(A Sequel to The Tale of the Gallah Bird)
d’ya mean, you’re holding me up? Don’t
you know who I am?” I asked in outrage.
couldn’t care if you was the man in the moon, hand it over, mate!
The watch, the wallet, everything.”
else what?” I sneered.
was rather impressed with my bravery, in light of, errrr, fairly recent
events that had left both physical and mental scars on me. But there was no chance in hell that the whatever-it-was in
his pocket was anything lethal. Looked
the size of a finger and no more. I
could do that, too, stick a finger in me pocket and threaten someone.
He didn’t scare me. Much.
then he pulled the finger out of his pocket, and it wasn’t a finger after
all. I’d never seen a gun
that small in me life. Wondered
a bit if it might be a toy, but I wasn’t prepared to chance it.
Bravery only goes so far, stupidity can get you killed.
I handed over me wallet and watch, the gold chain Livvy gave me last
Christmas, even me wedding band, with barely a sigh.
They could all be replaced.
shoes, too, mate.”
gimme your shoes. I don’t
want ya getting outta here too fast.”
untied my trainers and handed them over.
He threw them in the back seat of the cab.
If you’re gonna shoot me,
then have the decency to look me in the eyes when you do it.”
decided I wasn’t going to turn ‘round.
One of me best mates in the world got it in the back, and I wasn’t
going to let it happen like that to me.
Not if I could help it. My
mind went a wandering, was this it, then?
And to someone who didn’t even know who I was?
That just didn’t seem right for some reason.
Dunno why, really, because fame doesn’t mean anything, not really,
not in the whole scope of things.
not gonna shoot ya, mate, so turn ‘round,” he replied, his agitation
hasn’t been a very nice welcome to Australia, I thought all you people
were friendly, you know, throw another shrimp on the barbie and all that,”
I remarked, still balking at the turning around thing.
a PRAWN, not a ‘shrimp’, ya blasted idiot, an’ that’s another bloody
misconception about Oz!” he roared, raising his hand and swinging at me,
and I must have turned to try and avoid the blow, because I felt a sharp
pain explode behind my right ear.
next thing I noticed is that I was lying on the sand and it was dark out.
The last thing I remembered
was something about prawns and it was daylight at that point, I must have
been lying here for hours. I
checked everything out and sat up, I seemed to be in pretty good shape
except that I had a bad headache and a lump on the side of my head.
And a lot of sand in my face. I
could hear the ocean waves lapping on the shore, and I figured the tide must
a great start to a vacation, I thought morosely as I stood and bounced on my sock-clad toes, making
sure everything still worked. Yeah,
I was okay. Dunno why, but I
was. I guess I was robbed by a
gentle soul or something. It’s
not like I couldn’t identify the bloke if I saw him again.
He’d have been smarter to have killed me, but I was quite happy to
have been robbed by a stupid thief instead of a smart one.
biggest problem is that I had no idea where I was. You see, I’d fallen asleep in the cab on the ride from the
airport to the hotel. Stupid, I
know, because when I’d awakened, I was nowhere near Darwin. In fact, I was nowhere near anywhere at all that I could see.
I was on some beach, but that’s all I knew.
I supposed I could walk along the shore until I met someone, but
Australia is bloody huge, and there aren’t many people living here.
Oh, the cities are packed full of people, but once you get outside
the cities, it’s just kilometre after kilometre of vast empty spaces. Kind of like what I picture the American old west was like.
Nothing and nobody, just huge areas of emptiness.
Kind of frightening in a way, if you’re a city kid like meself.
I mean, I love the great outdoors and all, but in measured doses.
Tamed, like. You know, like a garden, nothing raw about it, all nice and
orderly. All this raw nature is
a bit scary.
to mention that television special that I saw recently that talked about all
the poisonous snakes there are in Australia!
Like, the worst ones in the world, in the highest numbers, too.
Damn, this was not a good way to start a vacation. And here I was, nearly barefoot, with snakes possibly nearby.
I sat back down to await the dawn, at least I’d be able to see
an approaching snake during the daylight hours.
I hoped snakes didn’t like being on the beach.
He very nearly met his death from my fishing pole.
I was out for a bit of early morning fishing when I tripped over him.
I thought he was dead at first, but as I caught my breath, I could
hear a gentle snore. Drunk,
then? He was lucky no salt water crocodile had come along and found
“Hey, wake up. This
is private property, move along.”
No effect. So I nudged
him with my foot, but the only effect that had was to make him groan and
roll over. I knelt down and
shook him. Nothing.
I didn’t smell any alcohol, either, so maybe he was hurt, and not
sleeping or passed out from drink? It
wasn’t yet light enough to do a visual inspection, so I checked him out by
touch. I felt along his arms;
they were dead weight, but nothing appeared to be broken. His chest didn’t appear to have any gaping holes, and his
legs seemed all right too. I
ran my fingers through his hair, checking his skull, and except for a lump
behind one ear, I didn’t really find anything wrong.
About the time I finished my examination, I realized that his
breathing pattern had changed, and I sat back.
“Oh, don’t stop there, love, that felt too nice,” he said, and
I could tell he was smiling just from the way he sounded.
English, then, although I’d known that from his smell, let alone
from the contours of his face, the silkiness of his hair.
And English as in ‘from England’, by his accent; it was much
different than that of the whites who called themselves Australian and
inhabited our land.
“My name’s not ‘love’,” I replied, “and I wasn’t doing
it so that it would feel nice.”
“Sorry, it was a lot more pleasant to wake up to that than what I
went to sleep with.”
“Who hit you? And
why? Are you on the run?”
He laughed as if I’d said something very funny.
“The cab driver, I don’t know his name, it was a robbery, and the
only running I’m going to do is from any snakes that come along.
Where am I?”
“You’re on Arnhem land. Near
the Big Gulf and the Alligator River.”
“Sorry, but that doesn’t help me any. Am I anywhere near Darwin?”
“Yes,” I replied. He
snorted and I thought that probably meant he wanted more of an explanation,
so I obliged. “You’re east
of Darwin, towards the tip of what the whites call the Northern Territory,
at the edge of what they call the Van Diemen Gulf.”
There was a pause in the conversation, and I thought perhaps he was
mulling over the fact that he was talking with an Aboriginal.
I’m not quite sure why I was stressing the fact that ‘the
whites’ called it this or that. I
mean, it’s not as if I was a savage or anything, I’d attended white
schools and university as well. Perhaps
it was simply the shock of running into a white so far from their
established territory. I was
used to dealing with whites, but not so far in the bush; this was my home
and they rarely ventured way out here.
“How far east of Darwin?” he asked.
“Couple of days walk. Pretty
“Oh. Do you have a
I smiled and held out my hand, grasped his.
It was nearly light by now and it was too late to fish, so I pulled
him to his feet. He didn’t
let go. Nice looking older
fellow, I thought, a bit on the gray side, but still fairly vital and
strong. For a white.
Was he why I was here?
“We don’t need maps,” I said.
“Where are we going?”
“Back to camp, it’s time for breakfast, love.” I laughed.
“What shall I call you?”
“George. What should
I call you?”
“You couldn’t pronounce my name, so just call me Lucy.”
“Nice ta meet you, Lucy.”
“Likewise,” I replied as I shook his hand. He finally let go and we started to walk. I took it easy, for his sake; he probably wasn’t used to this type of activity.
eh? A ~lovely~ girl, I thought uncharitably as I tried to keep up with her.
She was a bit shorter than I, and put together rather nicely, but she
moved pretty fast whilst I was still in me stocking feet!
are you so slow?” she paused to ask, already ten paces ahead of me.
sure I made a face, but I tried to be polite.
“I don’ have any shoes on, an’ I’m worried about snakes.
I’m also a lot older than you.”
laughed at me, such bright white teeth in such a dark face.
The juxtaposition was startling! Then she pointed to her own bare
feet and shook her head.
don’t have shoes either. And I’ll let you know if there are any snakes
nearby. As for age, well, yes,
I’d say you’re about twenty years older than me, but you don’t look in
too bad of shape, you’re just soft from an easy lifestyle.”
How dare she call me soft?
just nodded. It was really odd,
she had these amazing blue eyes. They
seemed out of place in that dark face.
For some reason, she looked somehow familiar, but I just couldn’t
put me finger on why. I’d say
she was really pretty except that she was so aggravating.
maybe a bit soft. It’s not
like I run marathons or anything like that.
I garden a bit. But
I’ve always prided meself on staying fairly well in shape, not like some
others who’ve gone to pot as they’ve aged.
Not that I’m naming names, mind you.
But I can almost still fit into me gray suit and I’d bet there’s
one or two who can’t claim that! Dhan
had a good laugh on me 55th birthday when I put on me Sgt. Pepper
suit and it still fit. Well,
nearly. I did pop that one
button off it whilst getting into it, but only one! Couldn’t sit down while I was wearing it, either, thought
I’d split the trousers if I’d tried, but I felt pretty good about even
getting into it so many years after I’d originally worn it.
to think of it, if I was twenty-plus years older than this woman, well, that
was more than the age of the suit! Time
marches on, doesn’t it? Sometimes
it surprises me, I look in the mirror and see the shell undeniably growing
older, and yet I don’t feel much different on the inside. The soul stays the same, you see; only the shell, the
body, ages. Makes me
understand how ninety year old people can still feel like teenagers, inside.
that looked to be the extent of my break, just enough time to think about
the meaning of life and then it was back to walking again.
I tried hard to keep up with her, determined that she wouldn’t
think of me as ‘soft’ again. Didn’t
seem quite as hard, maybe I was in better shape than I’d thought.
I took it a bit easier on him, slowed down a
little and kept the pace light. Poor
thing, he was pretty much out of his element here in the bush.
It’s a hard life if you’re unused to it, and he was patently
unused to it. As for me, I
loved it! I’d been through
the desire to live in the city, had even gone to uni and gotten a degree in
education. Living and working
in the city had never made me happy. I
was only happy when I returned to the land and my people.
The old ways were the best, for the most part.
George was pretty tired by the time we made it back to camp, even though our pace hadn’t even wetted my brow. I quickly busied myself making tea and pulling the spotted dog from the remnants of the morning fire. Tea was one white vice I’d never been able to break myself of, I really enjoyed my morning cup. George simply sat and watched me as I puttered about, and I was happy to see that he wasn’t one of those gallah birds who require constant chatter. He merely sat crosslegged on the sand and caught his breath. When I handed him a cup of tea, he smiled his thanks. I unwrapped the spotted dog from the leaves in which it had baked, and nearly burnt my fingers from the escaping steam.
“Are you hungry?
It’s best served hot.”
“What is it?”
He looked rather green.
I’d forgotten he wasn’t Australian.
“Sorry, it’s like a biscuit or a cake. I make it with ground sago palm flour and beach cherries, but they’re normally made with flour and currants. It’s really quite good, makes a lovely breakfast.”
“Why d’ya call it ‘spotted dog?’”
I could very nearly hear his quotations around
the words. “Because of the
currants, or the cherries in this case.
They keep you from knowing if there’s any flies in it.”
He turned greener, and I apologized. I really was being mean, teasing him like that.
“Honestly, there’s no flies, I checked it
carefully, I was only teasing you. Seriously,
it’s lovely breakfast fare. Do
you have any dietary restrictions?” I asked, breaking off a piece of the
dog and tasting it. Mmmm, just
“Well, I’m pretty much vegetarian.”
Hmmm, that was a wrinkle, but it wouldn’t be
too difficult keeping him alive, I didn’t think.
The traditional Aboriginal diet was about 80% plant stuffs and only
20% animal or fish. But he’d
be eating a lot of things he wasn’t used to, that’s for certain!
I hoped he wasn’t a picky eater within his vegetarianism, it’s
not as if we had a lot of choice out here in the bush.
He still hadn’t tried the dog, so I tried to encourage him.
“Honestly, there’s no meat in the dog. I promise I wouldn’t lie to you about this.”
I was surprised he took my word.
Not many whites would, even in this day and age.
“It’s good, ta, Lucy,” he said
“Thank you, I’m glad you like it.”
We ate in silence and enjoyed our tea. I was again thankful that he wasn’t a noisy gallah.
There’s something about morning in the bush, it’s simply so quiet
and lovely, with the whole world just waking up and stretching its’ limbs,
that it’s almost disrespectful to make a lot of noise.
Once we’d finished breakfast, I cleaned up the camp and packed
everything, thinking we’d best get started.
It would be an arduous trek for this soft white man.
I wasn’t worried
about traveling with him, I could certainly take care of myself. And I had to face it, his life was in my hands, he’d have
died out here within a day if I hadn’t stumbled across him.
Yes, perhaps this had been the reason for my walkabout. I didn’t question it, I simply knew in my bones that it was
right. Grandfather had known,
bird was quiet, I’ll say that! She
barely said a word all through breakfast, almost as if she was a part of the
landscape. And that spotted dog
was really good, but the name gave me the shivers, made me think of hyenas
or something. Were there hyenas
in Australia? No, they had
dingoes here, hyenas were African.
breakfast was over, she kicked sand over the fire and packed up her little
camp, somehow or other packing everything into a backpack that looked like
it couldn’t hold all that, then easily hauled it up onto her shoulder.
It didn’t even look as though there had been a camp here once
she’d finished. She asked if
I were ready.
ready for what?”
it’s going to be several days hike to get to the nearest town.
I think we’ll go up the Alligator River and head for Ubbir, that
will be easiest and quickest. Going back to Darwin would take too long, and there’s
several escarpments that are nearly impassable.
Not to mention the billabongs, and we don’t have a boat to traverse
them. You’ll be able to call
someone by phone from Ubbir. And
by staying close to the river, we should be able to eat pretty well.
There’s more foodstuffs alongside the river than out in the bush, so you
might eat a boring diet, but it’ll keep you alive.
set off and I was left in the dust. I
admit it, I’m not proud. She
kicked me arse in the walking department.
I know I was slowing her down, but she never seemed to get irritated
with me. During a short break
for lunch, I tried to catch me breath and she calmly dug up something or
other beside the stream (this was
a river? A bloody trickle, I
thought!), then chopped it up and stuck it in a pot with some water and some
other things that I didn’t want to look at too closely.
I got to thinking that the fellow that robbed me wouldn’t have
needed to kill me, I’d probably have been dead after a day out here simply
from not knowing what to eat or where to go.
He was smarter than I’d given him credit for, there was no blood on
his hands this way. That was a
what are you doing out here all by yourself?” I asked, as the mixture in
the pot bubbled merrily over the small fire she’d built.
I’m just on walkabout.”
I’ve heard about that type of thing, you just go off and look
laughed, and it was a low, musical sound.
“Something like that, I guess.
It’s a little more complicated than that, however.
You could almost call it ‘getting back to mother earth’ or
something like that. Returning
to my roots. Replenishing my
I hadn’t expected to meet a philosophical companion out here.
yes, that’s the best way. Too
many distractions if I’d brought my children with me. We’ll do one together during the dry season, later in the
You’ve got some kids? Where
I do, a boy and a girl, twins. They’re
with their grandmother and the rest of my family.”
I’ve got a son, he’s in his twenties.
How old are yours?”
ten. My twins’s twins are the
same age; they’ll be enjoying their time together while I’m away,
probably getting into all kinds of trouble,” she replied, stirring the
you’re a twin? And you’ve
got twins as well? That’s a
bit odd, isn’t it? I thought
twins usually skipped a generation or something.”
it’s a little different, we’re Gallah and Red Winged Blackbird.”
was supposed to mean something to me? I
had no idea what she was talking about.
My lack of comprehension must have shown on me face, or else she
simply knew I didn’t understand, because she continued.
tribe is the Red Winged Blackbird, we’re The People.”
swear I could hear how she nearly capitalized some words, it was almost
reverential how she said them. I
took a bowl from her when she divided the pot of stuff into two soup-sized
bowls. Sitting crosslegged
beside me in the shade of a tree, she continued as we ate.
gallahs are those birds in the tree over there, the little gray and white
and pink parrots. They’re beautiful, aren’t they?
And over there in the other tree are some red winged blackbirds,
they’re much quieter and very hardworking.
Do you see them?”
looked where she pointed and nodded, sucking in some air to cool down the
mouthful I’d just taken. Whatever
it was tasted pretty good, kind of starchy, like a potato, but with a lemon
and lime flavour. The greens in
the dish were good as well, nearly like a spinach or something.
I decided not to inquire too closely into its ingredients, one
couldn’t be too choosy in a situation like this.
I was already pretty beholden to the girl, I didn’t want to offend
her by being a picky eater. She knew I was veggie, I figured I’d give her the courtesy
of expecting she’d remember and take it into account whilst cooking.
The People were a dying race, too much inbreeding. But one day the Gallah Bird came and joined with my tribe,
and new blood flowed in our veins. My
mate and my brother’s mate are from out-tribe, and our children will also
mate with out-tribe people. New
blood, not as much inbreeding, The People were saved by the Gallah Bird.”
little fable. What really
happened?” I asked.
laughed and there was something about her laugh that was really appealing.
She really was quite pretty, probably in her mid-thirties, but there
was something about her that just seemed . . . I dunno, off
or something. Familiar, maybe,
but different at the same time. I’d
been to Australia before; after all, we had a place on Hamilton Island!
Where I should be right now, I thought with a pang, wondering if
Livvy or Dhan knew I’d disappeared or not.
I thought it was probably the day after I’d arrived in Oz, yeah,
they’d know I’d vanished by now. I
hoped they weren’t too worried.
there was nothing I could do about it right now. Thinking about the puzzle in front of me kept me mind off me
family. The bird didn’t
really look like any of the Aboriginals I’d seen on previous trips to
Australia. She was dark, of
course, but not as dark as most I’d seen, and her lips were thinner, her
nose a bit beaky, not as flat and broad as some.
And those blue eyes, they were simply startling against that dark
I told him a little of The People’s story.
Of course, he didn’t believe it.
He thought of it as a simple fable.
I hadn’t expected anything more; after all, he didn’t have the
connection, the roots, that I did.
I knew, deep inside, the truth of the matter.
It beat in my blood, strengthened every fibre of my being.
It was so much more than fable, it was life itself, it was the story of The People, my tribe, my kin.
I decided not to waste time trying to convince him, let him think of
it as fable if he liked, it was easier that way.
The grass potatoes had turned out pretty good when mixed with some lemon myrtle and Warrigal greens. I was glad to see that he was enjoying our lunch. I knew if he wasn’t eating right, I’d have my hands full trying to keep him alive whilst we journeyed the several days it would take to reach Ubbir. It wasn’t an easy country. And I’m not saying that to make myself seem big or anything, it’s just a really harsh land to traverse. And he was like the underbelly of an echidna, all soft and vulnerable. My homeland would have chewed him up and spit him out within a day if I hadn’t come across him. I’m not exaggerating when I say that his life was in my hands.
The afternoon walk was nearly a stroll, I had to take it so slow.
The trip to Ubbir might take longer than I’d thought, and I was
glad I’d decided on this route instead of going to
Darwin, because we’d have never made it over the
escarpments. George seemed
quite interested in the countryside, and I
found myself pointing out a lot of the medicinal plants and food plants as
we walked; we even came across a Bunya tree and took up some of the cones
for their nutmeat. I could use
them to make some bread in the morning, or else I could simply roast them
for dinner. They’d be a bit
sweet for a dinner dish, but you simply can’t ignore nature’s bounty
whilst traveling, and a Bunya tree only produces a harvest once every three
years. I cracked open a few of
the nutmeats and we nibbled on them as we walked.
It was nearly dusk when we finally stopped for the night, and I
quickly busied myself setting a fire and figuring out a dinner menu.
We had some sandpaper figs from beside the river, the Bunya nuts and
Bungwall ferns along with some of the grass potatoes I’d found at lunch.
Not a lot to choose from. I
looked around and found a few bush tomatoes and a bit of native ginger.
When I returned to the camp, I saw that George hadn’t been idle,
but I had to hide my laugh at how he’d done at setting up camp.
He wasn’t an outdoorsman by any stretch of the imagination; my
little pup tent was downwind from the fire so the smoke was blowing right
into it, and it was a little too close to the fire as well.
Not only that, it was on a slight rise, but the wrong way, if there
was a storm, the rain would run right into it.
I gave him points for trying to help, though.
Hmmmm, I wondered how I could move the tent
without hurting his pride? Oh, that was simple!
felt pretty good about figuring out how to get her little tent set up.
Wasn’t that hard, not really.
I was surprised she even had a tent, didn’t think the Aboriginals
used much of that kind of thing. Lucy
was obviously a well-educated girl, maybe she was an independent sort, too,
and took parts from each culture. I
was pretty convinced by now that she wasn’t full blooded Aboriginal, had
that figured out between the little fable she’d told me and her unusual
features. I wondered how far in
the past the ‘gallah bird’ had crossed the path of her tribe, bringing
the new blood into it. It was
interesting how it had been turned into myth.
for setting up camp. I’m
afraid we’ll have to move the tent, to over here.”
sorry, didn’t know it was supposed to be someplace special.”
worries, it’s an Aboriginal custom, depending on where the camp is set.
Let me show you where to set it from now on, all right?”
I see. Like, ya gotta have it
facing east or something like that?”
showed me where to move the tent and how to position it, and I worked on
that whilst she prepared dinner. I
was learning a lot from the bird, but I never did
figure out the rules of tent placement, it wasn’t a ‘facing east’
thing or anything that I could determine.
Must have been some innate knowledge or something like that.
she had a pot full of unidentifiable things over the fire, she took a couple
of flat stones and pounded some of those weird nuts into a powder until she
had a nice heaping lot of it. She
mixed that with some water and some other stuff she had in packets in her
backpack, and made a kind of dough out of it.
Really sticky stuff, looked like.
She told me she was making a johnny cake for eating the next day, and
showed me the fruits she was putting into it.
Figs and cherries, some ginger, and some chopped up plums. I helped with the chopping, although I’m not usually much
good in the kitchen. She
wouldn’t let me help with the figs, though, saying they were an irritant
and had to be peeled ‘just so.’ I
wished I could be a bit more helpful to the girl.
am I takin’ ya out of yer way, Lucy?
I mean, I hate being a bother to ya.
I dunno what I’d do without ya, though.”
laughed. “No worries, mate.
A walkabout usually entails whatever comes along.”
wrapped the dough in some big green leaves, then set it in amongst the coals
of the fire. I wondered why the
leaves didn’t burn. Then I
thought she must be psychic, because she answered me question before I even
had a chance to ask it.
leaves don’t burn because they’re soaked in water, and they store it up.
Once the leaves start to singe, you can smell it, and that’s when
the cake will be done. Dinner’s almost ready, I’m going to have a bit of a wash,
do you want to come along?”
sure,” I said brightly, and got up to follow her.
not used to so much walking, me legs were feeling a bit tired.
I thought we wouldn’t be having much
of a wash, there wasn’t a lot of water in that little trickle she called a
river. I was surprised again when she led me a little ways from
camp, and there was a nice sized pond, with water lilies and frogs even.
A beautiful little oasis!
He seemed surprised when he saw the little billabong, and that
surprised me, that he hadn’t smelled it!
But then I remembered he didn’t have the Earth Sense like The
People have. I changed my impression, he’d have died in half a day if I hadn’t stumbled across him.
I stripped off my clothes and stepped into the water; oh, it was
lovely! I turned back to him
and raised an eyebrow, he appeared to be blushing in the dim light of dusk.
How funny, was he body conscious?
I tried to put him at ease.
“It’s just a body, you know, nothing special, just a shell for
the soul. Come on in, the
water’s very nice. An
opportunity to wash doesn’t come along very often in the bush, you should
take advantage of it.”
I turned my back and ducked under the water to wet my hair, giving
him the courtesy of not looking. Didn’t
matter to me if he came in or not, but it really wasn’t something I would
pass up if given the chance. I
heard the splash behind me, but didn’t turn right away, searching instead
for some roots in the shallows, they worked well as a soap and gave off a
pleasant lemony smell. I rubbed
them in my hands and worked up a nice lather, then scrubbed my hair, oh,
heaven! I have to admit I
really enjoyed having showers and toilets whilst living in the white world. It wasn’t better
than being out on the land, it was simply easier,
more convenient. Lazy.
I ducked under again to rinse my hair, then scrubbed my body with the
roots. I plucked some more and
handed them to him, figuring he’d know what to do with them.
I got out and grabbed my shorts and shirt, brought them back into
the water with me and scrubbed them as well.
They should be dry by morning, I thought with satisfaction.
I wasn’t sure if there would be another billabong before we reached
Ubbir, so I was going to take as much advantage of this one as possible. The
weather felt a bit changeable, though, I wasn’t quite sure what was going
to happen. Well, tomorrow would
tell me more.
“I don’t do laundry, except my own,” I deadpanned, and he started to laugh. I think it relaxed him a bit, which was good, because he’d been so stiff I could almost feel the vibrations coming off him. “Dinner should be ready in a few minutes, can you find your way back to camp?”
“I think so,” he replied, “thur’s a glow from the campfire,
I don’t think I’ll trip over too many things on th’ way.”
Well, a sensible white, he wasn’t so full of himself that he was
overly confident of his abilities when in a strange situation.
“Right, then,” I told him.
“I’m going back to stir dinner, come along when you’re ready,
but don’t be too long. Call
out if you get into trouble. Will
it bother you if I have a little
meat with dinner?”
“Errr, no, but it’s nice
of ya to ask, love.”
I quickly caught a couple of the little frogs and broke their spines. They’d be quite tasty, and I wasn’t depleting the population very much, not as much as I’d have done if both of us were eating them! I climbed out of the pool, amused that he looked away. I walked back to camp, letting the cool air of the early evening dry my skin and hair. I laid my clothes out to dry on a flat rock, and prepared the frogs, spitting them quickly and holding them over the fire . . . away from the pot, didn’t want to drip anything in there and disturb George’s vegetarianism. I wondered if he were veggie for health or by moral choice. Didn’t really matter to me, but I wondered it all the same.
I heard him coming as I was eating my frogs, and I hurried to
finish, surprised that I was being so conscious of what he might think.
It wasn’t that I worried he’d think I was
barbarian, I just didn’t want to offend his
beliefs. I quickly buried the
remaining bones and leftovers from my little meal, and was stirring the pot
when he arrived back in camp. I
don’t think he took a wrong turn more than once or twice, and I had dinner
already dished up when he arrived beside the fire and stopped.
Christ, she was naked, sitting
beside the campfire as if she didn’t have a care in the world.
It had been a bit odd to have a naked bird in the pond with me, but
to have a naked one sitting beside the campfire, nearly glowing in reds and
oranges from the little fire, was another thing entirely.
I tried not to be uncomfortable, I mean, when in Rome and all that,
but it’s hard not to look when it’s right there staring you in the face.
And she looked really good, maybe a little too
good. But I didn’t want her
thinking I was some kind of dirty old man, either!
Hell, this wasn’t going to be very easy, I thought as I sat down
beside the fire and thanked her for the bowl she gave me.
more of those potato-like things, but flavoured very differently, there was
almost a sweet taste to them tonight. I
think I nearly inhaled the bowlful, and was grateful that there was more in
the pot. The walk had really
worked up my appetite, and eating kept me mind on my
stomach and not hers!
Or maybe my attention wasn’t quite on her stomach,
but the food kept me attention off her for the most part, anyway.
As the fire died down and the night got darker, it was a little
easier, thank God.
“So what do you do? I mean, what do you do that made you such an easy mark for someone to rob?” she asked.
laughed. “I’m just visiting
Australia, wasn’t flashing money around or anything like that.”
much, just a watch an’ me wedding band, one gold chain.”
I rubbed my feet, I really wasn’t used to all the walking we’d
done today, and me feet were bothering me.
I thought they’d better toughen up quick, and I wished the bastard
hadn’t taken me trainers.
let me do that,” she offered, and before I knew it, I was leaning back on
me arms, with my feet in her hands. Oh,
that was great, she had really
talented fingers. I wondered
what else she had that was talented, and then firmly told my libido to go
jump off a cliff somewhere. As
the day had worn on, I’d started feeling more and more that this girl was
all that stood between me and a lingering death by starvation, and I
didn’t want to jeopardize that by any means!
She stopped far too soon, but she got up and got something out of her
pack, then came back and started again.
Oh, what a lovely girl, I thought appreciatively as she rubbed
something aromatic on me feet and massaged them.
I thought I was in heaven!
Well, we hadn’t walked the soles of his feet off, but I put some aloe and wattle on his feet and rubbed it in really well, hoping it would keep his feet healthy during our trek. If he hurt himself, the journey would be that much longer, not necessarily a bad thing, but he probably had people worrying about him. The sooner we got him back to his people, the better, if for no other reason than keeping any possible search parties off our land. He hadn’t answered me when I’d asked what he did, so I thought he probably didn’t want to talk about it. But if he’d lost his wedding band in the robbery, then he had a wife or a partner, as well as the son he’d mentioned, and they’d certainly be worrying about him. When I finished with him, I rubbed some of the ointment on my feet for good measure, banked the fire and set the johnny cake aside of the fire, covering the whole with a little tent of palm leaves. I stood up and walked over to the sleeping tent.
“We’d better turn in, the morning will be here soon.”
I spread the blankets out, grabbed my nearly dry clothes from the
rock, and then crawled headfirst into the tent, leaving him enough room to
join me. It was almost funny, I
could feel his hesitation.
I yawned and patted the blanket.
“Come on in, I don’t bite.”
Still he hesitated.
“Yer awfully trusting,” he finally said.
“I’m not worried. I’ll
just slit your throat if you do anything I don’t like.”
The silence was pretty near absolute, and I started laughing. “I’m joking, I don’t even have a knife in here.”
“That’s reassuring,” he said, in a
“Come on, we’ve spent the entire day
together, you’re trustworthy. I’d
know by now if you weren’t. But you can suit yourself,” I said as I turned on my side
and snuggled into the blanket, using my mostly dry clothes as a pillow.
I was very nearly asleep before he joined me. There wasn’t a lot of room in the tent, it was ample for one but cozy for two, so I made myself cozy with him and drifted off to sleep with the warmth of his body so close beside me and the sound of the gentle breeze filling my ears. I was glad he’d joined me; it was why I’d found him, and I thought that the time was right.
It wasn’t easy to fall asleep that night. Jesus, that comment about slitting me throat had been a bit close to home and I’d gotten a major case of the shivers from it. But I must have eventually dropped off, because I woke when it was still dark and that warm body beside me had migrated even closer; she must be a snuggly sleeper. I tried to ignore her, but it was bloody difficult. When I realized she was awake, I started to panic. I was married! And so was she! I mean, it’s not like I’d never done this type of thing before, but that had been years before. A whole lot of years before, I thought, back when I’d still been married to Patti. On top of that, this woman was my salvation out here, and I surely didn’t want to disappoint her. That is, if I wasn’t misinterpreting the situation.
Oh, no, there was no misinterpreting that, that’s for certain.
There was a storm straight overhead, the lightning and thunder filling my ears, the pounding rain against the tent nearly sounding like a tribal drumbeat. Her hands were gently stroking my body, coaxing me into something I wasn’t absolutely sure I wanted to do, but it was impossible to deny the fire she started. I never was very good at resisting temptation, and she presented quite a temptation at that moment. To be honest, I can’t quite remember a temptation I didn’t resist in the early years. But I was long past the early years, and I hoped I’d be able to . . . well, perform adequately now, I suppose. I wasn’t past it, mind you, nowhere near! It just wasn’t as…errr… quick to happen nowadays.
She was gentle and patient, waiting for me to get over what felt surprisingly like ‘pre-concert jitters,’ touching me in a way that left no doubt about what she wanted, but she wasn’t hurried about it. Covering her with my body and moving into her welcoming, more-than-ready heat, with the lightening and thunder so close, the rain still pounding out that tribal beat, I’d have to say it was nearly a surreal experience, almost out-of-body in its own way. Almost a dream. Was it?
I sighed when it was over,
knowing deep inside that I’d failed.
Perhaps it was the lack of The People’s mating music, perhaps I’d
met him too late and the timing wasn’t right, perhaps either of us was too
old. But I knew that the
joining had merely been a very pleasant physical exercise.
I was saddened by my failure, but there was no use in losing sleep
over it, it was over and done, and that was that.
Best to forget about it.
When I woke, the girl was gone, but the fire was crackling, so I got up and poured meself a cup of tea whilst waiting for her to return. I swear the whole night had been like a dream, even the rain! You wouldn’t even know that a storm had been and gone, the thirsty earth had apparently soaked everything in and it looked as dry and desolate as it had the previous day.
“Have you tried any of the johnny cake? It turned out pretty good.”
The voice came from behind me, I hadn’t even heard her approach. I wasn’t quite sure what to say about the nighttime encounter, so I just went along with how she was acting.
“No, errr, jus’ got up an’ fixed some tea. Can I get ya any?” I asked as she came around to sit across the fire from me. Thank God, she had some clothes on this morning.
“No thank you, I’ve had some already. We’ll have to make a little better time today, so have something to eat and we’ll pack up and go rather quickly. You’re a late sleeper.”
“Errr, yeah, well, I guess it was all th’ exercise yesterday,” I replied, somehow preventing meself from winking at her.
She nodded, looking at me directly, with no trace of guile. “Yes, it was a lot of walking for someone who’s not used to it. How are your feet today? Are you ready to go?”
I checked me feet. They looked okay, and then I grabbed a bite of brekkie before helping her pack everything up. I think I was more in the way than helpful, but I tried. It was odd, though, her entire demeanor was such that I’d almost think that last night had been a dream and that’s all. It’s a little hard to ask ‘did we or did we not have some really incredible sex last night,’ so I kept me mouth shut and we started out.
It was a bloody long day, and she seemed in more of a hurry today for some reason. I finally asked her about it.
“Lucy, it seems like yer moving along a bit faster today. What’s the story, love?”
“Oh, well, we were pretty slow yesterday, I’m afraid. And to be honest, I’m a little worried about the weather. I think we’re going to have a storm tonight and I’d really like to get to high ground.”
“Yeah? Anything like last night?” I asked.
She looked at me really funny, like.
“What storm?” she asked.
“Errr, the thunder an’ lightning, the rain we ‘ad last night.”
She gave me another funny look.
“Are you feeling all right?”
I was really confused by now. Had it all been a dream? Maybe a reaction to something she’d cooked? Like, were there hallucinogens in any Australian plants or anything? If so, it wasn’t anything like the lysergic I’d had back in the 60’s and 70’s. Everything had seemed so damned real last night, but in the light of day, how the bloody hell was I supposed to know if it had happened or not? And if the girl didn’t know anything about it, well, maybe I was the one who’d gone nutters. I took a deep breath and tried to put it out of my mind. There’d be time to think about it later, but she was looking at me really worried right now.
“Yeah, yeah, I feel fine. Could ‘ave sworn there was a big storm last night, though.”
She nodded thoughtfully. “Sometimes being out in the bush does funny things to people. Be sure and let me know if you feel a bit odd or anything, all right? I’m really getting quite anxious about the weather.”
I looked around, it was all blue sky and sunshine. “How d’ya know?” I asked.
“I feel it inside, it’s like a drum or something, I just know we’re going to be hit with a big one, and this whole area’s like a flood plain. I really don’t want to be here when it hits. I have the Earth Sense, but if you need a technical explanation, you can just say that I have a sense of the barometric pressure, and I know that the barometer’s changing. It almost makes my ears itch, it’s so strong. It’s going to be a bad blow.”
I took her word for it. “How far d’we have ta go?”
She pointed, and I thought I could feel my blood pressure drop in shock. It seemed like a long ways away. “Right, then, what’re we waiting for?” I asked jauntily, and tried my best to keep up as she took off.
We almost made it.
The rains hit while we were
still trying to make it to the escarpment, but we’d made good time, and
even with the rain and wind, we’d make it before the flood hit. It wasn’t pleasant traveling, but I was feeling a lot
better since we were so close. George
had done well, much better than the previous day.
We’d nearly made up our time; if we didn’t have any problems,
then we should make it to Ubbir late the next day, not bad travel time for
this season. I think I might
have scared him about the storm, and that’s why we’d been able to make
such good time on the journey. I
hadn’t meant to frighten him, but I suppose that it had the desired
effect. And truthfully, the storm had
frightened me. We’d been
lucky thus far, we don’t often have dry weather during the wet season.
The climbing was difficult,
especially in the rain, and we were completely soaked by the time we made it
to the top. I took my time
finding a good site for the camp and I was pleased when I came across a
small cave set back into the crumbling rock, at least we’d be out of the
water for the night. Once I’d
checked out the interior for snakes, I started a fire of sticks and twigs
that had gathered on the floor of the cave, then stripped off my wet clothes
with a shiver, wringing the water from them as best I could.
The temperature had dropped with the rain, and I pulled a blanket out
of my pack and wrapped myself in it.
I was grateful that grandfather had made me take a waterproof
backpack on this trip. While
the old ways were mostly best, I couldn’t deny the advantage of certain
things from the white world! I
handed George the other blanket.
“You’d best get out of
your wet clothes, they’ll need time to dry.”
Without awaiting his reply,
I turned my back to give him a sense of privacy and started work on dinner.
We’d had to skip lunch because of my unease, and I wanted something
hot inside me. I chewed on some
pemmican whilst slicing and grating everything into a kind of stew.
I hoped it would be all right, I wasn’t the best cook in the world.
But at least it would be hot!
“What’s that yer
eating?” he asked, coming over to the fire, wrapped in his blanket.
His shoulders and arms were so white that I nearly laughed!
“It’s pemmican, a kind
of high energy bar, but it has meat in it,” I warned him.
He nodded his thanks when I
handed him a Bunya nut to chew on whilst waiting for dinner.
I walked to the entrance to the cave and picked some fruit from a
little bush just outside the opening, tossing him several, laughing when he
started juggling them. It’s a
good thing his blanket was wrapped securely about him, or the entertainment
might have turned a bit risqué! He
grinned impishly at me and I tossed him another with a challenging smile of
my own. His grin faded a bit,
and when I tossed him the fifth fruit, he started to frown, but I was
surprised that he was able to keep it going!
The sixth fruit that I threw to him did him in, and he ended up with
Midyim fruit littering the cave floor at his feet.
“I can’t do that.
I mean, I’ve tried, but I’m a sprinting juggler.
I end up running from one place to another, trying to keep my eyes on
the fruit,” I admitted as I returned to the fire, shivering slightly.
We sat on opposite sides of the fire, and I reached for one of the
fallen fruits and brushed the sand from it, bit into it and closed my eyes
in pleasure at the aromatic flavour.
“What is this?” he asked
as he tried one.
I don’t think they’re grown anywhere else in the world.
It’s a native fruit; good, isn’t
He mumbled his agreement,
trying to catch the juice running down his chin, and I laughed.
“So if ya don’t juggle,
what kinda talents do ya have?
Besides patience an’ cooking an’ rescuin’ strangers an’
keeping ‘em alive?” he asked after he’d swallowed his mouthful.
I ducked my head, feeling as
if I was blushing. At least I
didn’t have to worry about him noticing that,
my skin was so dark and the light was fading.
He was fairly perceptive for a white,
he’d realized how dangerous it was out here when you were unprepared for
I swear I think she was blushing! I wondered what I’d said that might have embarrassed her. Maybe the bit about rescuing strangers. I waited for her reply and had another one of those weird fruits. Looked a bit like a plum, but it tasted almost like the starfruit in Hawaii, real mellow. Mellow yellow, I thought, and almost laughed. Managed to stop meself, didn’t want the bird thinking I was nutters. Even if I was. Still hadn’t figured out if ‘last night’ had really happened or not.
“Well, I have a degree in education, and I teach in the tribal school. I drum a little during the tribal dances. That’s about it.”
I froze whilst reaching for another fruit. For some reason, hearing her say the word ‘drum’ brought to mind a really old memory, from back in 1964, when The Beatles were touring Australia. Ritchie’d been left behind in England to have his tonsils out, and we’d been playing with Jimmy Nicol. When Ritchie’d arrived to join back up with us, he’d disappeared for a night, came back babbling this really weird story about spending the night with some natives. We all just laughed at him, figuring he’d found a bird to shack up with for a night. Gotta admit, I’d been a bit worried about him, and even a bit peeved when it turned out he’d just been off with some bird. I looked at Lucy. Those blue eyes, that nose . . . .
I shook my head in bemusement. I was definitely nutters, there was something in the food or the air, this was too weird to even contemplate. I picked up the fruit and bit into it.
“Tell me about your family,” I asked after I chewed and swallowed, and she looked surprised.
“Well, my mate’s from out-tribe, I told you. My twins and my niece and nephew are all in school. They’re more like brothers and sisters than cousins, they were nearly born at the same time.”
“Do all of ya ‘ave blue eyes?” I found myself asking.
“My brother and I do, and our children do as well. So far, we’re the only ones. We’re considered exotic, and we’re quite in demand as mates. I’ve already had offers for my children, and I think my brother has as well.”
“Really? At ten years old?”
“Yes. But the joining won’t be until they’re eighteen or twenty.”
“Don’t most Aboriginals have brown eyes?”
“Yes, but we’re Gallah, remember? I know it’s just a fable to you, but it’s more than that,” she replied, checking the pot and stirring it, adding some dried green stuff to it.
“What’s that ya just put in thur?”
“Sea parsley, it adds a little bit of a peppery flavour. You’re full of questions tonight, I can’t imagine what the next one will be!”
I wasn’t sure, either. But it was out of me mouth before I thought about it. “Will ya tell me ‘bout yer parents?”
“Well, my mother is quite a character. Both sets of twins adore her. Her name translates to ‘she who seeks knowledge,’ and I’m sure that’s where I got my desire to learn all about everything, even white culture, and to go to university.”
“What about yer Da?” I asked.
Why didn’t I just drop this? Wasn’t sure I really wanted to know her answer. I was starting to feel pretty creepy about the thoughts that were going through me brain. There was definitely something in the food or the water, I thought.
“Lineage passes from the mother. My brother and I are Gallah, I told you. I think this is ready. Could you get me the bowls from the pack?”
I didn’t really understand what she meant, but I got the bowls for her and dropped the subject.
I tasted the stew and
decided it was pretty good. Perhaps
a bit unique, but not bad, the flavours had blended nicely.
George had certainly been chattering tonight, with lots of questions,
and I wondered what was behind it.
Once dinner and the cleanup
was done, I checked my supplies and went outside to fill the water
containers courtesy of the rain, taking care of some business whilst I was
out there. The temperature had
dropped even more, and I was shivering when I returned, grabbing the blanket
I’d left behind, drying myself as quickly as possible and moving over to
the fire. He made a quick trip
outside as well, returning a bit wet and shivery looking.
I looked around for more fuel, but there wasn’t much.
It appeared as though breakfast would be cold sago palm porridge and
fruit. It didn’t sound very
appetizing. I definitely
preferred hot meals.
“D’ya know what th’
weather’s gonna be like tomorrow?” he asked hesitantly as we sipped the
last of the tea. I’d had to
add some paper bark tree juice to stretch it, as my tea container
was nearly empty, but I didn’t think I’d added enough that it would
affect him adversely. It was a
very mild hallucinogen if taken in sufficient quantities, but it doesn’t
really affect us that way.
“I’m not the weather channel, I’m afraid, nor even NQTV!
But I think it will clear during the night.
It’s a bad one, but it doesn’t feel as if it’s got
“What’s NQTV, an’
‘ow d’ya know that?”
“NQTV is North Queensland
Television, a local telly station that’s the butt of a lot of jokes.
Most people call it ‘Not Quite TV.’”
I waited while he laughed. “As
far as how I know about the weather, it’s rather hard to explain.
It’s inside of me, the Earth Sense.
We’ve lived so closely with the land for so long, that the elements
are nearly our . . . kin, I suppose you could say.
As if the earth was our mother, and the sun our father, the rain our
sister, the wind our brother. I
don’t expect you to understand or believe, but I can tell you that it’s
very, very real to us.”
He looked interested, in the
dying light of the fire, so I continued.
“Aboriginals have a
special connection with everything that’s natural.
We’re a part of the land and of nature, and all of nature is a part
of us. Our connection is
spiritual and I’m afraid I can’t really explain it.
Intellectually, I think that part of it’s merely being able to
interpret things correctly. An
exaggerated example would be to have a clear blue sky, yet you see clouds on
the horizon. Could be rain!
If it’s the wet season, it could be a monsoon, watch out for flash
floods! But that’s only a
bare part of it, I’m afraid.” I
sighed. I didn’t think I was
getting through to him, but he surprised me.
“Like, if ya see a bat, ya
might think there’s gonna be a cave nearby?”
I laughed, this time in
delight; perhaps he understood a bit of it after all.
“Something like that. Although
in Australia, it’s more like, if you see a fruit bat, you’re bound to
see some fruit trees! Or if you
see a koala, look around for eucalyptus trees!”
I think we both yawned at
the same time. I decided that
he probably understood the intellectual end of things, but he’d never
understand the emotional aspects, the inner feelings.
I don’t think any white ever could.
I banked the fire, hoping forlornly that there might be enough fuel
to have a little tea in the morning.
“I’m for bed, how about
you? It’s been a long day,”
I said, shaking out my blanket and then wrapping it around myself and
settling down on the ground. I
yawned again. “We should be
able to make it into Ubbir tomorrow, if the weather isn’t bad.
Then you’ll be able to call someone.
Do you know anyone who can come get you?”
He settled across the fire
from me. There was a curious
expression in his eyes, and I wondered if he was thinking about the previous
night. It might have been cruel
to keep him wondering like that, but it would be easier in the long run.
He probably thought he’d dreamed
our mating, as well as the short, violent storm that had rumbled through the
sky last night. It was easier
if he’d think of it as a dream, I didn’t want any of those
white-guilt-complications hanging about.
It was over, and I had failed in my quest. He didn’t need to know about it.
“Yeah, there’s people I
can call, no problems. I
don’t ‘ave any money, though.”
“Don’t worry about that,
I can vouch for you. The people
in Ubbir know me, they’ll believe me.
But you’d better ask whoever comes for you to bring money to pay
your bills, I’m not very flush. We
don’t really need much of that out here in the bush.
Wealth out here is pretty well
determined by how good you are at what you do, not by coin or paper.”
“An’ not by how blue yer eyes are?” he asked, and I think there
was a mischievous note in his voice. I
wondered why he seemed so fixated on the fact I had blue eyes; he’d asked
questions about it earlier, too. I
gave him some one-word reply or other, then drifted off to sleep beside the
remnants of the fire.
It was utterly dark when I
awoke, and very chilly, but the warmth of another body was beside mine, and
the gentle touches that were being visited upon me were already igniting
flames within. He took control this night, just as I had the previous night,
and I let myself be swept into the flight.
He made me burn for him, the
fire consuming me to ash, then he ignited the flames again before he fully
quenched them. From those ashes, we rose again, but this time our mating flight was
gentle and prolonged. The
mating music of The People was in my blood, pounding out the beat with each
pulse through my veins. We were
The Grey Falcon and The
Red Winged Blackbird; the Ancient Ones flew the night sky, their mating
flight pure and high, racing ahead of the storm, their wings spread together
The difference between such
a spiritual experience as was visited upon us this evening, and the mere
physical one that we’d enjoyed the previous night, nearly brought me to
tears. Last night had been
lovely and fulfilling, the fire and the quenching, but this
was so much more; this was for the
continuation of The People, and we were mere vessels re-enacting the ancient
rites. Snuggling against his
warm side in blissful exhaustion, I fell back to sleep and slept peacefully
the remainder of the night.
It had been a long time since I’d been shaken awake. Livvy knew better than to do it, and Dhan was long past the age when he’d rush into our bedroom and bounce on top of me until I woke up. Kinda missed it, actually, even though I’d complained about it at the time, ‘specially that once when he’d got a foot in the wrong place. Had a shiver at that memory, that had been bloody painful. But I guess you never really appreciate what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone, do you? I’ve tried to live me life appreciating each moment, especially since . . . well, you know.
I put up with the shaking for a bit, hoping it would stop, but when it didn’t, I finally opened me eyes.
“What? All right, all right, I’m awake,” I sighed.
“You sleep like the dead!” Lucy exclaimed, and I tried to focus on her, but me eyes weren’t cooperating too well, so I rubbed ‘em until I could see a bit better.
“Yeah, I’ve been told that, some mates o’ mine always used ta complain about that.”
“Come on, we have to get moving this morning, we’re already getting a late start,” she said with a laugh, handing me a cup.
I sat up with a muttered ta and slowly started waking up. I grimaced at the water in the cup, guess there wasn’t time for tea. She’d made some sort of cereal with fruit in it, and I was surprised at how good it tasted. I asked her what it was.
“Sago palm porridge, with all the leftover fruits. We’ll have to gather as we travel, if there’s anything available after the flood, or we’ll be awfully hungry when we reach Ubbir tonight.”
I’d nearly forgotten, back to civilization this evening. I have to say I’d enjoyed this trek for the most part. Not so sure the girl had, what with having to care for someone who hadn’t a clue about the land or anything like that.
I looked around as I finished me cereal, noticing that I was on the wrong side of the campfire. Hadn’t I slept on the other side last night? I couldn’t quite remember, and I wondered again if the food or water was affecting me in some weird manner. And the dreams! Really vivid and realistic, really colourful, they could almost make me blush if I stopped to think about them closely.
I stood up with a groan and made a quick grab for the blanket before it fell off me. Gathered me mostly dry clothes and dressed, then helped the girl clean up the campsite before stepping out of the cave. It was barely light! I turned to her in outrage but her broad smile stopped me from saying anything and we set out.
It was incredible! What had been desert the day before had been transformed into rivers and waterfalls, and the flood plain down below our cliff was solid rushing water. I shivered to think of being trapped down there, and was a bit more respectful towards Lucy as the day wore on. I’m certain I’d have died without the bird taking me under her wing like she had. I dunno why she’d felt the need to come to a stranger’s aid like that, but I’d be forever grateful to her for the rescue.
It was nearly dark before we
reached the outskirts of Ubbir, and if I
was tired, I had to consider that George must have been exhausted.
He hadn’t complained, though, not once, and that spoke a lot for
the man. He’d also never
mentioned the previous night, and for that I was grateful.
“This is a town?” he asked as he eyed the two buildings.
“Yes, that’s the general
store and café and motel and constable’s office, and that one’s the
school, church and medical dispensary,” I replied, pointing as I described
each of the buildings. “Come
on, maybe I’ll buy you a hot meal. Or
else maybe you’ll buy me a hot meal, how’s that?”
“Suits me, I’m about
ready ta drop,” he replied tiredly.
We walked into the general
store and sat at the lone table.
“Hullo, Mary, this is my
friend George. Have you got
anything without meat for us?” I called
out to the owner.
“Lucy Limilngan, I
didn’t expect to see you this season!
What are you doing in these parts, woman?”
I had to explain, even as
our hostess bustled up and gave me a hug, then hugged George as well.
He seemed surprised by her action, but people in the outback are
quite friendly; they’re always happy to see another person.
Visitors don’t come by very often.
“I was on walkabout, came
across this poor bloke down on Paw Paw Beach, he’d been robbed and left
for the crocs. Figured I’d
better get him someplace where he could call for a pickup.
This was closest and easiest.”
I left it at the bare bones
of the story, although I’m sure she’d pick for more detail and
eventually embellish it to suit her imagination.
She must have realized that we were tired and hungry, I’m sure it
showed in our faces, because she let me get away with that and bustled
back into the kitchen, her strident voice carrying from beyond the door to
where we sat.
“I’ve got some lovely
pies, chock full of veggies and a cheese sauce, will that suit, dear?
And a salad, perhaps a bit of bread hot out of the oven to start?”
“That sounds wonderful,
Mary,” I replied with a sigh. That
was another thing I really liked and rarely enjoyed, fresh hot bread and butter,
oh, talk about decadent! When
she bustled back out of the kitchen with two green salads and a basket
filled with bread, a plate of butter and a jar of honey, I have to admit
that my mouth started watering.
“Ta,” George said, and I
think that was the last thing I heard from him until the salad was devoured
and the bread basket was empty. I
hadn’t stood on ceremony either, and had devoured
my share of the tasty bounty. The
pies were wonderful as well, Mary was probably the best cook in the
territory, and I was glad I could call her a friend.
Although attitudes had been changing quite a bit in my lifetime,
there were still some who would refuse us entry into their buildings, or who
would move if we sat nearby.
I was stuffed full of good food by the time we’d finished the meal. It’s not that Lucy hadn’t been a good cook, she’d been fantastic. But everything I’d been eating for the past two days had been something I’d never had before. It was good to eat something I recognized, and which tasted like food I’d had before. I was about ready to fall over and sleep on the floor when Lucy asked the proprietress for a room for me.
“He needs to use the phone as well, I’ll vouch for him, Mary.”
“Quite all right, dear, he’s a nice sort, I’d say. Help yourself, I’ll go make the bed for him. Will you be staying as well?”
“D’ya mind if I pitch my tent outside? You know I don’t particularly like staying inside walls, although I wouldn’t mind a hot shower.”
“Not at all, Lucy, I’ll even throw your clothes in the wash if you like, I’ve a nice bathrobe you can wear in the meantime. You know your way, dear.”
Lucy turned to me as she stood up and stretched. She looked pretty good, stretching, and I thought about me dreams again, then firmly pushed them aside. It had been the food, or the water, or the tea, or something.
“I’m off to a shower, the phone’s over there, help yourself. See you in a bit.”
“Lucy, ya wanna see Hamilton Island with me?” I blurted. Kinda surprised meself.
Her eyebrows went up. “Hamilton Island? That’s pretty exclusive, isn’t it?”
I ignored that bit. “They’ll probably send a helicopter fer me in th’ morning. If ya wanna come with me an’ see th’ place . . . . Well, I’d really like it if ya would.”
“I don’t think I’d be welcomed there,” she replied with a shrug.
“Ohhh, la, go on, Lucy, it’s beautiful, I’ve heard!”
That was Mary, she must have been eavesdropping, although I’d thought we were speaking pretty quietly. Lucy laughed at my expression, I think, then said we could talk about it later, but she was off for a shower.
I got up and had to ask instructions on how to use the phone, finally got the caretaker on the line. Poor Arnie was nearly in tears at hearing me voice, and it took a bit to calm him down. Finally got it through to him that I needed a pickup in Ubbir come morning, and to bring some money. And some clothes, including a pair of trainers!
Oh, the hot shower was heavenly and the bed felt so good it was almost sinful.
I watched as the helicopter
landed. This was more
excitement than the town had enjoyed in four or five seasons, I’m sure.
This George fellow must be somebody special to rate this kind of
conveyance. He’d been
pestering me all through breakfast to come see Hamilton Island with him, and
I’d finally given in. Hadn’t
ever been there, this was the oddest walkabout I’d ever taken, but
sometimes you simply have to go with what comes along.
Perhaps there was a reason for me to travel further with this fellow.
A little man rushed from the
helicopter and nearly lifted George off the ground with his hug.
I could barely understand him myself, he was in tears and babbling
about praising Krishna that George had been found, or something like that.
When he finally calmed down and let go of him, he rushed back to the
helicopter and pulled out a bag of clothing, then rushed back to George.
That little man would never survive in the outback with all that
rushing around, you needed to conserve your strength out here.
I thought it would be very interesting to see this island.
I had to stare when George
came out from changing his clothes. He
looked a lot different from the man I’d been traveling with, in a loose
fitting suit and white shirt. I
almost felt a bit uncomfortable around him.
He looked quite good, but he looked a bit irritated as well,
and I asked him what was wrong.
“I was hopin’ fer
somethin’ casual, not a bloody suit!” he replied with distaste, and I
had to laugh. Perhaps I had no
reason to feel uncomfortable, this was still the same man, despite the
I told Mary goodbye and made
sure that the little man paid up George’s bill, then followed George to
the helicopter and climbed on board. It
was my first trip off of my native earth, and I tried to quell my nerves,
but I had to clutch at George’s arm when the vehicle lifted off the
ground. He patted my hand to
comfort me, and I quickly let go of my fear as the excitement of the
experience took over. It was
simply amazing to travel so quickly over the land; the journey would have
taken many days walk through hard country.
The helicopter stopped off in Port Douglas for more fuel, so we got
out and stretched our legs before beginning the final trek out across the
water to the Barrier island. It
was beautiful as we approached it, a jewel of green in the turquoise water.
Oh, the fishing here must be incredible, I thought, noting the dark
shapes in the nearby water as we hovered to land.
A car swiftly whisked us
from the airport to a beautiful house set into the jungled hillside.
I don’t think I’d ever seen so much greenery in my life, it was
almost obscene. Quite a
different world from the outback, that was for certain!
When we got out of the car and walked up to the front door, the
little man rushed ahead of us and opened it for us.
I stepped to the side as two
bodies flew past me and nearly knocked George down before we’d even
entered the house. It appeared
to be a lovely homecoming for him, this must be his wife and son. The wife was a small woman with dark hair and skin, and the
son was very nice looking.
And far too young for me, I reminded myself with a touch of
amusement. But I think I now
knew what George had looked like as a young man.
I smiled as they bubbled over with joy at seeing husband and father
again, spoke of their fear over his disappearance and their relief yesterday
upon hearing that he was safe. They nearly merged into a single unit in their joy over his
safety. It was very sweet, and
it made me think of my mate and children with a sense of longing.
I felt very much apart from this homecoming.
I was surprised when I was
pulled into that unit by a reaching arm.
I found myself receiving enthusiastic hugs from Olivia and Danny(?)
when my part of the adventure was revealed, and I really quite enjoyed the
hugs from the young man. I
wasn’t absolutely sure about his name, I couldn’t quite get the
pronunciation of it, it wasn’t Danny and it wasn’t Donny, but it was
somewhere in between the two. I’d
have to ask about it sometime. But
for now, I simply enjoyed my welcome. It
was surprising and touching and very, very sweet.
Oh, God, it was good to see them! I hadn’t expected them to be here, Livvy’d been in London at some meetings for the Romanian charity she was in charge of, and Dhan was off in the States going to school. I’d never expected them to get here so quick, and they both looked tired and a bit worn.
I have to admit to a bit of discomfort with Livvy meeting Lucy like that, all unexpected, like. I mean, I’d never quite figured out if anything had happened between me and the girl. She’d never acted any differently, so maybe it had all been some weird dreams. I just wasn’t sure, and it would probably bother me for the rest of me life if I let it. I determined I wasn’t going to let it, if it had happened, it apparently wasn’t anything that was bothering Lucy, so I thought I’d try to forget about it meself. Most vivid dreams I’d ever had, though, I’d nearly felt like I was flying. I mean, I used to have dreams about flying, but in the dreams out in the bush, I’d felt as if I was a bird, some sort of eagle or hawk, flying so high and so fast. And there’d been another bird with me, and . . . well, it had just been a dream, hadn’t it?
The cook put on quite a feast that evening, and it was good to be surrounded by the wife and son, and to have Lucy there as well. She’d saved me life, I knew it now for certain. Not quite sure how I knew it, but I did. Had a laugh, though, when she was looking ‘round the house after dinner and saw some of the shit I’ve got hanging on the walls. She looked at one of me gold records and asked about it.
“What’s this? Beatles? Who’s that?”
“Oh, it’s a band I used ta be in, way back in the 60’s,” I replied, trying to ignore Dhan’s big smile and Livvy’s raised eyebrow.
“Really?” Lucy asked. “Were you any good?”
Dhan had to excuse himself, but I could hear him laughing as he pelted down the stairs. Livvy was smiling by now, and she asked if we wanted more tea before racing off with a suspicion of giggles floating in the air behind her.
“Yeah, we weren’t bad,” I replied with a grin, taking her arm and steering her into the music room. Kinda liked how her eyes lit up when she saw the baby grand and the other stuff. “D’ya like music?” I asked her.
She nodded. “Yes, I’m sorry you never got a chance to hear The People’s music, it’s the most beautiful in the world.”
“I’ve heard a bit of native Australian music, it’s quite interesting,” I said as I picked up one of me guitars and adjusted the strap, then tuned it. I’d kinda missed this.
“Is this a sitar?” she asked, running her fingers over the instrument. “I’ve never seen one before, it’s so big!”
I put the guitar down and showed her how it was played, not that I’m anywhere near a master, mind you. But Lucy was impressed, I could tell from her eyes. Livvy brought us the tea and Dhan came back after getting hold of his laughter, and we stayed in the music room ‘til early in the morning, holding a bit of an impromptu concert. It was quite interesting, Dhan on acoustic guitar, me on sitar, and Lucy on bongos. I thought she had some talent in the drumming department, wonder what she’d have been like with a little training?
I couldn’t sleep inside
the house, it was too overwhelming, and I didn’t feel comfortable inside
it. Except in the music room, that had been very enjoyable, making music
with the father and son, with the wife tapping her foot and smiling so
happily at her mate. It made me
miss my mate and children even more, and I knew I couldn’t stay.
My walkabout was over. Maybe
I’d needed to come here in order to realize it was time to return home.
Even sleeping outside the
house was strange, the very air and surrounding greenery made me nearly
uncomfortable. When morning
came, I watched the sunrise and thought of my journey, stripping it down to
the bare essentials in my mind and then building it again, layer
upon layer, slowly turning event into the legend that would become part of
The People’s history. The
flight of the Grey Falcon, and the time he crossed paths with The People.
I left whilst the family was
still asleep, prevailing upon the little man to order the helicopter to
return me to Ubbir. I told him
that George had offered the return trip the previous evening, and he
believed me. I helped myself to
a few things from the ample kitchen, and the cook found me some extra tea
and some tins of foreign fruits that would delight my children with the
novelty. I pulled a grey falcon
feather from a special compartment of my pack, and left it with the cook,
asking him to give it to George. He
looked at me strangely, but I just smiled and said it was an Aboriginal
Fully stocked again, I was
driven to the airport and the helicopter was waiting for me. The trip to Ubbir was swift, and by mid afternoon, I was
telling Mary all about what I’d seen whilst on Hamilton Island.
I was on my way home by early evening.
It took me four days to
reach my home, and I was welcomed by my family.
My mate was especially happy to see me, as I was to see him.
Grandfather took me aside after the welcoming feast and looked deeply
into my eyes. I smiled at him, and he nodded in satisfaction.
“You were successful,
then?” he asked.
“Yes. The Grey Falcon rose to the heights, his path and that of The
People have crossed as in ancient times.”
He nodded again and closed
his eyes, his hands on my shoulders. He
chanted a quick song of prayer and question, waited in silence for the reply
from the Ancient Ones, then opened his eyes with a smile.
“Another set of twins for
the tribe,” he said mischievously, “but they will have the dark eyes of
the Grey Falcon, not the blue eyes of the Gallah.”
I groaned inwardly, secretly
pleased but also dismayed. Twins
again? Oh, I was certain to
have my hands full nine months hence.
I couldn’t believe she’d just disappeared like that! I hoped we hadn’t done anything that had made her leave, but cook said she’d been in a really good mood whilst he’d helped supply her for her trip, chatting about her kids and tribe. I wondered if she’d gone back to her walkabout, or if she’d returned to her family; maybe she’d simply missed them and wanted to get home as quickly as possible. I looked at the feather cook had given me from the girl, he’d said Lucy told him it was an Aboriginal custom. I thought I’d have to research this a bit to learn the meaning of it, and I tucked the feather into Livvy’s jewelry box for safekeeping.
I had to laugh about her abrupt departure. Cheeky bird, badgering me employees into the supplies and the use of the chopper! Arnie’d been quite upset when he’d realized I hadn’t ordered the trip. I had me hands full reassuring him that he wasn’t going to be fired over it. Guess the bird just didn’t feel very comfortable here. I wished I’d been able to thank her, but I don’t know that words would have been sufficient.
I was in a bit of a mood that afternoon when the phone rang, growling that I didn’t want to talk to anyone. But Livvy told me who it was, and I changed me mind and grabbed the phone from her with a kiss of apology to her cheek.
“How th’ bloody hell are ya, ya old geezer?” I asked, and I smiled to hear his laughter.
“I’m fine, but I’ve been worried about ya, ya silly bast’id! It was all over the news! What d’ya think ya were doin’ down under, takin’ yer own version of a walkabout or somethin’?”
I laughed and sat back in a comfortable chair, putting up me feet and preparing for a long conversation and the chance to run up Ritchie’s phone bill. I had an interesting tale to relate to me old friend.
Cheryl Mortensen has been a Beatle fanatic since the 1960s, but somehow went on to other things in the late 1960s, only rediscovering her passion for "all things Beatle" in the late 1990s (and on into the new century). She is a computer programmer and an avid photographer. (Concert photos of bands and performers is her favorite area -- ask her about her Ringo pictures!!) Cheryl lives with her husband of 18 years (Mike), her German Shepherd (Sorsha), and a bunch of fish in the tank and the pond that they've never bothered to name.
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