“Now you got your Story, your Spirit no longer lost. That Dreaming inside you make you understand who you are. That Story how you gonna walk this world.” ~ Auntie
The next installment of my Kimberley Story…
It was late in the afternoon. The shadows were long, the air had cooled and a light breeze had stirred, bringing with it scents of warm earth and the salt of the sea.
We were still sitting, these old Aboriginal women and I, around the embers of a camp fire. Auntie was right up close to me, and we were back in our bodies. No more flying. But she was still holding my hand in her strong gnarled ones. Auntie kept holding my hand but turned her body away from me.
She said something in language, and a proud elderly woman came and sat with us. Her hair was dead straight, and glossy black, with just a few white hairs showing through. I hadn’t paid much attention to her before now. She and Auntie had an earnest conversation in language, and another old woman soon came over to join them. They all talked back and forth, back and forth, while I sat there excluded. I didn’t care. I was dazed and exhausted.
I found a plastic bottle pressed into my other hand. A wide smile grinned down at me. “Drink some.” I did. It was Fanta, and the warm, sickly orange-flavoured liquid tasted like the most sacred and beautiful thing in the world.
“Dem Elder sisters not all from dis place. Not all speak same language. Dey talk around, talk around; dis tongue, dat tongue, old words, new words. Try find right fella guide for you. Big business for you today.” The woman with the Fanta had squatted down beside me, while the others were talking. She was younger, maybe in her thirties or forties, with coffee-coloured skin and curly hair bleached blonde on the ends.
“How many languages do you speak?” I asked her.
“Four. And English.” She grinned. “How ’bout you?”
I felt embarrassed. I spoke English, and had a smattering of German and Japanese from school. “Only English really,” I answered.
“Yeah,” she sighed. “You lost your languages too. Just like us. Dem old people die and they take language away. Lost to us living folks forever. Dem Grandmothers and old, old Grandmothers of yours, all dem Ancestors, speak only to you in the Spirit tongue now. Speak only in the Dreaming way.” She patted my shoulder kindly. “My name is Maggie. At least we got language together.”
Maggie sprang up from her squatting position. “Auntie is ready now.” She hurried back over to sit down in the circle.
One of the old woman retrieved a thick curled piece of bark from her bag, and placed some green leaves on it. She took a smoldering stick from the remains of the fire and added it to the leaves until it began to produce a thick white smoke. The bark bowl was then passed to Auntie.
Something else was passed to her. A large white feather.
Auntie used the feather to stir up the smoke, and while the smoke enveloped me she gently brushed the feather all over me, from the top of my head down to my toes. As she did she sang something under her breath. I became covered in goosebumps. I knew something important was happening.
Then, reverentially, she gave me the feather. As she pressed it into the palm of my hand my head was filled with images of the bird.
“Dis fella your totem,” she said. “Dat your sacred animal, come to guide your spirit. Remind you who you are.” Auntie chuckled and her eyes danced with light. “Dat fella whitey just like you. We give dis fella in honour to your Grandmothers and their grandmothers who kept that family voice even when men took them a long, long way from their own country. Dat why we took you home again just now. With dat flying business. Anchor that home energy back in. Restore your country in here.” She put a hand over my heart and I felt it – that connection to the places she had taken me.
All the women were smiling at me. Smiling with happiness and connection, and smiling with the joke that my feather was white, like me.
“White fella bird is dat messenger. Tell all the people. Tell the big stories. Talk, talk, talk. Always gonna have dem stories, stories people need to hear.”
“You gonna see dis fella everywhere. He not let you forget. Even pictures. Even on the TV. People talk to you about him. Spirit saying, you dat ting. Spirit not let you forget.”
Another feather was passed around the circle to Auntie.
Once again I was drenched in smoke and brushed all over with the red and black feather.
“Dis fella keep you company too. Remind you of your black sisters, up here in dis country. Even when you leave and go far, far from here, dese black fella birds and their yella-tailed cousins will find you. Sing to you and say ‘Remember, Remember,’ No way we let you forget. Dat story in you now. You belong part of our family now.”
“One day you live somewhere, you call dat country home. Smell like dis place. Earth. Sea. But make you happy again. We send all dem black fella birds remind you your promise. Remind you your story. Then you know it’s time. Time to be dat story. Live dat story in your heart. Live your true Dreaming.”
She pressed the other feather into my hand and I saw, not birds, but a lush green country, with tall pine trees and tropical lushness. I heard the mournful cry of the black cockatoos. Tears streamed down my cheeks.
Auntie kept talking, and her voice dropped to a whisper only I could hear. “Dat fella husband you got now, he finished. No good for you. End soon. End good for you, okay? Good for him too. Not be sad. Better man coming. Better for who you are now. You dat ting. Need man who understand.” She hugged me and stood up.
“Let’s go, sisters. Enough now. Tucker time!”
Brown hands reached down to me and hauled me up. We walked back into camp holding hands, bedraggled and dust stained, and as giggly as school girls.
To be continued…