Gina comes again later to look for her grandmother, but can’t find her in all the ‘talk talk talk’, the staring and shouting at the white ghost. She shakes grandmother, but there are no eyes or ears for the Lands, for ‘Here’ or ‘Now,’ or for Gina, in Ninija. Earth has turned her back on Sun, making the casuarina first red, then orange, then ochre and finally black. This is Gina’s sign to run to her small tufted mound, climb up, and look out across the mulga bush and the Lands.
One day when she is great Landowner, she will know them so well. She opens her face to the last of the Sun, pushing her head back as far back as it will go. Then, she makes small howls, and her tears are quickly dried by the heat, which will continue on all through the night during the Dry season. She howls her moment’s missing of Ginger-father. This is allowed by the Laws during these days leading up to the Burial Ceremony by those closest to the deceased. Then she looks across at Ninija in Moon silhouette, still sorting feathers and jabbering at Lumaluma near the dog-box.
Gina looks intently at their dog-box for a while. Inside they keep some of Lumaluma’s gifts: many heaps of forgotten dresses and shorts and shoes and hats, and outside even more. Their people are not grateful for these things. They are not gathered from the Lands or of the Lands. They do not fit into their dilly bags like all they need in the desert does. The people just wear them once, parade like white folk, then let them drop like a bone with all the meat chewed away.
Ninija still talks out loud, breaking the laws and is still lost to Gina. She has gone somewhere with Lumaluma in his thinking Lands.
‘There your people just run all the time. In and out buildings and shops with big glass windows. What they want from places? So many strangers. Ninija never see so many.’
She puts her fingers into her ears again to try to get rid of the sound.
‘I keep trying to blow those devil sounds you bring Ninija’s Lands out of my ears, or tickle them out with feather. But they still there, on and on.’
Her head drops lower and lower. She cries tears down into the Earth.
‘I see Ginger’s body in dead house in you city. Now it hang behind in old casuarina tree. He my body and my Lands. But what you done with him spirit Lumaluma? It late arriving here.’
Ninija still keeps her back to Ginger’s body as marlu, kangaroo, is taken down by the men to cook. Ginger’s body turns dark with the Sky higher up. Once again, she cannot look at the body, and she has lost contact with his spirit. Ninija is lost between the worlds of Sun and Moon, between white-fella and black fella, between her Lands and the city of white ghosts.
Her piles of feathers remain unsorted as she fends off bothersome white fella. But as she gets darker and darker, her black flesh merges into Earth, and Lumaluma, blind white ghost, loses his scent of her. Black night is the time of black people, the time of feeling and knowing, of hunting and bathing under the Moon.
Ninija tries to explain to Lumaluma that her people value the bones of the dead, some more than others. They believe that they have magic qualities, when they are naturally cleaned of flesh by the Sun. Soon, marlu’s bones will be laid out in the centre of the Burial Ground in a special configuration known only to the elders and used at the Djang. Then, Ginger’s bones, cleaned in the same way, will be placed in the ceremonial coffin, a strong squat box in which the skeleton will be propped up, knees to chin.
After the cremation, his breastbone, thigh and thumb bones will be separated away from the skeleton and placed in a specially crafted small bone coffin. It has already been hollowed out from sacred mulga and decorated with emu markings by the bijada men, Ginger’s brothers. After the Djang, the bones will become the blessed possession of Ninija, who will carry them with her wherever she goes. After Ninija moves on her way, they will become Gina’s most prized possession, and so on, eternally handed down the line.
‘Bones. Death. Birth. Hot bones. They not think like you Lumaluma. Them spirit gone long ago. Cold bones lying under Moon like sea-shells. Lumaluma. You not understand. You never understand.’
She glares at him.
‘Why you smiling my angry words? You like Ninija shout and scream? Wah!’
Sun has truly disappeared now, and the dark desert and twinkling panorama of stars has sent Lumaluma to his hollow up on Ninija Rock. He searches frantically for his torch because he is terrified of the dark, and rushes to open another bottle of grog from his huge supply stashed away there. Ninija is black, and white-fella ‘smooth’ and ‘straight’ can no longer push itself inside her. Her voice whispers out Ginger’s story for Gina into its desert home while white-fella quaffs and snores, and dreams a hoarder’s dream.
Story will keep Ninija connected to Earth and the Lands so that white-fella cannot interrupt her anymore for now. This will give her the strength to make paint for Ginger and to climb up high into the tree on to his platform. She must paint his emu clan lines tonight before the work of Sun and jabaroo gets too far. In this heat, flesh shrinks away fast to feed the scavengers and to clean the sacred bones to perfection.
THE TELEPHONE BOX
Ninija’s story of Ginger-father for Gina
Once there was a mother who had a baby boy called bijada, Emu child. It was only later when he grew and sprouted hair that he took the name ‘Ginger’ because of his crinkly ginger-coloured hair. He was almost too big to be kept in her dilly bag like all the other children, his long legs with their bulging knees sticking out such a long way. As he grew, he loved to spend time with the emus, running after them and copying their long legs. Bijada and his mother moved around the Lands following the ever-turning wheel of the seasons and the migration of the emus from best spot to best spot.
They were busy most of the time overseeing the laying and hatching of eggs, the building of nests, the perishing and culling of birds at the end of their physical lives. There were many duties as caretakers of Ginger son’s totem group. And the tall emus were never very far away from Ninija and her emu boy. They too followed the seasons of mother and as they moved through the desert, watching for their kisses, their tears, for their pranks and tiredness, and inhaling the delicious casuarina smoke from the Fires they always made.
Mother would get out her Fire sticks often and rub them, one on top of the other, until a spark jumped out, closely followed by swirling wisps of smoke. Then she would gradually feed the hungry spark with oh-so-dry grasses until it chuckled and chatted into flame. Ginger loved to watch. He giggled at the chatting and chuckling of the little flame, and wanted so much to make Fire himself one day soon.
Later, mother could make Fire burn all through the freezing nights by burying the hot red coals in deep narrow trenches made with her precious digging stick. After a time, the trenches became snug sandy beds into which they climbed together, pulling mother’s big roo coat over the top of them when the fierce winds blew, and leaving a tiny gap to breathe out of.
Mother would also make Fire when they came upon a patch of elderly mulga trees to warm the sand ready for toasting witchetty, large white wriggling grubs, which lived inside their roots. They both loved this delicacy. In the Wet, when the desert was flooded with tall waters, mother would dive down to the submerged mulga to bring up oysters from the base of this magical shrub. These were delicious opened in hot aromatic sand.
As Landowner, it was mother’s responsibility to make Fire to tell her people that she was visiting a dreaming site to check up on it. She must look after the Land sites of her people’s Dreaming Heroes. And again she would make Fire when she used her boomerang to kill one of the emus so that they could cook and feed. This was a time of great celebration.
Mother would only kill if an emu was sick or injured, or in some way different to the others so that it was pecked. Bijada squealed with joy when mother got her decorated small boomerang out of its roo pouch. She taught him to be as quiet as sleeping frog while she got into position ready to stun her prey on first throw.
She knew exactly how far away from the catch to squat, often, depending on the wind, throwing in the opposite direction from her prey. Once she had launched her hand-made boomerang, their black eyes would follow its outlandish route, transfixed by its spinning whirr. When the target bird had buckled at its knees, killed instantly and painlessly, bijada would ‘woop’ and ‘whirl’ himself around, pretending that he too was boomerang.
After they had feasted on their quickly roasted kill, leaving the remains for smaller creatures, Mother taught him the sacred emu dance. She painted his body with emu clan lines, and put on his headband and hair belt decorated with emu feathers she had collected. And the next day he would go out in the desert to practise the real dance with his large birds, laughing as he copied their high leg-lift and the sway of their long necks.
One day on Ninija Rock at the Great Python Waterhole, Mother and Ginger drank and washed some of the orange dust of the Lands from their faces in the cool green water known to everyone as the tears of Rainbow Python. Behind them one of the pairs of their emus were bending their blue necks and drinking too. They looked with their round hazel eyes into the deep rock-sided pool also, and made sipping sounds as they filled up the saucers of their beaks. Bijada loved to watch the cool tears on their long journey down their necks into their distant stomachs. They blinked as they drank and made gentle cooing sounds, bijada boy trying to do as they did.
It was then that they both heard a strange growling, not of dingo or camel, their eyes meeting to register it in the waterhole mirror. Mother darted to the edge of the rocks and looked down into the desert. There, low in the Sky she saw a small white bird about to land, and she instantly knew that the strange noise was coming from it. She knew also that it was white-fella’s bird which carried people up into the air. But Ginger had never seen it before, so he ran to her side to look too.
They watched the white bird put down its black feet to make a dust cloud and stop. Then, as bijada rubbed his eyes in disbelief, three white people got out of bird’s stomach. They had white legs and short trousers, and wore white shoes and socks with black seeing glass across their eyes. They all wore big bush hats and fly nets because of desert flies, which are always greedy for moisture from salty white-fella.
Mother and bijada watched the white-fellas for a long time as they restlessly got in and out of the white bird belly. They brought brightly coloured things and placed them down in the shade of the giant white wings. Then they put their heads back to drink from big bottles that they had plenty of. They made a lot of noise shouting and laughing, but then another new noise filled the desert. Mother noticed that their white feet were moving up and down. They were dancing and the black box was full of koroboree, ritual music.
Mother and bijada watched on and off from their high rocks, but mother did not make Fire for she did not want white-fella to come to take sacred Water from the secret hole. Bijada kept close, leaning against her hot black flesh as Sun slowly walked down, and old Moon was ripe like desert apple. The white people climbed back inside the white bird and made no new noises for a long time. As darkness thickened, mother took their few things into the opening of a cave at the back of the waterhole and wrapped bijada in her roo coat, singing his favourite emu song until he made sleep. Then she went outside to watch the white bird again.
White people were coming out of the white bird to build Fire, which they made quickly without Fire sticks. Then they brought more and more boxes out of bird and danced more quickly. They were laughing and occasionally tipping back heads to drink from the big bottles and shiny cans.
A little later the white man went into bird and brought out three big rolls, which he opened around Fire. White folk managed somehow to slide inside this flat straight roll. Mother had seen them use these things before. They would climb inside so they were completely covered; so that they were under roof, and could never see the campfires in Sky, or feel the embrace of night against their skin. She found it hard to understand why white people hid away from the Great Mother.
Then she detected bijada gently whimpering, so she went to press herself against him at the mouth of cave. Much later, as mother slept with her deep breaths, still as a pelican resting her empty beak on a twig, bijada suddenly woke and crept out of the cave. He went to the edge of the waterhole to watch the white people. They were laughing and rolling around on their large bags, their sounds and their big Fire overwhelming the sleeping desert heart. He rubbed his huge black eyes and went closer, leaving mother sleep-dreaming some new stories.
Then the white man got up suddenly and went to white bird belly. He came back to the campfire slowly unrolling thin black eel, which kept its tail inside bird, and then he brought another box with handles. Soon there were colours and lightning flashes coming from the box. Blue. Green. Red. Orange. They flashed on, one after the other. Bijada could see the colours on their faces and thought it must be a box full of rainbows.
Soon the white man lay down on the ground to watch the two white women who danced with each other. Bijada could see them well, the coloured lights shining full on them, the women smiling at each other, moving slowly inside their white-fella clothes. The one with yellow hair started to undo the buttons down the centre of her chest slowly, and then to open one side and to show a small white breast, not black melon like Mother’s. Then she showed the other. She was showing her breasts to the others. Sometimes they were green, or red; sometimes they were yellow. They changed. Bijada was fascinated, thinking they flashed as if the lightning men had placed their spiky fingers on them and filled them with lightning. As if the lightning men were trying to set them on Fire the way they did in the Lands in the Dry. He looked and looked, but he couldn’t be certain it was lightning men.
Next, one white woman moved her hips from side to side, and wriggled out of her shorts like yellow snake out of his skin. Soon she was naked. Bijada was not surprised to see her without clothes, for this was how he and his mother lived in the desert, except when it was too cold, or they dressed in ritual garments. But, he was entranced by her white skin, and how it was just like paper tree bark or ash.
White folk were really white ghosts just like mother always said. He looked down at his own black shiny skin and thought white skin was not real, that it was maybe like old snakeskin that dropped off when it was time to grow a new one. But how has white-fella got into white snake he wondered? He rubbed his tired eyes and was suddenly slightly afraid of the white ghosts, so went back to curl up against mother.
The next day the white people had gone when mother woke up. She was glad white-fella had packed up and flown back to white-fella Skies, so immediately made Fire next to let everyone know that she was there. Before bijada was awake she had found some green emu eggs down in the cleft of the rocks, and was preparing a big stone to cook them on. They were hard to hold even in mother’s ample hands because they were so big, and she had to work hard to break open their leathery shell with her small stone axe.
When at last she could open their lush contents on to the sizzling rock, she smiled a deep thank you to emu for leaving these eggs for them. It was the laying season so there were plenty of eggs every day or two, and the flock was thriving so well that some eggs could be spared for Mother and Ginger to eat.
Bijada came when he smelled the cooking, and as he ate his eggs covered in his favourite kangaroo grease, he told her about the visit of the lightning men. She listened to him, but was surprised that she had not heard their noisy light show, so doubted him. In the end, she told her bijada boy that white-fella had his own way of making lights and noise, and that it was different to the desert way. She thought nothing more of it, and they soon packed up their few belongings and moved with the emus across to the banks of the green river. Here the emus waded in the shallows catching water-boatmen skating on the surface, while mother with bijada slung across her broad back, climbed into the mangrove to feast on their ripe orange fruits.
This joyous natural way of life was mostly possible if the people listened to the wisdom and rhythms of their totem creatures. If the Lands and their creatures were happy and prospered, then so too would their human caretakers. Bijada boy had a natural way of listening to the huge birds and their needs. Across his back he carried an emu caller, a thick plaited-grass tube; he was talented at making the big booming call of the male to round them up if needed. Sometimes when he was weary and hot, he would walk close to their shaggy black-pointed plumage to keep cool under its parasol.
Of course there were bad times. Sometimes two stag emus fought each other and one was killed; or the smooth green eggs were opened by snake fangs, or sea-eagle beak. But accepting everything, whether bad or good, was part of the Great Mother’s plan which Mother and Ginger were both an important part of, like all the people. Bijada boy’s tears soon dried up when something sad had happened, and always led on to his wide-beak smile, because bad things and good things equally had a cause and a purpose if they listened to the Great Mother’s wisdom. They had a talent for letting everything go and just existing.
The years passed and bijada grew and grew. He soon left Mother to join the men for initiation, and then one day he was presented with his churinga, his totem insignia, which meant he had become a man. It was made of shining grey stone with several holes in it around which the sacred painted circles of bijada, emu clan, were painted. Eventually, partly because he was of Ninija, but mostly because he was so gentle and wise, he became keeper of the bijada churinga storehouse which contained all the churingas of his country. He must look after them, and learn all the names of all his emu brothers
He married bandicoot, desert rat, woman, 1500 miles away, walking there along the song-lines. He collected some songs to take to his new wife as a wedding gift. Mother did not see him for some years and had never met his wife, but she knew that they had a child, a girl-child. Then on one chosen day, Ninija was ready to welcome Ginger’s girl-child. She walked slowly with tired steps into the Lands and mother called her ‘little mother,’ for jirubuga, porcupine girl Gina, was to become the new Landowner when mother ended her physical journey. Mother must teach her little mother everything.
Soon mother also knew that bijada had left his new Lands; that he had gone to find a new Dreaming of the flashing pictures. He had left with a large bottle at his side, plenty of greenbacks in his blue jean’s pocket, and the tightened buckle of white man’s broad leather belt across his strong black abdomen. The elders rebuked him for not joining the rituals any longer, for not caring for the emus, and for not watching over the churinga store-house. He did not seem to care about his people, so the elders asked him to leave. They told him that he could not share their Dreaming any longer. They told him that he must find his own new Dreaming in Lumaluma’s city.
Mother cried. She talked to him with her deep voice across the air. She begged him not to leave, warning him that the Sky Heroes would not let him go on with his Sky journey if he turned his back on them. She advised him that white man also would not be able to help him, and that in time he would be trapped alone in Lumaluma’s city of empty white ghosts who stored fear in their blue eyes. That they would give him greenbacks he could turn into big bottles filled with white-fella’s poison which they could not live without; white fella nectar, which took away their ghost fear and helped them to fill up their empty spirits.
She warned him that white-fella had no Dreaming ancestors or Lands like theirs, and that instead they had ‘Easy’ and ‘Happy’ and ‘Sexy.’ Once his Spirit was deep inside that big bottle it would become a tiny insect slowly creeping down into a golden sea where it sipped and sucked on and on. It would soon become his very own secret golden Sea, but bijada, his emu soul, would be nowhere in sight. Then soon he would not want anything else except nectar, ‘Easy’ and ‘Happy’ and ‘Sexy’ nectar. He would become a bottle slave, and finally white-fella would kick his slow slave body out of town, and call him ‘smelly’, call him ‘dirty’, call him ‘savage! But there were no ears or eyes in Ginger, bijada boy. He had already left the Lands.
Mother tried to remember and remember when Lumaluma could have seeped into him. Then one night, she suddenly remembered white bird landing in the desert beneath Ninija Rock to make koroboree, ritual music, and bijada’s stories of the visit of lightning men.
‘Those no lightening men! That Lumaluma! He seep into that boy with flashing pictures and women wriggling in tight-skin clothes, with bright colour lights like glow-worms and beetles, and music made inside white-fella’s machines. Now bijada has been called to make some new Dreaming in Lumaluma’s city on him terms, with his spirit inside that bottle which he suck at all the time.’
Mother remembered so well how her bijada boy had sucked at her, black on black.
‘Now he will suck on white mamma. Now he will cover up his beautiful black body with white-fella’s denim blue, cover his pink soles with white-fella’s white shoes, white socks. Now he will stick his rising Sun inside a thin white body, shedding his bijada sunshine on white woman every morning.’
Then one day, long after he had left the Lands along with all the other straightbacks, Mother’s spirit went to him in Lumaluma’s city. Her Mother Spirit raced through air to him along desert sand tracks and ditches. Hearts which do not know white-fella’s time and space, are rarely closed tightly by talk and words and pictures in the desert, are free hearts which can give their power to the bodies they live in, making any human feat possible.
Exactly as she had seen in visions, in Lumaluma’s city she found bijada in clothes: white-fella’s denim sleeves and legs, white-fella’s plastic on his feet, and white-fella’s black scraped leather cap on his head. He was inside, inside roof and wall and door, pressed tight into white-fella’s see-through cave. He had slid down the side of the tiny yellow telephone box enclosed on all sides by white-fella’s seeing stone ‘glass,’ on to white-fella’s floor, not Father Earth’s skin. No fragrant air of desert inside, only white-fella’s oozing shut-in air. His black skin was scuffed and sweaty, his long legs were folded beneath him, and his mouth was wide open and toothless.
Mother’s spirit slid imperceptibly into the cubicle close against her slumped emu boy. His beloved bottle was propped up against his thin chest, empty, and one of his black hands, carved with dried emu boy blood, lay along the inside ground. The other was wedged up close to his ear grasping Lumaluma’s black plastic telephone.
The dirtied panes of glass were smothered in white-fella’s talk-talk-talk contained his once-sturdy desert body like a transparent coffin. As Mother held him, wanting to tear away the ripped, stained shirt of Lumaluma which closed him away like sand fall, she could hear the strange sounds like gurrwayi gurrwayi, the storm bird, coming out of the black telephone, on and on.
Bijada’s eyes were half-closed; his head held back waiting for his next mouthful of white-fella’s golden nectar, his ample lips dried and parted. His face was swollen, and his tongue filled up his mouth like giant eel in a basket trap. He did not make a sound in all his body. His stomach was bloated with white-fella ‘Easy-Happy-Sexy’, and his legs were thin like all their people who went to Lumaluma.
Ginger son’s ears and heart were filled to the top with Lumaluma’s golden nectar so that he had not heard the glorious approach of death, and could not smile his widest of all smiles. Mother cried and worried that he would not be able to travel on. But she was a great Landowner, so she had special powers to lead him back to the Djang, and would use all her strength to make sure his spirit pushed off smoothly on its way.
Lumaluma’s meddling irritated her till she wriggled with his ant-sting.
‘Who inside that black telephone?’ she screamed.
But Lumaluma was ignoring the call.
Outside the yellow telephone box there was silence in white-fella’s empty ghost-land. She held the emu boy, and when everything was ready, he rose and held out his thin pink palm to her. Mother gave him his churinga she had brought from the desert so that he could go on with his journey along the River of the Dead.
He beckoned to her and she followed him out into his country; out into the scratched Lands of Emu: out into the kingdom of the Four Suns. Then he let go of her hand and began his spirit’s journey along the River of Stars as it flows underground. There he would wait until Mother called him with her dancing and singing to see her painting of his Dreaming life. Then he would be ready to go first to Jundal Gianga, the keeper of all spirits, and then on to the Sky Lands.