For whom the red desert sings, for the brave girl from the Alice Spring

Updated on March 13, 2018
Beata Stasak profile image

Beata works as a qualified primary school teacher, a councillor for drug and alcohol addiction and a farm caretaker for organic olive grow.

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,

then police?

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

but where?

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

about it.

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.”


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