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Freddy North was a fat old ex-boxer who made his skinny little nephew dress him. They stood out there in the purple dawn of the Twin Rivers, the boy patiently doing up Fred’s braces, his shirt buttons and fly. Freddy had met my father in a pub at Moree and had now turned up at the property nine months later, with his ragged history of world titles inside an old beaten up book. Visitors always made me weary, although I liked the boy. He was wild and still innocent, a young fox. Later on in the day I was feeling lazy and fed up with the world. I lay on my back on my bed inside on the homestead. I was daydreaming about window louvers and why I felt nostalgic for the dozens of pieces of thick glass, that partially obscured the world beyond. The boy sat on my father’s old hospital bed colouring in books. Freddy and dad were down the Culgoa River fishing with the dogs. I said to the boy that people were rooted. I said that they were all guilty of something. I said, ‘They’re guilty! Hang the bastards!’ All young boys love a good strong session of swearing. It was like a first cigarette behind the toilet block. Bastards! The boy shrieked with laughter and cherished the words for later on, so that he repeated them to himself constantly, all day and often.
During the day the boy kept hanging around, so I thought he must have been lonely. I said, ‘where’s your mum?’ ‘Don’t know.’ ‘Got any friends?’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘Where?’ ‘At school.’ But it was the summer school holidays, the beginning of long drought and tick infestations and the stray wool blew through the rafters of the old shearing shed, reminding us both that there were no friends around here. A solitary barn owl was disturbed by our voices, lifting dust and time. Its white facial disc hurtling through the air by the ancient roof top in a flurry of disturbed feathers. The scene startled. Suddenly it said, ‘it’s time to move into time from timelessness.’ I realised that we had been timeless like very hard stones. So we waited for the afternoon thunderclouds to build their purple heads in the sky from the south and roll in like waves from the surf. There was something about the New South Wales, that always reminded one of the sea or the hollowness of a shell abandoned to wind. The sky changed moods and we waited for those changes and noted them enthusiastically. It was important for us to know that time for something out here still existed.
I read English poetry whilst dad’s two dogs, one named ‘Ned’ and the other named ‘Kelly,’ rushed off after a scraggily grey rabbit. The boy played in a galvanised iron pipe, flicking off flies that stuck to legs, arms and back and kicking at loose stones. Some of the stones shot along the ground and simply relocated. Other larger ones were wedged in the soil appearing on the surface like shark’s fins. Either way they seemed to like it where they were and didn’t go far. When the boy kicked the bigger ones he stubbed his toe in the tip of his boots. He didn’t stop at one lesson of pain. He was silent but disturbed each time it happened, but he kept on kicking, until I said, ‘that stone is guilty of murder.’ He waited for the bad phrase. He’d probably dob on me, but I didn’t care. ‘It’s a bastard out here. Real mother fucker weather. Life’s a bitch and then ya die!’ He agreed by shrieking. At least it distracted him enough, so that he stopped hurting his toes on the fucking wedged in stones. Those stones would still be here to see our great grandchildren’s funeral procession. And as for the flies…there were a lot of fucking flies around that didn’t seem to mind whether the sheep shit out on Twin Rivers was a hundred years old or not.
Their persistence was better than flies or the eggs of the flies. It was more like ours or anybody else who lived out here. It was all about bringing things back to life. Old yellow bones and green medicine bottles brought a new meaning to the word abundance. I read some poetry in this big book of English literature that frightened me. It said, ‘Virgins make haste.’ There was something about the attractive women of the world having a lot of sex whilst you were young, because when you get old and shriveled, no-ones gonna want to fuck you then. What the poet didn’t know was how much he actually idolised his own cock. And that when women laughed around him, that didn’t actually mean they were horny. Rather they laughed at his cock and his poetry. I thought I might write a poem about men exploring their own cocks as much as the universe and still at the end of it all, finding nothing. I looked down at the front of my body and at my cunt and thought, nobody loves this land. That afternoon I stared through lignum on the way to the boundary fence for a long time. I thought, then again, maybe someone did love it once and they fucked it to death. I thought that I still looked okay at eighteen, but my life was all about not attracting attention to myself, whilst wanting it at the same time. Mainly because when I got it I didn’t know what to do with it. Really I should have been doing the opposite thing. I shouldn’t have given a damn whether anyone was attentive towards me or not and I shouldn’t be wanting anything other than what I could provide for myself.
My trouble was I hadn’t developed enough prickles to guard my precious inland. The land across Australia was covered by a billion varieties of spikes. The Mulla Mulla over in Western Australia looking like lime green powder puffs spiked anything that bled, until that resistant grass finally drove it away. That endless land had been patiently driving anything away from its horizons for thousands of years. Maybe it had been baked so hard, that it had developed a methodology in order to try and drive the sun away. Perhaps it drives the rain away as well with its harsh surfaces so that rivulets, creeks and dirty great brown floods that rushed in all directions into different towns, cities and states went on the edge of madness, with nowhere to settle into and nowhere to go. They had nowhere to go now that the roots of the water thirsting red gums were gone. Anyone wanting to get close to this land was in for a tough battle. I was gradually learning from it, my bones alive to its teaching. My brown body and thick black hair displayed for no one but skinks, husks of bugs and generations of spiders out in the old bush shower. One spider always existed to scamper over something, yet more than often there were the merest hints of spiders that had blown away long ago or that had stuck onto the driftwood of the old bush shower or the rusty hinges of old creaking gates that hollered in a big wind.
I wrote in my notepad, ‘the driftwood of time.’ It was full of the words that no-one would read. I wrote out here with the boy and the dogs and took some photographs of all of us on dad’s old insta-matic. The prints came out like clean white linen that were gradually covered with red dust. The boy noted the magic of the time lapse and the steady appearance of our past from only seconds before. Whilst the dogs simply whimpered and wanted a drink of water after only an hour. I was accepted along with my magic equipment and the scraggily trio were company enough. I didn’t need to speak to no-one else and there was no-one to judge me. Once we got thirsty enough we walked back to the homestead. We didn’t wanna go to the river because the cows had been bathing in it. The ground was so hot that it burnt us up through our sandals. I wondered whether the heat was generating from the sun or the molten core itself. At any rate we felt like ants scrambling along a huge surface, our bodies mainly water and on the verge of drying up. We got back to dad and Freddy North, who was always on the look out for potential husbands (or fuckers) on my behalf. Dad was a bit tiddly on Coppers. He said, ‘There’s a few shearers in town. You might like to meet them. They’re nice boys from up the Barrigun Qantambone way.’ I didn’t want to meet ‘the boys’, even though I was lonely. For now I knew that they would only judge me or want to fuck me. And what did they have to offer really? I just wanted the boy and the two dogs for company, some poetry and soft white drugs would have been okay. I was seeing all the clouds turning into powder.
The boy who was an insect on the surface of this country and as papery as a corn husk gone to flower, was also being hurt and didn’t know how to grow his first spiky cover. He had the abused and beaten up look all about him, just like his Uncle Freddy but more defeated, as though he was saying, ‘are you gonna kick me too?’ Unfortunately, most would do just that to a rotten little soul who was begging for it. Many adults had had their moments of weakness on the poor boy, it seemed. He sometimes was a brat and then he was pathetic. He was no world champion. He was the champ of nothing. But brats were the best energised kids in the world and the pathetic were simply tired and haunted. I don’t particularly like pathetic people either. They make me feel uncomfortable. But I ignored that part of him and let it go. I just treated him like he was a boy and that I was glad of a boy’s presence. Each afternoon when the thunderstorms built up, he tried to express things to me. I think that it was pain and sorrow that he wanted to express. That always came out before joy and peace. It was as if the body was trying to release it first. Like it was carrying too much weight that it wished to unload. Joy was a lot lighter to carry than sorrow. Joy rested in the heart like a thin cloud, whereas old sorrow was a bag of stone. I listened to the boy but the pain was trapped inside him. Often his small attempts at noises were as inaudible a split of lightning in a dry branch. If you want to find the centres of the storms inside lonely little boys, you had to look past the bruised knees and into the bruised eyes, and it is there that you will find the bruised heart hiding.
‘I’m bored, he said, I want to go back to school.’ He may have been bored as well, but his eyes were saying to me, ‘there are a lot of bad people in the world, who are a lot bigger than me and I’m being hurt by them.’ He kicked a rock and when the rock was gone, he stuck the tip of his shoe into the ground and began to dig, what I thought, might be his own grave. He was little and skinny and it wouldn’t take much shuffling of dirt to bury a boy of that size out here. Besides who would really miss him anyhow, except perhaps old Freddy’s shirt and trouser buttons, who might miss his frail brown fingers on them. The lost boy needed confirmation of his view of the world as he saw it as being so far and I was prepared to give it to him. Why should we treat children who’ve been through more than most adults as unknowing and dumb? So in knowing his attempts to release and then protect himself from future pain, I spoke to his wildness, and to his actions that without proper instruction simply disipated their rage all at once and everywhere. And since he wasn’t able to express himself, I said the words for his heart and hoped that they might bring it some relief. For the boy was merely a shadow on some days, with all the world’s energy required to carry his angry little heart around, the oversized raging heart that must have weighed a tonne. I said, ’Guilty! They’re guilty. It’s not you. You’re innocent. They’re guilty.’ I took a bottle and smashed it on to a fence post. ‘Guilty! Guilty! Hang the bastards!’
It was as if the very land itself had judged the invaders and a sudden weightlessness was felt all around us. The worn out sheep grazing property of Twin Rivers and the two brown rivers that entwined through its lignum covered back blocks like mating king browns were also glad that it had been communicated and glad that we had understood its thousands of miles of insects and prickles, not only the skeletons that were being relentlessly ground into the red soil, but that we had understood its role in part of the makeup of animals and plants and all of our lives, especially when we lived so close to it out here or even when we visited. For a moment the boy looked as if he had been struck by the hot wind and winded by it, and that all the world before him became a revelation. This excited him so that he ran all around the property kicking up the old fleece into greasy cream tinged clouds that built upon themselves. I was really believing in this moment with him. We lived above it all quite suddenly. We were more than even flight, than the magpies and the butcher birds. It sounded like the burrs that stuck into his tough little heels made him ‘shriek happy’ and shriek with joy. Dad later said, ‘don’t teach the kid to swear, Lisa.’ ‘He likes saying it,’ I said. The boy whizzed around the side of the house creating his own breeze, ‘Hang the bastards! Dad spat out his sugary tea trying to hold his bottom mouth plate in and not to laugh at the same time. ‘He’ll fucking get a hiding off Fred North for saying that,’ which he did the next day.
I was looking outside myself for something. Whatever that something was seemed to be a long long way away. My fear was that it would take me all my life to find it. I was a walking masterpiece of mutual paranoia that I shared with the homestead and all its hornets and bats. Sooner or later we would all be eaten by something. All our lives the wariness and the forgetting that it was about to happen. My time of observation and caring on my better days, was shorter than the youngest trees and longer than the oldest cocoon. Like the homestead I was my own cosy structure trying for stillness. The only thing that sheltered the house from the immense outback was a flimsy backyard, bordered by a broken down wire fence, an warped hill’s hoist and a tough iron bark. One day the emus near on came in past the rigid old tree and once there were three hundred red scrubbers like rich fat weeds up from the dry ground. They came into my life with damp ochre fur on the edge of flood. The Twin Rivers house was built on the higher ground and prone to winter visitors once the big rains started up. I stood at the boundary fence and looked at the sun that had already at 3pm. I started to feel edgy. However you look at it, there is a long way to walk in the New South Wales outback, in order to find something. You had to walk as far as the crow flew and how could anyone know how far that was, unless a zoology department stuck a transmitter to the underside of its belly, the signals bleeping away, the crows mind well ahead of its flight, where we couldn’t hope to follow it, with our cumbersome equipment and unfunded papers and statistics.
In order to find something in relation to distance, you had to travel to the ‘back of beyond’ in the outback. Beyond something was a very long way away. The back of beyond was even further than imagining. It was a place where the imagination couldn’t help us. We simply had to arrive there or be stopped eventually by the ocean, the continent being an island. The search seemed hopeless in some respects. It was as though I had dropped a small possession out there somewhere. The frustrating thing and perhaps the thing that keep the search alive, was that I knew that this jewel sat on the surface, and that if only I could scan that land more thoroughly with the eye of a black cockatoo, a black kite or a wedgetail eagle, then I would come across it shining out there in the dust and spikes. But the distances were harsh and immense, and to walk towards distance is to be consumed by distance. Some distances out here matched the inner distance of the mind. The distances out here could promise you moisture and kill you with dryness in the same breath. Messages were often confused and vague at best, and there was a lot of loneliness between those distances. Loneliness that talked to itself about all who were lost, as it cast out its gigantic free falling nets in order to catch the company, when all it really required was space.
Whatever I was looking for was a long way away and beyond that. My fear was that it was pointless and that I was endlessly chasing a lengthening shadow, and that it was simply like a human being trying to walk towards the sun as it was setting in order to prolong the day. How could we made the day last forever? It was like having those thoughts as a child, as your father was driving the old holden west towards his outback home, you thought, I wonder if we can reach the sun before it sets? How can we hope to out race the day and why would we want to? Restless children might ask, ‘are we there yet?’ from the tired and cranky depths of the backseat, but what they really mean to say is, ‘will we reach the sun before it sets?’ and ‘will we end up in darkness?’ My greatest dream is that we will all reach the sun before it sets, and that we’ll all stand together with tangerine coloured skin before that fiery orb that has been finally stilled and remains in a position. We will be shadowy marsupials who have travelled great distances in the form of human beings. There will be something to do with the combination of light and the brilliance of our discovery that will lead me to say, ‘all desires have been fulfilled and all fears have been dispelled.’ But for that to happen the day would have to stand still and our hearts would have to race so far ahead of themselves that they would be consumed by fire.
But as it was turning out, the sun set every day at Twin Rivers, leaving me in darkness and alone, either in the company of others or by myself, it was much the same. Each time that sun set the disappointment set in me. It fell down like the sun would, but it felt more like a steel sinker than a fiery orb. It appeared to rest at the bottom of my soul like the dirty compacted layers of big river sediment, so that each time the day ended, this horizontal disappointment had settled inside me. The sun was burning a gorge of pain straight through the centre of my heart and I was torn and ravaged terrain. All young women are old landscapes and now the boy must become one too. The brighter vein amongst these layers was our simple fear. With these layers of disappointment I began to lose hope. I spent my days out at Twin Rivers in the hot sun, clearing the caught tumbleweed and spinifex grass from the yard and bashing in corrugated tin with a mallet. I spent time shifting driftwood into piles that were strewn and ant-eaten and wind tunneled across the backyard. I spent my time clearing that yard of big balls of dry grass that had lodged in it and carpets of spiky grass that appeared to float across the surface of the red clay. The amphetamine had worn off and I was pissed off. Dad stayed inside where it was cooler. Whilst I lived my days out there thinking beyond myself. I was trying to torture the sun, and spent many long hours smashing those layers apart.
It was as though a dull grey flood was oozing through my mind even though it was mid summer and there had been no sign of rain for months. I tried hard to ease myself down off duromine, by clearing all the bush from the backyard. The fact was I had left school with no job and was pretty fucked up all round. But the boy had his own set of bigger problems. Later that day I heard him around the back of the old shed speaking the prized words in softer tones, ‘Guilty! Guilty! Hang the bastards!’ as if for the first time accusing and knowing of wrong-doings. After each accusation a shriek crossed between laughter and a squeal followed, as if let out of his chest like a cockatoo that had escaped. Once the shrieking started very early in the morning when he was doing the ex-boxers trousers up, and he was knocked to the ground. But Timothy just couldn’t stop shrieking, even as he was kicked along the dirt, something had been unleashed. I heard a bone snap and then the loudest shriek like a whip-crack and I never saw him again after that. His ex-boxer Uncle drove away and I assume the boy was in bed inside the van. When dad and I saw the old truck knife jacking the caravan on its way to the property gate and heading towards Queensland, we knew that the boy was a champion at last, and that we wouldn’t interfere with other people’s kids. I often wondered if old Freddy took him to a hospital, and if he hadn’t just dumped him somewhere out in the scrub. As I often thought I heard the voices of property children coming towards me on the wind from a long way off.
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