Swallow the Air

by

Tara June Winch

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Swallow the Air: 14. Just Dust Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
At the lake, May meets an old woman named Issy, who lives near the lake and has dedicated herself to protesting the mining company that is intruding on “her mother’s land and [May’s] mother’s land.” She is trying to make enough of a nuisance that the company shareholders get frustrated and back out of the operation, which would be detrimental to the surrounding environment. According to Issy, the mining companies can’t grasp that “just because you can’t see something, don’t mean it’s not there.” This is the land that created the Wiradjuri, who are “powerful people, strong people.” Even though the name Wiradjuri comes from the words for “no” and “having,” Issy believes that the people have plenty.
Issy is part of a struggle between Aboriginal groups who feel deeply rooted in their traditional land, and the Anglo-Australian society that wants to exploit the land and displace its people. Essentially, they’re replaying the conflicts between Australian Aboriginals and the first white settlers, and the battle that Windradyne fought in the 19th century. It’s notable that even though Issy represents the side that’s always lost these conflicts, she’s characterized by deep dignity, wisdom, and pride in her heritage.
Themes
Aboriginal Identity Theme Icon
Displacement Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Issy tells May that the lake “works like a heart, pumping its lifeblood from under the skin.” Everything is part of the life of nature, and if they listen closely they can feel it around them. The mining company wants to “dig up the hearts” and destroy nature’s life in order to increase their own life. Eventually, she says, they will always fail in this quest.
Issy’s comparison of the water to a body part illustrates her conception of the intimate relationship between Aboriginal people and the ecosystem in which they reside. This is one of the reasons that displacement is so traumatic to Aboriginals—they lose not only economic and political security but the spiritual connection to the land that gives their lives meaning.
Themes
Aboriginal Identity Theme Icon
Displacement Theme Icon
Issy draws a circle in the ground and tells May that everything is sacred, both inside and outside the circle. Both areas should be cared for in the same way. She draws several other circles inside and outside the original circles. Issy advises May that if she wants to find her family, the other Gibsons, she should follow the Lachlan river to Eubalong. May asks her about the meaning of her drawings, but she cryptically says they’re “just dust.”
Issy uses the land to illustrate her philosophy. At the same time, by calling her ideas “just dust,” she stresses that her principles are derived from the land, rather than superseding them.
Themes
Aboriginal Identity Theme Icon