Altjira Rama by fjhuangjun


									Millers Point: noun 1 is located on the North-Western edge of the City of Sydney
(sid-nee), the capital of New South Wales, Australia adjacent to The Rocks and
Sydney Harbour.

Seed: The Moreton Bay is cast into the soil.

On a rain-drenched wharf, through teary eyes,
the light that cascaded seemed to be his demise.
No one heard of the tears he cried,
droplets distorted through a web of lies.

This house is old. It‟s been a part of my life since I was six. It‟s been a part of my
family‟s life. Its maturity makes it strong, with rounded green metal framework holding it
together and loyal shutters masking its mistakes. A convict terrace built by prisoners. The
recently installed playground waits beyond my backyard fence surrounded by the
„coathanger‟. Its dark fringe blurs in the sunlight. The routine of daily greetings start…
        I acknowledge the wooden fence, dragging my gaze to the top. My eyes reach the
red umbrella, our protector. Each day the colour fades, material stretches and holes
collect. The bricks bleed the path my legs will follow. I always know to jump over the
metal drain and to bridge the gap filled with damp sand. Every step is important. It is my
home. Every brick is alive.
        “Christopher, don‟t forget to wear shoes. You never know what‟s out there…”
        Dad sounds just like Mum did.
        This is my routine. Open the gate held together by nails and hinges. Everything is
vulnerable. Nothing keeps it safe. Not culture, nor tradition. Nothing. I sit on the crimson
backyard ledge glimpsing memories of my childhood…
        Mud was everywhere, a thick earthy brown, shape shifting its way upon my pale
complexion. Some days I pretended to be an artist, moulding and clumping it between
the soiled fingers that showed Mum and Dad my connection.
        “Mum! Dad?”
        “Christopher what have you done? Your mother is going to…”
        “…make you all say „Cheeeeese‟!”
        Through the shutter of a moment, and the carelessness of a minute, a memory was
        My memory does not fade. Jase and Emma moved in last year. Jase was only
        Sometimes, when I wanted him there, Jase and I would follow the soft muddy
tracks in search of new surprises, challenges and adventures. But he was a little bugger,
always trying to pretend he found familiarity in the park, what was once my Big Drop. He
failed to be fazed by my extra six years of experience. Some days I would be a rocket
launcher. Ready, aim. The mud smothers Jason’s face.
        “CHRIS? What was that?”
        He is marked as an outsider. The punishment for not being here from the
        I am an old hand at being brave in the unknown.

        I remember six years ago, when I was his age. My questions were harder to
        “When is she coming back?”
        In that moment, everything changed. Mum hated being away from us, I knew that.
She often spoke about running away or hiding, making her escape in the laundry van.
With each tube she knew her pain would never mend. She was good at pretending it was
okay. Mum would tell me stories, her eyes alive. The details danced through my head,
illustrating a world that had existed before the buildings, the footpaths, the playground. A
world that had been replaced by mine...

            “Welcome Milika, man of the Eora tribe,” her story would begin.

Memories distant, discovered in time.
Of a place and a people, which had once been mine.
I went back for a boy long since grown and gone.
I sought his forlorn story so as to understand my own.

                    Gumul cowarna nula Milika. Yura Bayagool Eora.
        Milika‟s hair wove through the trees as his feet pelted through the mud. He was
never alone. From that first day his Mumae was always there. She nurtured every step he
made and every word he spoke. Her voice spoke through her charcoal eyes.
        Eeh-mm. The „yes‟ stare.
        Cooboo. Caring stare.
        Narlu. Warning stare.
        Badgee. Angry stare.
        Yienda. Joking stare.
        Sometimes Milika was made to stay at the uloo with Mumae. She sang to him.
Sitting under dark bushes overhung with jagged white blossom, Mumae clicked two
small sticks together, singing:
                                “Towera chinima poodinya,
                                Towera jinner mulbeena…”
        Over and over again, in resonant tones the melody flowed. It was water, running
over pebbles along the shore. Winding and falling, the words cascaded, as if she
whispered in admiration of her environment. She sang of kangaroos that danced in the
moonlight before they fed.
                                “Towera chinima poodinya,
                                 Towera jinner mulbeena,
                                 Poodinyoober mulbeena.”
                    (“Kangaroos coming over the range in the twilight,
                          making a devil dance with their little feet,
                                before they begin to feed.”)
        While Milika was a child, Uncle would take him and his coordah, Lorrpu and
Worru, on walks through the wild. Lorrpu and Worru chased Milika up the rough green
valley, where they stood and watched…
        The yura were naked, bare and unrestricted by the laws of colonialism. The Eora
language was a legacy of the Cadigal people. Their pristine landmarks of their country
were outlined by thin muddy sand, bright hibiscus flowers with bottlebrushes circulating
through their stems. Naminma. As the sun set over an open sky, bright stars illuminated
their walk back to the uloo. The men revealed to the tribe the fruits of their labour.
Ngawiya. As a group, they ate. In sharing their food, the mothers would make sure the
children had enough to eat.

         Milika watched as his Mumae prepared the food. Ngubadi. The Cadigal people
respected their culture and their land. Nothing was taken that could not be replaced.
Ngyinawari. They protected their people with fierce, unquestioning loyalty. An
inexorable connection to the land and each other formed their identity.
         Nomadic in nature. Rooted through kinship.
 “Chris what are you doing?”
         Dad watches from the window on the second level. The green tin roof directs his
vision towards me. Some days I am a statue in the backyard, staring out towards the very
beginning of my memory. Cemented tracks now cover the running mud and rows of
hibiscus flowers from my childhood. The Big Drop, the unforgotten.
         “I‟ve put something on your bed. You might want to go and have a look.”
         He continues with a faint smile. “I think you‟ll like it.”
         It's the same game, year in, year out. This time I ignore it and it stays on my bed.
         “Happy birthday my boy!”
         A hug. Dad feels just like Mum did.
         I don‟t want to celebrate this year. With Jason and Emma moving in, celebrating
is the last thing I want to do. All my candles are blown out.
         “Thanks Dad…and Emma.”
          Emma‟s a constant reminder that Mum is never coming back.
         When I was little, I hid from the truth. I ran through the pathways to jump on the
walls and rocks, or up the grassy hill to be protected. I spilt water on Mum’s work once.
It soaked her pages of notes and images of Millers Point. My heart pounded as she
walked downstairs. I ran to the backyard, grabbed the key already in the padlock and
twisted. I opened the gate, and jumped onto the grass that relieved my soul.
         “Chris! Christopher James! You get back here right now!”
         With my left foot first and my right foot following, the muddy pathways moved. I
would run down the giant concreted stairs until I reached the sandstone wall. My
destination. I’d look down at the large roof of the old factories. Rusting corrugated iron
and loose screws convinced me to go back home. The harbour was the park’s cloak,
floating in the backdrop. But nothing ever took away from the Big Drop, a secret land
within a landmark.
         Maybe I was just too young to appreciate harbour views. It‟s harder to hide now
that I‟m older...
         Mum caught me at the sandstone wall, and marched me back.
         “What do you have to say for yourself, mister?”
         I followed Mum‟s emphatic hand movements, and noticed her wedding ring. The
black stone silenced me. I grinned sheepishly, “I‟m sorry…”
         She smiled, and I went to hug her, “You little grub. Shower time for you, bucko!
Get up there now!”

       I ran inside and looked back towards Mum as she locked the gate and fastened
the padlock. Mum's stories of the Eora tribe inspired my adventures, but their footprints
were covered by mine, and then the ones before me. Foreign beauty in familiar settings.
       Millers Point, guided by the Harbour Bridge. My home.

 “Yienda buckunma!”
       Uncle‟s voice compelled them down the hill. The boys were careful as Milika led
them around the sapling. Lorrpu was lagging, scheming some way to get Milika back for
walking so fast. Worru turned, as Lorrpu‟s hands cupped the life of the wild, dripping
through his cracked fingers.
       “Tani wali!”
       The tracks of previous Yura formed a path of footprints to protect them from the
unknown. Security bequeathed by the ancestors.
       Lorrpu and Worru lifted their knees higher, and higher. In a speedy launch,
Lorrpu released the mud of his fathers, and their fathers.
       The earthy brown oozed over Milika‟s face, at the foot of the hill near the tribe.
Uncle watched Milika and scolded him,
       Milika was left behind to plead his innocence to Uncle. He did not seek
immediate revenge against his coordah. He knew they would return to the valley again.
Mud: a weapon, ambition, a source of connection.

Seedling: The embryo sprouts from the seed.

There he was in the moonlight,
on that wharf a story was told.
A boy I knew far too young,
and forgot of far too old.

I remember ringing the Council.
         “We‟re making a better inner-Sydney. We‟ve got our top landscapers and
architects to assist the excavation of The Paddock, and gentrification of lower Millers
Point, specifically Dawes Point and Walsh Bay. Any more questions…Christopher
Walker, is it?”
         When I found out about the Big Drop being developed I didn‟t know who else to
call. They wanted to get rid of everything, the trees, mud, sandstone walls.
         “What about my home? What about the community?” I questioned him that day.
         “We‟re making a better community for everyone.”
          It‟s the one thing I know. Words won‟t get you anywhere.
         “Everyone?” I replied.
         “Everyone. Thank you for calling Chris.”
         You can make memories.
         You can‟t make a community.
         I never dared to leave the sandstone wall, the furthest landmark of the Big Drop.
Sometimes I ducked through the trees, into the muddy tracks overhung by weeds and
branches wrapping around each other. It was a constant. It was my guide. Just like the
Big Drop, it told me where to stop, where to run, where to look. I knew my place.
         “Christopher do not go past the wall. I trust you won‟t. I don‟t know what I‟d do
if something happened...”
         I always smelt Dad‟s fear. But it was his sense of reason that made me stay.
I listen to Dad, like I always have.
         “Mum will be okay. Everything will be okay. She‟s a fighter.”
         He didn‟t lie, because she did fight. She held on to anything. She held on to hope
from the doctors. She held on to my hands and never let them go. Once, they even let her
out of the hospital, awakening my hope.
         “You‟re home Mum!”
         “Yes Christopher.”
         She used to tell me how I got my name.
         “It’s my father’s, strong and smart. Christopher.”
         My namesake died before I was born.
         Dad wasn‟t really fussed, “It was either that or Lleyton.”
         Before she was sick, Mum sang my name through a Christopher Robin tale.
                                  “Christopher Walker goes
                                     hoppity, hoppity, hop.

                                 Whenever I tell him
                                Politely to stop it, he
                            says he can't possibly stop.
                               If he stopped hopping,
                             he couldn't go anywhere,
                              Poor little Christopher
                             couldn't go anywhere…”1

 Milne, A.A. (1955). The Christopher Robin Story Book. London: Hardback Methuen &
Co. Ltd.

Under the tree he stood dressed in shame,
with everything, yet nothing to lose.
Stripped of his innocence he held on
to broken words and fatal news.

He was named after his nyathung.
        Milika, a born hunter. Milika‟s totem was a wagtail. Uncle said he would always
know if there was trouble coming because the wagtail would warn him. Seasons passed
and Milika had still not seen his totem. He had seen crows and sparrows. A rain bird told
them when it started to rain. But he had not seen a wagtail. Until that morning. He woke
up and watched as a wagtail pecked at the stalk of a seedling.
        The next day Milika‟s nyathung died. He witnessed his Mumae cry. She crooned
a moment, and laid back. Her body fell apart, broken like the charred twigs deep within
the fire‟s core. She did not sing to Milika. Her charcoal black eyes smothered by a clear
glaze of pain, an image Milika vowed never to see again.

“I know you’re excited I’m home. It’s been hard on all of us.”
        Our only escape from reality was the chief port of Sydney at Pier 5. Eight piers
divide Millers Point. Mum walked me down the staircase, and showed how big the world
was. Our home.
        I held her hand, while we strolled slowly along the planks of dark wood. The sky
was blue, the air cold. When we made it to the waters she explained everything. She
pointed as she spoke.
        “The Eora Tribe are the original „residents‟ of Millers Point…”
        “Back then, the wharves were used for shipping…”
        “While Luna Park spins, the Harbour Bridge stands tall. The Bridge‟s beauty
        lures the bats at night…”
        Silence. Rustic silver arches tower the Bridge towards the heavens and sleek
sculptured legs bring her to the ground. Not a single spot taints her reflective beauty;
not a smudge blurs her reality. Her angles are accurately aligned, her perspective a
precise parallel. There is nothing false about the mirror. She is simple, pure and true.
        The façade overwhelms me.
        She continued, “That Moreton Bay Fig has born witness to the changes in Millers
Point. Alone. Strong. A teacher.”
        The tree watches as she speaks to me.
        “Milika of the Eora Tribe hid in that exact tree. He hid to escape from the
        Her eyes were beautiful. Wise with experience, yet bright with youth and wonder.
She pulled a small wooden box from her bag. It was thin, rectangular and smelt just like
her, a mixture of talcum powder and potpourri. Orange in colour, a shiny glaze with thin
black detailing. There was an image of three men: one angry, one happy and one sad. All
were naked and dark. It was Mum‟s box. I‟d seen it before, but never touched it. She
placed it in my open palms. The lock was sealed.
        I stared at her, frozen inside,“Mum…”
        “Christopher, I want you to have this. I want you to remember m-.‟
        She spoke as if she were leaving me.
        She silenced me. “It‟ll be okay. It will be okay”.
        Wanting to believe, I nodded my answer, “Thanks, Mum…”
        She pulled me towards her as we walked back home.
        The Big Drop is gone now. All I have is the wharf.

The darkness stood before me,
and the night did seem to distort,
hopes and dreams behind me
that corrupted an innocent thought.

He dances as the water does. With a long brown spear, he moves. He was no longer a
wallabee. Milika ran along the shore, naked. His body painted with a pattern of spots and
stripes. The sharp reds and yellows contrasted with his earthly dark brown skin.
                                      “Yukki! Yukki!”
         Lorrpu and Worru came rushing to his side. They danced in unison, spying fish
that came close to the shore. Milika whispered now,
         The two boys silently waded into the water. Their spears sliced through the eyes
and mouths of two fish. Milika led the grinning boys with their catch. Splashing as they
ran onto the muddy riverbank, they made it back to the shore.
                                 “Gumul cowarna nula”.
         Mumae greeted them as they entered the campsite. Hot coals were lit, the tribe
was ready to eat. Uncle looked beyond the glow of the fire, and affirmed the brothers‟
achievement. He whispered to Milika, “Nabi”.
         Milika‟s eyes were hawk-bright. His dark skin stretched over ivory bones. Now a
hunter, he was proud. Milika sprawled beside the fire, while the sky deepened from
shallow green to the purple and indigo of berries on the wild emu-bushes. Stars swarmed,
sparkling and white, they spilled across the sky. Lorrpu and Worru stretched beside him.
         They sang together. Rhythms and winding phrases of their parents and ancestors,
swayed out and about the uloo. Mumae clicked two sticks, as their voices rose into the
night, until wytaliba.

Sapling: The seedling reaches one metre tall and seven centimetres in diameter.

The house, my home for so many years,
lay neglected, discrepant, bare.
Empty window frames, playing mind games
with a world that doesn’t care.

Jase and I sit on the staircase that connects the second level with my bedroom. This is one
of the rare times we do something together. I look at him, and think about life before he
and Emma moved in. I miss the three of us: Dad, Mum, me.
        The window lies in the middle of the staircase wall.
        Mum liked them to be bare when she was working.
        Four large glass panes swimming in a light blue radiata pine. Chipped paintwork
and a dingy metal lock stop it from opening. It‟s a ritual, staring out each single frame,
seeing what perspective has changed today.

Top left
No more wild bush.
        The newly constructed playground and equipment cover old businesses, and
rusting tin. The „Exciting Green Vision‟ of the local Council is built upon plastic colours
of reds and yellows. Blue slippery slides and solid metal poles from the wings hold their
„vision‟ together. As people walk from the playground along the sandstone pathway, they
pass The Paddock, the new name given to a new park. It has replaced the Big Drop. The
cobbled stone and muddy tracks slice open a mound of grass. The new children of
Pottinger Street chase each other through the park. My eyes follow…
                                                                                  Top right
                                                                          No more history.
        In the corner of the park are the remnants of convict houses. All traces of
character are rendered into sandstone pathways and dark grey walls. The houses no
longer whisper, their history has eroded. I get sick of staring out this window. Even the
Ibis, with its grey feathers and streak of purity faces off change. Long dark pink wrinkly
legs claw along the roof of my bedroom, step, by step. The Ibis has done this before.

Bottom left
No more community.

       Windmill Street is flanked by houses that blushed no unique shade and are spliced
by green metal fences. It stretches longer than the Ibis‟ legs. These houses form our
community. They stand together. Mr. Andrews lives at No. 45, a family friend from the
       Mr Andrews was the first to welcome us when we moved in.

        He always uses his dark yellow rag and brown gin bottle to wash away the stains
of his changing environment. His home isn‟t just bricks or poles, his home is this
community. He stands firmly on the gravel, with his wife, between the road and his
defense. They are never alone. A row of Moreton Bay figs watches over them. The trees
protect Windmill Street‟s tradition from Pottinger Street‟s development. My eyes fall on
cold grey buildings, with window blinds and metallic shutters. Only one frame remains…

                                                                            Bottom right
                                                                    Goodbye Big Drop.
         Wild bushes with rows of hibiscus flowers removed. The grass cut. Its bare space
filled. The Council designs a mockery of the Bip Drop. It wants to keep the Point‟s true
charm by cement rendering its history.

Pole: The diameter has grown from seven to thirty centimetres.

It started as a distant dream,
desires could not cause such strife.
But it grew to a wishful sleep consuming
every waking moment of my life.

The trees rustled. Worru appeared from behind a log. Another rustle. Lorrpu stepped out.
Exposed. Mumae spoke, Milika laughed. They were unaware of their future, soon to be
made to forget their past.
        Mumae was a tree, graceful movements with a strong core. The sun illuminated
her dark complexion. Her hair was a mass of wild black roots. She wore a string belt of
animal skins around her waist. Her breasts hung low. A wagtail appeared through the
bush‟s foliage on the thinnest branch it could find. It stared at Milika.
        Milika looked as wudjellas slowly walked towards him and Mumae. The uloo fell
        In one quick, piercing movement the man bludgeoned Mumae with the hilt of his
rifle and pushed Lorrpu and Worru away. Their small bodies weak to the metal and rage.
Milika reached for his mother, but was wrenched away. Mumae struggled to her feet.
                 “Wiah! Wiah! Yienda Narlu Gubb! Nyaiwanyi Bumanyi!”
                        No! No! You evil White Man! I‟ll hit you!
        She lurched towards the man. Lorrpu followed after, screaming. Worru was on
the ground. He was not waking up. His shadowy eyes closed permanently.
                               “YUKKI, MUMAE YUKKI!”
        With two bullets from his metal rifle, the man shot Lorrpu. A deep red stained the
muddy track. It flowed through to the voice of Mumae, as she crumbled to hold her boy,
her cooboo. She keened,
                                “Towera chinima poodinya,
                                  Towera jinner mulbeena
                                Poodinyoober mulbeena...”
        Milika cried, “Mumae! Mumae!” She raged towards him. The man struggled
against her, trying to wrench the thin, strong arms from about his chest. To escape her
desperate grasp he grabbed his rifle.
        The bullets savaged her flesh. Milika ripped himself from the wudjella‟s clutch
and clung to his Mumae‟s body. He cradled her as she had once held him.
                                “Towera chinima poodinya,
                                Towera jinner mulbeena…”
        He sang to her the same words she had sung to him as a child. Snatched from his
Mumae, he looked back and lamented,
                                   “Mumae… Mumae.”

The dock moaned under the threat of its creator. The Derby Ram arrived at port with the

same tenacity as its predecessors, continuing the invasion of Terra Australis, in Sydney
       Those who challenged the authority of the uniformed wudjellas were killed. The
yura stood in line, shuffling their feet along the newly created road that led to the penal
colony of Parramatta. The earth was desecrated by the sprawl of yellow brick buildings.
Milika spat at the ground. Lifting his head with gaping eyes, he exchanged a look with
the white man. Milika kept walking.

Mature tree: The diameter is over thirty centimetres, its reproduction begins.

 I awoke to my deepest desires
and slept with the reality far behind.
The lies, deceptions and fatal truth,
of a corrupt and ignorant kind.

My eyes leave the window. I hate that Dad is working on my birthday.
        Mum made sure I had the best day, and Dad came home early.
        Jase is going downstairs to his room. I watch my window, without truly seeing
what lies beyond. I have to prove to Mum I am worthy of her legacy. I have to keep my
        “Jase, put some shoes on. We‟re going for a walk.”
        Jase isn‟t ready to leave the TV, his face says it all.
        “Why?” His voice tinged with the unmistakable whinge of a ten year old who
doesn‟t want to move.
        “It‟s my birthday, and Dad‟s not here, so you‟re coming.”
        Jason is good to me. I mean his Mum and my Dad are never around, so I think he
appreciates me being here. He looks more like my father than I do, and they aren‟t even
related. But he doesn‟t have the Walker scent. It feels primitive, judging people by their
smells, by their feel, but it‟s something you do to pick the fakes. It‟s the bricks, the mud
from Millers Point. It‟s the Moreton Bay Fig. It can‟t be made. It can‟t be replaced.
        I look at him sometimes, and I can‟t help but want him to fit in. I know he wants
to be a part of it.
        “Walk up Ferry Lane before we‟re seen, ya little bugger!” I say.
        This isn‟t going to be a normal walk.
        “Good, did you bring „em?”
        He reveals the cardboard carton, tightly packed into his bare hands.
        “You‟re a good kid Jase, You‟re a good kid.”
        He drops one of course. Eleven different ways left to take out my revenge. Free
range, not force fed.
        “Save them for the bloody houses, you idiot!”
        Jase takes out one of the weapons, and places it in my hand. I wonder who this
one will be for. I throw them for the Big Drop. I do it for Mr. Andrews and his wife,
because they won‟t be able to clean the gates with gin forever. The same alcohol used
since the Rebellion. I do it for Jase, although he is too young to see past the thrill of yolks
splattering. I am doing it for me too.
        “This was our Big Drop!”
        The thin shell of protein smashes against the rough concreted surface, leaving our
stain on the fresh walls. I‟ll never stop caring.

       “This is our Point!”
       Jase is just warming up now. His big luminous eyes are excited. It was for Mum
        I bet she wanted to die right here, with us. All the life draining out of her body
seemed to catch and pool in her eyes. Weekly counselling sessions filled her with
                             “I‟m fine, don‟t worry about me!”
        I remember being driven through peak hour traffic to get to the hospital. Her hair
was flat, she was grey-faced. As morning crept through the windows, everyone was
talking non-stop in that crowded white room. Talking to nurses, to doctors, to friends.
Non-stop but calm, because even though there‟s nothing you can say, it feels like murder
if everyone‟s silent. So everyone spoke and looked sympathetic.
        Words of comfort, “She loved you…”
        Words of passion, “Her research…‟
        Words of security, “Your mother…”
        I saw her out of make-up. The drip beside her bed had been turned off. Glucose
and morphine to stop her pain. It didn‟t click anymore.
        I wonder if it could stop mine too.
        “Jase, pass me that last one.”
        This last house is a little more risky. I eye the gap between the concrete wall and
the roof, which leads to the veranda. The occupants come to see what all the noise is
about. We remain hidden. I lift my arm and focus, tensing every muscle in my arm to
make sure this egg reaches its destination. With everything I am, and everything I have,
the egg launches…
        Their fashion and décor succumb to strings of egg yolk and white. Cries fill the
        “Let's get out of here Jase!”
        Jase is convinced that we‟re going to get busted. But I know it is exactly what I
needed to do. Now there‟s just one more thing.

I walk upstairs. As I make it to the final step, I grab the wooden handrail. My hands leave
a warm, damp shadow. A white envelope left by Dad peeps from under the pillow.
Ignoring it for the second time today, I move to the edge of my bed and face the chest of
drawers that keep me from Mum. I push my drawers from against the wall, and uncover
the small door to the attic. I‟ve never tried to open it. I know all Mum‟s stuff is in here.
       A single globe illuminates years of the attic‟s repressed memories. As I bow, a
coat of cobwebs covers my body. It lives in a corner. It is an antique she got from a
garage sale. The box is locked tight.

         I pass the torn cardboard boxes and large blue plastic bags filled with Mum‟s life.
We hold onto memories of her. The floorboards creak. I jump, knocking the globe.
         The light goes out.
         I can smell my family‟s scent under the dust of passing years. I reach the corner
with the pale help of a small square window in the roof. I pull the box close to my chest
and turn, hurrying towards the doorway.
         I hum a memory…
         …If he stopped hopping,
         he couldn't go anywhere,
         Poor little Christopher
         couldn't go anywhere.
         I open the box.
         Everything is neatly arranged. Paper on the left. Her wedding ring on the right. A
silver floral pattern, with the black stone I remember. A baby photo of me covers the base
of the box. The words written on the back stare at me, „You‟ll always be in my heart‟.
         I watch the dust travel through the air. Her soul follows it. I find a folded piece of
paper, stiff with age.
         „My little boy, I want you to read this at the wharf.‟
         Under the poem is a charcoal sketch of an Indigenous boy. His charcoal eyes
allure me.
         Mum was the resident historian at the Sydney City Council. Dad said that’s why
we moved here, so she could explore the world of her work. But I guess that was our first
problem, becoming attached to an area that only leases its tradition. You cannot buy
culture. It discovers you, as you uncover it.
         I search the box for any type of clue, but nothing explains the young boy. At the
back of the image is black felt tip handwriting, neat, clean and sophisticated. The
handwriting I know.
         His face distinctive. His body at ease. He is alive.

Old tree: The tree matures and furthers its seed production.

There he was in the moonlight,
on that wharf a story was told.
A boy I knew far too young,
and forgot of far too old.

Milika moved his rough copper hands along the tortured timber. He hoped to one day be
comforted by the solidarity of roots and shelter.
         The land in all its beautiful imperfection had been replaced; destroyed by the
intrusion of colonial man. Supporting his inner soles were the wet ironstone pebbles from
the river, pressed into the earth. The wagtail was hidden. From the wooden veranda, he
asked the moon to guide him. Its silver streams replied, lighting up a Moreton Bay Fig
that stretched above to protect him.
         The tree‟s rough, scratchy bark resembled crackled clay. Milika was drawn to it,
dropping the logs he was forced to chop. Logs to be burnt.
         Milika‟s teeth were hidden. His eyes lost their white glow and his rich, brown
skin had faded to cold black. He despised the house, the bare floor he was forced to sleep
on by the wudjellas. The white fella. Milika escaped, as he had for many nights, to sleep
on the earth. He continued walking towards the Moreton Bay‟s trunk, while the sun
replaced the moon. The scowling shadow on his face exposed. Milika was still, with a
straight figure, head erect and hair blown black by the wind. Tough heels from years of
hunting protected his skin. A wave of loneliness consumed him as he grabbed the branch
of the old tree.
         Milika heard his coordah and Mumae talking and singing together, at their
         He stared at the tree, from its roots to find his own.

Overmature tree: Decay becomes common in this stage of growth.

This time I go without Jase. I walk down the staircase alone.
        The wharf is bare. Raw, unlike the rest of Millers Point. Sydney Harbour‟s
unrelenting vibrancy flashes in my eyes. Sounds of seagulls and broken waves crash
against the wharf‟s pillars.
        I look past the Beware this is a working wharf sign to see arms waving out of the
Luna Park Ferris wheel and the Union Jack at the top of her arch. A grassy hill lines the
harbour foreshore where families sit under a large Moreton Bay Fig.
        Believing the best in everything is sometimes essential: that Superman can fly and
save us all, that our creators don‟t abandon us, just like Frankenstein. That people really
sit under big bushy trees with perfect families and scripted dialogue. Protected.
        The tree is compelling, tall and thick-trunked. Scarred from fallen branches with
rough, scratchy bark. It is old, alive with experience. Just as Mum said. I read her

On the Wharf…

A boy whose                                       that will never be
Self                                              given back.
is brittle,                                       His strength
foundations forced                                stems
to rot.                                           from his vow:
As the world                                      to never comply.
identities dissolve                               He rejects that which
in the progress                                   holds him,
he is taught.                                     clinging closer to
                                                  a heart
The neo-new                                       whose voice is strong
infects                                           yet silent
and flourishes                                    in a place that
each day                                          screams
as he is scared,                                  what’s right.
for this trauma,                                  A boy whose
for his pain.                                     Self
                                                  is brittle,
He’s had something                                foundations forced
stolen                                            to rot.
As the world
his identity unfolds
to spite the progress
he is taught.

I look out to the wharf, and stare at Mum‟s Moreton Bay Fig.
        “How am I supposed to do this without you?”
        My plea sinks into the wharf‟s dark wood. Left unanswered. I fold the paper and
slam it inside the box. Everything falls, splattered across the deck. I rush to grab the ring
before it falls between the planks. I follow the photo, jumping through the cracks. I make
sure it‟s in my hands. The poem stays at my feet. Mum‟s words never leave me. I start
again, and reposition them back in the box. This time I hold the box tightly. An image on
the floor blows, forced by the wind. It‟s Milika, dragged further and further away from
my feet. He disappears into the distant walkway, alone. I run along the wood, clenching

my grasp on the box.

       each day
       as he is scared,
       for this trauma,
       for his pain.

       The wind stops. Milika‟s image lies below a white sign:
                                  Boodyeri Kameru
                                 Gumul cowarna nula
       Eora men, ochre painted bodies welcome crowds with deep voices and inspired
melodies. Their sounds drown my thoughts. It is the Millers Point Festival, a celebration
of our community, our history. Mr. Andrews is here. The kids from Pottinger Street are
running around here too. The victims of the egg attack make their way into the pier,
smiling. Mum‟s passion, the home of Cadigal people. Everyone is here, except us.

He stood there proud and shameless,
a gaunt figure dressed without lace.
An unfamiliar smile and smirk,
resented the familiar face.

Looking up to the stars, Milika was pinned to the earth. The sky‟s magnetism shivered;
dancing, claiming, overwhelming him. Just a little distance away, beside his own fire,
Milika looked to the logs of several Moreton Bay Figs.
        One Log.
        Two Logs.
        It was his routine. Day after day, for weeks and months he had destroyed the cut
wood. His eyes swung out before him as if a force were drawing them across plains to the
dim edges of pale blue skies. The house stood beyond his thirsty bloodshot gaze. They
were all gone, his people. His identity.
        The wudjellas were asleep, assured of their safety by a locked door. Milika
escaped, to what he knew. Night forced him to the tree, his protector. He wanted Mumae.
He wanted Lorrpu and Worru. He wanted his uloo. Uncle couldn‟t guide him. There was
no wagtail. Instead Milika was to chop the timber of the Big Drop. The trees he played in
with his coordah, destroyed by his bare hands.
        Milika crouched over the fire. His arms went out to the blaze, brown and twisted
like minnerichi. Who would recognise Milika now? Warmed by the fire, Milika watched
it burn. Cracks and snaps of flying splinters in orange reminded him of his uloo
campfires. He looked about himself, remembering,
                                “Towera chinima poodinya,
                                Towera jinner mulbeena…”
        Faintly, the melody and words flowed.
        Milika was playing and singing near the Sapling, with Mumae, Lorrpu and
        Milika‟s eyes flashed in anger and loathing. With the instinct of an animal, Milika
grabbed the burning log, smashing his way into the house. His ferocity attacked wooden
frames. Flames sprayed onto the armchair, the throne of his oppressor. The logs crackled
and flamed, ripping through the linen.
        Hearing the screams of the wudjellas, Milika ran into the wild earth. Through a
single spark, Milika‟s rage ignited. In the night sky Milika moved through the emu-
bushes and minnerichi, releasing the words of his mother:
                               “Poodinyoober mulbeena…”
        Milika broke his silence. He stared at the blaze as it savaged the cottage. He was
protected by the Moreton Bay Fig and dark sky. The house, and screams of wudjellas
were covered by thick black smog. Moving away from the flames, Milika shouted to the

wagtail that warned, but never protected him,
                                 “Gubb, warrah, warrah!
                              Gnullarah dumbart, noychwa.
                              Noychwa, noychwa, noychwa.
                          Wetjala, Kie-e-ny gnullarah dumbart.
                              (“The White man is evil, evil!
                                    My people are dead.
                                     Dead, dead, dead.
                              The white man kill my people.
        Mumae. Lorrpu. Worru.
        He ripped the clothes from his body. Pure black flesh exposed. The yellow-
bricked cottage was now ashen black. He was no longer a traitor. He was now free from
the force of the white man. Milika was compelled to the blaze by his fury. Through the
black clouds he saw the wagtail. It opened its wings, flying to balance on the Moreton
Bay. There was no need for this warning.
        Secured by the roots of the tree, Milika remembered images of Lorrpu and Worru.
They chased after each other, throwing mud. Milika smiled, reunited with his people.
Mumae looked at him. Cooboo. The caring stare.
        Milika stayed with the soul survivors. It was Milika‟s altjira rama. His Dreaming.

Bloom: Saplings and clusters blossom during this stage of growth.

I remembered so well this foreign place,
disappointed images stained barren walls.
I tried to erase the unfamiliar pace
of footprints left on unmarked floors.

I leave the Festival early and run home. I grab the poem, run downstairs and get Jase.
There‟s one last thing left to do…
        “Christopher, where are you going? We‟re having birthday dinner…”
        “Taking Jase to the Festival Dad.”
        “What‟s that Chris?” Jase asked.
        “You‟ll see.”
We walk down to the wharf, together.
        “What does that mean?”
        Jase points to the sign that stopped Milika from escaping.
                                       Boodyeri Kameru
                                     Gumul cowarna nula
        Jase and I are welcomed by thin white letters painted on dark mahogany. I point
to the English translation.
                                    “G‟day and come in!”
        The theatre company along the wharf side is lit, crowds of people surround the
entrance. The Cadigal people dance and sing. With the rich colours of ochre, a new shade
of brown is illuminated. The music weaves through the crowd like tapestries of light. Jase
laughs at the thin belts pieced together by kangaroo skins.
        I tell him to stop. I know it is up to me to educate him now.
        As we move through the stalls, people are silenced. The Cadigal people have a
story to tell, traditions to keep. I am connected to them through Mum. Jase approaches
the kids from Pottinger Street. They welcome him. Mr. Andrews smiles at me as I walk
in, pointing to Jase who is trying to play a Didgeridoo.
        When Mum worked for the Council, she collected images of the Eora tribes. They
were always in the Festival. I knew which ones were hers.
        Mum‟s work is all I know. I want Jason to stay with me so that I can share this
with someone. The walls are covered in images of black and white. People who once
called Millers Point home, and those who still do. I know which ones are hers.
        Passing the photos makes me nervous. I bear the legacy of these people. I share
their home. At the end of the wall is a single frame. I walk towards it. I stare at the eyes
of a boy. I see him. Milika.

Snag: The dead wood stands.

To be a yura, you lived by your culture. You respected your tradition. You followed your
        Milika climbed the Moreton Bay Fig as the wudjellas ran outside. He remembered
everything that once mattered to him. Using his feet, he wrapped around the tree,
climbing closer and closer towards the wagtail. Images of a past not so long gone flashed
through his mind: dances, hunting, his bucklegarro. The fire before him had fallen into
ashes, blackened logs lay without spark.
                       “Naminma. Ngawiya. Ngubadi. Ngyinawari.”
                              Reveal. Share. Respect. Protect.
        The remnants of a home, newly built on stolen land. The sandstone bricks did not
burn. Their foundation was too strong for any weapon of his kind. Milika could not stop
the wudjellas. His body balanced him against the Moreton Bay‟s trunk. He did not know
of his future. But he was not scared. The Moreton Bay would protect him, and the wagtail
would warn him. Milika was not alone.
                                   Yura Bayagool Eora.
                                A man from the Eora Tribe.

Log: The dead branches fall.

I know he understands,
how much I miss her smile.
I walked away refusing to stay,
my dignity on trial.

I pull Jase from the festival. We follow the pier to the sea. I know he wants to be with
the other kids, but I need him here. I need his security.
         Holding Jase‟s hand, I remember the tightness of Mum‟s grip.
         I thought she would never let go.
         The Moreton Bay stares at me, as it did when she introduced it to me. As I watch
the water with Jase, memories of her emphatic hand movements keep the tree alive. I
remember her story.
          Milika is covered by the tree‟s foliage. His freedom glows through the darkness,
as he climbs higher and higher. He is secure. Milika makes me feel secure.
         I grab the poem from my pocket. The words of a lost boy. His story. I tear it and
pass it to Jase. Together we throw it in the harbour, and watch as it floats through the
         Giving back. Not giving in to the world. Just as Mum would have wanted.
         She is here with me.

We arrive home. Jase walks towards the kitchen. I follow the staircase spiralling towards
my room.
       Under the pillow on my bed is Dad‟s present. A single photo: Dad, Mum and my
childhood. We are standing in the Big Drop, a secret land within a landmark. My hands
are dark brown, flecks of mud dripping over my clothing. Alongside the photograph there
is a small white envelope. I wonder what words he has for me this year. His hugs once
comforted me. But now I want him to see me.

                                   ‘My Christopher’

This isn‟t Dad‟s handwriting. This is hers. As I open it I am exposed.

I’m so sorry I couldn’t be here for your sixteenth birthday, my fine young
man. I know so many things would have changed by now, including you.
But I also know things will get easier as time goes on. I will always be
proud of you. You’re going to do great things in this world.

Love Mum.

Christopher followed the staircase down towards his family. He sat at the kitchen table,
ready to blow out the candles. His father looked beyond their glow, and mouthed the
words, “I‟m proud of you”.

Night gaped through Millers Point, with an empty wharf waving to repressed memories.

On a rain-drenched wharf, through teary eyes,
the light that cascaded, no longer his demise.
I still care for the tears he cried,
droplets distorted through a web of lies.

Debris: The Moreton Bay Fig falls, its seeds are embedded within the soil.

Millers Point: noun 2 The Barangaroo (Bar-ang-gah-roo) development project is
currently taking place on twenty-two hectares of land within the inner-city suburb.


Altjira rama: To envisage the eternal, or Dreaming.
Badgee:       Angry or sulky.
Bucklgarro: A man-making ceremony through the process of circumcision.
Buckunma: You fellas.
Cooboo:       A baby or child.
Coordah:      Brother(s).
Eeh-mm:       Yes.
Gumul cowarna nula:          Welcome.
Mumae:        A mother.
Minnerichi: Shrubs with hardwood.
Nabi:         You, fella.
Naminma: To reveal.
Narlu:        A person in danger or an evil spirit.
Ngawiya:      To share.
Ngubadi:      To respect.
Ngyinawari: To protect.
Nyathung: A grandfather.
Tani Wali: Come on, Come on.
Uloo:         A tribe of Cadigal people.
Wallabee:     A young man.
Yienda:       You!
Yukki:        An exclamation of surprise or fear.
Yura:         A man or men.
Wudjella(s): Whiteman or whitemen.
Wytaliba:     The core of the fire as it burns out.


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