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Alexis Wright is a member of the Waanyi Nation of the southern highlands of the Gulf of Carpentaria. She is the author of the prize-winning novels Carpentaria and The Swan Book, and has published works of non-fiction including Take Power, Grog War, and the recently released collective memoir, Tracker. She is the Boisbouvier Chair in Australian Literature at the University of Melbourne.
Hey ancestor, you talking to me?
Country time everyday.
I know, I know, but wouldn’t you know it, it’s the 26th of January again, old Whitefella Day.
Party time for some, sad day for others.
Listen! Can’t you hear country keeping its peoples’ memories beating strongly, everybody heard? It’s the pulse of all our broken hearts crying for families lost in the war we keep having, the children we keeps losing.
Those are big memories, far too strong, where spirits cry deep down knowledge of the real title of country. What’s to celebrate? Country ripped? Country broken? You looking at all that type of thing? Tens of thousands of years it took for learning that kind of knowledge for managing land right way, waters, the skies, and the stars.
Me! Not bothering too much because I am country.
Country time everyday.
Anyway call it what you like, Australia Day or whatnot? Mouthing off day. Bugger all day mean nothing to me. You tell me what’s good about nothing? A bit of split second in the space of time. One day! What for? That’s nothing in the scheme of time that my mob been sitting here, looking after all this traditionally inter-woven law country, keeping it strong, every day. You want to beat that first?
That’s real sovereignty kind of thinking. True ownership. Comes with responsibility. Caring. Respect. Stuff like that for instance.
Permanence – ties unbroken, can’t be broken.
Deep roots. Core roots.
Country time everyday.
I am talking about time immemorial experience – how to grow roots like that. Not like scrap of paper made yesterday – a second ago, flimsy, impermanence, that type of thing saying you got the title over blackfella country, you are on top. That’s nothing. You are not owner. Scrap of paper only painful in the heart, only cover the surface with poison. It can’t get inside proper deep law in my head. Lies type of thing like that fall apart eventually, eroding unfortunately, like sickly wind vaporing out of any little whitefella powerhouse thing called government. That’s only tiny. Big deal. Paper gets blown away. Paper only good for that.
You want to know who’s speaking? Me! I got no problem because I am country. I got no paper. Just old man talking about a fact, that’s all. Elder of country. A spirit man who manages law stories from time immemorial living in the back of your mind.
Live in a wheelie bin now. Squashed amongst the rubbish, in piles of waste stuff, in ugly thoughts, in mad sweat crawling all over the place like lice. No worry. Any filth like that just dries on my skin, sticks like hot glue in my mind, but I can wait for eternity. Someone will come along and collect the rubbish eventually, and it will be sorted out in one big pile up down at the tip.
Hey ancestor, while I am talking, I noticed how you have put on a bit of vitriolic weight this year. You look awesome twisting in the sky at sunset. I have been thinking about whether I am dreaming I am you, or are the storm clouds just getting heavier in my mind while sitting around on my spirit country that is being turned into a wheelie bin of rubbish that whitefella say is not mine anymore. What you look like? My spirit brain and yours! How am I going to describe ancestral dreaming inside the old song man spirit, the old song woman, the little kid’s static freaking up and down across white nylon billowing over the land – suffocating the life out of country, the kid’s target indiscriminate, their mind lost to the incessant barking of dogs.
I watch how you loom wide across the horizon; see how you are thinking as you charge through memory of all my thoughts.
I see that you have come to the celebratory party this year wearing something different, impersonating a super-cell storm body, and in your heart’s heat, your aura throwing flames across the landscape. Pretty big look that. Bloody good actor, roaring rapid-fire across the surface of country in such awesomeness, being all visible, all thunder and roaring. Maybe you are searching for a reckoning, maybe payback, maybe retribution, maybe searching for where your story is being hidden, if it is being kept properly, secretly inside the brain of elders – the caretakers, or from where it was stolen from country, if it lies in the graves of family robbed from their potentiality of caring for country, or are you looking for the lies hidden on a piece of paper somewhere, locked in somebody’s cupboard.
You seem all radical, in a hurry. The environmental science people said that the freak storms coming more frequently are a consequence of climate change, but I think that your appearance is the result of those little pieces of paper telling lies about land ownership by people who don’t know your power. I suppose the ancestral story should look the way you have decided to show yourself, your powerful story of millenniums revealed in full swing.
But you are becoming more enormous and looming right out of control across the land, and controlling my mind. The more you push, the more I can’t find the answer for what should be kept under control. Where are all the proper story keepers? Who’s going to sing all the sacred story so you won’t feel lonely anymore, is there anyone left? Anyone there? Anyone at the birthday party?
Ancestor, you are exploding the wheelie bin. The plastic crap stuff is all over the place and flying with the sea gulls in the storm, slapped amongst filthy kimbies, the polystyrene meat trays and empty beer cans, thousands spinning in the atmosphere. The poisonous fumes and acid unleashed. A wild wind is screwing off the tops of trees for kilometres around, and bashing the tree trunks into the ground. Ash clouds preceded a wall of mud water rushing over country, carrying cattle and sheep with trucks and cars past flooded houses. I am only an old man with poor eyesight, but I get the picture. Bloody oath. Country time every day.
You know, and I may be wrong here, but I think you are starting to shake a bit of sense into the heart of what’s going on around here, the way you talk about real sovereignty when you show the language of country, the way you broadcast a few fast new stories from the ancestral realm.
There are skinny old hungry foxes having Macca’s with the lot for early Australia day breakfast.
And there is ant out there laboring in the dirt under the wings of a dead butterfly, taken it on a journey that seems to take forever, a journey as great as travelling around the world to the butterflies cemetery.
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