When Ninija, Traditional Landowner and great spiritual leader, chooses the site of the shelters they will build, first, she prospects the ground. She searches for underground water, or long shadows cast by hills, so that the site will be as cool as possible. She walks many times around the plot, slowly, feeling the creatures that live there. Then she makes Fire with her Fire sticks and sits still for a long time on the Earth’s skin. Once she’s satisfied she searches the mulga shrub for the boughs to make perfect arches with. She marks them with white ash from her Fire. Then, when the Moon is fullest, she goes with the women to cut them with stone axes. Full Moon is the best time to cut supports for shelters because the resins inside are hard.
Then the women lash the boughs together with kangaroo strips to make a long tunnel. Tough grasses are laced between the uprights, and next spinifex grass is stuffed in the gaps until the whole construction is covered. In time, spinifex grows like a thick skin. Wilcha, shade shelter, is cool and airy. The people spend most of their time in the open. They become sick if they can’t see Sky or feel Earth under their bare feet. But sometimes when they walk, they rest during the day in shade shelters, and walk at night.
She is small and dark. Her black eyes are desert eyes. They listen for food and water. But Ninija’s eyes have stopped listening for food or water. Instead, they listen for the shiny land-cruiser, ‘silver goose.’ It comes with man and gun to shoot food for her. She listens for the green pump to spit out water into her carrying bowl.
Ninija and her people wait for the bags of white sugar and flour to be dropped in their laps. They wait for rabbits and roos to be hung on the hook in the casuarina tree, their hearts pierced by Lumaluma’s tiny hot metal balls thrown from guns. It’s strange that they rely on the ‘good deeds’ of swaggering ‘white-fella.’
But the child does not rely on white-fella. She has grown up in the Lands. Her ‘outside’ child refuses white powders and meat tasting of metal from white-fella. She prefers the stories and secrets, the ceremonies and symbols. But her inside ‘child’ knows that these ‘Easy’ things are bad! Instead, she runs out in the desert to find pink berries. She sucks the juice of purple grass. She rubs her hands on the outside of bee nests and licks them. Then she curls up to sleep with her totem porcupines under the scrub. She never enters the tin ‘dog boxes,’ just peeping in from a distance.
White-fella, or Lumaluma, has not touched her. He can’t get to her because she is a child in the Lands. The desert has wrapped her in the oiled skins of intuition, of ‘just- knowing.’ Desert knowing is not white-fella’s kind of knowing. He uses words and thoughts and another kind of power when he knows. The child ‘just-knows,’ because she is in everything around her, and everything around her is in her. She does not know questions, or doubts. The special words of the creation Law given to them by the Great Mother are the only words she knows.
The child sits with her back to her grandmother, but she just-knows every feeling, every blink and curl of her lip. ‘My head so fill with him people telling me everything!’ Ninija rants on. The child can’t hear her words, because she speaks in silence this time. In the desert there is no speaking just for speaking’s sake out loud: just a desert full of knowing. Now, the child and Ninija and their people must stay silent out of respect for Ginger. Ginger-father, Ginger-son, and Ginger straightback. So instead of speaking, they sing inside. Their breath does all the talking they need.
The child just-knows that something strange is happening to Ninija-grandmother. She just-knows that grandmother has turned her back on her big red desert. That she is white-fella weak more than ever before. But, grandmother is on ‘Land’s business.’ Ginger-father’s death is also Land’s business.
Sun is high and Ninija looks for some shade. She moves to white-fella ‘corner’ of the dog-box without losing Sun. She grabs the rough column of the front porch, tugging at it. Her powerful movements make the tin roof rattle.
‘My head filled with “whens”, with “how longs.” Full of counting. Flooded out with clock time, with coins, notes, ever since I heard you name Lumaluma. Lumaluma. I bitter. I count all those days I waited Ginger come back from you city. Waiting him turn big strong back on Lumaluma. Ginger. Counting! Counting!’
She pushes and pulls violently.
‘All those times I see big brown bottle you give suck down him spirit. Suck he away from his Lands. His people. His kin. Swallow it greedy down till he down good in bottom. Then you shake he hard, your thumb like stopper. And he trap there!’ Ninija stamps.
‘Wah! Our laws say that we never speak name of dead once they ready travel in camp grounds. It sad sometime never to say their name again! But how I smile when I promise never speak his name “Ginger” again, when he dead in you filthy city! When he free of you Lumaluma!’
She tastes the dust her stamping has created. Then suddenly she smiles. ‘Lumaluma, you nnnnnever get to him again with bottles and needles, with you “Easy-Happy-Sexy.” He gone somewhere black-black you white ghosts never trespass.’
She wags her finger at the Sky.