In the time before the map – I
Bunjil & Birrung meet the sea
IN THE TIME before the bay, before the ice began to slip away, the men and women and the children mapped the land with the soles of their feet, drawing and tracing tracks from the edge of the sea in the south to the mountains behind them in the north, marking Country as they hunted emu and kangaroo, and as they dug for crops. With the melting of the ice the sea came forward, creeping across the land, swallowing many of the tracks, the fresh-water holes, the yam digs and ceremonial sites. The sea was hungry and refused to stop and soon enough the mouth of the river, the Birrung, was swallowed and its veins were pushed back toward the mountains. The men and women, witness to their loss, sat and spoke and agreed to call upon Bunjil to act for them. And he did. He came to them with three boulders. One he placed at the edge of the encroaching sea. The other two he placed side-by-side at the submerged mouth of the river that lay now beneath the salted water. Bunjil moved forward and spoke to the sea. He demanded it come no further, that it might lap at the boulder he had placed at its edge, but never swallow it. He then pierced the ground with a line of sticks, separating land from sea and told the sea to come no closer to the land. He also demanded of the sea that as it had taken the heart of the Birrung it would now protect it. He asked that the river bed that lay beneath the salted water remain untouched, and that when the time came, in the future, the sea would allow the river to rise again. The sea agreed, but explained to Bunjil that in the future the ghosts would come and they would disturb both the river and the sea. The sea explained that it had moved forward to protect the river, to blanket it before the ghosts arrived. Bunjil himself had been unable to witness this future and thought it may be a trick. But the sea assured him that it was so, and that it would be ready to fight for both itself and the river. Bunjil spoke to the men and women of the future that only the sea knew and assured them that it would act with them.
In the time after the map – I
The Portsea ghost & the dredging disaster
SO THE GOVERNMENT had a plan. The shipping lane weaving its way between the Port Phillip Heads to the working port at the mouth of the Yarra River was too shallow to allow super freighters into the bay. And what the city needed most were super freighters. Super freighters loaded high with lego-like containers jammed with goods and deep tanks below deck full to the brim with rich dark oil. The engineers had a plan. And unable to come up with a name of their own they called it a simple plan. They would shave metres from the shipping lane, deepening and widening it, creating a super highway for super freighters. The engineers sent their divers down at the narrow opening to both the sea and the bay. The men dove below the shipping lane into an ancient river canyon where the Yarra River once carved its way to the sea. The divers journeyed deeper and deeper – 101 metres in all – until they stood on the bed of the old river where no human had, before last week, set eyes on. They floated in the darkness, in confusion. They had expected to find shipwrecks of old, and exotic fish species. But no. It is a dark place where little lives, one of the men puzzled. Where little lives. But as they left the riverbed it did come to life and spewed the men out until they found themselves finally re-surfacing, kilometres out to sea. The engineers shaved and gouged and tore at the seabed and the super freighters came. As did the sea. It had made a pact with Bunjil, but with no engineers. The simple plan was not so simple after all. And now an elderly white man in a sun hat stands at the edge of the water, at Portsea, where a beach, a playground had once been. He tells us that his place is the most expensive metre for metre stretch of real estate in Victoria. Not any longer. Perhaps. His beach is gone, washed away and swallowed by the encroaching sea. Some attributed the loss of the beach to storm surges in the Southern Ocean or perhaps climate change. Others are not so sure. The old white man is not sure at all. He removes his hat and scratches at his pale skull. As the sea takes him he is already a ghost.
In the time before the map – II
Bob & Jack & the story of three heads
BIRTH IS NEVER without violence. And settlement would be a breach birth. The Governor of the new colony was a conjurer of tricks. The man dazzled settlers and natives alike with the lie of terra nullius, a foreign tongue found in a book of mythology. In the other hand he held an urgent problem, two men, both natives of Van Dieman’s Land, Bob and Jack (not their names at all) who had killed God-fearing Christian men in the name of savagery and pagan cruelty. The Governor spied himself in a mirror and decided he would make an example of the men despite pleas for mercy from the very jurors who had condemned them. On the day of execution, the two black men were stripped naked and dressed in white trousers, white stockings, white shirts and white caps and placed in a cart and paraded through the streets covered in white men’s shit and piss and spit. The crowd enjoyed the spectacle and followed the cart to the site of death, where the men were bought before the gallows. No executioner could be found and a convict volunteered for the task, at twenty pounds – a near fortune – and a ticket of leave. Before he placed the cloth over his own face Bob cried bitterly and begged forgiveness of his God. Jack would have none of it. Content on a stomach full of bread and water he refused the cloth, smiled at the crowd and spoke to them of the future. Adjusting his stockings, which he clearly admired, he spoke to the crowd of his eventual return. He also reminded them that he had three heads, not one, and therefore he could never die. Pointing to the hangman’s noose he said I have one head to be here. Then pointing to the earth he said and I have one head to be here. He raised an arm and pointed south toward the sea. His eyes widened and the crowd, taken aback by his power gasped with horror. And I have one head to be here, he told them, where I will hunt with my father…until one day I return, he said, pointing again to the ground below his feet. And then Jack was hung. His neck broken, he died instantly, to the relief of the crowd.
In the time after the map – II
The return of Tunnerminnerwait & Maulboyheenner
TUNNERMINNERWAIT AND MAULBOYHEENER arrived in the city today without announcement. Both were barefoot and dressed in pure white. They walked the streets of the city to the initial bemusement of the crowd. When approached by a young journalist who asked the purpose of their trip Tunnerminnerwait explained that they were in Melbourne to unmap the city. The journalist scratched the tip of her nose with a pen. Having been to university and taken an Aboriginal history elective she asked so this is a postcolonial project? Maulboyheenner was quick to correct her. No, he said. Postcolonialism is dead. This is about the future. We are surveyors. He offered her his business card:
Tunnerminnerwait & Maulboyheenner
Unmappers of colonisation
No job too big or too small
The journalist read the card several times, unable to make sense of it. What do you think of our city? she asked, being first-time visitors. Tunnerminnerwait leaned forward and placed a hand gently on her arm. Oh no, we’ve been here before, he told her. Before all of these people, he said, pointing to the crowd. We have returned. The dark figures, shrouded in white, headed along the street, with the journalist in their wake. They met a homeless man who explained that while he was white it accounted for nothing these days. The rich, they eat their own kiddies, he mumbled, over and over again as he picked at a scabby face. They walked on, unmapping as they went until they came upon the Governor, posing for tourists wanting a photograph. To show they held no hard feelings for being hung, Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner posed alongside the Governor. After all, he was dead and gone and they were here.