time wondering if
we do in eternity.

- written on the Mataranka Road, after heading north off the Stuart Highway. With thanks to my younger son who wrote this down as I dictated from the driver's seat. For a song lyric

Friday, 24 July 2015

Tin Badge Of Health


No crown but
a thing put around the neck
only not so much like say pearls
of royalty, or diamonds on a silver chain
or even of gold,
neither in a gold or silver
clasp but more like that other
more unspeakable neck-worn thing
only made of tin

on an iron chain
else on a knotted rope-string
by 1885 and afterwards this badge
of health was what kept
them the tin badge-makers
branded 'niggers' from being
unhealthy on sight if they
so much as dared to cross that,
tin-decreed dividing river.

Tin like them new rooves of Elsey
for thunder heavy rains of the Never Never
in rifled south-eastern Arnhem Land,
on the tropic gun-range grasslands of the River Roper
was the rule at Elsey Station, same as Hodgson Downs,
as it was elsewhere then, a conquerer's rule
come in at Florida station up north Arnhem Land
in cross-cultural communication the natives were
gun-commanded into understanding
the reloaded orders about how
not to cross the river

for the good of their health,
the same, although on the Roper,
the good whitefellas made exceptions,
and so gave presents of tinplate badges,
on a chain or a string, as a necessary,
like passports back into a conquered martial land,
real badges of health like government policy
to be worn if one came across that
styx, that river and wanted
to remain alive

the river of a tin-made border
that sprung out of the barrels of guns
that bubbled out with the stream of life
chosen as the whiteman's cattle were
only without their own long-faithed
white husbandry-music in ancient cowbells,
animals with no tethers,
without yokes
or chains

or fences,
watched by health-conscious
animal riders
the cattle went about
like game
into blackfella's river crossing places
where the tinplate
badge wearers went, or else came
like banded lepers.

* * *

Image: Elsey Station, c.1908

* 1. Florida Station on the Goyder River 1885: "The niggers of this part of the coast had a particularly bad name. At the station, Florida by name, twenty miles up the river, the aborigines were never allowed on the same side of the river as the settlement. It was a case of shooting at sight if they did venture across." - [pp.185 - A. Searcy "In The Australian Tropics" -George Robertson & Co, London & Melbourne, 1907]

2. West of Roper Bar 1885: "I was informed that [the Aborigines] were not allowed across without permission, and when given this, had to wear a tin plate slung around the neck. It was bad for the health of one crossing without a badge." -[ pp.113 - A. Searcy "In The Australian Tropics" -George Robertson & Co, London & Melbourne, 1907]

Thursday, 23 July 2015



Swim-water after
the dry desert dust
was such a joy, and is.
Mataranka quenches with
graced relief,

a pandanus-lined
palm frond shaded
stream of blue water
running like a spa
of fresh-cleansing

And yet the comfort
of the beautiful oasis
rankles when you learn
of how the lukewarm
water once ran red

with the saveless life-
water let of native veins,
cut gracelessly and stifled
of their country's springs,
their hearts.

Monday, 20 July 2015

Mirlinbarrwarr : Refuge On the Roper


Below Mataranka
seventy miles from the Gulf
in lands ridden to the bone
with spilt blood
by the years of the white rider
of the shareholder dreaming,
of the meat freezer dreaming
where human meanness lifts
its truth from beneath its masks
with dreams of wealth and power
whatever else the dastardry
from big-houses of Melbourne
ordered, its fields to fire,
with frontages to be added,
with appearances to meet,
with reputations to forge
to be seen as if they were
better men...

as if into the maelstrom
three down-south whitemen
came as Christ's missionaries
from another Melbourne, one
of heart and risk in longing
for those black yet verily made
like them in their Father's image
as if for those most put upon,
those most ravaged by their own,
those called savage to be hunted
like vermin by the veiled savages
among their very own

into the blood never-never
they came like quiet birds
to a song for the ever-ever
with three native missionaries
from Yarrabah by the lugger
'Francis Pitt' west into the
Gulf of Carpentaria and another,
and were well met by Gajiyuma
of the Mara, and guided up the
Roper river to Mirlinbarrwarr
in 1908 to work together
in the breach, the breach

needing bridging, the gulf
which the freezer riders
had ensured was emptied,
putting hands to plough
for the greater pastoral,
providing a haven where
the hunted and despised
of God's outcasts could
sit down alive of ear
and be heard of him.