I thought about Mum’s pain being freed from her wrists, leaving her body, or what was left […] And I knew it was all right not to forget.
Paradise Parade, built over the old Paradise Abattoir, bore two long rows of housing commission flats, unregistered cars, busted prams and echoes of broken dreams, all crammed into our own special section of Woonona Beach. Paradise, ha!
Soon they’d demolish all the fibro and move us mob out to the western suburbs. For now we were to be satisfied with the elitist postcode and our anonymity.
It is their land, Mum would say, so we have to help look after it for them in exchange for our staying here. Be respectful, she’d say.
Billy and me were like shadows; we could merge into the walls without being noticed. We’d move on the same tides; when we were laughing we couldn’t stop each other, when we were talking neither of us could get a word in, when we were fishing, being sad, or being silent, we were both empty cups.
If you could be any fruit what would you be? I would be the mango that breaks off the stem into my dad’s fingers, the apple of his eye before I slide into the picking bag.
My old man isn’t though; his family are from the First Fleet and everything. Rich folk they were, fancy folk from England.
A jawbone crunches under a slice of bare knuckles. Bloodied eyeballs throw blank expressions. Mouths fling spittle streamers about the dirt red ring. Frantic, finger-bitten punches claw tangled in the shiny skin.
I remembered now, when that anger face became his always face and the world ceased to be real, to be able to be understood, so I had left it behind. I couldn’t remember the endings to the memories of him. But here they were laid bare—the bones of him that I had hidden.
The screams must have been so deafening, the river of tears so overflowing that the current could only steal her. The flood breaking so high, that she had to leave us behind. We couldn’t swim either.
I didn’t see the color that everyone else saw, some saw different shades—black, and brown, white. I saw me, May Gibson with one eye a little bigger than the other. I felt Aboriginal because Mum had made me proud to be […] but when Mum left, I stopped being Aboriginal.
She told me about the history of Redfern, about the housing corporation stealing everyone’s money and homes, about how it used to be a real strong community. “And now,” she says shaking her head, “it’s the young fellas taking our money as well and the drugs stealing our community.”
“May, you got people that you gotta find, things you gotta learn. You will learn them ere, but I don’t want you to. Luck at Justine, smack the only thing teachin her now!”
He’d never tell you about Africa, and I never asked. It was his secret—his past, that someday, revisited, would become his home again. He never asked me where I was from either—it was an unspoken understanding.
He takes my hand like always and we scramble up the palms and hack down coconuts with a machete, we run down to the rocky beaches and cast off our canoe, we fish all day, following the reefs and tides and winds […] We rest in the houses as warm tropical storms light up the bruised sky.
The sky showing the journey the waters make, the tracks, the beds balancing liquid from cloud to crevasse. Follow the leatherback turtle through tide, the waterbirds fly between currents. I knew I had to get out of the city, get out of the boxes they put you in.
Mum’s stories would always come back to this place, to the lake, where all Wiradjuri would stop to drink. Footprints of your ancestors, she’d say, one day I’ll take you there.
Issy says they don’t understand that just because you can’t see something, don’t mean it’s not there. She says that under the earth, the land we stand on, under all this is water. She says that our people are born from quartz crystal, hard water. We are powerful people, strong people.
There is a big missing hole between this place and the place you’re looking for. That place, that people, that something you’re looking for. It’s gone. It was taken away. We weren’t told, love; we weren’t allowed to be Aboriginal.
This land is belonging, all of it for all of us. This river is that ocean, these clouds are that lake, these tears are not only my own. They belong to the whales, to Joyce […] they belong to the spirits. To people I will never even know. I give them to my mother.
My mother knows that I am home, at the water I am always home. Aunty and my brother, we are from the same people, we are of the Wiradjuri nation, hard water. We are of the river country, and we have flowed down the rivers to estuaries to oceans.
An excavator starts its smothering engine over the torrent of each barrel. Over the sun. Over the blue. And I wonder, if we stand here, if we stay, if they stop digging up Aunty’s backyard, stop digging up a mother’s memory, stop digging up our people, maybe then, we’ll all stop crying.