Fiction: Lest we Forget

by Mark Cornell

‘Here Maggie you want a drink?’ Aideen beckoned to his new friend. It was a warm overcast day by the bay. The tide was calm.
‘You’re kidding, aren’t you? Out here in the rockpools there’d only be saltwater.’ Maggie scowled while Aideen dug in the sand. The boy cupped cool water in his hands.
‘Have a drink, there’s fresh water all along here. Mum showed me the spots. C’mon have a sip?’ Water trickled through the skinny boy’s fingers and blotched onto the sand. Maggie reluctantly leant over.
‘My god it’s bloody delicious!’ Maggie’s blue eyes widened.
  ‘Told you, you silly bugger!’ Aideen laughed. The two began to make a sandcastle. Aideen bent over and flicked the sand between his legs like a scratching dog. Maggie decorated it with shells and seaweed. The boy built a moat around the castle and made bridges. He dug a channel that went out to the bay. Pretty soon the seawater flooded in to turn the castle into an island.  A cormorant aired his wings on a rock nearby. Afternoon sun threatened to break through the glowing silver clouds.

‘Don’t use them shells Maggie!’ the boy ordered his friend.
‘What’s wrong Aideen?’
‘Don’t touch them!’ The boy looked around to see if anyone was noticing.
‘Don’t be silly, they’re only shells,’ the girl giggled.
‘Please Maggie don’t touch them alright?’
‘What wrong mate!

‘Them shells were placed here by the old people,’ Aideen’s skeletal chest heaved.
  ‘Mum told me they’re called middens.’
‘What’s a midden?
‘A special place where the old people used to celebrate mother nature’s bounty. They used to gather around a fire and sing, dance and tell stories to each other about their gods and ancestors . Mum told me if you scratch around in the sand there’s heaps of them. Some go down into the sand forever. The old people used to gather shellfish and cook them. See the charcoal layer there from the campfire? That’s how Mum says you can recognise them.’
‘So whoppy do, they’re Abo rubbish tips,’ Maggie brushed her thick red hair back from her pale forehead.’
‘Please don’t say that word Abo, when I hear that word it’s like someone sticks a knife in my gut,’ Aideen replied. ‘No there not rubbish tips alright! Jesus Harry!’
‘Don’t blaspheme, you know me, and my family are Micks.’ Maggie stomped her bare feet into the sand.
‘Alright I won’t blaspheme if you promise not to blaspheme me and my Mum by calling us Abos alright? No there not bloody rubbish tips, middens have special stones in them traded from other tribes, sometimes from thousands of miles away. There’s also carvings in them made out of kangaroo bone, Mum reckons there’s grinding stones and hearth stones too. Sometimes you find the bones of the old people.’ Aideen said. 
‘Why are you so secretive about this stuff?’ the girl asked.

‘Because white people dig the middens up to make roads from them and mix into their cement when there making all these houses around here. Mum sometimes hears the old people scream.’     

But this is all in the past isn’t it? Your mother, being institutionalised because she kept hearing voices, especially at night. Your mother, for years being discharged then re-admitted, zapped by EC.T. Confirming her insanity, the silly cow,  screaming about being locked up in dog kennel of a cell. Her husband useless because,  he was always down at the pub. Her parents, well they’d died a long time ago. Her Dad and Mum were piss heads. Like all his people, Pop Oak, loved to roam the bush, but one day a missionary, George Langhorne said he could give Pop, who was only a boy back then, meat, flour, a little tea, sugar and soap. Pop thought this was a bit of alright, seeing his traditional land was being fenced off and white fellas were prone to shooting him and his people. His tuber food was being trampled and eaten by cows and sheep, the kangaroos and possums scarce, the neighbours loved blasting them to hell.  Besides all Pop  had to do was two hours of fencing or digging in the garden every day. Not a bad lurk when you come to think of it. George, said Pop’s people were, “ degraded savages, and promiscuous indolent wanderers,” then one day Pop discovered if he wanted to leave the mission, he needed George’s permission. Pop didn’t understand the concept of permission or boss, you see when you wanted to roam your own homeland it wasn’t seen as a problem. And if you had to walk through a neighbour’s tribal land all you had to do was talk to them. Usually no worries.   

There were a lot of words Pop didn’t understand because English wasn’t his first language. Besides his Dad told Pop be careful about these white people, maybe they were spirits or ghosts? Pop was ordered to forget about his creator god and hero, the soaring eagle Bunjil. George told Pop and all the young people at the mission about this gentle bloke called Jesus, who roamed a desert about two thousand years ago. George used to yell and sometimes beat the kids in the mission, force them to wear white man’s clothes, and kept banging on about this gentle lamb of a god called Jesus. Pop was told some thirty thousand years of his people’s history was heathen. Whatever the hell that meant? So, one-night Pop took his clothes off and buggered off back to the bush. Problem was his family were all gone, some dead from the white fella disease, smallpox, some disappeared after being told by angry whites to get off their land. Can’t they see the bloody fence! One night out in Warrandyte by the river he heard someone crying. It was Nan, she was crying because a whitey had raped her, you see back in the days of early settlement there was a shortage of white women and with all of these naked black women walking around well Satan tempted all these poor buggers, didn’t he? Later on, Pop discovered Nan was pregnant, she was frail, so they decided to go back to the mission. Pop regularly got the shit beaten out of him, Nan, well she was a bit of good looker, and some of the men of god couldn’t keep their hands of her. These men of god, had a soft spot for kids too, didn’t matter whether they were male or female. Their brown flesh was so soft, they all had the faces of angels. Anyway, poor old Pop and Nana started hitting the piss, they died young.  I suppose I’d hit the piss too, if my land and beliefs were suddenly ripped away from me. Their orphaned daughter, Kalina, was never told as to whether she might have a bit of white fella in her. 

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