The white boy strips his European clothes, leaving buttoned shirt and trousers carelessly tossed upon the bank and follows suit. He's ginger in his attempt, clumsy by comparison. Crawls on all fours along the bending bough and loses grip. His body twists as he flails and falls into the shallows landing on his back and muddy waters enclose his rag doll body. He doesn't surface. Only moments pass before it's clear something's awry. The black posse scramble splash and dive. They do not know his name but shout, "Boy, boy!" their cries falling on waterlogged ears, he cannot be retrieved. "He's with Baiami now," says Uncle. "Nothing more we can do." Such is their understanding of life's dangerous cycle, they retreat no worse for the encounter. Gulgil retrieves the crumpled shirt and trousers. Their pearl buttons will make a fine trophy of remembrance.
They gather all beneath her mottled protection. Her leaves falling like confetti in the warm westerly wind, a silent witness to their secrets as the last day comes. Initiates are prepared. Expert hands paint their bodies with red ochre and a belt of woven hair is tied around their waists. Men dance the stories of the Dreaming accompanied by didgeridoo and rhythm sticks while their charges sit and contemplate. Gulgil's adolescent body is tossed high into the air and he jumps the blazing fire. His circumcision is painful and he holds back the tears. Gritting teeth and clenching fist, he bears the pain of incision across his chest and the piercing of a small sharp bone through the septum in his nose. The Corroborree now over, initiation complete. He is a full grown man. It's time to rest as he leans against her imposing trunk and begins to doze.
Edward Crossan is settling in Bidjigal country. He has a son. A sweet and sickly red-haired boy and a wife of three years now in her third trimester. Granted land after serving 10 years for theft and being transported, he can never return home no matter how he yearns for Cavan's lush land and the cold wind at his back. This wide inhospitable place is reluctantly what he calls home. A makeshift cabin provides shelter and once a month the riverboat brings supplies from Parramatta. He grows corn and raises chickens and has been granted a milking cow and calf. The tools are inadequate, a blunt axe, a makeshift hoe but his vegetable garden is coming to life in the rich silt earth of the river flats. Aoife, his wife, has been given fabric and sews for the local landlord, enough to make a pittance for her family's needs. But she's tired and heavy in the heat. Energy sapped, she seeks the cool while Edward carries out women's work.
It's afternoon and water needs to be drawn as he meanders through the scrub. He's not impressed having to do women's work but in her current state, Aoife needs to rest. Two wooden buckets at his side, the red glow of sunset framing trees in black silhouette. A wallaby jumps the narrow trail before him, "I'll never get used to those things," he thinks, " . . and those black bastards eat the rodents." He's no friend of the black men who steal his chickens and walk across his holding. "The lowest form of life," he thinks, "Flat noses, broken teeth, they're animals to be shot," if only he had a gun. Upon reaching the lip of water, lapping on red mud, he bends towards the gently flowing tide and dips a bucket when he sees the drenched and broken boy. He races through the shallows to retrieve the teenage corpse and turns the soaked body faceward. Panic turns to grief. It is his son.
Naked and showing no signs of life the big man is distraught and cries. "How? How
did this happen? Where's the axe? His clothes? Who . . .?" The need to lay blame is overwhelming and seeing blackfellas across the river retreating above its bank, one wearing his son's shirt, he becomes resolute and Hell bent on revenge.
At the half way house between Parramatta and Windsor there is violence in the hearts of men. Settlers meet in outrage and confront the shady constabulary, themselves little more than rum-soaked thieves and vagabonds with a uniform and a gun.
Charles Tench has heard it all before, he's been in the colony too long and despite the smallpox doing its job with many, these blackfellas were a nuisance, a plague, a dangerous virus and needed to be eradicated as one does vermin. They're animals who abuse their women, threaten civilisation with their nakedness and heathen ways. More than an uncivilised nuisance. A black line must be drawn. Just as they had in Victoria, driven the pestilence over a cliff and severed their leader's heads as trophies. Now is the time to act, no judge nor jury. He would be the force of law and the angry band of men the jury. "Alright then," he firmly stands, swigs the dregs from his draught and strikes a defiant pose. He has piercing blue eyes with a meanness behind them, he likes his job. He likes the power, he likes the respect although he is far from a respectable man. Respectable men were not shipped to the colonies. Most of all he likes killing blackfellas and is partial to their women. White women will have nothing to do with him but rape isn't a crime, not when the 'Gin' deserves it.
"We'll form a line. As many volunteers as I can muster and 20 of my men. They're done for. Arm yourselves. We'll cull this vermin hoard - tonight!" This time 'aye aye' is barely audible amongst the jeers and upwardly pumping arms. Black blood is lusted after. Revenge is tasting sweet.
Reposed among the cover of dark beneath her sheltering canopy, the small band of aborigines rest around a fire. Kangaroo roasting, ungutted and intact, they tell stories while Gulgil dozes in his new clothes. It's quiet, too quiet. No cricket chirps, no breeze stirs her sheltering foliage but she sees them sneaking through the thicket. Belly down, faces charcoaled. She sees all hell break loose, as vengeful men rise to their feet, armed with all they have, hoes, knives, axes and a goodly quantity of hemp-hewn rope. At a disadvantage the hunting party is apprehended. A crack to split all cracks is sounded and sleeping birds hasten from the refuge of her leaves as Tench pulls the trigger. Uncle falls, punctured through his wide brow, eyes staring wildly at the encroaching foe he falls face down as blood that knows no race forms viscous pools around his body. The massacre is quick. The white posse frantic in their retribution. None feel shame, just vindication as man and boy are shot, each head taken, each naked body defiled except for one.
"Here's the bastard!" Sam Jurd takes the shaking boy by the scruff of his white man's shirt, "Crossan, I've got him. You do the deed man, it's your son's shirt this animal's wearing!" Crossan strides with renewed purpose and vigour, rope in hand, hurling one end above her strongest fork. Jurd ties the boy's hands behind his back and delights in the terrified expression on his face. Gulgil says nothing but his young, brave heart is fit to burst with panic. He no longer feels the pain of his initiation perforations. A makeshift noose is tied around his neck as the bloodlusted band form a circle. "Hang him, hang the bastard slow!" Crossan pulls the rope and lifts the boy inches from the ground. He smiles a wry smile as the boy begins his involuntary struggle, writhing and kicking, eyes popping from his head. He flails for minutes before the final jerk of rope elevates him feet above the ground and the sound of bone and ligament snapping is not heard by those below, now laughing at his auto erection and the urine streaming down his legs. A final twist, shudder and the rope is let go as Gulgil plummets to the ground limp and broken as the found freckled boy. The offending shirt removed, body kicked and broken, left to rot between the exposed roots of nature's silent witness. For trees have no tongues, just memories wound within their rings.
She sighs as the dawn breeze rustles through muted leaves and shards of bark shower his battered frame. One less to tell the tale, one fewer to pass on tradition but she'll remember until the end of time, the crime committed, the death of nature's innocent child.
Posted for The Tenth Daughter of Memory, River of Mnemosyne Challenge
Deep Sleep, Deep Space, Deep Shit