H I S T O R I E S
after Terra Spiritus … with a darker shade of pale (1993-1998)
by Bea Maddock (1934-2016).
Two centuries past the voyage around,
she charts from map to graph to sheet
a fine wash outlining the island’s
shoreline cliffs and inner hills.
Fifty pages soft-circle the gallery
walls with ochre she found and fixed
smooth to paper in a dozen tones.
And there in her dark and ferric sea
two cultures in counterpoint: one
courts the eye so I mouth its script:
kribbiggerrer …. how the names roll
and run full-bellied in the plane,
the Palawa decisive in her cursive,
each frame speaks bodily of loss,
each a murmur of history’s wrath.
Below are labels type-set like bits
of metal shackled in the depths.
We know them still: Cape Grim
Oyster Cove, Flinders Island…
ii In the Shed
His smile is all heart. He sings a going away
song in Dalabon, his tongue and open
lips lined with supple sounds, eyes warm
with old bush recall. Born in Arnhem Land
rubbed with red ochre and roo blood, wrapped
in paperbark, his aunt ever at him ‘to learn
to teach always to never break the law’.
‘Sometime no tucker at night, only water…
our culture dies’. On the didge he blows
the white cockatoo dance, his hair a black
froth, his beard salty-grey. He teaches
us to cross-hatch with a wisp of reed.
We follow him out to hunt the tin roo
his eyes every which way, his legs folding
in and back as if they’re spear-ready,
his hand all pride his smile all heart.
iii In the Sand
I can tell you
only how her eyes hold the whole Ipolera
above her faded shirt, how her hands circle
her story and her feet take a dusting
of fine, red sand as she walks;
how there’s a bounty of flowering about
the boulders. She talks the business she gives
her Arrernte girls. In Tjilpa land, we women wait
near mistletoe, wild tobacco and colour
that comes from rain.
She speaks of the stars of the Southern Cross,
of Hermannsburg and searching the Finke.
She sketches wide custodial curves of story
to take beyond the baked sandstone
and the spinifex and silver-leaf.