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Snugglepot and Cuddlepie in the Ghost Gum

But the bush, the grey, charred bush. It scared him. As a poet, he felt himself entitled to all kinds of emotions and sensations which an ordinary man would have repudiated. Therefore he let himself feel all sorts of things about the bush. It was so phantom-like, so ghostly, with its tall pale trees and many dead trees, like corpses, partly charred by bush fires: and then the foliage so dark, like grey-green iron. And then it was so deathly still. Even the few birds seemed to be swamped in silence. Waiting, waiting–the bush seemed to be hoarily waiting.

D.H. Lawrence, Kangaroo.

The Ghost Gum Sequence

There’s ghosts in the reserve. There’s a rusted windmill and water tank, old concrete feeding troughs and burnt out cars that crawl with the living – goannas, stray dogs, panthers. Every life I have knows this reserve and the liminal scrub it spills through the suburbs, which swallows the correctional complex to the west and edges up to the cattle station on the east. I can tell you how to find them, standing stark between a broken fence and a recurring dream of mama roo bounding broken away from the hood of my neighbour’s car. Take forty steps back from where she fell and follow the creek that makes its bed only now in reeds and memory. Go at the golden hour when the low sun slants sideways and watch their skins soak the light, or pass by on a cold early morning and see them soft blue silking through scratches of tall grass and bush pea. Watch below for blue tongues and red bellies, watch above for black kites and golden orb weavers. I’m not worried about you finding all this, I’m worried about how you’re gonna speak it.

I’ve gotta go to town now, but I’ll be back tomorrow. There’s woven reeds and feathers on the dash, and I only clean out the dirt when I have to. It’s about $20 to go north and $10 south, but it’ll only cost you the petrol to weave through the cheap seats, the browning outskirts and housing estates where all my elders live. I take Richmond Road slower in the dry, when everything comes out for the green. I’ve seen South Creek swell this plain they’re cutting up for lines of pretty neat houses all along this way, but they’ll never come for the scrub. They need this scrub to keep the ghosts in. They’ll come for the poor, longway streets first, and close off every path to leave without paying. All these roads meet and end and begin at the open field that once always-was-always-will-be was the Native Institution where Governor Macquarie gathered up the precious children, black and brindle, to teach them God and Civilisation and To Be Without Your Family Or Your Land Or Your Name. It was here that Maria, daughter of Yellomundee son of Gombeeree elder of the Boorooberongal of the place I go monthly for bushcare to cut lantana and take my shoes off at the feet of ancestors, was taught white man’s language, and how to scream it back to him.

Why don’t they build something there, a sunset profile picture asks on the community Facebook where we gather to buy and sell and complain. There’s nothing in that field but a tree.

There’s a lot to say about that and even more to say of this place, but today I’m taking the midrange toll to the city, so I slip round the road trains and keep driving. I’ve been lugging a childhood from dad’s shed to Sydney in the boot of my car and it’s getting restless. The little gumnuts are creeping from the pages to play patty-cake with the yuri men on my back seat, tucking themselves under discarded jackets and licking droplets from the blackorg-branded waterbottles collecting under my seat. They want me to write about them – or maybe they don’t, and they just want to be left where and when they are – but in any case, they’re enjoying the ride. With their little faces pressed to the window they watch tree turn to town, and hiss and shudder as we pass the earthmovers stacked at the post-Maccas merge. I don’t take new ways to go to places I’ve known already, and I’m not likely to ever turn early from the M4, but there’s something about those green signed end destinations that reminds me of everywhere else I’m supposed to be. Sometimes I think I could keep on south, to go trace the banksia tattoos of all my Boorooberongal girls kicking about in Naarm, and then wrap them all up and bring them home. Sometimes I see the Canberra turnoff and remember that it’s been almost two years since I last made tea and stood in the eternal smoke of the embassy. But mostly I think, I know I’ve never taken that way to go to nan’s, but maybe if I had a little more often there’d be more memories to choose from when her absence moves my mind from room to room.

There’s a lot of poets over in the mountains, or further up the Hawkesbury on the way to nan’s farm, but it was written for me to be born in this land and to die in this land long before I became a poet myself. The Cumberland Plains of Blacktown and the Hawkesbury are drenched in a history of settler violence and forgetting that goes unspoken when we squabble over heritage. The bridge, the dairy, the statue – competing heirlooms for the pastoral squattocracy now crowded by mid-density suburban sprawl. When Watkin Tench stood at Prospect Hill in 1789, he soliloquised Miltonic visions of this place he looked upon as a wild abyss. Shortly after the rich alluvial soils were carved up by fence and crop and hoof and were cartographied into the names of holy lands; Jericho, Mamre, Ebenezer. Here was to be known as the bread basket of the colony. A magic pudding for the settlers to eat, and eat, and eat. Somewhere in all this tabula rasa and terra nullius my black and convict ancestors met here each from somewhere else between one and two centuries – some taken, some lost, some left. We try to care through entanglement. We know where to go on the summer solstice. We know where to swim to avoid spirits and contamination. We know where we will come back.

I look over to Prospect Hill as I pass through the M4 roadworks. In the way I know all times are capable of being, Tench’s gaze is still there – but so is ours, staring back.

A Nest of Auspoes

The lifecycle of an Auspo is punctuated by significant displacements and transformations. As an invasive species, Auspo eggs are typically laid in native nesting places, where they consume indigenous resources and disrupt seasonal patterns. Breeding Auspoes are known to decorate themselves with native foliage, feathers, and language. Curiously enough, regardless of the mode of acquisition, these adornments are usually transferred from mature Auspoes to their younglings and are rarely discarded. Many Auspoes hatch surrounded by these trinkets, which often suffocate the native species whose nest the Auspo supplants. Young Auspoes are small, hairless, and fair-skinned bare-bottomed babes with wide blue eyes and pink cheeks. In this early stage of development they wear smaller charms from their collections, such as gumnuts and wattle blossoms. This is perhaps the best known and most widely circulated image of the Auspo, often depicted in the Australian arts and craft market alongside native wildlife in scenes of revelry and adventure. On occasion, these representations also feature the primary predators of Auspoes; Banksia Men and dropbears

Auspoes elongate significantly upon maturity, typically reaching heights of up to twelve metres. They grow in both solitary and mallee formations. Mature Auspoes often add designs to their juvenile adornments, marking their smooth, pale surface with scribbles, spots, or patterns of grey bark (in both strips and patches). As the mature Auspo has no natural predators, its distinctive, thin white body, which is so celebrated in Australian arts and culture, presents no environmental threat. 

The final transformation in the full life-cycle of an Auspo features a more distinctive alteration of behaviour than the previous stages. While both juvenile and mature Auspoes communicate exclusively with other Auspoes through the repetition of short song phrases, the senior Auspo’s enhanced vocal capacity facilitates a far more extensive system of mimicry and inter-species communication, often drowning out native species and interfering with their rituals. It is assumed that the senior Auspo (also known colloquially as a Cookoo, Swagman, or Larrikin) has evolved this practice through the absorption of their preferred food source, lyrebirds. 

Playing in the Pastoral

The entanglement of complexes which have, since invasion, structured settler responses to, and representations of Aboriginal land and its custodians, ruptures at its most readable in Australian poetics. The ostensible telos of the national literary sentiment – which is surmised by John McLaren as the rise ‘from the hostility of the landscape to man’s efforts to tame it’ – moves anxiously around Aboriginal presence in cosmic, embodied, and negated forms. As Ivor Indyk observes, the Australian pastoral is a site of conflict between the alluring but resistant aesthetics of the land, and the familiar but incompatible languages of the traditional form. Following Paul Kane and Andrew Taylor in their reckoning of the pastoral not as genre but as a series of modes which assimilate natural and human worlds into artistic endeavour, this tension has been mobilised by settler writers and artists for a range of nationalist concerns – most saliently the ongoing articulation and justification for the cultural and geographic boundaries of the colony within, beyond, and against the imperial centre. These concerns have produced a complex and at times contradictory aesthetic of Australian-nature kitsch.

Primarily a constellation of trope and compulsion in orbit around the void of settler colonial subjectivity, there are ostensible narratives which neatly fold the aesthetic production of Australia into thematics responding to both internal and external politics. The environmental conditions of the land being incompatible with European modes of agricultural practice, nineteenth-century poets such as Charles Harpur and Henry Kendall necessarily emphasised Gothic-Romantic themes of hostility and hardship in early Australian pastoral poetics, while Henry Lawson and Barbara Baynton staged forbidding prose tales of estrangement and annihilation against the backdrop of a land fundamentally opposed to humanity and civilisation. Following what Indyk has referred to as the second nationalist phase of Australian literature, the Jindyworobak movement of the 1930s emerged as a supposed aesthetic hybridisation of Eurocentric and Aboriginal culture – seeking to reconcile what George Seddon has described as the ‘filter’ of English language and conventions over the Australian landscape, translating the difference of that land into jargon and misappropriated cryptomythology. While the ‘bush ethos’ underpinning these early national poetics provides an effective thematic for the psychological condition of exile from the vantage point of the settler convict, it has also been critiqued as a myth imagining its own mythology. As Alan Frost suggests, the Australian literary character has been dominated by an origin narrative historically inconsistent with much early settler writings in New South Wales in particular, which responded to varied topographies with varied impressions and intentions. Frost’s argument is a useful one in resisting the inherent notion that the Australian landscape is somehow responsible for settler crisis:

It seems reasonable to suspect that the personalities of those who expressed the bush ethos may also have shaped it . . . Might it not be in that taking convicts and the bush as the correlatives for their feelings of isolation and despair, these writers were expressing individual predilections rather than a general historical experience?

The character of an Australian colonial melancholic has historically styled itself as the working-class outcast around tropes of economic and cultural displacement, but as Bob Hodge and Vijay Mishra remind us – the settler colonial project of Australia both transported and translated the ambitions and antagonisms of the metropolitan centre into the new land, along with the alliances of power and oppression which were in collaboration against the lawful custodians. If Aboriginal presence is considered in such work, it is a representation predominantly concerned with symbols of atavistic inconvenience to the colonial project, charged with psychic significance in the symbolic evocation of a ghostly spectre haunting land lost to Aboriginal people, but which ultimately clears space for the discovery and cultivation of that land by the appropriate settler. Hodge and Mishra have explored this double premise as the ‘Aboriginal archipelago’ of simultaneously refusing to acknowledge Aboriginal presence in social space while conjuring up emblematic tropes of Aboriginal spiritual presence in disembodied forms. Although one strategy seems to suggest a more ethically considerate response, they argue that each does their own form of violence – the former erasing Aboriginal people from literature, while the latter from history, into the mythic void of the Dream Time.

This dialectic enacts in literary terms what Patrick Wolfe has theorised as the Australian ‘logic of elimination’, wherein the erasure of the native through a structure of genocide facilitates the acquisition of land for the establishment of the settler colony, whilst settlers simultaneously cultivate a symbolic return of the native to demarcate the colony’s point of departure from the imperial centre. This return is imagined through strategies of settler nativism and fantasies of adoption into Indigenous cultural spaces, practices, and languages – what Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang have theorised as ‘settler moves to innocence’ – a range of political, intellectual, and artistic evasions of settler guilt and accountability.

The symbolic premise of Aboriginal occupation fully dispossessed into our own spiritual plane – at times presented as explicitly as placing Aboriginal graves within the pastoral scene – has been a persistent theme in Australian literature over the last two centuries, accompanied by the equally pervasive imagining of settler bodies – alive or dead – into the natural flora and fauna of the Australian landscape, manifesting in a complex range of forms, bodies, and tropes. Michael Farrell (2017) has written on the various genealogies of poeticised Australian animals as workers for the settler-colonial ambition itself, in which no creature could be accepted as ‘so wild we cannot name them and make images of them’. While more explicit in settler writings which explore human and non-human relationships or enlist animal bodies in the staging of settler subjectivities, strategies of domestication and white embodiment are equally present in settler renderings of native flora, following the pastoral convention of nature responding to human need.

The penultimate native species evoked in settler Australian poetics is the eucalyptus – whether it be as a resource for the pastoral homestead in Lawson: ‘And when sawn-timber homes were built out in the West;/Then for walls and for ceilings its wood was the best’; an image of the erotic in Robert Gray: ‘a nude descends a staircase/slender white eucalyptus’; or a site of violence in Heather Stewart: ‘Eyes pecked out/by currawongs/she hung four days/up a gum tree’. Frequently this emphasis fixates on the generic classification of ‘ghost gum’ – a species which only grows in Central Australia but has been projected onto a range of Australian ecoregions by settler writers to legitimate both a spectral and corporeal presence of white bodies in Aboriginal land, an imaginary no doubt aided by the myth that Aboriginal people universally assumed white invaders were returning ancestral spirits.

These tropes and strategies of settler nativism are nowhere more explicit than in Australian children’s literature. Jonathan Highfield suggests that the focus on Australian native animals in children’s fiction served to bypass the question of Aboriginal people and dispossession and further clear the land in favour of reinscribing a sense of national and environmental collections through ‘totemic’ relationships with fauna. Affrica Taylor extends this notion in her argument that for the white children of this literature, native animals functioned as guides or mentors through their ‘journey towards indigenisation’, naturalising their claim to the land as both entitlement and inheritance. Simultaneously these alliances worked to appease the ongoing anxiety of displacement of the European body and psyche beyond the idyllic safety of the European pastoral, and thus much of this literature constellates around the trope of the lost child in the bush – the symbol of ‘repressed settler fears that the bush, so closely associated with the enigmatic threat of native savagery and primitive spirituality, is essentially untameable and thus un-homely’.

In this settler/native binary, the safety of the child is predicated not simply on their return to the scene of the settler homestead, but their disavowal of uncivilised or transgressive behaviour – a moral circulated through paratext, such as Ethel Pedley’s introduction to Dot and the Kangaroo, which urges sympathy for ‘the many beautiful and frolicsome creatures of their fair land; whose extinction, through ruthless destruction, is surely being accomplished’, or May Gibbs’ famous greeting in each of her Snugglepot and Cuddlepie books, ‘Humans Please be kind to all bush creatures and don’t pull flowers up by the roots’. These texts exemplify models of mutually-determined belonging for both settler humans and Indigenous animals in their rejection of the ‘untameable and thus un-homely’ presence of Aboriginal bodies and practices in the bush: in Dot and the Kangaroo exemplified in the ever-present threat of the bunyip, and the repudiation of Aboriginal hunters as violent and savage for eating kangaroo (in a scene which more actually describes a ceremonial honouring of kangaroo ancestors or creator spirits); and in Snugglepot and Cuddlepie demonstrated through the casting-out of the recurring villains, the Banksia Men, who are aligned with savagery, animism, sexual deviancy, and Aboriginality throughout the stories.

These recurring narratives of nation-building have produced intricate forms of kitsch and cringe, shaping not just Australia, but also Australiana. The over-determination of these binaries and tropes continues to operate in a dialectic to the perceived horror of the Australian landscape. The operalisation of kitsch in children’s literature can be read as an attempted exorcism of the extant sensation of a profound alienation from the landscape, the tyranny of distance from European pastoral and folkloric traditions. These tropes have returned in contemporary work as both cringe and nostalgia. Recent attempts to recall or ironise these tropes in Australian conceptual poetics – a move which Farrell (2013) suggests might be signalled by ‘the very decline of the national ideal within poetics that enables a review of the Australian’ – also reflects a recent commercial recuperation of Australian kitsch into both aesthetic and ironic consumption. While the circulation of Australian native flora and fauna through literature, art, clothing, jewellery, tattoos, homewares, and placenames might suggest an environmentally and culturally situated movement against globalism and towards a pre-national and post-colonial Australia, it is always translated into Western aesthetic terms, and there is little to suggest that this latest movement does more than further operationalise Aboriginal bodies and culture as a settler psychosis. As Jonathan Dunk has recently argued:

The discursive elisions and contradictions within that desperately national textual body which have been symptomatically interpreted by a certain Freudian emphasis of postcolonial criticism – as tremors of conscience within the settler mind – can and should be read as subsequent and more sophisticated functions of those colonial logics, and not as failures or limitations thereof.

The aesthetic recuperation of Australiana, kitsch, and cultural cringe into ironic consumption is an extension of these same logics; another strategy towards settler innocence through the projection and justification of white bodies into the landscape and landed imaginary. The evocation of settler aesthetics for purposes of irony or examination presume reconciliation of what was for settlers a psychological crisis, but for Aboriginal people, an ongoing genocide.

A more realistic recollection of the iconographies of nation-building would return to the supposed central anxiety of the settler subject: does the land actually want you?

To the Poets

Maybe what’s been done to you has been done to me too?

When first and scared you knew only this place as hostile, as wanting. You saw no marks of yourself here. The horror slips sublime as you build house and fence and church. The first axe to strike the gum. You can look upon a wilderness if you think there’s a homestead to return to, that there will be crop and meat and cloth to harvest. You spread it and sprawl it and sing it back for the common wealth, taking and making words to diffuse the harsh edges of language over animal vegetable and mineral. You ferment myth into the bush and the billabong to give yourself history, and there’s enough there to make a man and call him native born. Our bones mortar your buildings and your poems but all the while we’re away in fringes and reserves. Don’t look at me. Cover up the earth that knows me but leave wells so you can drain it. Take our language from our bleeding mouths and give it to your songs. All of this to keep giving him sounds to speak himself as something separate from whence he came. When he grows up and forgets what was lost from him, you’ll remember this birth fondly, you’ll wear it on silk frocks and hang it from your ears.

These pastoral poems play in the field but don’t enter the house. They might burn down the homestead but they never sleep in it with a cousin’s foot against your spine on the living room floor after bathing off the mud in two inches of tank water, belly full of charcoaled meat. It doesn’t watch them cut into turf and pasture from within: remembering before fence and field but still feeling the loss of something you’ve known. You cannot redeem the pastoral. You cannot kill it and wear its skin. You cannot put back into the earth what you’ve taken from it. You’ve disturbed the ancestors. The words are wounds and that’s done now. Accept it. Learn it anew. I’ve had enough of your grief and your potplanting in our land. These are the dreamings we have now. Did you listen? Do you understand that the land doesn’t need any of us? I know this pride. My elders taught me their names. Warned me of Tiddalik and Gongarra and told me where we’ll go when they come back.

Do you know what I am, what I move between? Do you know the light I have looked upon in the crest of morning? Do you know what has watched me in dusk and dark? Do you know what lores I have had to learn while you play in everything they protect? Do you know that none of the trees your poems bleed are ghost gums? Do you understand that when you write the kangaroo the wallaby the bilby the bandicoot the cockatoo the blacksnake the waterlily the brush the bush the sapling the ghost gum that you are puppeting your hands through ancestors, through relations?

D, I wanna go home but I don’t know where home is. I’m walking through this country I’ve never not known, this country you’ve told me to never walk at night. I’ve been driving along the river so deep in the dark because I’m trying to hear them say my name like they used to. I never want to go away from here. I never want to turn on my phone, I never want to slide up the highways that they’re rolling out over our valley to learn all the ways it was carved up in their words. D, I don’t know our words I want but I know I don’t want to meddle with approximations. D, I want to come home and I want my bones to recognise it.

I’m no better than the pastures and I’m no better than the poems made from them. I’m no better because I’m black and I’m no better because we moved to the nice side of the reserve, got our own rooms and a pool. None of this is to say that I’m wiser or more present here. It’s to say that I’m tired, that I want nothing more than to go home and sink and sleep and dissolve, and that home is something more to me than it might be to you. My old people are getting old and I’m getting scared. I don’t want to be sad or angry but I can’t help it. I want a nobler anger, but I always knew poetry was mostly there to protest the poets. I have all the theory in the world to explain the logics of our erasure, the violence of our replacements and our more palatable Others. I’ve read the work done to demonstrate how this literature triangulates our elimination against the archipelago where you move to your innocence. But no one’s ever asked how we are both colonised by and inheritors of these words. J asks – what is a world, and what does it mean to end it? But I want to know what it means to lose the world you’re still standing in.

To The Parents

I’m writing this essay in the shadow between deaths. I live in middle place. In country that I must care for but that doesn’t suit the colonial appropriation of our ancestral. Between totem and cryptomythology, between native and notfor.

After work J and I go back to his apartment in the outer-inner-west. It’s the charming sort of dilapidated in that most of what is claiming back the crumbling stone is pretty and green, wrapped around a done-it-yourself balcony where we feed the brushtails and water the currawongs and listen to the angophora dance heavy limbed in the wind. It feels enclosed and away, but never quiet. Shapes flicker corner-eyed and mirror edged here like the streetlights smudged by the jacaranda weeping through the garden wall. The cat only knows how to scream. J talks to the lorikeets that crowd on the windowsills he’s lined with seed. We’re curled here in the safest site of our everyday struggles with infinitude. At this distance we can justify all manner of intellectual and cultural isolations. We write poetry here, and about here.

Twenty minutes or so on the old Koori road they keep paving over and I’m back on the M4, on my way home to endlessly trace more footsteps between my bed and the bush, to get the last bit of the story before I can finish this. Traffic stacks up outside the Institution where a single gum sprawls its pale arms up to the sky. South Creek is running low and dry, and my uncle up at the farm says he’s had to sell off the cattle that he can’t afford to feed. I go the treelined road and drive slow for the dusking roos bounding into the ironbarks. Every few seconds is a flicker of scribbly gum, white and stark and inscripted in the distance. Mum and Dad have just come back from a community meeting – there’s spagbol on the stove, the Jack Russell bounces back-leggedly at the screen door, and the Blue Heeler is watching patiently at the back. The sky is vermillion behind black silhouettes. The living room walls are lined with family photos and the decades of mum’s cross-stitching that she made for the childhood room where we would curl in each other’s bed to hear stories of our bush friends – Blinky Bill, Snugglepot, Cuddlepie, pastoral homesteads and native florals. There’s more in the shed, and more again in my car. My baby book, which started this suspicious reengagement, features a charmingly chubby, blushing-cheeked knock-off May Gibbsesque babe playing cheerily with a young brushtail beneath my names and descriptors – Evelyn (for my great-grandmother) Araluen (for waterlilies) Anne (for habit) Corr (for the Irish refugee, for the mission worker, for the absences of history by which a name will refuse to abandon whatever it can claim). Hair, dark. Complexion, dark. Eyes, dark. Folded inside is my first fat-faced photo, my birth certificate, and my Common Seal Confirmation of Aboriginality (for convenience, in case of fire).

Here’s the entanglement: none of this is innocent and while I seek to write rupture I usually just rearrange. I can name the colonial complexes and impulses which structure these texts but it doesn’t change the fact that I was raised on these books too. They tell me they never chose them to hurt us, and I never thought they did. They both grew up surrounded by the bush in country New South Wales towns. None of my grandparents finished school and had very low levels of literacy. Books were one of the many things my mum never had growing up but made sure to give her children. She chose them for us around what we could afford, but always looked for stories of the bush she knows and loves with intimate detail. She read them to us with care and patience, even in all the years she was working two jobs to put those books in our hands.

Dad remembers having books; a few from his parents, and some from a teacher boarding in the same house when he was a child in Penrith. She shared the colonial books that he would go on to read to us with salt grains and disputations. He built word worlds of fay and foe in both the forest and the bush. As a child, I enjoyed those stories. I enjoyed the lands they peered into, the adventures they described. He made room enough for us to scribble our own stories into their pastures. He told us how to care for our country, but he let us learn how to love it. I missed all this nuance and allowed myself to think we were losing to the settlers when I discovered theory – the postcolonial and the subaltern, Anglophilia, Stockholm Syndrome. I wrote these and other words down and used it to explain everything that I felt departed from my notions of the Authentically Aboriginal. It was an easy sort of antagonism, where I could see my parents as the victims of a colonial condition, and not agential selves who had sacrificed everything to give us something. A tidy narrative that forgot the decades of work they did writing curricula for Aboriginal education across New South Wales, creating programs to bring Elders into schools, developing resources for communities to address drug abuse through cultural learning and safety, going to meetings and bushcare, picking up the pieces, being there to remind and remember. Dad tells me that these were the stories told to stop kids like him from dying and disappearing into the bush, or anywhere else. His story will never fit into a poem. It’s too heavy to dangle from an ear.

While my siblings and I consumed those stories, we were never taught to settle for them. My parents never pretended these books could truly know country or culture or me – but they had both come from circumstances in which literacy and the access it affords was never a given. They just wanted me to be able to read.

I unpack the car and everything spills out, back to where it belongs. No reconciliation, no rupture, just home.

THE DROPBEAR’S POETIC  

Up and out and over the gum gully the bubs and babes are all about imagining remembering on a melancholic waltz through the ruins of den and drey and paragon café. With each step each they pluck a piece of debris for their dilly bags to rattle about with gumnut coin and sugarbush comb and all else packed for the great roving through the dried and drowned burgs. Passing per shanty up the hill they call callooh callay to the bush and highway men making honest livings of honest pub verandas, to the humpies down the nullah they sneer at the hunters for their violence to them and other bush creatures, and to the ghost gums manifest on the horizon they pay their proper ancestral tributes and prayers. The littles are all apoke and ajeer in performing to each other these tree bandit dialectics, adive and asquat in the scrub the native bears screaming to the native dogs COME OUT OR I’LL EAT YOU TO DEATH! Soon their dillys are dragging like tails in the red dirt so they must all make their public looting and private leering marsupial, these and other acts are their larrikin work and they promise important apocalyptic doings to the nuclear that will be both dechemical and decolonial.  

Leaving the woodchipped Greenpatch the court remurmurs the wondrous song the Gumnut Editors have been backward scribbling until time immaterial on every barked signpost of White City’s commuter belt, its tones what whisper only to those who know the Bush and love it well. It is the strain that steams from the billy, the ditty that dangles from the swagman’s coolibah. Even the fringes and eccentrics of the movement know the most famous of the pronouncement – The Way Is Won! The Way Is Won! There is better country further out and the mountains shall watch us march by! Weaving out and about the creeks and gullies they remind themselves in the national rings and chimes – we shall reach the sea and drown the Banksia Men if we survive the Bunyip! We shall reach the sea and drown the Bunyip if we escape the Dropbear! For since the haunting of the axe to strike the gum what built the boats to bear the breed they have always known the breath it was that woke the silence they were first not to hear: that this land had no poets but it had thirst and rage and dreaming.  

The dillys pulling down the pouches they now collect their rust findings in swags and coolamons. The bittier bubs take cockroach steeds and the bigger roo cabs, most making mode of leather boots and calcified bones and the very hardest of yakker. As the wideness dusks to dark the ghost gum globes are all aflicker in guidance as the troop go marching on, yes indeed in view of the mountains who have thrown back in echo COME OUT OR I’LL EAT YOU TO DEATH! The band, not remembering their own proclamations are all aterror in fear of Banksia or Bunyip or Dropbear cry, and begin a great rushing forth to the waters they spy ashine the southern horizon. Each and every artefact comes tipping and tumbling out about their bounding bodies, acrash and asmash on the shuddering surface.  

The Way Is Won! The Way Is Won! We have found the better country further out! the many creatures rejoice in advancement of the shore. We have reached the sea to drown the Banksia Men, we have survived the Bunyip, we have escaped the Dropbear! We have done our doings and our work!

In the great jangle and tangle amidst the great drowning under tide and titheing they did not notice the mountain’s mimesis which in the voice of all the vengeful ancestors was heard to be lyred and said – I told you this was a thirst so great it could carve rivers. I told you I was prepared to swallow.

Works cited

Jonathan Dunk, ‘Short Fiction Short Nation: The Ideologies of Australian Realism’, Australian Literary Studies 33:3/2 (Spring 2018).

Robert Gray, ‘Journey, The North Coast’.

Michael Farrell, ‘Affective and Transnational: The Bounding Kangaroo’, Journal for the Association for the Study of Australian Literature 2013: 3 (2013): 1-13.

— ‘Deep Hanging Out: Native Species Images and Affective Labour’ Journal for the Association for the Study of Australian Literature 2017:1 (2017): 1-12.

Alan Frost, ‘What Created, What Perceived? Early Responses to New South Wales’, Australian Literary Studies 7:2. (Spring 1975): 204.

May Gibbs, Snugglepot and Cuddlepie Meet Mr Lizard. Adapted by Carol Odell for ‘Young Australia Series’. (Angus & Robinson: 1970).

Jonathan Highfield, ‘Suckling From The Crocodile’s Tit: Wildlife and Nation Formation in Australian Narratives’, Antipodes 20:2 (2006): 127-40.

Bob Hodge, Vijay Mishra. Dark Side of the Dream: Australian Literature and the Postcolonial Mind. (Allen & Unwin: 1991).

Ivor Indyk, ‘Pastoral and Priority: The Aboriginal in Australian Pastoral’. New Literary History 24:4. (Autumn, 1993): 837-855.

Henry Lawson, ‘The Stringy-Bark Tree’, When I Was King And Other Verses. (Angus & Robinson: 1905).

John McLaren, ‘The Image of Reality In Our Writing’. Overland 27-28. (July-September 1963): 43-7.

George Seddon, ‘It’s Only Words’, Words For Country: Landscape and Language in Australia. (University of New South Wales Press: 2002).

Heather Stewart, ‘Media Coverage’, quoted in Phillip Hall, Gathering Points: Australian Poetry: A Natural Selection (Thesis, University of Wollongong Thesis Collection: 2011).

Ethel C. Pedley, Dot and the Kangaroo. Illustrated edition (Illustrator F.P. Mahony). (Dodo Press: [1899] 2013).

Andrew Taylor, ‘Beyond Duality: The Development of an Integrating Poetry of Landscape in Australia’. Hungarian Journal of English and American Studies 12:1/2. (2006). 9-18.

Affrica Taylor, ‘Settler Children, Kangaroos and Cultural Politics of Australian National Belonging’, Global Studies of Childhood 4:3 (2014): 169-82.

Eve Tuck, K. Wayne Yang, ‘Decolonisation is not a Metaphor.’ Decolonisation: Indigeneity, Education and Society 1:1 (2012): 1-40.

Patrick Wolfe, ‘Settler Colonialism and the Elimination of the Native.’ Journal of Genocide Research 8:4 (2006): 387-409.