A Hunting Dreamtime-Grievetime Ceremony (Published September 2021, Grieve Anthology, Hunter Writers Centre, Newcastle)
I remember looking forward to the camping trips to Mudgee with dad and two brothers. I was a fourteen-year-old ‘Bull’ as my step-dad affectionately tagged me. At the farm outside Narromine, I had busy dreams where I packed my camping bag with boots and polish, rifle and bullets, jeans and warm clothes, skinning knife and sharpening stone, and chocolate. The school holidays came, and I remember watching dad’s Holden V8 sedan bump along the dusty track, giving mum a big hug goodbye, checking my gear, and sitting in the youngest sibling seat for the long drive to a far-away hunting vacation.
The joy of country smells! The car window opened enough to let out dad’s cigarette smoke, but the wonderful eucalypt smell seeped-in as the day warmed. I loved the smell of a hot gun muzzle if shot a kangaroo in the dusk. Success meant the iron taste of warm ‘roo blood on my hands. The smell of a fresh skun animal was a mixture of cut fur, punctured stomach gas, scuffed-up dust, and boy hormone sweat. A good start to the trip, this ritual, as I salted and rolled-up the skin.
I gave no thoughts to that ritual as a young, unreflective boy. Only the twisting and turning dirt roads and many cattle grids occupied my bouncing bladder. I was excited to arrive at the rusty tin and weatherboard family house on the property outside Mudgee. I loved the dirt-dry squeal of drum brakes, the squeaking of my boots as I ran to open gates, the magpies calling out from the wire, the thumping pump of the car’s engine, the excited chatter of my brothers, and of Slim Dusty playing through the stereo cassette (ABBA came in later years).
To the relatives, a long hello was necessary before hunting talk—which creek to start at, the rabbit and wombat areas, the farms to avoid, and best places for setting a camp. After our gun choices, I practiced at least ten times this ritual-smell the barrel, click in golden bullets, slot in a magazine, open the bolt, cock the chamber, lift to shoulder, and sight test firing. I associate those times with positive energy and growth rather than with loss and grieving. Now, without any bull, I recall feeling the bush spirit and the spirituality of Aboriginal Country, and then I grieve for losing my naïve youth. There was the tired yarning by the fireside about who shot what and from how far. The beauty of twinkling stars through gum leaves. The sensuous sizzle of a rabbit being spit-roasted. The sticky goop of syrup and butter on hot damper. Luxuriously sleeping on fresh, shorn merino skin in the sheep shed. Dreaming with my Aboriginal ancestors about a bright future with a loving wife, sunshine, children, beach, and huzzahs. I take the happiness in the old hunting ritual to transform the trauma about my Aboriginal ancestors into a positive view of future Australia.
Surviving identity grief through resilience (Published September 2021, Grieve Anthology, Hunter Writers Centre, Newcastle)
(from a white skin First Nations Ngiyampaa Australian)
“Wish you were like the real blacks” whip-cracks Nan,
Gutted I spluttered “I’ll go for a full body black tattoo then!”
“Yeah” demeans the Elder “like dem territory guys”,
Her brown eyes spear my blue eyes,
My spirit bleeds.
“Those blacks have the reallll culture” romanticises she,
Blood-up in my face “Should I change my DNA?” in me,
“Yeah” jabs older MDMA brother “Take a shot of Dreamtime!”
His black skin-from quarter kin-is more valued than mine,
My soul splits.
One side is where fair people advance Australia,
The other side is for stolen Dreaming regalia,
“You are an f-en mistake!” slurs drunken mother,
A product of Nan’s choice of a white convict lover,
My toxic anti-matter mix.
Black lives matter and white skins shatter,
Aboriginal cultural purity and colonial culture poison,
Black power and white disempower,
Koori or gubba questions me a twisted rhyme,
Where my self is a thorny Songline.
“Behave like a real man!” glares Uncle Abuser,
Heat in my cheeks to him “how many rape kids have you, user!?”
Slap! Beer bottle shatter brings silence,
I watch blood relatives cringe in shamed conscience,
Initiating my bashed identity.
Buried is the grieving for my contorted spirit-soul-self-identity,
For I’m not authentic enough for anyone’s reality,
Not traditional, not a real black, not ceremonial, not speaking language, just NO(T)!
The thorns of knots prick bleed me with sounds of crack-lash-bash-shot-slap-tap-silence But I fight back-YES!-exorcising grief with resilience.