Wiradjuri Country

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Our room at The Manor was vast and shadowy, dimly lit by three large apricot coloured globes that you turned on and off using braided cords suspended from the pressed tin ceiling far above, where whispers and echoes of the refrain from an unfinished, now lost, Banjo Paterson poem persisted. He must have slept here once, staring up at the frieze of pink roses running around the walls too high above the wainscoting to be reached. Each of the two windows at one end of the room gave out onto a different view of the same eternity: blue-pink sky, grey-green trees; the crows that gave this place its name. The house had been built in 1878 by a teetotal doctor, he and his family lived up here amongst the remaining Victorian clutter while downstairs was his surgery, under the same roof as the Temperance Hall where meetings were held. In the parlour I found a copy of Ancient Evenings and read favourite passages silently to myself while waiting for breakfast to be served. Menenhetet’s recursions through the Duat, his strenuous reincarnations, seemed somehow redundant amongst the time-lapsed furniture, the broken chandeliers, the dusty encyclopedias. At the conference a man held a sheaf of papers in front of his face, obscuring his words as he spoke of the Russian Pacific, the voyages of Bellingshausen and Krusenstern, the pilgrimages eccentric Antipodeans made to sit at the indifferent feet of Leo Tolstoy in his dotage. Next day we drove over to the Wagga Base hospital so that Maggie could see the place where she was held all those years ago now. Gissing House, whose name had nothing to do with George, was to be bulldozed in a few week’s time, the inmates and the staff moved to the gleaming white facility erected next door. There the open door to the room where she was kept. There the lounge, where vacant people sat vacantly on vacant sofas. The nurse allowed us out into the outside, the recreation area from which all of the clover, with its innumerable four-leafed leaves, had gone. There was a song playing, the chorus cut like a knife; and a single man rocking on a bench before a sunny wall at the far end. Big Nurse returned and said that was enough, people might start getting upset. Her name was Robyn and her granite features almost cracked when we said goodbye at the door and left. The Army Training Facility at Kapooka is named after General Blamey, who may or may not have been guilty of profiteering during the war. It looked more like a golf course; there was a cut out black cat, rampant, stuck in the ground at the edge of the nearest green. The fellow in the watchhouse was gingery, supercilious, with a moustache like a wire brush. There was no question of us going inside. You know the rules, he said to Maggie and fixed her with his watery eyes. She held his gaze for a long time before replying. Later she told me that he would have been insulted when she called him ‘Sir’; that was for civilians. We spent quite a while looking at the map of the training camp on the big white board next to the hoarding advertising the movie (Jack the Giant Slayer) showing at the Kapooka Cinema. Maggie was retracing her progress through the various facilities. On the road to Junee I saw a small deco building with an old fashioned braided wire antenna tower on the roof, derelict in a paddock full of weeds: a radio station that looked like it was still broadcasting the ghost voices of Eleanora Harris or Huddie Ledbetter into the uncomprehending air. White kites hovered over fields of white stubble; there was one dead at the side of the road, a sheaf of feathers like the papers the scholar held before his face. Further on, orange sheep in electric green fields; they were merinos and the green that of sprouting wheat; the way the white was stubble of harvested fields that would later be burned. At the Liquorice and Chocolate Factory I heard a sepulchral voice, like Tom Waits perhaps, singing The Road to Gundagai; which sounds different when the actual road goes past the door and up the way and around the corner and over the railway line. His name was Rob Moss and he played guitar and, for the solos, picked up the clarinet laid next to his bare feet and blew that. Time After Time, he sang; I Won’t Back Down. While his dreadlocked girlfriend looked adoringly at him and we applauded every number. Later we visited St Josephs, the Catholic church on the hill, where Maggie photographed the plaster saints and I rehearsed the Stations of the Cross; at the Ninth Station, a dazzle of afternoon light came through the stained glass window and I wondered if I was having a religious experience. There was a rugged football ground below the abandoned school, with the low pipe iron goalposts almost over topped by rank grass and weeds. On the other side of the railway line, pigeons clustered along the Edwardian mouldings of the Commercial Hotel, prop. J J Edmonds (no relation). We took a back road south, following the train tracks, past fields full of corellas and galahs, and suddenly I realised this was Colin McCahon’s Australia, the one mentioned in the letter he wrote from somewhere north of Wagga: The greens are quite unbelievable and the soil all light red. Trees everywhere but no undergrowth. Hill shapes very different from ours too and the feeling of distance even in small areas of landscape enormous. The hills in the distance really blue becoming ink blue further away. The derelict wheat silos rusting by the gleaming rails at Bomen would have been brand new when he came through here more than six decades ago now; the year before I was born. We passed the Black Swan Hotel on our way into town and saw, on a brown still pool of the Murrumbidgee, pelicans gathered. I had not thought to see them here, so far from the sea, in Wiradguri Country. Nor the men like small boys, clutching their remotes, navigating their meticulously crafted and painted boats on the shag-haunted waters of the lagoon.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Wiradjuri Country

  1. me

    Thanks Mark . . . & Angelo

  2. Angelo Loukakis

    Martin, this is a beautiful evocation. ‘Meticulously crafted’ indeed, and without appearing so. Art. Thank you
    Angelo

  3. Wonderful writing, Martin…thanks

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