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U3A Writing: Dreamtime Calling

...Jimmy danced the strut of the old emu and found he was the old emu. He was becoming part of the land and the animals it supported. Feelings and ideas flooded his brain. He hopped and squatted and rolled and jumped to the beat; his being was one with the creatures and people, unlike anything he had ever experienced in the rocking night clubs of the city. So much meaning. So much contact with the land. So much understanding. The white man in him stood back looking on in amazement...

John S. Heussler's story tells how a Deputy Shire Clerk discovered his roots.

Jimmy Eagan, Deputy Shire Clerk, Mundamba Council - that was an achievement. On his first day Jimmy closed the office and pretended not to admire the shiny brass name plate. The new job back in his old town well established, now he had to organize his spare time. He enjoyed his football. A competent player, he reckoned he would go down to the club and see if there was a place on the training squad. Should be a let down from work and perhaps a way to make friends.

Born in a tin humpy down by the river, Jimmy remembered his aboriginal mother and his alcoholic father - a camel driver of European origin. Returns from extended trips with the animals were unannounced. The door flew open. Where are you? You fat bitch. Get that piccaninny of yours to find me a beer. He hid terrified behind his mother waiting for the inevitable bashings, then went to the fridge. No ice cream in there, mainly beer; and not much tucker either. The whole town knew when the camel driver was in town by the bruises on his family. When Jimmy's arm was broken and his concussed mother defended him, the Social Security took action, sending him to a foster home.

Mr. and Mrs. Eagan, his foster parents, gave him love and stability. Later they gave him education, a work ethic and even their name. Jimmy had heard of other kids sent to less caring families. Knowing how lucky he was, he returned their affection and in secret grieved for his mother. Since his white genes had dominated, he could pass for a swarthy immigrant. This made his path through school and early employment somewhat easier. Jimmy grasped his opportunities, even to accepting the current posting in his home town. He would face his memories and make it home.

Needing more power in the centres, the football team snapped him up. Bit of a find really, he combined well with their half-back, a nimble aborigine they called Slippery. Together, the two ran through the opposition like water down a drain, passing and sidestepping at will. Jimmy wouldn't go past the local team because he had resolved to make a career in local government. Proud of what he had achieved, he did not intend to stop now. He wanted to show the Eagans that their confidence in him was justified.

One evening after training, he gave Slippery a lift home.

"Thanks, Jimmy," Slippery said, as he got out of the car, "What'ya doin' on Sundee?"

"Nothing much," replied Jimmy. The flat was clean and the garden watered.

"The Mullarammy people are having a get together out at the five mile, Sundee arvo. Our Elder, old Joe Hawks, is off the grog now and getting old. He reckons if he doesn't tell us young fellers some of the old stories, they'll be lost forever."

"Aw I don't know, Jimmy hesitated. "Got to be careful not to take sides now I'm working for the council, whatever the rights and wrongs. Mustn't get into any land rights arguments or protests."

"Bugger the protest; that's another matter," retorted Slippery. "This is learning about the old days. Hear your mother came from down the river so you ought to come out. There'll be no booze."

"OK, I'll give you a lift out," promised Jimmy.

Jimmy worried about Sunday afternoon. He was very comfortable in the contemporary society he had adopted, but still there was something dragging him back to his heritage. He talked about it to some of his new friends in the council chambers over smoko. Everyone knew about Joe Hawks.

"Bloody menace on the grog, but he'd been good lately," they assured him. "Interesting old codger if you get him going. Reckon you'll have a few tales to tell yourself when you get back."


Out at the five mile, the intensity of his reaction surprised him. They sat round a fire, cooking an odd snag and boiling the billy, while old Joe Hawks rambled on about the dreamtime and the legendary birth of the plains. The tales went on into the night. No alcohol spoiled this session. They had learned that lesson the hard way.

Ancient stories told in the heart of the timeless land wove a spell over the little group - the survivors of a tribe overtaken by changes that were inevitable in a developing world and often not pretty. No longer a recipe for a lifestyle but a fable or a religion; the dreamtime bound them together and relaxed them into a togetherness not experienced in the beery mists of previous parties.

The following weekend, a few of them met with Joe to discuss that afternoon. He knew of a bora ground about forty miles west of town. Why not try to resurrect some of the dances that told the stories of the creation? Why not try to revive the old culture? The way of life was gone forever and Jimmy didn't want to go back to sleeping on the stones and eating goanna when and if he could catch one, but he was searching for identity. The dances were OK but he would draw the line at any of those initiation ceremonies. He had looked up what bora meant! He reckoned that those still in the no-man's land between the cultures might gain some comfort from a better knowledge of their roots as long as the expectation of living them in a modern world was not exaggerated.

So the date was set - Saturday night closest to the next full moon. As the ground was on a pastoral holding, the owner would be reluctant to allow the exercise for fear of the area becoming a sacred site or being subjected to land claims. Knowing him, several among the group pointed out that the place was already registered and after repeated assurances they received his blessing. They had to camp the night but summer time removed the need for much shelter. Pray for no rain and a cloudless evening. No one had organized a corroboree before so old Joe was the boss. Jimmy hired a mini bus and some took their cars. About thirty souls in all - plus the kids of course. They wouldn't do the secret dances forbidden to women and children this time and at least that ruled out initiation.

Joe led the long march into the bora ground from where they had to leave their cars. They found it on a mesa; an ancient plateau standing solitary and gaunt amidst the endless rolling plains. The barren surface, dry and rocky, yielded little growth except for the stunted mulga trees, all dark and sticky, pointing at the sky. And in a place where even they did not grow, strange patterns, curves, and lines of stones so carefully placed by ancient hands. Between the lines were flattened pads where one imagined the feet of long past generations telling stories, still related in the dreamtime myths. All the soil having washed down to build the plains; the remaining rock stood for ages in testimony to forgotten people and their tales.

Such a culture shock for Jimmy to discard clothing and replace it with yellow ochre and white bands in strange patterns. He felt like a chook without feathers. What did the patterns mean? Joe had some answers but many were lost in antiquity. Then there were hours spent explaining the dances and the meaning of the complex movements. Miming the hunt for the great kangaroo - the birth of the mountains - stories told in dance and movement. All afternoon they prepared under the guidance of their Elder. Unfortunately his memory was limited but they got the general idea and a bit of impromptu embellishment seemed OK. They rested a while at sunset and unpacked their meals. Not traditional fare but that was not the point this evening. After all they were still living in the 21st Century. They lit the fire and watched the moon rise blood red in the east.

The barrenness and dryness seen under the blazing sun of a hot afternoon gave way to silvery mysticism under the stars. What a magic place it was in the full light of the moon; especially with their painted bodies moving and swaying; and the weird sounds of the didgeridoo stirring the silence of the night. Jimmy danced the strut of the old emu and found he was the old emu. He was becoming part of the land and the animals it supported. Feelings and ideas flooded his brain. He hopped and squatted and rolled and jumped to the beat; his being was one with the creatures and people, unlike anything he had ever experienced in the rocking night clubs of the city. So much meaning. So much contact with the land. So much understanding. The white man in him stood back looking on in amazement. He had found his roots.

But they were only half his inheritance. The other half was in a far off land under a cloudy sky dressed in fur against the cold. Hard to reconcile that. He was grateful to the Eagans for the Western culture and the preparation for the realities of modern life, but his glimpse of the spirit of the dreamtime had shattered the certainty of his adopted Anglo Saxon traditions.


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