Sorry Business

Image from Slideshare

Image from Slideshare

“To weep is to make less the depth of grief.” ~ William Shakespeare

The next installment of my Kimberley Story

I cannot tell you how I knew that Little Aunty had passed away. I do not know how the Aboriginal stockman knew it either. But here we were, sitting in the front of his vehicle, driving back to the community Little Aunty had called home. Not a word passed between us. He did not look at me at all.

When we arrived in the dusty run-down town, the stockman pulled up out the front of a modest house. I could hear wailing. “You go inside,” he said over the rumble of the V8 engine, still not looking at me. I got out, and before I could say anything he drove off, leaving me no choice.

My heart was in my mouth. What had possessed me to come? I had little money, and no way home.

My feet seemed to walk themselves through the front gate and up onto the veranda. As I stood awkwardly at the door a young girl greeted me. “Aunty bin waitin’ for you,” she said shyly, and then she took my hand and led me into the lounge.

It was filled with women of all ages, most of them crying and some of them wailing. I didn’t belong there. All I wanted to do was turn around and run.

But then Aunty stepped forward and wrapped me in a big hug. I was overcome with emotion and burst into tears. She just held me and let me cry.

When I was done she took me into the kitchen where more women were gathered, making a mountain of food. It was noisy in there. People moved out of our way. Someone gave me a mug of sweet tea and a jam sandwich. Someone else pressed me into a chair. Aunty sat beside me.

“How you know?” Aunty finally said. She wasn’t looking at me either. Everyone was looking down, so that’s what I did too. Eye contact seemed wrong, somehow.

I felt so awkward. “There was this little bird,” I started. The room went quiet, and I stopped, embarrassed.

“Go on,” Aunty said.

“I came out of the dining room one day, a couple of weeks ago, and there it was, darting about and singing. When I walked back to my office it followed me.”

“What kind of bird?” another lady asked, the one who had given me the sandwich.

“I don’t know,” I murmured. I thought I had said something wrong.  The energy in the room had changed, and intensified, as if they were waiting for something.

“It had a stand-up kind of tail,” I offered. Still the room was quiet. “About this big.” I indicated with my hands; a tiny bird, a bird I could cup between my palms. “It hopped, and darted and it made a click-click-clicking sound. It seemed happy to see me.” And then I remembered something else. “The tail was blue, and the body of the bird was the colour of my hair. It had a patch like the colour of the red dirt outside around its eyes.”

Image from

Image from

“It came every day. One day it flew right into my room and sat on the end of the bed. When it didn’t come yesterday I was worried about it, and then I was very sad.”

Aunty put her hand on my arm, and I knew I should stop talking. One by one the other Aboriginal ladies in the kitchen went back to what they were doing. In the front room they kept on wailing and crying, and more people seemed to be arriving.

When I finished my food, Aunty indicated that I should stand, and we went out into the back yard alone. The air was thick with humidity, and it smelled of the ocean.

“What else?” she said.

“I heard the crying in my head, and I became sadder and sadder but I didn’t know why. And then when I went to bed, I went flying in my dreams. I could hear the thoughts of the animals and the trees, and I could see all these little lights below me. I came here, to this place I think. But I don’t remember what happened after that. When I woke up this morning I just knew.”

Aunty nodded her head, and absently dragged one toe through the dirt, making a pattern of wavy lines and circles.

“Dat her spirit, come visit you,” she said finally. “I have to tell you these things. She get in her bird form. Dat her totem. Taboo for you to talk about, okay?”

“Okay,” I echoed.

“So she come visit and check on you. That little bird visit, make sure you come back here to this place. Make you welcome here.”

I was crying again. “Little…” But I couldn’t finish because Aunty shot out a hand and pinched my arm.

“Don’t say her name. No good to say that now she’s passed. Don’t say her name no more. And don’t lift your face to the family members til this Sorry Business all finished. We gonna go soon, leave this house all of our mob, and go to this other place. You come with us. Some important things for you to see. Just us women.”

“For the funeral?” I asked.

“No. Plenty people still gotta come here yet. Lots of people coming from far, far away before we can have that funeral. But still we have work to do. You join us now.” Aunty’s voice was firm. It didn’t sound like a request.

“Are you sure?”

“Humphh!” the old lady snorted. “Sure? Girlie, you don’t understand. You dat ting. We gotta make dat happen right.”

I had no idea what she meant. “Okay,” I said with more confidence that I felt. “Thank you.”

Aunty patted my back fondly. “Good girl. I knew you was gonna be true. Gotta learn you plenty now. Better get started. Welcome you to Country. Come on. Let’s get dem others.”

She led me back into the house.


‘Unggud Snakes,’ acrylic on canvas, 2007 by Gabriella Dolby and Gordon Barunga. Collection Trans Remote Assistance. Photo Nigel Gaunt, Red Dirt Photography.

To be continued…

Little Bird

“I am not a teacher, but an awakener.” 
~ Robert Frost

The next installment of my Kimberley Story

Auntie, the old barefoot Aboriginal Elder in her faded pink dress, had turned up in my dream before she ever turned up in my waking hours.

And when we finally met she promised me that she would take me flying again. In turn I had promised her that I would visit her in her country – the land to the north of us.

But I never went.

And she never came back to my dreams. Instead she sent others to the Station to check on my progress. Little Auntie and Grandmother, two other Aboriginal Elders came to visit me. I fed them sweet tea and cake. They helped me to feel the connection to my ancestors, and they awakened the energy in my hands.

Which was fine. But they went home, life went on, and I was still stuck in this agonising limbo of spiritual awakening where I felt less like my old self each day, and more and more a stranger in my own skin. I had not a single soul with whom to share my journey. No benchmarks for what was normal, no-one to ask for help or to help me understand what was going on as my psychic skills lurched from one level to another.

Image from

Image from

I was struggling, out there on my million acre cattle property in the remote Australian Outback. I was desolate with loneliness, and the strangest sadness. No matter how hard I worked, no matter how I filled my days, there was an emptiness inside me that nothing seemed to fill.

My nights were crowded with crazy dreams, snippets of things I knew I should understand, things I DID understand in the dream state, but that left me bereft and confused each time I woke.

I began to withdraw from the handful of people I lived and worked with, and spent my spare time gazing out over the river or the flats. Each night I watched the fire, went for walks to count shooting stars, and waited for my owls to visit.

And then one day a little bird turned up. It was a tiny bird; a type of wren with an upright blue tail, a duff coloured crown and tiny splashes of chestnut around the eyes. I had never seen another bird like it.

It flitted from branch to branch outside the dining room, and when I walked back to my office after lunch it followed me to the door, chirruping and singing and click-click-clicking away.

It was there again in the afternoon. And somehow when I saw that little bird, I felt less alone.

The little bird followed me for two weeks. It even flew into my quarters one morning and sat on the railing at the end of my bed, all bright-eyed energy and curiosity.

That tiny bird came to mean something special to me, and I looked for it every day.

So, of course on the morning that it did not turn up I worried. Where had it gone? Was it okay?

As the day progressed I became more anxious. Perhaps you could even say I felt depressed. And then, in my head, I began to hear wailing.

At first one voice, this high keening sorrowful sound. It was so real that I actually looked to see where it was coming from. But I was all alone in my office, with the hum of the air-conditioner. Outside in the dry heat I could hear the helicopter, braying cattle, a motor bike, the sound of banging in the workshop and of mens’ voices. I could still hear the wailing, but I couldn’t tell you what direction the sound came from.


I really thought I might be going mad.

By nightfall I could hear more voices, all keening and wailing in the most melancholy of manners. No one else could hear anything.

I was overcome with irrational sadness. So sad that I couldn’t face dinner. So sad that I couldn’t face people. I went down to the river with my dog, and scuttled off to bed as soon as it was dusk. I threw the verandah doors wide to catch the breeze, had a shower and put my nightdress on and hopped into bed, longing for sleep to come quickly and end my day.

I don’t remember falling asleep. But I do remember peeling back from my sleeping form and looking down on myself in the bed, hair fanned out around the pillow, and my long limbs all tangled in the sheets. I felt such love for my other self, lying down there on the bed. I saw my pain and confusion and loneliness as if they were the emotions of someone else, and I understood that it was all transitory, and attached to that life I was immersed in, rather than to my soul. This, THIS was my soul – this joyous free being floating near the ceiling of the room.

I soared out of the bedroom and began flying over the dark Kimberley landscape. I could feel the pulse of the earth. I could feel the flow of the river as she flowed over stones and sand. I could feel the fishes swimming, and the crocodiles sliding from the banks into the water’s murky depths.

As I flew I could hear the breathing of the animals, and the thoughts of the trees. And like I was tuned in to some strange compass I kept flying northwards.

North to Auntie’s country.

I could still hear the wailing, but now it sounded like silver light rippling along the dark face of the earth. I could hear the individual voices, I could hear the ancestors’ voices contained in the voices of their children’s children. It was a song as old as time, a linking song that ties our souls to all that ever was.

It was the saddest lament. It was a song of goodbye, a release of pain. It was a staircase made of sound.

The little sparks of souls illuminated the night. I could see every one, lighting up the darkness like the nightscape of a city.

Orbs of light by sadman2k

Orbs of light by sadman2k

Through the soft air I flew. By myself, but connected to everything.

When I woke up back in my own bed my face was streaked with tears. My hair smelled of fragrant smoke. I hastily packed a bag, and scrawled a note.

It was just on dawn. I crept out of my room and went over to the dining room, bag slung over my shoulder.

The Aboriginal Stockman was squatting on his haunches just outside the door, mug of coffee in his hand, a thin home-made rollie cigarette dangling from his lips.

“You ready?” he grunted.

I nodded.

He flung the reminder of his drink into the garden, and placed the mug on a table.

Wordlessly we walked back to his ute.

He didn’t say it. I didn’t say it.

But we both knew.

Little Auntie was dead. We needed to go home.

Munja Wandjina 1Sister, sister, watch over me. Little Auntie in the night sky…