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i  Defined 

after Terra Spirituswith 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:

lineneloomma, lowwontumemeter,

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.