Dear rifca and team,
If we had met, i may have looked like some kind of naked white wild man, caked in red mud, squatting in a decrepit hut in remote desert scrubland. ninija and her people always call us ‘white-fella ghost,’ as you probably know. And you may think that I am trapped here in the Desert just like lumaluma was. ‘lumaluma?’ That’s another strange name the Desert people have for white skins, but especially those who exploit ninija and her people.
ninija, as traditional landowner of these Lands, which stretch further than the human eye can see, was almost torn out of them, as you’ll see in her story. Actually, roughly translated, ‘lumaluma’ means ‘money-money’ in their ancient tongue. However, ‘wild white man’ or ‘lumaluma,’ neither name applies to me: in fact, very far from it.
ninija and her people all left the settlement some time and day before ‘right now’ and ‘right here,’ on the evening of the twelfth day and The Djang. it was full Moon, a highly auspicious signal. we couldn’t notify you of this, and i can’t tell you when it was exactly.
Today, i decided to come inside this clammy hut to get my last experience of being in ‘white-fella’ Lands before I leave too. i should explain this key phrase so vital to life out here. ‘The Lands’ is the term used by ninija to represent not only the physical country belonging to their tribe, but also its spiritual dimension. They consist mainly of Stories, Legends, and the Tribal Laws.
‘The Lands’ having other dimensions apart from the physical may seem a strange notion at first, but ninija’s story will explain this beautifully. She officially entrusted it to me for safe-keeping just before she departed, exactly as the Moon started to rise, certain it was time the world knew about it and that you rifca would make sure it did. she knew you would come in your red dress, referring to you as ‘red-dress woman.’
So, standing behind the Fly screen inside this clammy ‘dog-box,’ as these temporary shelters of concrete and tin are called, for the very last time, i recall vaguely how it used to be home to me. ‘Right here’ and ‘right now,’ as i look through the dusty mesh, it seems that i have always looked out at the vast blue Desert Sky and the red Ochre of the Land below it.
The two are held together by the dark outline of the huge Casuarina Tree, which ninija’s people so cherished. They insisted on making their settlement around it, and i can still see them all staring in wonderment up into its muscular Branches, especially so at the meetings of the Elders which were convened at its massive base.
Then, somewhere in this rectangular frame of the mesh that I stare into, there is me. My pale eyes and white skin reddened by the colossal heat, my unkempt hair and fuzzy beard strained through the thousands of minute wire cells to become part of everything outside. Then, everything outside is filtered back to become part of me. One moment, i become the strong Tree and the stunning blue and red, and the next the Sky and Earth somehow take on my pale strangeness. There is no separation at all, and there is no beginning to my gazing and no end to it. ‘Right Now.’ ‘Right Here.’ ‘Now.’ ‘Here.’ On and on. i personally call it total ‘integration.’ ninija taught me how to do it.
Outside, as I look from one rubbish heap to the next, it nowadays seems bizarre that the ‘developed’ human species has a compulsion to collect material objects. Then, to sequence and sort them, arranging them in heaps like these, or on shelves, or inside custom-built drawers and cupboards, in albums or boxes. With time, the collections become the entire identity of the collector.
In fact, these rubbish heaps exist exactly because ninija and her people have no use for disposable material goods. They snatch them with no sense of gratitude, initially aroused by their novelty, attracted by their unaccustomed colours and textures, by ‘toys,’ ‘culinary aids,’ paper goods, textiles, plastic fashioned into shapes. Then they pass through their fingers and discard them. In this way, the heaps of mixed ‘civilized’ gifts accumulate inside and outside their uninhabited dog boxes. They very quickly discard those too.
ninija told me that she could not stay inside the dog-box allotted to her by her benefactors because she was made separate from Sky and the Lands. In fact, I would say that not one of these provisions made for her and her people by the ‘white-skin’ colonists, are of any value in their traditional lives out in the Desert.
On that night of their departure, on my way back from the disposal of my own data collection in the ‘civilized’ rubbish heaps, i made my final walk around the deserted settlement. I looked up into the massive Casuarina Tree, its strong arms holding up Sky and balancing Moon, its roots gripping Earth. i stared out at the wind-disturbed remains of the sacred Burial Grounds built entirely out of Sand: the purification trenches, the Dreaming mounds.
i climbed on to gina granddaughter’s evening hillock where she used to howl at the sunset each day, and I sat up on ninija Rock by the Water hole and lumaluma’s hollow, the highest point in the Lands. it was from here that ninija as chief could carry out her duties as overall keeper of the Lands.
‘Traditional Landowner ninija – sole keeper of the Stories, Songs and artifacts of her people and her Lands.’ That is her full title. Now, she has gone to find another Rock deeper inside her massive Lands, which stretch across the hottest area of the world. There will be new Stories and Songs to record about her journey, but not by me this time. i am no longer an observer, and you will probably not be able to find us in the interior. i must warn you that you and your team take your life in your hands walking into the roaring furnace of the interior without Totem initiation or Dreaming protections.
On departure, as i watched the group prepare to leave, they packed nothing at all. They took only a few handmade possessions which they habitually carry or wear: their dilly bags woven from Mangrove string, containing personal effects such as churingas (totemic identity badges); their Wood and Grass carrying bowls, coolamon, sported on heads, shoulders or against bellies; their custom-made digging sticks slung across shoulders with ornate Kangaroo straps; a range of beautifully crafted decorated boomerangs for hunting both for children and women; and perfectly cylindrical Hollow Log coffins containing Bones of their deceased. Churinga. Coolamon. Hollow Log Coffins. This is the local terminology, which you may not be familiar with. i remember how strange theses names were to begin with, but how now they have become the objects they describe; no other interpretations are needed out here. They are so beautiful, so practical and of course hand-made. (2839)
For my part i, like ninija and her people, have discarded the baggage I do not need. Need is so often an illusion. ‘Right Here’ and ‘Right Now,’ i am certain that all i need can be found in the Vast Hot Desert. No, i’ll go further and say i am completely sure that ‘the Lands’ will provide everything. Today, from my strange position between worlds, i can never ever forget their departure. it has for me the quality of a fantasy, the first-hand experiencing of a fable or myth. There was no need for ‘goodbyes,’ only the silence of real trust.
Looking around inside this dark clammy dog-box, i remember so clearly when i first arrived at the settlement ‘back-then.’ i would sit in the boiling evenings surrounded by all means of gadgets and potions to keep my tender skin safe from the Desert ‘greedies.’ Then the Wet season came and flooded out my dog-box, ruining my transmitter. No further supplies were delivered.
It was when i was utterly consumed with my mortality, not any longer daring to step outside, that i began to speak in my dreams. At first my dry lips seemed to be talking to myself using strange unconnected strands of language. i became quickly persuaded that i was in the early stages of malarial madness. But then i realized that there was someone else involved. i was dumbfounded when I immediately got an answer to a question i asked myself, searching wildly in my four clammy corners for its provider.
Soon, after this mystical dialogue with ninija had begun, my aids to protection from Desert assaults did indeed run out entirely. Then one strange night, besieged as usual by armies of Flies in here, i inexplicably removed all my clothes, opened this Fly-screen door, and walked outside. To my amazement, i no longer compulsively swatted or cursed the winged squadrons. i was no longer repelled by their persistent tickling and foraging for moisture.
Outside, Moon welcomed me and banished all fears of poisonous Snakes and pernicious Spiders. i was given permission by the Great Mother to be a naked and innocent creature, without collections of possessions or status. i no longer had any use for sensual cravings, and suddenly my heart and mind were empty of their stuffing of pictures and words.
i stood there with my bare feet dredged in Desert dust turned blue by the moonlight, shrouded by Insects for which bared white flesh was a new sensation. i was empty and yet full. Instead of images, many of which had been planted there by the media throughout my life, the battery of my being was charged with Desert, Earth, Air, Sky, and Moon.
That night, quite soon after stepping naked outside, ninija arrived and led me, without any verbal instructions, away from the settlement. she turned left and right ahead of me among interminable thickets and Mulga scrub, as if obeying invisible signposts. Her broad back was dark blue in colour as we walked quickly. Then, beyond the hillocks of Spinifex Grass, which she and her people called ‘Yellow Hill,’ we went on to a collection of large holes dug into the ground. They were deep and smooth-sided.
ninija turned and pointed at one, and i knew to climb down into it. she slowly lowered her strong body into the hole to straddle me, her cheeks swelling and emptying rhythmically, her eyes closed. Then she began to produce long rivulets of saliva, which silvered down the narrow cleft between our bodies into the bottom of the hole, reaching blind arms below us to knead her mouth fluids with the skin of Earth to make paint.
Then her black eyes opened and penetrated my blue eyes as she brought her fingers close to me and began to paint the traditional patterns known as ‘clan lines’ on my naked body. she made what looked like Fish or Reptile scale shapes which ranged down my chest and thighs, and a huge tooth-filled jaw line across the width of my collar-bone. As she painted, she unexpectedly pronounced the words ‘Baru, Crocodile!’ Finally, moving to my head, on my cheeks she painted Baru’s tiny hooded eyes, and on my chin, his ovoid nostrils. i shuddered.
She directed me to lie face-down in the clay grave. Then i felt her strong fingers marking bigger scale shapes across my back, and Crocodile’s thick spine in line with my own.. i demanded to know why she likened me to a Reptile, exactly what type of Crocodile i was, and so on. But she remained immune to my talk. After a time, the realization of how inappropriate words and thoughts were on this occasion slammed into my mind, and i was silenced.
When she had completed painting me she told me in broken English that the Great Mother had shared my soul with Baru, Crocodile. That i must go and watch and care for my scaly brother and sister ‘Totems’ down by Green River. Baru, Crocodile Man, according to the Dreaming myths, created Fire with the friction of his tail by accident one day during a ritual.
my clan lines painted, ninija left me in the strange blue light of the Desert clay hole. i had only ever seen pictures of Crocodiles, and most of them were in zoos! Everything was to be transformed after this night. (2166)
To explain further, as you probably are aware, ancient peoples live so closely with Nature that when babies are born they are immediately associated with a particular animal or natural object or phenomena like weather. That then becomes their ‘totem’ or emblem, and they become the caretakers of it and are strongly spiritually linked with it for their entire life. In this way, they can protect and nurture their natural environment.
Baru. me. i have been down to Green River day after day, often sleeping there, always within watchful distance of Crocodiles. i have even learned to swim with my brothers and sisters. they are pleased to see me, their tails waving rapidly.
it was quite soon after i started my wordless dialogue with ninija that she gave me sole custody of her special 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.
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 craved 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, spend 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 Ants. i meanwhile envied the simplicity of being able to commit everything to memory as she did and her ancestors before had always done.
you will also have noticed by now in my letter that natural phenomena and anything connected with glorious death or Djang always start with a capital letter, and humans and anything made by them with a small. ninija insisted on this to show respect to the Great Mother and Father Earth. she hit me hard on the head with her digging stick when i suggested we must start all sentences with a capital letter. she was adamant that if her name or any unnatural thing began that sentence, it must be small, and this included ‘you’ or ‘i,’ or pronouns of any kind.
If only you could have been there to see them go. ninija’s tribe, leaving the disorganized collection of tin-roofed huts, each with its rubbish heap outside. All naked and all barefoot, now all indifferent to white man’s comfortable way of living! ninija, leading the exodus, tall and broad. her strong frame stooped to carry the extra weight gained as a result of unaccustomed starch and lack of exercise. her hair a flaxen thatch cropped short by sharp scissors. she carried a large Grass dilly bag slung over one shoulder, a digging stick of the Pelican clan across the other. And held loosely down by her thigh the perfect wooden cylinder of her treasured Bone Coffin, distinctively that of a Traditional Landowner, containing the precious powdered thigh Bone of ginger son.
The party of shiny black skins with their blond and red topknots of wild hair was joined occasionally by competing Kangaroos. On one side, they were flanked by a massive flock of high Emus, great scratching Bird of the Lands, and on the other by a troop of wild Camels. i too, as I know you will be, had been so surprised to come across wild Camels in the australian Desert. Apparently, they were once imported by arabian explorers and have now become naturalized. Above the whole assembly, white Pelicans flapped their slow wings through indigo Sky, muttering to full Moon. The shimmering tribe was walking away from civilization, from ‘security,’ from ‘safety,’ away from Health Care and Education, and from the culture of ‘the thinking’ stuffed with words and ideas.
Before the Desert and ninija ‘back-then,’ i was a human camera. i was an archivist, and a repository for captions. ‘Say it. See it. Say it. See it. Check it. Now prove it!’ After arriving here, i soon stopped looking and listened instead, and so slid into my rightful place. Now, if i cease listening to the Universe for an instant, ninija strides into to my mind and elbows me roughly in the ribs. she strictly guides me back from the needy eye, and from the very needy ‘i’ of my ego.
Communicating with you is the final thing keeping me here at the deserted settlement. The manuscript is carefully secreted, wrapped in Grass and Paper Tree bark, deep inside the base of the massive Casurina. Beware of Gina-ganddaughter’s porpcupines fiercly guarding the tree! There will be no corrections. No critique. No rewrites. No editorial whims. That is it. i will not be at the end of a telephone to negotiate this and that, a capital letter here, a new paragraph there.
That piece of white-fella’s business completed, i will now set off in the same direction as the tribe went, through the Buga Hills. i will vigilantly watch for ninija’s Fires and make my own to let her know everything is accomplished. In this way, she will guide me to her and i will be with her forever.
Take care ‘right there’ and ‘then.’