Gina holds tight to Ninija’s heart with little fingers. She imitates white-fella with more questions like his. Ninija is ashamed. She looks down. Shame is known in the Lands, but it is unusual.
‘He take me to him hollow on Ninija Rock. Give me his bottle to sip. Hold it to lips. He come close with blue dazzle eyes, with honey voice and talk. Then cover me with great black cloak, make me giggle. Everything “Easy.” Everything “Happy.” Everything “Sexy.” It “Easy-Happy-Sexy” fill with promises and kisses like chisels and white ghost skin, and pocket full greenbacks he peel to give me like desert artichoke leaves. Pay me for him pleasure of me. Him light like cloud or mist in winter.’
Ninija stops and gazes vacantly.
‘Go on! Go on!’
‘He take me other Lands. White Lands of “Then” and “There,” of “Yet” and “Go,” of “Easy-Happy-Sexy.” I never there before. But this where Ginger go. So Ninija she must go to see. But white-fella in trouble. We wait new Dreaming stories for white- fella problems.’
Then Ninija smiles. She is taken with her talk back ‘there’ to Lumaluma. Her smile soon changes from wide to a tight frown. She is answering his questions again.
‘Yes Lumaluma you people choose. We not!’
Ninija talks out loud into the desert, breaking the sacred Mortuary Laws again. Now she and he are both strangers in ‘Here’ and ‘Now’. And Gina is sad too. ‘Sad’ is something new for her.
‘Why you choose my Ginger? Why? Choose. Make white-fella plan.’
Ninija’s anger flares up again. She must answer. She cannot run away from such important Land’s business. She calms down again. But quickly she is angry and fast- talking. She is with white-fella and he lives by talk so Ninija talks. She breaks the Laws again because she calls the deceased Ginger by his name, which is forbidden. Lumaluma asks her to tell him what her son was like when he was in the Lands, asking a mother to remember her dead son in white-fella’s way. He shows no respect for the codes of her people.
Ninija steps towards a high blue rock nearby. Her hands are wedged on her pelvis edges.
‘He so happy in him Lands. Run with emu. He special to his people coz he big strong giant – fight with crocodile and wrestle with big stag emus – but he gentle. Him listen. Him listen good to all people and to the Lands. Him watch. Him know deep. He be great Landowner. Wise. Not too much clever. Not too little.’
She pauses and turns sharply.
‘This why you take him Lumaluma?’
‘You so bad-bad Lumaluma you need steal his good-good!’
She bangs her broad forehead hard with tight wrists. She cries tears of ‘sad’ and ‘angry’ like a mix of sea and river water. Gina is shocked by this rare display of emotion. She shouts herself inside whilst Ninija raves on.
‘What Ginger-father do now if he Gina? I want break the Law too with Ninija. Shout her back to our Lands like dogs gone wild? Push her in soak-away? Put dilly bag over her head to stop ears and eyes from Lumaluma? She stay with us then. Our people need her now. Now they wait for Ginger to come to say galiya, farewell. Prepare for big burial ceremony, for the Djang.’
‘Gina know what Ninija say inside. Always. But when Lumaluma around she not know. She not know because Ninija know nothing but Lumaluma. She no listen to Gina, to elders, to no-one. But Ninija she know what Lands need. She just-know when Rainbow Serpent prepare to make new Dreaming there.’
Gina accepts, and stares deep down into the pale waters of the waterhole, talking more.
‘Ginger. Ginger. Ginger father.’ And more slowly,
Gina breaks the Laws too, Ninija’s Laws, copying her grandmother.
‘When I say you name my tongue can make picture of you. Ginger-father. Big man. Big emu smile. Ginger father. Quiet man. Eyes always wide and polished like walnut rubbed with grease. No-talk man. But how he dance. Long long legs. Long long arms like bat wings. Legs and arms they flap. Loose. On and on. And sing. Mable mother she say when he sing everything stop to listen. Big voice. Deep like didgeridoo. Like thunder. Like Humming-Bird wings, they flap so fast they still.’
‘Ginger-father. I know you. But I never see you. You gone away to city when I a bitsy. But I happy coz Mable mother tell me Gina quiet and strong like you. Maybe I see you at the Djang, you big ceremony, when you spirit leave on its travelling way.’
Even at her young age Gina is wise. She knows that the spirit cannot be destroyed. She knows that the body is only a temporary container. She is still and quiet for a long time. The green-grey water laps in the sunshine, totally ‘Here’ and ‘Now’ in the Lands. Then, like Ninija, Gina is for a moment tempted away to white-fella’s ways.
‘Maybe one day, they tell me where you go and why you leave you people and you Lands?’
She splashes her legs using white-fella talk to find out what is happening in her mind. Questions. Questions. Curling and crawling like maggots. White-fella’s ways.
‘And me? Ninija say you Ginger-father left because you under Lumaluma’s spell. You helpless like beetle back. Not cos you not want see me.’
There is doubt in her voice; doubt, the opposite of just-knowing.
Her heart begins to close, briefly at first, and gradually for longer periods. She feels white-fella’s restlessness. She feels his addiction to words and pictures. And to time – ‘Then,’ and place – ‘There.’ She too is teased away from her ‘Here’ and ‘Now.’ She tries to understand this spell of white ghost, and the way her father deserted the Lands. She is between Lands, off and on.
‘I try his name to make tongue picture. Lumaluma. Lumaluma. Nothing. No one. White mist swim and swirl. It get inside you eyes.’
She is curious about this white ghost that she cannot see or hear. She rubs her eyes, then shivers and splashes again.
‘Now I stay strong and quiet like Ginger-father to help Ninija.’
Ninija and Gina had never been to Lumaluma’s city before. Then suddenly they were summoned to collect his dead body from the City Mortuary. Everything about the visit had been terrifying to them. The noises stopped them from listening in to the natural world. Neither could they listen inside themselves. Landowners become so still and silent that they can control their heartbeat and other organs. This way they can survive the unbearable heat, without food or water for long periods.
When Ninija described these gifts to Lumaluma he was scathing. But when she demonstrated, he shook her and asked her what she was waiting for? Lumaluma’s people cannot be still. Instead they move from one thing to the next, and in between, they wait.
Out here deep in the desert, it is the custom neither to mention the name of someone who dies, nor to talk about their physical lives once they are dead. There is no need, as the spirit exists for eternity. Their totem names are their eternal names. Lumaluma chooses to ignore this, and deliberately tempts both Ninija and Gina into sentimentalism about dead Ginger.
Everyone knows that Ginger had a strong watchful eye and a quiet joy. They said he was more like the Moon than the Sun. He loved the Law and the Lands so much as a boy. If he talked he talked Lands and Law, and listening to what all the creatures and plants and Earth and ocean needed to make them work together.
As a young emu child following the flocks round with his mother, he would beg for Ninija to tell him the stories again and again, to sing the songs over and over. He would sit by her side for hours of white-fella’s time as she surveyed all the Lands from her rock. He would sit black and still, breathing slowly, becoming part of Ninija Rock. A babe of the desert, inseparable from her, he knew every grain of soil, every tuft, every hair, every drop, every scent of his Lands.
And in sleep his black knowing continued, for he often brought Ninija new stories Rainbow Serpent sprinkled into his sleep-dreams. He would tell them to her eagerly, and pull her to the new story place with the urgency of a creator.
This is the story-work Rainbow Serpent does, slithering with his great belly to change rock formations, to make new river beds or waterholes. In this way, new stories, new landforms, and new episodes in the lives of the people are made.
Ginger was of Ninija’s black flesh, but the desert was his real mother. The mothers among Ninija and her people believe that their children have many mothers. Ninija Landowner had been certain that Ginger would never leave his huge red desert mother. But he did. Lumaluma came and took all the young straightbacks. He sent his own young fit pink men in shiny land-cruisers which rode the restless desert sands to take them and show them round the city….. Ninija interrupts. She has come back to Gina.
‘Lumaluma’s men show “Easy-Easy” hunting with big gun full of smoke and fire. “Easy-Easy” digging with big shiny spade, slice through earth “Easy” with big boot behind. “Easy-Easy” make shade-shelter with magic metal wire, with wood already cut straight and thick, with Lumaluma’s grey pretend stone which make anything stick anything together. Then with greenbacks Lumaluma’s men show them how to buy grog which make them “Happy-Happy,” and it, “Easy-Easy.”
Next he tell them white woman secret. How black slave need white woman to get places in life. Amber grog make straightbacks “Sexy-Sexy.” They hungry for own white woman, for what beneath sparkly jewels and slippy silks. Hungry for “Sexy- Sexy” without true, without Lands, without real heart. They hooked. They want be like Lumaluma’s blue-jeans boys, with white smoke-sticks, and metal cup with “Easy” sweet fiz Coca Cola, and a silver flash of white-fella’s clock time on they wrists.
Then, they want “Easy-Happy-Sexy” all the time. It come in bottle, in needles, in white-fella’s flashing pictures. Tip back they head and swig down status. Sophistication. You throat burn with counting, with measuring, with white fast talk, with getting, with spending. Burn with white man envy, with cheating, with lies, with games of pretend, of “look me I this,” and “look me I that.”
White-fella racket they call “C-i-v-i-l-i-s-a-t-i-o-n.” This Lumaluma’s word. He teach me. He laugh when I try carry big heavy word in my mouth. Straightbacks not look longer at digging stick, at boomerang, at black woman, at making shelter, wilcha, with spinifex and mulga. Not want sweet desert air to honey-up their black skin. Not want hot Sun keep it black like charcoal. Not want paint they body with ash and ochre, with blood and clay. Not want Dreamtime company of Sky Heroes. Not want be emu, be bandicoot, be rainbow, be koala.’
Ninija’s head gets lower as she makes her lists riddled with the treason of the young men and women of her people. Words are stuck in her throat like poison darts stuck in her heart. They flap, bleeding, like white-sea eagle hooked up in a thorn bush.
‘Straightbacks take their souls away from soul keeper. They sell to Lumaluma for greenbacks.’
Tears sting her black cheeks white.
Gina turns to look over to high blue rock. Her grandmother has gone. She walks away as quiet as platypus in the Wet. Out on the plain, the elders have begun to prepare the Burial Grounds for Ginger-father’s big ceremony. She sees them busy with digging sticks and sand shifters pushed by ten, inside the vast rectangle of desert made sacred for the dead. As she looks out, behind her she hears a loud hiccough like parrot, a giggling like kookaburra, and she knows that this is Ninija gone with Lumaluma again to white Lands and talk-talk-talk, to his bottle Lands. Gina will take Ninija’s place while her grandmother transacts further ‘business’ with white-fella.