It was quite soon after I started my wordless dialogue with ninija that she gave me sole custody of her story. This was a supreme act of faith. She knew in some deep way that she could trust me to be her representative to the developed world: although, she and her People had no reason to believe in modern men of European descent, or in anyone with vaguely white skin. She also knew that she and her People would leave the settlement forever soon, and that it was time the world knew the true story of white man’s cruelty to the aboriginals of Australia, and to Great Mother Nature and Father Earth.
As a result of this amazing process of piecing together her story, I believe now that a story is a precious jewel found by accident in a pocket. It is to be brought out again and again, gazed at closely, breathed on and polished with a silk scarf, then secreted away once more in the darkness. I marvel at the change in me as these words tumble out. Me-the academic, the one who once detested anything made-up and insisted on the facts and proofs. Ninija says that stories are made of pure Sun and Moon, without time, without space. She insists that they live deep in the veins, the soles of the feet, far behind the eyes, and that their energy is indestructible.
Ninija knew that I must communicate her story through the elaborate means of the written word. First I must find enough pens, spending tedious hours at my notebooks reviewing and correcting, attempting to pin down ‘the Lands’ on white-fella’s paper. She giggled, calling my spiky handwriting, running Ant. I meanwhile envied the simplicity of being able to commit everything to memory as she did and her Ancestors before had always done. I promised her that I will explain all the phrases commonly used by her People as the story goes along, so that nothing will be missed. In fact, I made a glossary so you can read up before you start the story which follows.
Oh! I almost forgot. Ninija requested that all of the Great Mother’s creations should be given the greatest of respect, and that she, her family members, and other individual names of people should remain insignificant. To try to show her deference I therefore have capitalised all natural phenomena and omitted ‘the’ to match her native language. It was difficult to explain to her the sentence conventions in English, as you can imagine, so occasionally such proper nouns are capitalised because they begin a sentence. I thought it wise to retain the conventions so that you could read ninija’s story as easily as possible, and she left that up to me entirely. However, intellectual concepts made by white fella about Great Mother Nature’s creations are not deserving of any special indications such as capital letters.
To fill in a little more detail before you start to read, it was after the glorious burial ceremony of Ninija’s son Ginger, known as The Djang, and the banishment of lumaluma, meddling white fella ghost, from the Lands forever, that Ninija and the elders put an end to all the dependence. They decided that they would move back into the centre of the desert to resume their traditional life. They no longer wanted the ‘Easy’ of white man. As I mentioned before, the group consisted mostly of the elderly, and the orphaned or abandoned children of the straightbacks. They are the young adults who were compulsorily clothed, shoed and cleaned up, then dragged off to desert schools. There they were forced to study hygiene, along with reading and writing, in white fella’s style.
Before she left, Ninija told me with great joy that she had called the straightbacks who were slowly making their way back to join them. Soon the whole tribe will be together once again to make a new start deep in the interior. That’s where rifca and her team come in. They had been sent quickly by the Rotary Club to help ninija with the hard physical work involved in erecting shade shelters. These would protect the tribe from the intense day-time heat so they could walk during the night. But the white-skinned people would only be able to accompany them a certain distance because white flesh was certain not to survive the rigours of the very centre of the Lands.
Rifca’s ‘white-fella’ group had walked into the settlement one day and made an encampment around one of the larger dog-boxes. They were exhausted, bruised and dizzy, after two days of gully flying in their silver goose,. Their clean bodies were already encrusted with desert orange dust which they hated. She, ninija, knew when and how they would come. She had seen it in the Lands, in the new Dreaming forms made by Rainbow Serpent, the Lord of the Dreaming Ancestors. Also, she heard it in an important new Lands story called ‘Red Dress Woman’ given to granddaughter Gina in a sleep-dream. Ninija has no need of telephones or radios, telegrams and letters.
Each member of the white team had come with skills to offer and the need to learn more from ninija’s wisdom before she disappeared out of human contact. An acupuncturist, hoping to exchange skills with her for Bush remedies; a herbalist, come to collect botanical knowledge of Desert Plants; a musician, come to learn the story-songs and how to make rhythms with hands and feet and Earth as instruments; an ecological architect, come to learn how to build ancient shelters from natural materials; a painter, come to learn how to make pigments from Earth, Rocks, and Plants. And leader rifca: story-teller and psychic, who had come to learn more about intuition, natural intelligence and integration with nature.
It was not long after the ‘white-fella’ group arrived at the settlement before rifca asked me how I came to be here. I said the real words of how it had happened out loud for the first time, sitting there opposite her, a naked Crocodile man. But I listened to myself as if to someone else. I heard how I had been a foreign tourist at Ayer’s Rock, the ‘Earth’s belly button,’ and of how I had been mesmerised by the magic of it.
One day at Sunset I went wandering off to explore the innumerable galleries of Rock paintings made by aboriginals, and got lost. The mighty Ayer’s Rock was changing colour like a chameleon from one moment to the next as Sun disappeared. Then how I had heard ninija’s voice calling me, and had seen her black naked form disappearing into a sheer wall of topaz, encouraging me after her. It is curious that in this account I made no mention of my profession of anthropologist, or my Desert contract, my precious brief and record collection, or my academic standards.
Rifca’s blue eyes lit up as she told me that she too had been called by ninija in a series of strange dreams. As a result, she had also unhesitatingly made her way to Ayer’s Rock, selling up her secure civilised life in London. For us both there had been no previous connection with the plight of indigenous peoples in Australia. Indeed neither of us was truly aware of what our emigrant forefathers had done in the name of pioneering in the remote southern hemisphere.
Then, once we had established our common calling, I admitted that I had no idea how long I had been at the settlement, or even where it was in precise geographical terms. I remember clearly saying the words, ‘There is no more need for questions.’ Rifca added that for her there was, ‘never a need for them, only a flirtation!’ The word ‘Dreamtime’ occurred and re-occurred many times in our short conversations together whilst the white workers were making the complicated preparations for the tribe’s departure. It had for both of us been a phrase that we had played with through the years, a fashionable pre-occupation in western life at that time.
We laughed together when we each confessed what we had previously thought the ‘time of Dreams’ might be made from: ether; vapour; strange substances through which people might walk; sequencelessness; a conveyor belt through a mountain side; a gigantic mirror; and other surrealist fads. We realised then that this was part of the paraphernalia of thinking, of words and images, all mere frivolities to traditional life. They had nothing to do with the real meaning of ‘Dreamtime.’