Can you see this picture – in Ngiyampaa and Gamilaraay country?
in the outback, a Toyota police car cruised on a misty, quiet as death, night,
near the outback town of Wilga, a tidy town
gunjie white wagon, bull bar dripping red dust, driving over dirt roads,
the holding of desperate crying men and women with blood-spattered cushions,
stuffing hanging out
passing silently through a desert cattle station, biggest in the whole world,
rabbit goat ravaged,
a monument to what Whitefella gubbahs could steal, keep and clear fell trees
and wreck with abandonment in
God’s Own Country
Acacia shrub lands, saltbush, blue bush, copper burrs, bluebells, grevilleas and
rusty sheds abandoned, farmland littered stones, sun set blazing pink,
‘Assumption of the Virgin’ sky
the dark tree line on a high river bank, the Darling River,
a brown dead dribble, a dribble
they see a running dinewan, emu and crashing lightning, it’ll set your hair on fire,
but no water ngaru-gi, fit for drinking
sky now jet black with diving stars, the Milky Way wiggled a black ribbon over
head in the Dreaming Serpent’s path
pearl tongue flickered around Orion’s belt, the moon rose, gunjie drove on beneath its
the vehicle lurched over rocks, getting dark
yellow head light glow, glimpsed old tyres piled against falling down fences of
while thorn bushes crowd the wooden posts, strung with the crucified corpse of a
its great yellow beak bent to kiss the earth
they rattled past abandoned lives with rusty signs: ‘BP Service Station’ in
red peeling paint,
gazed at forlorn building, wondered whose life had been spent out in the middle of the
semi desert of broken trees,
followed by a bandaar roo, little spirit fellas, gabinya wandabaa, all brown and
hairy yelling: ‘give us back our dead’
he saw a shadow move inside ruins, a windowed screaming woman’s face
he shifted in his hot sticky car seat, chewed his nails, feeling deep unease, a rising,
foreboding, sickness, in waves
chest tight, a vice and maybe he would have a heart attack any day now
and that would teach them.
shut that steel trap of teeth and wait until the noise died down, they would stop asking
questions after a while
drive slowly and lean forward to see grey mist lifting from a hot road
stones strewn across landscape like giant toys and red gum trees hovered
sensations of total inexplicable anguish grew grew, until around a bend:
a ghost, a goonge, in white ochre and blood, in the headlights, a few seconds
his semi-naked dark body trembling, his head gashed and flowed with gore
eyes shone like powerful light beams
the semi-transparent image shivered, pleaded with hands outstretched
his mouth crying: help, hold me in your arms, a warm embrace,
ghost fingers trembled, a drop of blood fell to earth, his eyes wept to watch it
stain the sand
police officers gaped with wide eyed gunjie terror
car brakes slammed, screeched, he gripped the wheel, yelped and swerved
crunched into thorn bushes, rattling gravel
eyes staring, face transformed, a white mask
he tried to restart, the starter whined, whined and he turned the key, again and again, it
crunched, twisted and quietly died
near Wilga, a tidy town
Their ghost blue eyes glowing with bright light.
Her father sings his country walking through Blue Mountains.
He sings great serpent’s swimming, swimming to make rivers.
He sings each place calling, calling out to spirits,
Friends passing, needing permission, moving across lands.
His singing marks secret places, treading softly on quoll cat head rock.
Singing by rock shelters, pressing ochre palms.
Pushing red hands, Lilly Pilly Creek. Little hand prints, men’s hand prints, marking
Late night, she listens to her father.
She won’t understand, must not be afraid.
She wriggles in possum cloak, listens, listens.
Waiballa have taken much land.
Anger bringing down grief. Love flies.
Hand runs across woomera, slapping against thigh.
She must help her people, learning waiballa language, their ways.
She must be brave.
Remembering he loves her, he will come back.
Now panic rising, crying, crying, holding his hand tight.
He removes her hand, continues.
She should trust him.
She is alarmed, clear this night is goodbye.
Her aunt mothers look, lying near a fire, crying.
This child Mary Burrarone, is not afraid in killing times.
Her father finds her, lying in soft valley grasses.
Picking her up in great dark arms. A funeral of a burning man.
All confusion, smoke, hawks swooping, to eat burnt things.
Yunga, kudjal. Weapons thrown on pyre.
Cloth turns to feathers, floating, floating on hot smoke.
Singing and wailing sadness, burria burria.
Women cutting heads, stones and blood trickling.
Objects float in blue sky, birds fight.
Duria burumurring, eaglehawk time.
Magpies, currawongs call across morning sky.
Sun’s heat streams down.
Clan gather belongings, dilly bags, coolamons
Walking, walking to a new town.
Old women stamp out fire, gathering babies in arms.
Hiding seed damper in dilly bags.
She is eager to see waiballa, taste beef.
Walking all day. Holding her father’s head.
Legs balancing on shoulders, hands gripping forehead,
pressing against black curls.
They stop, her father offers up sugar bag wild honey. Sucking.
Long hot walk, asking, where they are going?
High up on father’s head, he can’t hear her.
Hoping for food, hoping. Very thirsty, no water.
Chewing, chewing, she chews wattle gum.
Arriving in this new town, carriages, bullock wagons churning mud.
Leaving marks, like snake tracks.
Horses everywhere, yarrowman, terrifying size unbearable.
Hooves sharp, trampling earth.
Horses whinnying, voice of monsters.
All confused, wooden platform on high church tower.
Soldiers standing in formation, rifles at ease.
Black coated men, women in long shining dresses. White parasols.
A town dressed with roses, blooming, blooming behind picket fences.
Musicians playing, drummer boys rapping drums.
Thrumming in Mary’s head.
She sees tiny white dog, ruffled collar, licking his master’s fingers.
Watching dog, longing to touch it.
Smiling, putting out pink tongue.
She pulls her father’s arm, wants to hold this magical thing.
Waiballa has feelings of benevolence towards native people.
This word ‘gift’ can’t be correct, is she passed into another man’s hands?
Mary confused, screaming, her father serious: she can’t move, can’t speak.
Father’s hands on woomerah, leaning forward, listening.
Intent on agreement.
No one will harm her, he loves her.
Tribal law protects children, she was not chattel. Chattel.
A captain in red wool looking, talking slowly, as if her father is stupid.
English words sound like rattling sticks.
She saw that look on father’s face before, a gift bag of flour, the first time.
Joking, had they given him white dust or ochre paint?
Miming, spitting, he slowly touched white powder, tasting.
No good, he said, threw it, bag bursting like a cloud.
They all laughed. A tribe kept eyes on him, seeing what to do.
These ghost men had fire sticks that killed.
Wondering how to behave, father, their star and moon.
Soldiers laughing at him, laughing, sudden humiliation.
When people, point, laugh, you are the reason for laughter, it burnt you.
Soldier picking up flour bag, licking and smirking.
Damper bread given from saddle bag.
Except her father: tree standing tall, turning his back, mob walking away.
Not needing white dust from dead people.
Only later: begging, begging for one scoop of waiballa flour.
Now, Mary here, nearly naked, naked and shy,
Pulling shift over her head.
Knowing ghost men like nothing more than this, this moment of taking, taking
Bringing shame to them all.
Their ghost blue eyes glowing with bright light.
An introduction to Black Mary and Gungies, both plays
written by award-winning Aboriginal playwright, Julie Janson,
provides interesting historical background. Centring on
different aspects and periods of Aboriginal life and people,
both plays are illustrated with photographs. They are
recommended for Years 7 to 12 Australian history,
Aboriginal studies drama and literature.
Black Mary tells the story of Aboriginal bushranger Mary Ann
and her partner, Captain Thunderbolt, roaming northwestern
New South Wales in the mid-nineteenth century. Dressed like
the men, Mary Ann is one of the gang, managing to survive in
the outback and to elude capture most of the time. She dreams
of returning with Thunderbolt to live with her people but
instead witnesses their massacre and plots revenge.
The play performed in Sydney by Belvoir Street Theatre.
A contemporary play, Gunjies combines family life, young
love, a football match and a debutante ball with political
activism, racial discrimination and uneasy relations with
police (the gunjies). First performed in 1993, the
International year of Indigenous People, Gunjies was
highly commended by the Human Rights Commission
and was also nominated for an Australian Writers
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