In 1916 at the battle of Pozieres, Bertie and Tommy watch another Indigenous soldier, Frank, die on the battlefield. They are unable to understand his last words and worry that his soul will get “stuck” in Europe and be unable to return to Australia if they cannot obtain the right plants for an Aboriginal funeral ceremony. Of course, they will not be able to get those plants, so they let the medic take the body away and instead take a lock of Frank’s hair. Later, both Bertie and Tommy are buried under the dirt and go home with severe trauma; back at home in New South Wales, Bertie passes his days motionless, staring into space, clinging to the lock of Frank’s hair.
When Bertie and Tommy first cut the hair from Frank’s body, it symbolizes indigenous displacement: the irony of dying in Europe, the land of their colonizers, and the impossibility of following tradition as the world has grown interconnected and violent. The lock is a last-ditch attempt to make a genuine burial for Frank possible in the future, a symbol of the traditions that indigenous people remember but are unable to practice. When Bertie brings it home, it symbolizes not only his memory of Frank, the only soldier he watched die who looked like him, but also his own inability to go back and recover his childhood and traditional connection to Australia, which now for him stands only for the horrors of war.
The Lock of Frank’s Hair Quotes in Black Diggers
Your folks do something, over in the West? [BERTIE shrugs] I wouldn’t know where to begin. His you know, his soul will be stuck here. You know what I mean. With all these trees, they will grow here one day all these—what do you call them? Elms and oaks and all that. And all these hedges and the flowers and we don’t know the names of any of them. And when they burn the smoke is different and will lead him a different way.
You know, even when the fires had been through, the little green shoots came up everywhere. Little tiny tender shoots, up from the bones. But that’s all lost now.