Wednesday, February 2, 2011

For Trees Have No Tongues - (Muse 0) (Part 1 of 2)

Here she stands once majestic, now gnarled and ancient in a changed landscape. Broad boughs now ache with age, creak and crack as as imported wisteria grows feral and strangles lifeblood from her native, sap-filled veins. No avian nests here where once cockatoos breached her summit.  No mammal clings to her limbs or nests in the crook of her branches. She has seen rebellion and romance, slaughter and suburbia. Yet she has no tongue to speak of what she's seen yet she remembers. As she begins her plunge into the ever-darkening shade, she recalls 300 lifetimes in the sun.

Year's ago her shade was cast over Bidjigal land. Country of the Dharug clan, birthright land, given by the great  Baiami.  Where black men knew the way of the earth and sustained its plenty. Until the invasion.

Since white man landed on misnomered 'Terra Nullius', there has been friction between Australis' natural guardians and the imperialist invaders. Smallpox denigrates their numbers and animosity grows as permanent dwellings are erected on ancient hunting grounds. Barriers built, both tangible and invisible. Country encircled and water diverted. Sacred meeting places defiled and access denied. The Dharug clan is scattered and their families Bidji, Mulgoa, Buarribee, Warmul and Turramurra separated by white settlement.

At 15 years old he's changing. Spindly limbs becoming sinewed and strong. Time to leave his mother's arms and the comfort of women. He is no longer welcome when there's secret women's business to attend to. This is his initiation into adulthood.  While he leaves the bosom of his mother, she wails and mourns the loss of her child but he'll return a man soon enough.

Gugil is guided into the woodland by his Elder, "Uncle". He's one of three initiates under the stewardship of clansmen. All on a a quest of learning. Soon he will emerge competent and confident a full-blown member of his thriving clan. “We know our land", the elder tells the boy, " We have a sacred duty to protect country.  A sacred duty to protect, our animals and landscape and totems.” The boy is learning, he’s two weeks into his initiation, his rite of passage.

He's taught how to respect the land. He’s told of plants, 'bush tucker ', the art of making medicine and how to identify the raw materials needed to survive. He can fashion utensils, make weapons, build a humpy shelter, although rarely needed, among the mighty Hawkesbury valley, where sandstone caves are ample enough and the white outline of his handprint on the golden seams, will lay testament to his existence.

He can hunt and skin a wallaby, kangaroo and possum. He can net a flying fox, blue crane and parrot. He can fish the flowing tide for mullet and yabbies.  He hunts and gathers always moving, always on walkabout. The sandstone of the river’s caverns providing refuge from the storm. Broad eucalypt canopies offer shade from the sun. He can predict the weather but not the impending storm, from which there is no shelter.

He learns to make fire and how to slash and burn. “Fire stick will open up your range,” says Uncle. “Emu and wallaby will come once the green shoots grow and we’ll be back in spring. Good hunting here, very good hunting.”  Uncle’s index finger traces the pattern of the initiate's first burn into the dust, “You burn around here Gulgil. Listen to the wind and make sure you have it at your back".  An ancient, atrophied arm points and bearded face look skyward. “You watch those blossoms on that tree, if they start to fall, you know the wind will change. The wind must come from here!” his arm traces s a wide arc to the northwest and the boy understands.

Gulgil gathers dry gum leaves and twists a stick between flat palms, its point at the crux of the tiny pile of eucalypt tinder.  He’s half kneeling to shade the smoldering embers from the breeze. Blowing gently, the tiny pyre ignites. More leaf litter added and life is breathed into flame. “You do it boy, this is part of your learning,” Uncle commands. “Here . .” points an outstretched arm, brandishing a white gum branchlet, “You light it. Walk round over to that big ghost gum then around the lemon myrtle over there! Paint with fire the way I showed you.” 

While proving his skill, firestick catching the undergrowth Gulgil catches a glimpse of something strange. A pale man, a lone man, with an axe felling gum saplings. He's flailing uselessly against the hardwood and on closer inspection, he is not as mature as Gulgil thought. He is a boy, about the same age. Red haired and freckled, skin white as a cockatoo. He whistles to draw the attention of the tiny band of burning warriors. The Coori group of men and boys stand tall, one foot resting on the inside of their knee, leaning on their spears with firesticks at the ready. The white boy stares in terror, frozen, too scared to run, fixated on the visage of his first encounter with an aborigine.

Gulgil drops his spear and flashes white between black lips. The other boy trembles and instinctively drops his axe. "Don't hurt me. Please don't hurt me!" He's paralysed with fear.

No words are needed, Gulgil smiles and pats the boy's shoulder. "He's alright, just a whitefella, just a kid like me. Funny lookin' but he's alright." Together with gesticulation and expression communicating intent, barriers are removed and fear gives way to an unusual understanding. He is a child without a playmate and Gulgil the first boy he's seen his age. What lad doesn't want to play with fire? Freckle is given a fire stick and joins in the burn.

When the flames subside all are exhausted and parched. "Swim?" says the Freckle, flapping like a frog with arms emulating the breast stroke. His weird animation understood by those who express the movement of animals in their dance, "Yes splash!" says Gulgil with adolescent understanding. Neither care about the significance of their meeting or its possible consequence. Both understand the gesture. Two boys, worlds apart swing carefree from overhanging boughs. She bends and allows them quarter to play. These are hard times and her supple limbs willingly become an adolescent's playground.

Posted for The Tenth Daughter of Memory River of Mnemosyne Challenge

Continuted at:

First Muse Part 2


  1. I'm liking this. Lots of competition this year.

    And lots of typos... cough, cough.

  2. Wow. I made my 0 as short as possible to leave me open to the coming muses. Perhaps that's wrong...who knows, I'm new to this. I love history, and legend, and culture and this piece totally rocked. Can't wait to read more.

  3. I love this! I relate to the friendship with "language barrier". Kids are kids! I'm anticipating the play-out of their relationship...

  4. I like this very much. Fascinating subject to me and the story of the boys leaves me curious "what next?".

    The title had me. In part it reminded me of a song I like for some reason.

  5. Back for the complete read-through.

  6. I do love a coming-of-age story... and the premise of children crossing worlds, it has spun me back to Jan Yoors work... he is a bit obscure, do you know him? -J