For whom the red desert sings, for the brave girl from the Alice Spring
The proud Warlpiri woman peers at the bushland
across the street from her mother’s place
at the edge of the Alice Spring’s township.
She looked at her hand,
it was covered in blood
that was dripping down her shoulder
five months into a new relationship
she was and it was the same story like before
the first since splitting with her once so kind
fellow environmentalist and activist
and father of her two kids.
Once upon a time they believed in the same thing,
to revive their culture and keep their land clean.
Drugs and jealousy destroyed another Warlpiri man
A lamp was hurled at her with such a rage
It left a gash requiring six stitches on her head.
“You should go back to him,” her mother said quietly,
“Jessica, it is who we are, it is all we know.”
“No,” Jessica: “No more running out of the door,
across the road with kids in my arms
bleeding all over the stranger’s floor
and asked them to make a call,
the ambulance siren,
And how they look at you?
Bored and disinterested?
Just another victim of family violence,
Just another Warlpiri woman.”
“It will be better,” her mum sighs
patting the two curious tiny girls on their heads:
“The girls need their father.”
“The girls need the father not a murderer.”
Jessica replaces her bloody bandages
and cleans the blood residues from her skin.
“You know it will not and my girls will end up the same,
but not on my watch!”
Jessica embraces her girls protectively and shouts
with such a rage her daughters pull away in fear:
“How could I let this happen to myself?
Why didn’t I see it coming?”
She moves to Darwin, the girls make new friends
In their new school and she moves on
taking a job in the local native radio station
to make their needs meet.
But the nightmares persist
waking her before dawn
in the thick muggy heat
she dreams of her nightclothes
clinging to her skin
soaked in blood,
she hears the girls’ screams,
then she hears him,
their partying words,
before she packed up and took a hike
with empty delivery van
out of Alice:
“I find you everywhere, you know that
and I kill you for leaving me!”
And it is so easy to find her
her strong and confident voice
beams out of the Darwin’s radio station
every morning to play music
for ‘her Territory women’
as she calls them
and she introduces herself,
Jessica, a territory woman,
with much to say,
"Open your eyes and open your hearts
“my fearless anti-violence warrior women,
mothers and grandmothers,
wives and sweethearts,
let us together
protect our children,
do not let them to experience our plight. Violence has to stop now!’
Then the Aboriginal music fills in the sun bitten red centre.
Although it would take some years
for her to articulate
all that she’d seen and experienced
since she was a tiny kid running through the potholed
back streets of Alice.
The territory women are not used to talk
about uncomfortable truths they all share.
She is lifting the veil
on the murderers and rapists
and victims in her own extended family
the kinship ties
and ‘cultural excuses’
that protect the perpetrators.
After her radio shift she rushes
to pick up her girls from school,
she is late again
and the school yard empty,
except two tiny figures next to gate.
Feeling guilty grabbing their hands tightly
Jessica suggests an ice cream as they walk
along the pavement of a busy shopping centre.
An imperious bell behind them.
They jump and turn.
A middle aged white man riding a bicycle
on the busy footpath is most displeased.
“Out of my way a lousy abo,
have no time,
I don’t live from government hands out like you,
bet your kids are sniffing petrol already.”
Jessica breaks a grip on her daughter’s hand
on the right to allow the angry white man pass.
She knows them too well to comment that
she doesn’t think cyclist were meant to ride
along footpaths in shopping areas like this.
Her girls heard and looked up to her scared.
They still could hear his vile volley of shouting
and swearing directed at her and her children
amid all the shoppers, white shoppers.
Girls said they don’t want ice cream anymore,
They want to go home.
The toxic white male rage.
Different to Aboriginal male rage,
she reflects as she leads them to their suburbia
with a tub of ice cream from a supermarket
under her arm.
The white sense of entitlement,
that the footpath was his
and the shopping centre was his
and the other white mobs’
their and their alone.
The belief they can do what they want,
when they want,
‘Angry white men’,
some ‘dirty and good for nothing Aboriginals’
were on his way and needed to know their place,
back to their red dirt they belong
not here in his town,
out of his way he wanted them.
For whom the bell tolls, for the bullies and abusers the bell tolls
Next weekend she took her kids back to Alice,
to her mum’s house.
Her kidney disease was getting worse.
Jessica hugged her ill mum tightly
and told her about the incident
in the Darwin’s shopping mall.
‘You know my sister was murdered
when very young,” her mum sighs”
“An important white man killed her,
it was all hushed because it happened
while he held a parliamentary office.
We never truly found out how she died,
Just got her remains and told to shut up.
My father was so angry but he couldn’t fight
‘angry white men, important white men’
so his rage turned against us,
but we were always a very close family
because of just the sorts of things that
we’d been through…”
“My grandfather was no better like any white man then,”
Jessica interrupted her angrily: “Just a coward taking his rage
on his wife and kids because he can not fight the white men.”
“You know what people say in our desert hometown
about your radio station? “
Her mum sighed again sadly,
“You haven’t properly consulted with women in town camps
and communities around. You should take their wisdom on board,
you are one of us, not alone.”
Jessica kept sitting on her mum’s veranda
sipping her home brewed lemon myrtle tea
suddenly very acutely aware of her bumpy path ahead.
In this rare moment she kept questioning herself,
“Why the hell do I do this?”
There are times she feels like she wants to run away
The kind white people she met in Darwin go back
where they come from, Scotland, England, Europe
at least for holiday or back to retire,
but for her and her mum and her mob
home is nowhere but here.
This is where they come from.
Suddenly a bunch of little Aboriginal kids
came up to their veranda to see their ‘ant Bess’,
her mum of course.
When she left to bring them ice drinks
the kids kept chatting away holding to their rusty bikes,
hungry for attention and hungry for food
and hungry for love.
Jessica listened to them how this happened
and that happened and they heard her to talk on radio
And she just watched them, the brightness in their eyes
at such a young age the hunger for change.
She watched her mum to come up with the drinks
hugging them closely because they are her mum’s
cousins and nieces after all,
feeling her mum’s fear for their future,
the lost kids of the unforgiving red desert,
the kids any white angry men can easily find
and steal that brightness from their eyes,
the kids any Aboriginal broken men disappointed in himself and life
can strike at and punish for just being around…
Jessica knew at that moment that she needs to keep going,
She can not stop while these kids are still living the lives they are still living.
They are not thriving or having the sorts of opportunities
her girls have, that other kids have.
After the kids left, she turned to her mum still holding the empty cups on her tray
looking worryingly after them
as they chased each other on the broken bikes
through the red dirt.
“Mum, tell your women, I stopped running, there is no turning back for me,
I don’t need their counsel I need their trust and yours.
You’ve always taught me to tell the truth, no matter what
and that is all I want to do.”