‘It no good Lumaluma! I won’t listen!’ Ninija puts her fingers into her ears so that she can’t hear Lumaluma’s whispering. ‘You can’t get me listen the way Ginger did. I too old. I too clever. I never leave the Lands like he did.’ Words are flushed into her ears. ‘And I woman, strong woman. I push away bottle you push to my lips. Away! I throw away needle like serpent fang to the ground. Stamp on it!’
She stamps on an imaginary syringe. Its metal and glass are unknown in the desert. Her voice is angry and her tongue bitter.
‘You whisper again with you silky white voice. You questions. You white-fella bossy with “ought” and “if I were you.” And you promises. Always you offer of money, greenbacks. I got better things listen to. You white ghost not belong Ninija Lands!’
She flexes one arm against the painted corrugations of the ‘dog box.’ This is what white-fella calls the housing provided for her people. Her other arm lolls. She is dressed-up in a pink taffeta dress donated by Lumaluma’s church-women do-gooders. It has been colour-washed orange by desert dust. Her large breasts and bloated stomach are loaded inside the synthetic fabric sizzling in the heat. Her thin legs emerge from a flouncy skirt impractical here. She looks down, hanging her head. Her flax hair is lank and roughly cut.
‘Look at the red dust of my Lands!’
She looks deep into the Earth. The flies constantly search for moisture from the corners of her dark eyes.
‘See it there between my black toes. I just keep on talking to that red powder until I can’t hear Lumaluma him whisper anymore.’
She cries black tears.
‘This my Land. I see it. Now I try hard hear it sing again. But you always fill my face, my sounds, Lumaluma! You always think you cleverest, you know-best!’
She fingers the hot metal. She makes her palms flat to match white-fella’s ‘flat’ and ‘straight.’ Then she shudders at this article provided by Lumaluma’s boss men, to ‘protec,’ to ‘give shelter.’
‘Why this holding me up Lumaluma? You not ask permission!’ The people in the Lands are never angry. Only the Dreaming Heroes, the mythological beings who helped create everything on Father Earth’s skin, have that right. Ninija and her people are angry only when there is tribal war. But since white- fella barged in, Ninija and the people are angry every day.
As she speaks, Ninija tugs at the alien fabric of her frock. She is obliged to wear it by white-fella to cover her nakedness.
‘If dog-box not here, Ninija will lean one of her rocks she share with Dreaming Heroes.’ She suddenly lets the sweaty pink fabric fall from her fingers, and smiles to be back with the Dreaming Heroes in her Lands. ‘Leaning heavy on man-lizard nintucka’s pointy pink elbow. Or close to the smooth lump on end Rainbow Serpent’s tail, great Giver of Water. Or even perching cozy on round white round Onion Rocks which bijada, emu, sicked up because he ate too many.’
She laughs as she thinks of this assortment of rocks. Then she sighs and smiles, which is what she knows best.
These sacred rocks of Ninija’s Lands are the Earth skeleton of the masters of creation, the Sky Heroes. Their stone bodies and characters surround Ninija and her people in their desert lives. The Heroes of the Sky are the givers of the Dreaming stories, and the Laws of traditional life. Their ‘Lands stories’ exist all around the tribe so that the people are in constant contact with their work. It is Ninija’s job as Traditional Landowner to survey the Sky Heroes’ creations for damage or undibi, trespassers. She must look for the new stories they make among the rock formations. Ninija is a clever and experienced reader of landforms and any tiny change in them. Her eye is the best for thousands of miles around.
Without their stories and their Lands, Ninija and her people cannot and do not survive. The stories help them to survive the hardest place to live on planet Earth. If the people are taken away from the Lands, like the young straighbacks have been, and exposed to the way of ‘white ghosts,’ they get sick and die quickly. But the white settlers cannot understand why the desert people cannot adapt to their ‘civilized’ ways of living. They cannot adapt to theirs. They do not even try to, seeing nothing good in their savage lives. They are rude and uninvited visitors to Ninija’s Land!
They know just how important nature is in the lives of these desert peoples, but ‘white-fella’ bully has happily gone ahead and blasted his way through the Lands. He uses what Ninija calls his ‘magic fire bangers’ to destroy Earth’s skin. They made the settlement she and her people inhabit now in this way, and many others across the big Lands of Australia. When he’s finished blasting the sacred rocks, his big trucks bring sheets of ‘magic’ metal, with square wooden frames painted with stinking ‘preservatives’ not known in the desert. Houses for the old and sick, and for the children is a must. They don’t ask for opinions, or permission. ‘They say there no need coz Ninija is only a woman leader and she pay no money for the Lands so she not own them!’
When everything was finished at the new settlement, white men went into the desert to round up Ninija and her people. They drove them back to their new permanent home like cattle. There are no gates to keep them imprisoned, but they just obey. ‘White-fella he take charge of us poor savages. We like children who live rough.’ Ninija feels helpless. But white fella sees only the hard struggle for survival they have in desert life. He cannot see the beauty or the freedom. So, he opens up his big black wings to cover them. He says ‘primitive’ and ‘ancient’ should be swept away from view as quickly as possible. They must be replaced with ‘modern’ and ‘civilized.’
‘We used make our own shade-shelters, wilcha.’ Ninija remembers so clearly.
‘Ninija go walkabout, choose mulga trunks to bend and make big arch. Until we got old and “white-fella-weak,” and you take all young straightbacks to you city Lumaluma!’ The anger surges then subsides, like sea waves.
‘Big mulga arch protec. Spinifex grass sweet on top. Give cool shelter. Now we responsibility of white man, of you Lumaluma! Now you help us old sick black people. We bitzy children. We helpless! “Dog Box” Wah!!’ she slaps the wall. ‘No air and black. Even bad for dog! And hot-hot!’
Ninija’s wilcha are perfect shelters. There are many today that are very old. They are like long tunnels full of cool shade, and their covering of spinifex grass, makes them blend in with the desert colours so they are invisible. They provide shade shelter for all the desert creatures.
‘You steal our young straightbacks Lumaluma! Take them your city. Why? Why white-fella’s way right, and Ninija way wrong?’
In desert life ‘why’ has no place. It’s forbidden. In fact, it was never heard of before white fella came. Ninija is talking out loud which is also forbidden by the Mortuary Laws at this time. It is unknown that Ninija breaks the laws that she and her ancestors have made. What kind of power does Lumaluma have over her?
And again. Bang! The corrugations quiver! Ninija’s hand smarts. She moves her head rapidly, looking and shouting in Lumaluma’s direction, shifting all her weight on to her right side as if she is about to sprint away.’Why your friends expect me live in tin house Lumaluma? I never live inside like you where I not see Sky. Never inside, where I not breathe in nothing but the poison of roof, of window, of door. Inside where I not become dark holding hand of Sun when she ready to sleep. No! Inside your dog box, I dark soon I through door, soon as I inside!’
She steps away and notches the backs of her hands into her sides. ‘You tell me “open window,” “open door,” “step outside for a moment.” “Take it e-e-e- e-e-asy.”‘ She’s a good mimic. ‘You silky voice smooth like you metal. Straight like corner and roof and square you draw with magic wood. Tight. Biting me like crazy dingo.’ Now, she slices the air with frantic horizontal and vertical movements like white man’s corners and straight lines as she talks. ‘Desert life full of round and curvy. Inside Ninija hot when it cool outside. Ninija cool it hot outside. Inside! It change what like outside!’
She bends her knees using her hands, their palms facing upwards, like white-fella’s roof on top of the dog-boxes. She pushes hard up against the Sky, ‘No, no, no!’ she wags her finger. ‘If Earth hot, Ninija hot. Earth cool, Ninija cool. Ninija not separate. Not different like Lumaluma inside walls, where you hide from you people. Ninija stay in cool air, hot air, with all people and Lands. We not separate, not different. We one big ocean of living.’ She shifts her weight on to her other leg and growls.
‘Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr! Why I do what you friends tell me?’