Chapter 31-35

Chapter Thirty-one


"But Matilda you should honour your dream." Matilda and Marcia sit comfortably on Marcia's back veranda trying to escape the heat of the night. Matilda twists her hair up and clips it in place with a heavy hair-slide. The upswept copper curls escape like the disarray of a tired pioneer woman. It is late and she must catch an early morning bus. She will head bush for Christmas - up Jindivick way - alone.

"Marcia you sound just like Mum. Keel over before my time with a heart-attack?"

"Yes your dream." continues Marcia passing Rory's letter back to Matilda. "You've been building your dream all along. Setting the past straight."

"I honestly thought I had some connection to land. Nothing from my mother, so I felt secure through my dad. - Now I find that my Celtic heritage. Rory's heritage; what I used to love about that heritage - it's tainted. Calling me his nut-brown maiden. "I was taken in. Stone circles, spirals carved on rocks. There is bitterness in Matilda's voice. "The faery people living beneath the earth, the mortals who went into the mist to live with the old folk!"

Lowanna's head appears in the light at the kitchen door. "Sounds like those 1950's history books. 'The Aborigines disappearing like mists into the mountains.' - historian-speak for massacres."

"What do you mean 1950's?" says Marcia, irritated. "What about 1999 and the Yorta Yorta claim? 'The tides of history have washed away any claim' - What about that ay?"

" 'Washed away.' Reminds me of your mother Matilda - and the creek-bank house." says Lowanna. "What's this about being taken in though?"

"Read it". Matilda passes Rory's letter to Lowanna.

Lowanna's face is expressionless. "It's not clear. He doesn't come right out and. . . "My father never does."

"Okay, but you need evidence Matilda. I got experience in these things."

"Mum does a lottta tracking down. Kids the government took from their parents. Tracing ancestors," Marcia explains. "but what do you mean by tainted? Matilda I know you're upset right now. But I wanna know. . . " Marcia half-rises in the chair. " - Matilda, you got a problem that you might be half-caste? Matilda I never thought that you ... And I'm telling you now, if - "

"Oh Marcia, no. Of course not. It's, it's - " Matilda distressed, runs her fingers through her hair. "It's the search, having to search yet again. You don't know my grandfather, Rory's father. It's not the search exactly either, so much as . . ."

Lowanna cuts in swiftly, "The journey. Journey's different from a search. It's personal. Another culture to confront."

Matilda glances gratefully at Lowanna. "Yes. A whole new people. Relations. Even a grandmother! - probably still alive. Could even be the young woman in Rory's photo, the woman beside the canoe."

"A black woman?" says Marcia and there is still an edge to her voice.

"Oh Marcia. That's not the issue. It's ... look, everything's turned upside down - yet again."

Lowanna is still at the door. "It's ancestor grief." she says softly.


"Don't forget my mother married a white man - your mum's Uncle Milos. The friend of your Bosnian grandfather."

"If he was Bosnian".

"Sure. But the point I'm making Matilda. Most of us Koories got to face ancestor grief. That's what I call it. Lots o' white people came here to Australia like your mum - escaping war, famine, injustice. They were taught to keep quiet about that grief. Then knowing or not knowing, they or their ancestors imposed the same dispossession on us lot."

" So. More grief." Marcia gets up quickly and stands, arms folded.

Matilda collapses into the chair. "Lowanna, my grandfather came here, and to the Pacific as an opportunist - and worse by the looks of it."

Hughie's head appears behind Lowanna, peering into the shadows on the veranda where Matilda is sitting, looking meaningfully at Marcia, then at Lowanna. "So you're the song-man's daughter. Stick around girl. He needs you." Hughie disappears back into the kitchen.

"Now you listen to me." says Marcia sitting down beside Matilda. "My mother's right. I'm jumping to conclusions. You're jumping to conclusions. My mum's grand-mother, my great-grandmother - she got tied up to the cattle-pens, gang-raped at thirteen. Then she gets thrown off the reserve because she's had a so-called half-caste baby. The story goes back over 200 years. Story's the same all the way back. But the truth. That's what's important. Your father says he was born in Ireland. You don't know yet. Most Aboriginal people. They have to reconcile all the cultures in their personal back-grounds. No. Listen! My mum's a Koorie woman - Northern New South Wales. Her father - a Murry from Queensland somewhere - taken from his parents too - when he was four. He never located 'em ... My dad's Czechoslovakian. If my mum hadn't married Milos, who wasn't actually my real father, all us kids. - We could've been taken away too by the Welfare. That's what reconciliation involves. It's hard. It's personal. So you just get your shit together Matilda!"

Matilda angry, in tears now faces Marcia. "I've had enough." Matilda is shouting now. "Why should I try to understand Liam, the rotten link in the family chain? Why should I try to understand Rory's lies - all those embroidered stories?"

"Matilda!" Lowanna is still standing in the pool of light at the kitchen door. "It is only yourself that you need to understand right now. You say Liam's the broken link. Are you going to perpetuate that? Will you become an ancestor who broke the link? And Matilda," Lowanna's voice is soft, but there is a command about it. "Matilda, how dare you think you are only doing this for yourself?" Matilda has to strain to hear the final words above the slam of the fly-wire door. "Whole bloody country's gotta face that ancestor grief."

Chapter Thirty-two


Careful now old son! Rory brakes at the Queen's Parade traffic lights. Tattered flags of bush-fire haze straggle across the highway. Matilda's letter and Lowanna's gum-leaves are in his pocket

- Everything I've stood for in danger. No question about it. Rory turns from Queen's Parade into Heidelberg Road, the road ancestor Patrick O'Brien would've taken to his bark-hut school back in 1853 ... Rory glances in the rear-view mirror. - Patrick's a connection. Connections, not masks. You can be anything behind a mask and don't I know it. Careful, that second pint o' the good Guiness could be the undoing o' me. Rory eases into the left lane, the Merri Creek bridge, recalling just in time - Booze Buses. Christ, Christmas week. Sure enough the police, blue lights flashing in the smoke, are waving down the motorists.

Rory flicks off the head-lights and swings in to the cover of the paper-barks, where the Merri joins the Yarra. Across the road is the Boatshed Café. The car crunches on gravel. - Easy does it. - Christ! Rory hits the hand-brake just in time, the front tyres poised on the edge of the gorge. - Don't want to step out into the abyss just yet. Rory swings the car swings back and sideways. - I'll rest up here 'til the traffic gets heavier. With a bit o' luck I'll be able to back out without the boys in blue noticin'.

The paper-barks still wear in their lower branches the sad tatters of plastic remnants of the last flood. - long time ago that. Sunset this evening is a tropical peach red, outshining the street lights - projecting snaking, shadow-curtains onto the path from the paper-bark branches. Uneasily Rory recalls the a cyclist drowning nearby a few years ago. Rory frowns. The meeting with Matilda at the Boatshed Café! Give it thirty minutes. Then back down to the Fairfield turn-off.

Rory finds a spot in the curve of a fallen branch. He closes his eyes. - River Red Gum. - Who was that girl back in the Outpost Inn days? Hair the colour of red-gum timber. He smiles, recalling the pot-belly stove, the straw ceiling, the Oregon beams of Outpost Inn. . - All the girls loved Rory Kelly back in the 60's. So trusting they were, those flower-children; 'twas the fashion to trust - a kind of naive desperation. Peace, love, dope and sex. Boys with poems in their pockets, reading Thoreau,, starting up community food-gardens, the candle-makers, the free newspapers. - 'Outposted Magazine' for that matter. - the intense questioning. That young teacher who read Rousseau and - Freire was it? Had her pupils returning excess packaging to the local supermarket. A red-head like meself if I recall.

The sky softens to a troubled crimson. The shadows of the paper-barks deepen . - Never got into the political stuff meself, he reflects, but by God, after the Moratorium marches, it was 'park your placard at the door - standing room only' at Outpost and the Commune too. Margret Roadknight, Danny Spooner, Hans Georg . - Who was the little guy with the droopy moustache? Played double bass like it was comin' from his soul. Died of an

O D - a poet if ever there was one. Marg Roadknight singing,' Didn't it rai-ai-ai-ai-ai-n my chillen, did'n it rai-ai-ai-ai-ai-n?' And Rory Kelly - me myself, 'The Old Order's rapidly ageing. - Get outta' the New one if you can't lend a hand . . .'

- And the times they changed, yes, Just look at us now. - Last gasp o' the age o' the romantics, that's all it was. -'I'm a Rambler, I'm a Gambler,' yes that I am, 'The Wild Colonial Boy', oh yes. The deep voice, the 12 string guitar. Then the harmonica. Bit o' Dylan - 'The Hour When the Ship Comes In', yes.

"Oh the sands will roll out a carpet all of gold

For your weary toes to be a-touchin'

Like the howlin' of the wind when the hurricane


The hour that the ship comes in."

- Well my ship's come in now. Hope to Christ Matilda accepts my explanation, The note she left taped onto the computer was ambiguous indeed. - Could even read into it that she's about to go bush again. Rory pulls at the peeling bark on the old log. - The Great Song. Could go any which-way. Matty's crucial. The Song-man's daughter. Rory shreds the bark to pieces in his fingers. He pats the bunch of gum-leaves in his top pocket. - But by the grace o' the Koori Blessing Woman and the luck o' the Irish, fortune will smile on me.

Rory twirls the bunch of gum-leaves in his fingers - I did it in the 60's and I'll do it now. - Fortunate I was then to get in on the scene in the 60's . Dead easy it was to adopt the boy from the bush persona - wise in the ways o' the land - camp-fire tucker, bush carpentry. All those city kids longing for belonging. Rory grins ruefully up into the Red Gum branches.. It was partly an era of posers anyway. Weekend hippies. Compared to that lot I came across like the real McCoy - tall tanned Territorian - touch o' the brogue from me dad, Lawson , Banjo Patterson, Bush yarns. People longing for something to be part of and didn't I well know that? Burl Ives' visit, Bush Music Club, Pete Seeger, the Reedy River performance. Songs o' the sea and peace before it all went wrong. Rory's mouth tightens. - Course if the old man hadn't insisted I study Law at Cooktown University. - What a joke. My mind was never the probing kind. Rory's eyes flicker glancing towards a kookaburra in the paper-bark above as it begins its sunset run-up, a series of low careless chuckles like laughter lost in a blanket., like the gentle chuckle of Territorian kookaburras. Rory finds the raucous din of the southern kookaburras unsettling. - Songs o' the sea and peace, he repeats to himself. I don't forget. Nothing do I forget. - Those other songs - the silenced songs soon to be given voice. - No more singing of the songs. That's what he said. Rory's hand covers his mouth.

'If you tell it will be worse. You don't know what you're getting in to.'

The young kookaburra peers quizzically down, button eyes twinkling behind the little gangster-mask, crew-cut feathers erect, wing-feathers fluffed, speckled-brown - the blue chevrons flashing bright in sunset light. With horror Rory sees that the kookaburra has a live snake grasped firmly in its scimitar beak. The kookaburra thwacks the snake against the Red-gum trunk alarmingly close to Rory's head. The snake writhes, sunset-shine glinting on its polished coils. It twists horizontal - ramrod straight, looping its tail in the kookaburra's wings, squeezing tight. Its body convulses captured in the kookaburra's long, grey beak. The snake quivers again and the kookaburra, as if losing interest, flings it down right at Rory's feet. The snake twitches, then suddenly rises erect. Rory, lightning-fast lifts his feet onto the log, hunched over, hands clasping knees, watching the snake's black-granite eyes, without moving.

Rory' bones ache, but still he sits hunched over, as he hears the long-ago voice - if voice it is, 'You bear the stories. ' She said that. Rory holds the memory, breathing it in. Gingerly he leans back, brushing against the bush behind him. He starts back - Lantana! The pungent smell of childhood. Lantana strangling the forests, lantana, danger-weed, tumbling, scrambling purple and gold through the wetlands, choking out pandanus and paperbark. . And all the while the fingers pressing.

- If you tell it will be worse.

Suddenly the kookaburra seems to fall out of the tree above. Not a fall but more like a plummeting swoop. - God! Rory recoils. - It's got the snake again! All at once the creek gully is alive with kookaburras, five, six, seven, eight of them; one by one, they are dropping the snake, belting its broken body against the rocks, picking it up again and yet again. By now the snake's sleek skin is dull, dusty, the glistening eyes filmed over. Still the kookaburras are swooping and dropping the flayed and mangled body of the snake, until Rory collapses into the lantanas, the pungent lantanas of childhood, at his feet the broken snake and all around the gorge, the insane laughter of the kookaburras.

Rory scrambles to his feet. - Must go and meet Matilda! He runs up the slope, wild blackberries tearing at his legs. He bursts out of the paper-barks and straight onto the road. The Christmas traffic is moving fast. A car from the city-side swerves, mounts the median-strip, horn blaring, Rory doesn't see the motor-bike speeding to pass. Rory is thrown into the air. The children's play equipment at the edge of the park collapses like so much broken barley-sugar as Rory crunches through the P V C piping from top to bottom.

Rory lies motionless amid the shattered piping, his head spinning. A ragged, bleeding gash runs from forehead to jaw-line. He crawls free of the wrecked playground, hauls himself upright holding with all his strength onto the Boat-shed park fence, trying to control the trembling of his legs and half limps, half staggers down the steps to the river - Make meself presentable. Meeting Matilda here. Seem to've lost track o' time. Painfully Rory drops to his knees, floats his handkerchief in the water and bathes his face. He wrings out the blood-soaked handkerchief, hoping the river-water's not too polluted and sits for a while head in hands, beside the current getting his bearings, then heads up to the Boat-shed Café.

Rory sits on the café veranda facing the river below, red-wrinkled in the sunset-light - sliding to the bay like melted toffee. Two coffees he's ordered. Rory downs the first at a gulp, breathes a little easier, finds himself longing for the glory-days and further back - those days of songs. In his head he hears the strains,

'Wade in de wa-a-ter, wade in de wa-a-ater chillen,

Wade in de wa-a-ter. God's gonna. Trouble - de


- Up Echuca way, wasn't it? Four blokes and two girls. The bass near as deep as the mighty Murray - a bit ominous like the cascade powering down Torrumbarry spillway, 'Wa-a-de in de waater chillen', the soprano, a ripple from melting snows up Kosziusco way, the slow flow of the tenor, the mezzo - rolling seawards through Lake Alexandrina close by Hindmarsh Island, sacred island of the Ngarrandjerri women '- God's gonna trouble de wa-a-a-a-ter' - the final gift, the surge of gold-brown waters melting into the Southern Ocean.

- The songs. The stories - all confused, bloody confused. Rory drinks deep from the second coffee. - There was heart in it then though - hope. Matilda caught some of it; - the intuition that once was mine. Rory winces at the sudden jab of pain and squares his shoulders.

"Put a brave face on it, man." he says aloud. " - Acting the person they wanted. Territorian-Irish. Then the performance took over. Coasting. No need to think. And the gear's in neutral now." Rory studies Matilda's note anxiously. It was inevitable that Matilda would ask one day. It is belonging that generates love and not the other way round; she knows that. And that is why I played my part. Rory takes out his wallet, fans the credit cards in his hand, places them on the table one at a time, saying,

"Here! My father's prohibition. Here! The fight to hold on to heartland." Rory lays down the second card. "Right up 'til I was 15, I held on. Indeed I did. And the real issue. . ." Rory's hand hovers, holding the card, - Liam said this thing, 'It will surface in you my son. The mound will open and the Dark God ride out and claim his due.'"

Another card follows rapidly "- Karolina - the end of the affair. Gone. Matilda too". Rory thumps down the card. "Kookaburra takes the snake. And now? - The lantana covers the rain-forest." Rory sweeps the cards into his wallet as Matilda sits down beside him. She looks very nervous.

Matilda smiles a small half-smile, "Time to let in the light then." Rory starts up. "Matilda! I thought you'd be gone by now. Gone bush that is. . . ."

"I - I changed my mind - for the time being that is." Matilda tries to not make it sound like a threat. "Time to let in the light ." she repeats. "Rory, I heard you. There is a lot at stake here, for both - for all of us." Matilda is aware of her anger, hard and bright. She possesses the anger, tries to keep her voice from rising. This hard anger must be contained - like fire in the earth, the back-burning fire that encircles the wild fire. "I want the facts Rory," she says reasonably, but her gaze is direct. Rory remains standing, feeling as if he is on trial before his own daughter.

"Dad.. Facts! Chronological order. I have a right to know."

Rory's eyes hold with his daughter's. The fear lends strength. "You have a right to know what you already know. And no more! - You got my letter?" Matilda nods. "Then that's it." says Rory with finality. "Your grandfather's Irish - from Donegal. Your grandmother's from Mayo. West coast Irish the both of 'em. Some sort of Gypsy-Spanish connection on your grand-mother's side.". Rory shrugs and the pain sears his shoulder. "The black Irish ." Rory feels the rising anger - a match to his daughter's, "Sealy-woman if you like." He says as if he really doesn't give a toss. "But she was Irish." he concludes firmly. "As for that other stuff in the sea-chest. Merely memorabilia. A few trips to Ambon and Timor with Liam, when I was a little tacker." Rory smiles easily. "Your origins are Irish all the way."

Matilda looks dangerous. There is a hard glitter in the plum-brown eyes. "Rory, there's more. '- Acting the person they wanted you to be.' I heard you Rory. Just now I heard you - That photo, the Boy in the Canoe. The woman in the shallows. Rory that woman is my grandmother!" Matilda finds herself talking faster and faster. "She must be. No Rory. I saw the look on your face. The other day at Southbank. That photo is a photo of . . ." Matilda takes out the folder. She unwraps the blue scarf. "There! This photograph was taken in the Pacific Islands. Groote Eylandt, Thursday Island, - some island in the Pacific that is -perhaps an Australian possession - maybe Papua-New Guinea." Matilda takes a deep, angry breath, "But don't you dare try to tell me that this is fucking Galway Bay!"

Matilda stands, facing down her father. She points to the photograph. "That boy, the boy in the canoe - that's you, without a doubt. I've had the photograph enlarged. And Rory, in the enlargement, the woman - " Matilda points to the snapshot. "That woman in the shallows, one arm holding you steady - Rory. Who is she?" Rory leans on the table, his palms taking his weight. In the blackberry eyes there is just a hint of tears, but his voice is of steel.

"Matilda I will not be drawn in this way. You go too far. This information

It is a shock to me for - for reasons other than what you conclude.

But I will not be drawn." Rory shifts his weight, making his hands into two fists leaning on the table. "Matilda I am not free." Rory's mouth is tight, his eyes utterly focused. Matilda has never seen her father like this. She recalls her mother's stricken face on the pillows and she realizes with a shock that both of her parents' childhoods have more in common than she had imagined. She feels more than ever the burden of all the untold truths, including her own and aches with the knowing that the keeping and the telling of secrets will always tear apart the parents as well as the children.

Rory's knuckles are white on the table. "Matilda you have read my letter. In it I have told you that I was indeed in the islands during the war. That I was born in Ireland of Irish parents."

"Rory, how can you expect me to believe any more of your tales? Matilda's finger jabs the small snapshot. The canoe's an outrigger, for heaven's sake! The people are islanders - Pacific Islanders"

"I have told you in my letter that I was in the islands." Rory repeats. Matilda interrupts.

"Rory are you trying to tell me that you - your parents - that you came to Australia and then went back to Ireland? I would be more prepared to give that story some credibility if you hadn't touted your famous photograph as a snapshot taken at Galway Bay."

"You have seen that the canoe is indeed an outrigger." Rory continues very slowly, as if Matilda hadn't interjected. He stares out over Matilda's head at the red-ribbon ripples of the sunset-slashed current, as if sorting something out. There are some things of which I may not speak." Rory's gaze moves down-river, his eyes dark, veiled. He turns and looks desperately into his daughter's eyes.

Matilda searches her father's face. Her voice is very gentle. "Okay Rory. I'm listening." Rory sits down abruptly.

"The canoes are coming in to the Island of Nauru."

"Nauru!" .

"My ... my birth-mother was Irish - a singer. In 1941 your Grandfather Liam was delivering building materials for the phosphate works on Nauru - food supplies for the Australian management" Rory smiles, the faint ghost of a smile. "Grog too I imagine. - Phosphate was seen to be the magic answer to all the woes of Australian farmers. No long after the war all that was left of Nauru was a narrow coastal strip with a great hole in the centre where the phosphate used to be." Rory smiles grimly. "I should know. I lived there more or less continuously in my childhood." His cheek twitches. "It was my home."

"Your home!" says Matilda, "but what about Ireland?"

"Ireland!" Rory swallows the last of the coffee. He grimaces, perhaps at the bitterness of the coffee.

"My parents left Ireland when I was but a babe."

"Rory are you claiming that you spent your childhood in Nauru as well as Australia?"

"No". Rory leans his elbows on the table. "Matilda, we were, that is the population of Nauru - or I should say, most of the population of Nauru, were captured by the Japanese and sent to the island of Truk."

Matilda blinks. "Captured? Oh Rory! And the brochure?"

"I found the brochure about the beautiful wreck in some tourist rack. The 'Beautiful Wreck is the remains of the Japanese fleet torpedoed off the island of Truk, I saw it happen," Rory grimaces slightly. "Never told anyone that before."

"You were captured! Alone? But where was Liam? - And, and your mother?"

"Liam's wife - your grandmother," says Rory in a curiously removed tone, "she lived with me in Darwin, but this time she joined Liam on the boat with me as well. I was one . We lived on Nauru for a time. My mother had been asked to sing to the Australian troops stationed in the Pacific islands. Liam was engaged in short cargo-runs to outlying islands when the Japanese invaded."

Matilda cuts in., "And you - a one year old child were on the island - on Nauru without either of your parents?

Rory shakes his head. "No, Liam was in port at the time - or so he told me. I got separated from the departing Australians, that is the Australians from the Australian continent, because Nauru at that time was an Australian protectorate." says Rory firmly, as if this fact is of some importance to him. "I was sent to Truk along with all the other Nauruans." It does not escape Matilda's attention that Rory has included himself in the category of native Nauruans." Rory pauses, speaking uncomfortably. "So you see Matilda why I kept that tourist brochure about Truk. The main island is beautiful. Went back there when I was ten or eleven. A high volcanic island in the middle of a very blue lagoon. The lagoon itself is enclosed by scores and scores of low coral islands. - That's where I learned to row a canoe. - Build 'em too." Rory gestures in the direction of the row-boats moored below at the boat ramp, barely visible now on the darkening current. "The western islands of Truk were the islands of the boat-builders you see."

"And masks?" says Matilda, "The masks on your lounge-room wall and the office, they're from -"

"From Moen, yes."

"From Moen. The tapuana," says Matilda quickly, "The only masks in all of Micronesia."

"You have done your homework!" Now that Rory has begun to speak of his childhood, he seems to have forgotten the purpose of the conversation - which was to make things right with Matilda. Matilda's rejoinder reminds him

"But Rory," Matilda lapses into suspicion, "In your hand-written notes, you gave the name of the capital - tthe place where the combined Japanese fleets' headquarters was - as Dublin ! "

"Yes Dublon. It's spelt with an 'O'

"And your mother?" says Matilda trying to sound without artifice.

"Matilda. I've told you. Or at least I've told you all that Liam told me. "You saw The Irish Times?' Surely that's evidence enough?"

"No. I missed that."

"Time I got my possessions back." Rory reaches across and takes up the newspaper. "Here. The back pages. Death Notices." Matilda reads silently, 'Bridget Kelly B. 1918. Co. Mayo, Rep. of Ireland. D. 1942. Somewhere in the Pacific, R. I. P. Wife of Liam. Mother of Rory.'

" Oh yes. Yes I see." she says re-reading the notice. Matilda opens the poem reading it through carefully this time.

'So since your heart is set on her sweet green fields

and you would leave me here

yet go quickly, heed not my words,

although it be the voice of your friend,

you are captured by the voice of your own land.

Who am I to hinder love?

why should I blame you for your weariness?

If but Christ would give me back the years

and the strength of my youth

and darken the white hair on my head, I would go with


The wide seas that must be crossed, terrify me

but go my son. May your ship cut swiftly through the


and do not quite forget.'

"This is from your mother?" she asks. Rory nods. "Liam gave it to you? What could she have meant - 'being captured by the voice of your own land'?" Matilda's suspicions are not quite allayed.

"Matilda I can only surmise - It's all that I have of her." Matilda falls silent. "She was on tour singing." Rory shakes his head impatiently. "Or, she could have left him for all I know. Possibly she was captured. Off to sing in the outer islands and never came back. The - poem. It's beautiful, isn't it? Like a - a premonition."

Matilda nods. "And Liam?"

"Liam caught the plane to Darwin. I was in the village at the time in the care of a woman - a girl I suppose. Fifteen she was - something like that; she - cared for me." Rory's voice is dry.

Matilda is silent, trying to absorb all of this. She doesn't know how to respond. "Rory this is awful - shocking. You mean Liam didn't see you 'til after the war - not 'til you were five or six?" Rory interrupts in the same dry expressionless voice.

"Five or six! Liam didn't see me until 1952 - when I was twelve." Rory folds his arms tight against his chest and looks away. "That's about it. End of story."

- Oh no, thinks Matilda. It's not all. Not by a long shot. "What language did you speak Rory, when Liam came to get you?" Rory swallows, not expecting the conversation to take this turn.

"Not English," he says unwillingly. "At least very little. - Some dialects of the Truk islands, Nauruan and, yes - Japanese - quite fluent actually for a child."

Rory's voice is toneless. Matilda tries to keep her own voice on an even keel. "So, let me get this clear Rory. - You were a captive on this island - Truk and then after the war, it wasn't until what - 1952? that Liam even bothered to . . ."


"Oh Rory." Matilda's voice wavers. "You told nobody? Why didn't?"

"Matilda it was not possible. - Even now ... But to go to Australia was worse." Rory stops. - Damn! Hadn't meant to say that, he says to himself, seeing the lift of Matilda's brows. - Tell just one bit o' the story and the rest comes rushin' out. "You see Matilda I - I didn't want to leave, to leave the people." He tries again. "I didn't know Liam . Australia was very - strange to me. Liam had me coached - in English that is, for twelve months." Rory stands turning his face away, staring at the molten sunset current. "I had a tutor. And then Liam himself. He taught me - when he was back in Darwin."

"Back in Darwin?"

"Back from his trading runs. He would tutor me - nightly, in things I needed to, to catch up on. Australian History. Customs. Manners. And then there was the Irish History. Music, culture, stories. - He said he was civilising me and I suppose he was." Rory laughs a thin, dry sort of laugh

"And then?"

"When he judged me ready I was sent to boarding school. And Matilda I was so very successful. You more or less know the rest. Two years' Law - Brisbane uni., work on Liam's boats, cattle-stations, playing for the Vietnam War conscripts at Canungra Army Camp. My first gig - entertaining the troops the same way my mother - that is my Irish mother did." Rory laughs humourlessly. "By then the folk music craze was sweeping into Australia. So what with doin' bush gigs and a bit of itinerant work, I was well placed for my first Community Arts job, because of course I was more Irish than the Irish - more Australian than the Australians. But Matilda. You know all of this."

"Yes." Matilda responds, "I knew but I didn't understand . So then came the Whitlam era - the community music projects set up under the Australian Assistance Plan?"

"The A A P, yes. The Bush Culture Road Train in far north Queensland. Got that job on me own account, er in the main that is. I decided to go to Melbourne. Frank Traynor's, The Commune, Outpost Inn. And o'course I had a head-start on the Flower-power children, bein' half a generation older than the Baby-boomers."

- Yes, thinks Matilda. - But Rory, you were Liam's creation. She is surprised when Rory says.

"All along I knew I was only playing Liam's game."

"But Rory, why wouldn't Liam let you reveal your childhood on Truk and Nauru. He wouldn't allow that if I understand correctly."

"Now Matilda I didn't say that."

"But surely that's the implication."

"Yes, I would concede that." says Rory. "But Matilda. I don't know why." Rory's head is throbbing. His right shoulder is aching. He does not want the conversation to go any further, but he must concentrate, keep the focus on Liam, away from those - other things, yes. "Matilda I guess Liam thought the story of his leaving without us could be seen as abandoning -." Rory glances sideways at Matilda. "That is, might make him seem irresponsible."

"Cruel you mean So he forbade you outright?"

"Absolutely. There were two occasions, one I thought I'd completely forgotten until recently; the other -" "Yes. Go on."

"Well Matilda, I wasn't completely honest when I went for that first Community Arts position. The applicants had to be Australian citizens or British subjects. - You have to remember it was the early 60's. These things were considered important then. I was born in the south, in the Republic of Ireland. Liam as you know, comes from Donegal. But he was born in Belfast, so he has a British passport. Liam went guarantor for me."

"But surely!"

"No. It mattered a lot at the time. I've made a few enemies getting this position - and in the past too."

"But Rory, if that's the only hold Liam's got over you . . ."

"It's enough." Again Matilda has her suspicions, but Rory continues. "Back in July at Corey's party. And again tonight," Rory leans back supporting his aching shoulder against the veranda post, "At the party Corey had some lantana burning on her barbecue. Tonight, I fell into a bush of the blasted stuff by the Merri Creek. Sounds silly, but it reminded me of a time when Liam took me out into the buffalo country south of Darwin - one time mining country."

"Uranium mining?"

"Perhaps. The land was completely clapped out - mullock heaps, eroded gullies, foreign plants - cactus, albizzia, lantana. I was fifteen or so. Starting to act up." Rory jumps at the final sundown cacophony of sundown kookaburras. - How in heaven's name, says Rory to himself - could I convey to Matilda the desperation of it all? "Anyway I told Liam I wanted to work on the copra and phosphate boats." Rory fumbles with the words. "Wanted to see my - wanted to find - catch up, that is see how people were."

"On Nauru? Oh I see. You missed them!"

"Yes Anyway, this particular day he pushed me out of the car - just pushed me out. It was the Dry Season. I had no water." A muscle twitches in Rory's neck. He stands unmoving, still leaning against the veranda post. "Liam got out ... Took me by the shoulders. He - pushed me down into the lantana." Rory pauses. "Matilda you know how lantana grows wild - out of control, takes over . . ."

"Yes, yes. It's a noxious weed right through the Top End."

"Well he held me down in the lantana - and he said, 'You must never go there. That part of your life is buried.' Then he just drove off - left me there hundreds of miles from anywhere. Now you and I Matilda, are quite capable of living off the land, but up there in the dry season." Rory shivers. "This was degraded country. You must drink a litre for every hour's exposure ... "

"Yes of course I know that."

"Well next morning, when he returned for me - "

"Next morning!"

"Yes. He thought he had me crushed. But I found some birds' eggs, some tubers. You could do that too Matilda?"

"Yes Rory. Yes of course." The two smile and momentarily they are one in their skills.

"So I wasn't crushed. I had a survival plan. Since that day I have always had a survival plan." There is a hard look in Rory's eyes. He searches the trees as the kookaburra-laughter fades to sleepy chuckles, but to Rory there is no comfort in the sound. "At Corey's party - and again this evening. The lantana. It reminded me . ."

Matilda interrupts. "But surely now, after all these years. Rory I can understand your distress, but - "

"No Matilda. Don't you see, if it came out now - "

"Rory - a youthful mistake. Anyway your current job's coming to an end."

"No Matilda, Liam's control will never come to an end." Rory leans heavily against the veranda railing. "Look Matilda. I know I ruined everything at Glenrowan. I was overanxious. -I had no significant connection with those tourism characters. Didn't know Albertine was there. Anyway she's married to the Shire President fellow. But. No." Rory holds up a hand for silence. "Matilda I set you up, nevertheless." Rory stops and tries again. "But Matilda I need . . .still have - I still have hopes that one day there can be a way - a way that we could - re-unite - if not in the traditional way Matilda, but in some way as a, as a family." Rory looks beseechingly at Matilda. In the light flaring above him on the veranda-post, hundreds of tiny insects circle furiously, so that the light is fractured, alive with the flickering insects.

Matilda stands up scraping the chair noisily. "Rory, I'm horrified that you had such a dreadful childhood. I - care about that. I can't begin to understand these things you've been through." Matilda spreads her hands urgently. "But Rory I don't care, Karolina doesn't care, about your fake reputation. Or to be honest about your idea of family." Matilda stops, shocked by the ravaged face of her father in the flare of the lamp. - Oh Christ! Rory's had nobody. The thought strikes her with such force that she sits down again at a loss as Rory continues.

"Matilda I had to do it - Glenrowan - all the distortions. Matilda my whole life story is a fake yes, but I was sworn to it. I did all - everything I could to give you a happy, a secure childhood." Rory looks down urgently at his daughter. "The songs. The songs as I saw it were central Matilda. You see, in 1945 - when the U.S navy arrived on Truk a third of the people had died." Rory laughs a dry, almost silent laugh, the hunter-kookaburra that laugh sounds like. His smile is twisted. "It- it wasn't all bad. We supported each other. We had our song . And - and I had a Japanese friend. A wireless operator. He didn't like war."

- Oh Jesus! thinks Matilda looking with distress at her father's eyes glittering in the too bright lamp light. - There's a crazy side to my father. She begins to be a little frightened. Rory smiles again, the twisted smile. "When the U S liberated us, we sang the 'Star Spangled Banner,' stole a boat, went out to meet them. Told them we were Australian citizens. On the U S boat we saw trousers, beer in tins. They gave us chocolate, ham, turkey. On the ship going back to Nauru, we practised the songs." Rory shakes his head slowly. "There was sadness because so many had died. They gave us clothes. I got a white sailor-suit. It was too big for me." Rory smiles widely, but there is pain in the smile. Matilda remains seated, hearing her father out.

"You see Matilda we had to arrive properly!" says Rory with a vehemence that surprises her. "So on the ship we rehearsed - as gift - the song, all the old and young - how we made soup from leaves, how people were shot down in the shallows." Matilda winces as Rory continues, not noticing, caught up in the telling. "We had to tell the Nauruans who stayed you see." Rory has become very animated. "Our story was in our song - our history. We were so excited we didn't waste time sleeping. We sang that song on the water as we came ashore at Nauru. And then again later, when the Australians arrived, we were all yelling - hooray! Hooray!" Rory sways slightly on his feet. - Is he tired, or is he moving to remembered music? Matilda isn't sure.

"Yes." Rory continues, "So the Australian mine manager came and signed for the phosphate. There was crying and laughing - 'Where is? Where is? Being home was a great joy." says Rory his eyes strained in the draining glow above. "The people brought baskets and baskets - mangoes and breadfruit for the great concert!" Rory sways again and steadies himself. We were dressed in our proper Nauruan costumes and we sang the great song. So you see Matilda, that is why I brought you up with song and story despite all Liam's threats. It was ... my only ... my only - "

As Matilda looks upon her father, she sees with a shock the purple bruise swelling rapidly on his forehead. "Rory! What's happened? You're hurt!" Matilda pulls her father down on to the seat beside her.

"Accident." he breathes. "Motor-bike. Hit me. Not-serious. And Matilda, I will say no more."

"Rory. God! I'll get some help. The café."

"Matilda. Don't fuss. And no more questions."

"But Rory you're in no condition - "

"That's all! I have rights too." Rory takes a deep breath. "Come on daughter. I'll drop you off."

Matilda slips out of the car. She turns, waving Rory down and taps on the window. Rory lets down the car window. "Rory. You and Karolina." Matilda's eyes are anxious. "You've got to talk. You must!" Matilda touches with her fingers her father's cheek. "And and - thanks Dad."

The car lurches off. At the next corner Rory pulls up. - What to do? I need to sleep. Rory leans over to the back seat and hauls the guitar over. - But first ... He opens the guitar case and plucks thoughtfully at the strings.

Chapter Thirty-three


Christmas eve after a day of blinding heat. Flopped on the banana lounge Matilda is glad of the river's metallic flash. Willows and gums shade the path to the jetty, creating an illusion of coolness. The back veranda is wide high and shady, treetop level. Karolina has set up a fan. Matilda twists her hair into a loose knot to ease the heat of the long hair on her neck.

"So that's why I decided to only go away for a few days instead of. ."

Karolina reaches for the jug of ice-water. "Yes I have to admit I thought the wanderlust was about to - "

"Karolina, 'wanderlust' dignifies what I was tempted to do, I swear!" Matilda shifts position to take advantage of the fan's cool air. "This time it was purely flight."

"So it's Rory now? Matilda you worry too much about both of us."

Matilda is surprised at Karolina's willingness to continue the conversation . With the sensitivity of children of separated parents, Matilda is normally scrupulous about playing the go-between.

"Well Matilda I must say I'm glad you stayed." Karolina glances warmly at her daughter. "And I'm glad you broke that code of yours this time." Karolina holds up the jug questioning.,

"No thanks. Not right now."

"I can't believe it." Karolina cradles the glass, cooling her hands,. "Rory was twelve you said when Liam returned? "

"Yes. To Nauru. Australia rips the shit out. Next they dump asylum-seekers there."

"And his mother?"

"No trace. So it looks like Rory's had no-one really."

- It just doesn't make sense, Karolina tells herself. - That rebel streak, how he ever retained it. She replaces the jug, setting the ice-cubes jingling. "What hold could Liam still have?"

"It doesn't make sense to me either." says Matilda. "I simply can't see how a youthful untruth to secure a job could hang over him now. Nor why Rory should still need to conform to - to Liam's ready-made personality."

"Script you mean," says Karolina, "but from what you're saying Matilda, Rory seems to think that money, no - a high-flying sort of job would attract us back together."

"Oh God Karolina, I could have got it wrong."

"No Matilda you've done right. For Rory's health, if nothing else. Drink? "

"Thanks. It's as hot. as Darwin before the Wet - only there's no rain coming."

"Matilda, I keep telling you it's much cooler on the jetty."

"Mum, I'm fine here! But Rory's never been interested in money as such."

"Or, else," Karolina refills Matilda's glass and disappears into the kitchen, "or else Rory counted on the Glenrowan job to unite us all. But that isn't logical with Albertine hovering round."

"No Albertine's married - to that Shire President character, Tranterer I think his name was."

"Ho.Ho! That a fact? Well that puts a different spin on things - but only slightly."

"There's got to be more." Matilda appears at the kitchen door. "The way Rory was so determined to take me off bush when I was a child. All those folk festivals . . ."

"Hah! That was a bone of contention, I - "

"Mum, I know! But he was so vehement about how he had succeeded in exposing me to nature, unspoiled life, music."

"Matilda allow the man some innate qualities."

"No Karolina, just let me pursue this train of thought." Matilda returns to the veranda, removing disgruntled Bonegilla from his favourite cushion.

"Matilda, from what you've told me the whole island was virtually a concentration camp!"

Perhaps life in a virtual concentration camp is no bad thing for a child who knows no better. - But, thinks Matilda to herself, - Rory was so animated about learning to make masks and build canoes.

Karolina returns with a fresh jug of ice-water. "And then there was the way he called his mother - " Karolina's eyes flash a warning.

"Matilda I don't think it would be fair to discuss that." Karolina puts the jug down with another rattle of ice. "Matilda, your pursuit of truth has brought such - freedom to me." Her eyes soften. She tucks a strand of hair behind Matilda's ear and Matilda feels a small joy light up inside her. "As far as your father's concerned, "the buried truths and - hurts are at least as - complex as my own." Karolina touches Matilda's cheek. "I know Rory hasn't got a heart problem, but don't you think it might be a good idea if the Hound of Heaven were to leave the chase for a while?"

There is a long silence until Matilda blurts out, "Oh yes. Rory does indeed have a heart problem. And you and Rory both do need to talk. And I need to butt out because it's your story not mine. Because Karolina, Rory loves you. - There. I've said it!"

"Oh Matilda, Rory's regard for me. There's not a depth. It is very immature

- like a, a ..."

"Exactly! And it's time for that love to either find its feet or grow and move on!" says Matilda as Dzaved, smiling a Christmas smile and bearing a cardboard box of wine and presents shoulders open the side gate.

Chapter Thirty-four


"What do you think?" Rory focussed on, almost obsessed with the music. Lowanna's invitation notwithstanding, it is after all the family's Christmas.

"Can't say Rory." Hughie's eagerness to participate in the Festival has seemingly evaporated. "I'm from up North. Not my country here. - Didn't realise the ceremony was on Invasion Day."

"Hughie, Elders will be at the Opening Ceremony Very great concession. Opening speech by the mayor, - a speech of respect and recognition to the Aboriginal community, but not a performance as I'd hoped - understandably. Federal government's track-record on Aboriginal health - terminating ATSIC, the Land Rights debacle." Rory puts down his guitar. "Refusal to say 'Sorry' to the stolen generation."

Hughie hands Rory a cold beer. "I know I offered to help out mate, but I can't promise at this stage. Lowanna and all the crew'll be back from church soon. See what she has to say."

"Sure." Rory continues strumming as he speaks. "Hughie, if you'd just listen to this arrangement ... not right yet but - " Rory glances up from the strings.

"You're playing in E minor there mate," says Hughie. Rory nods, seeing that the musician in Hughie is getting the better of him. "Hold it there. You changed to A minor. That'd be where you'd want the didg to come in?"

. Nope. I was thinking that the didg could start first." Rory strums again, changes rhythm, then fades on another key change. "And then," Rory murmurs, "didgeridoo - quite loud but rising to . . .?"

"Hang on Rory. If you're gonna change key, you'd need two didgeridoos, one for E minor and - " "Hughie, one player could do it - swap instruments." Hughie disappears into the next room and returns with two didgeridoos.

"Give us a chord mate." Rory obliges. Hughie starts up - a long smooth drone, holding the second didg between his legs. Then he switches instruments, changes rhythm with the change of pitch. He stops abruptly. "I'll hafta trim off a coupla' centimetres - get it down an augmented third ay?" Hughie darts outside and returns with a coping saw and tape-measure as Lowanna. Marcia and Marcia's two young cousins, Janna and Toby and their parents, Bill and Pearlie arrive. Lowanna introduces Rory to Bill and Pearlie and the children as Marcia puts the kettle on. The children wear red head-bands. Thirteen-year old Janna carries in from the lounge-room a mulga wood coolamon filled with dry moss and paper-bark.

"This is the gubba song man." says Hughie. He's been down by the treaty site." Bill and Pearlie leave Janna to position the coolamon under theChristmas tree.

"You been down the Merri near the foot-bridge?" asks Bill suspiciously.

Pearlie says something in Language - something like, "the Tanderrum place"

"Nah! No-one knows the whereabouts of that place." Marcia interjects. "None of our business any rate - not our country here. But who'd want to know about a place like that? - It's not relevant." Nonetheless Rory is now the centre of attention.

"Tanderrum," explains Bill, "is the ritual exchange of gifts for temporary access to land. - Which is all that the Kulin Nation would have believed they were providing to John Batman's'party - temporary access, because of course to Aboriginal people the land's sacred - cant be bought or sold."

"Not that the founding fathers of Melbourne would be aware of that." Pearlie continues ironic lift to her mouth negating the quiet voice.

"That gashed forehead, - what happened?" asks Lowanna .

Rory shrugs embarrassed. "Oh it seems trivial, but I got quite a scare. Down there at the Merri, I was stuck in the middle of a mob o' kookaburras - surrounded virtually - ten or fifteen of 'em killing a snake. Terrified I was - ran across the road. A motor-bike. I went to the river. to clean up - get meself together." And then the whole story all spills out. "Had a - a confusing talk with my daughter. "Told her most of - of my story. Story of my life as it were. She knew nothing. She's very - intuitive, Matilda. I told her more than - ."

Rory's head sinks into his hands. "Lowanna I believe you may understand - you in particular." Rory rests the guitar sideways across his knees. But he can't find words to frame the thought. "There is a - core, something that you hold dearer than life. It is your source, your bedrock. Matilda - my daughter, she ... she, she broke through almost - you people know about these things." Rory looks intensely from one face to another. "There is something I - I should pass on to her. Can't - can't do it. Old habits die hard." He swings the guitar down onto the floor with a ragged jangle. "I'm imposing on your Christmas. Sorry. Must go." He pushes back the chair. "Those kookaburras! Gave me a fright."

"No wait." Tentatively Lowanna touches the bruise on Rory's forehead. It is a healing touch. Rory casts a troubled look around the table, his eyes holding a memory as if from deep waters, a responsibility of such moment - beyond question - you are simply born to it. "Sounds ridiculous I know, but the truth is that I simply don't know what to do about anything - the family, the Festival."

Marcia raises her eyebrows., "Whew!" She glances from Bill to Pearl, to her mother. "Kookaburras! It's going ahead then."

Rory feels he has lost the drift of the conversation. "What? The music?"

"Yes Rory, the music." says Lowanna. "Definitely the music."

. The cut on Rory's brow is a jagged red streak surrounded by a swollen, purple bruise. "Funny thing about the music," he says slowly, "but for the life of me I don't know where the music's comin' from for the Great Song - should be worried as hell about it."

Lowanna cuts in. "No Rory, it's O K." Lownna's grasp on Rory's shoulder is firm. "You just concentrate on that music." Rory finds himself unable to look away.

"I don't seem to have any control." says Rory miserably. It sort of wells up and then it's gone."

"Doesn't matter." Lowanna gives Rory's shoulder a small shake. "Let it come." She disengages, saying almost inaudibly, "Finish the music. Then you'll know."

Gratefully Rory takes the steaming mug of tea from Marcia as Bill and Pearlie return to supervising the children's arrangement of gum-leaves around the coolamon. Rory swallows the sweet tea, feeling a measure of equilibrium return. "Thought you'd been to church?" he says, still puzzled by the coolamon, the red head-bands and what appears to be the ochred face of young Toby.

"Yep." There is an edge to Marcia's voice. "Aborigines got Christianized." She sits down again at the kitchen table. Young Toby slips onto her lap, wriggling out his jacket. Rory sees that Toby has indeed been body-painted. Rory moves the tea-pot aside making more room for Hughie to saw the end off his didgeridoo.

"E minor she is!" Hughie begins sanding down the end of the didg.

"Yeah, we got Christianized," Marcia repeats. "And now Christianity's got Aboriginalized."

Janna shrugs, "You got a problem with that, hey?" Her eyes flash.

"Janna!" Lowanna cuts in swiftly, "You're outta line. It's Christmas, remember. And Hughie, not at the table. You're getting saw-dust in the tea!" Lowanna refills the tea mugs. "Drink up Rory. You look terrible. - It's like this Rory," Lowanna explains above the drone of Hughie trying out the docked didgeridoo, "- Aboriginal religion got taken away from us. Instead they gave us the Bible at the end of a gun. The new religion was imposed - so," Lowanna grins slightly, searching for the right word, "we um, re-worked. . ."

Hughie breaks in. "You transposed the Jesus religion into Aboriginal key." He laughs brandishing the didgeridoo. "More than one way of keeping culture alive ay? Me I still got the old ways - Don't need that Jesus stuff." Hughie winks. "But Lowanna, don't get me wrong, your mob's done a bloody good job of that transposing!"

Rory falls silent, clutching the guitar - his mind racing. - Yes. Yes indeed. Transposed. That's what I did. Of course! Rory begins playing softly, that old, forgotten melody. He stops suddenly. "C'mon Hughie. The back veranda. We'll try out that didg!" After the music has played itself out, Hughie and Rory and Lowanna talk far into the night.

Chapter Thirty-five


Karolina and Dzaved are embracing fondly in the lounge.

Matilda in the kitchen allows a decent interval to elapse. She pauses at the door. "Sherry?" she asks awkwardly.

"Matilda, you are staying the night?" says Karolina in a tone that forbids refusal.

"Sure thing." Matilda drains her glass. "Um, good-night then."

Dzaved raises his glass. "Good-night Matilda!"

Matilda wakes late despite the heat. Dzaved has prepared an enormous breakfast.

"Matilda Christmas greetings!" Dzaved takes the plate of pancakes from her hands giving Matilda a friendly hug that gives Matilda the option of withdrawing.

- So, thinks Matilda, Dzaved is establishing himself as a clan member. - Okay by me. Never was one for nuclear families anyway.

Dzaved retires to the lounge-room with a lap-top. From time to time he calls to Karolina. Their discussion is animated.

"Sorry Matilda. Yet another submission! One that could be our passport to freedom." She smiles. "You know how bad news can be a catalyst? Dzaved the video? Okay let's roll." Dzaved grins and starts the video.

"Is multi-culturalism merely a veneer covering deep divisions in Australian society?" says the announcer. The camera zooms back suddenly revealing the facade of Inner North College. "Are students who are refugees being given a fair go?" Next comes a visual of the offending cannibal cartoon,

"Mum. That's you!" Matilda leans forward. Then comes Dzaved's role-reversal cartoon. - So far so good, thinks Matilda. The students have all graduated. But no. A reporter holds up the College paper in one hand, the local newspaper in the other. Karolina's Head of Department, Grae Grantling appears on screen in damage-control mode, then lastly, Lillian - academically earnest, insisting,

"Yes. We would of course expect our Master's students to deconstruct all discourses, including those of refugees. And indeed to have the freedom to do so." Dzaved and Karolina hoot with laughter, so that Matilda all but misses the final words.

"Is this an institutional cover-up demonstrating dereliction of responsibility, even racism towards refugee students? Karolina Kelly's ground-breaking research, incorporating the participatory research of the students themselves documents many instances of discrimination and prejudice in Australia against refugees. Karolina Kelly - herself a one-time refugee believes we are letting down our refugees." Karolina appears on screen with the students grouped around their Festival banner; then appears the Education Minister declining to comment. "The ethnic communities' peak organization," continues the announcer, "has demanded freedom for refugees to research without harassment."

Matilda is confused. "It would be funny if it wasn't so serious. Mum this could cost you your job."

"They wouldn't dare in the face of all the publicity." Karolina helps herself to another pancake. "Positive publicity for our venture. Matilda this is our passport to freedom. Perhaps even back to Bosnia - for a while." she adds, seeing the alarm on Matilda's face. "Check the place out. See if there's any relatives still there. After all I can always sell the house." Matilda finds it hard to conceal her distress. "But not for some time yet, Matilda. First we have to earn a surplus."

"A surplus! Who?" Matilda's breakfast is completely untouched.

"Dzaved and me. Oh and Lin too most likely."

"Lin!" Matilda tries to keep her voice steady. "What exactly are you planning to do?" she asks, hoping she comes across as the polite, mildly interested daughter.

"We're putting in a tender to the employment ministry."

"What? What for?"

"Oh for the time being it's to be for refugees - an education and training project. I do the research. Dzaved does the Arts/Cinema training."

"And music." Dzaved touches Karolina's arm. "Don't forget the music."

"But. But surely that's an overcrowded field? No jobs there."

"Not at all. You forget my background's in community arts. Dzaved was noteworthy, famous even in his - ," Karolina corrects herself, " - in our homeland. Lin of course has all the contacts. Rory's Glenrowan venture gave me the idea - and to be fair, we'll certainly be discussing it fully with him. There could be a Glenrowan connextion." Karolina only faintly emphasizes the words. "Perhaps the family enterprise wasn't a bad idea after all." Karolina reaches for the honey. "Who knows, we might even move into the tour-guide industry at Glenrowan."

"What, with Albertine!" says Matilda catching on too late to her mother's irony.

Karolina is about to open Dzaved's gift when the side-gate clicks and Rory arrives, also bearing gifts.

"Rory - your forehead! What on earth have you done to yourself?" exclaims Karolina.

"Slight accident. Nothing much." Rory's injured shoulder is aching. He is relieved to deposit the box on the kitchen table. Dzaved busies himself with uncorking bottles, opening cupboards with easy familiarity, as Rory begins slicing up the water-melon.

- Well, thinks Matilda, - these two are circling each other like two old man seals. Funny thing really, because I suspect they both actually like each other. Rory goes out to his car, returning with his guitar and a sheaf of music and he and Dzaved retire to the lounge, poring over the score. Rory plays briefly then stops, beats a tatoo on the table. He and Dzaved hum together, break off disagreeing, start up again.

"Okay you've got it."

"But Rory I need more practice! With harp AND didgeridoo?" Dzaved looks extremely doubtful. "I've never sung with a didgeridoo in my whole life!"

"Jesus Dzaved, you've got a voice like a didgeridoo yourself. What more do you want?"

Karolina stands stock still in the kitchen. The wrapping paper has fallen to the floor. White tissue-paper is screwed up on the table. Karolina clasps the picture to her breast. It is the photograph of Karolina's mother - an enlargement of Dzaved's Bosnian original, with the friends and relatives faded out. Dzaved has made the frame himself. Karolina holds the photograph out to the light. It has been enlarged to A4 size. The woman in the photograph has the same lift to the chin, the same ironic, curving half-smile that Rory knows so well.

"It's my mother." The tears wetting Karolina's cheeks are a shock to Rory. "My mother! Dzaved, this is just perfect!" Karolina holds the photo out at arm's length. She hugs it again and rushes into the lounge-room.

"Matilda, Rory. This is my mother!" Karolina encircles Dzaved's head and shoulders from behind and soon the two are sitting together on the couch conversing in - Bosnian? Is that what you call it? Rory doesn't know. It is a long time since he has felt so alone. He turns to leave. Matilda acts swiftly.

"While we're on the subject of photos. - Somewhere here. Rory, I've got it. Your photo. Here." Matilda tumbles the contents of her blue scarf out onto the table.

"Yes. Thanks Matilda. I - I'll just be off then."

"Rory. Wait. This is it. Here. The wrapping paper. I did it myself. The marbling. Blue for the Pacific. It's marbled." she repeats, not daring to look as Rory unties the gift. "I - I combed crossways for the waves. And and I flicked white on so as to - Rory are you allright?" Rory who has been standing quite still, looking down, slack-jawed, suddenly strides out onto the veranda.

Matilda follows her father. The back veranda, facing west, is still in the shade. Matilda finds Rory at the far end of the veranda holding up the enlarged photograph to the light. "I - I didn't like to risk getting a higher magnification." she says tentatively. "I didn't get it framed because I didn't know . . ." Matilda waits uncertainly at some distance from her father.

Rory leans out over the balustrade, out towards the sun, drawing deep shuddering breaths over and over. And still he holds the photograph out, trying to catch the light. Matilda falls silent, hovering anxiously, not knowing whether to stay or to go, as the shuddering quietens to tears and when the tears stop, Rory says simply,

"So you know."

Matilda nods, "Yes."

Rory rubs his face with his sleeve. With eyes still fastened on the photograph, he asks, "The old canoe, the two-seater that I built for you. Is it still watertight do you know?"

"I think so."

Rory wraps the photograph in Matilda's blue scarf and tucks it down his shirt-front. He grasps Matilda's hand and drags her down to the boat-ramp.

"One way to find out." he says hauling the boat into the river and vaulting aboard. "Let's row."

Matilda isn't used to sitting idle in a boat like those 19th. Century ladies all frills and flounces. She is bowled over by her father's skill with a boat. He seems to have an intuitive feel for the water, for the presence of underwater rocks and snags, hidden sand-banks, places where currents run unaccountably faster. And the river today, despite the long absence of rain in the catchments, is running fast and treacherous, with the tides out and the river rushing in to fill its lower reaches.

Rory is silent as he rows and Matilda has no desire to speak. Rory rows effortlessly upstream, his gaze turned inwards and yet alert to the current. When he does at last speak, the deep voice seems to Matilda to flow with the water.

"Matilda, I do not need to tell you this, because it is my own story. It is not even your heritage." Rory slopes the oars and angles the boat for a moment to avoid some under-water obstruction. "But I feel I must tell you because of who you are in your own right." He looks away down-river, his voice measured. " - There is a story I was sworn not to divulge and there is a story that I, Rory, would not tell. - Matilda you have a passion to know, even though you too have your own secrets."

Matilda begins to speak, but Rory raises his eyebrows for silence. "Matilda my reputation and my career are founded upon what I am not. And of late the - contradictions upon which my life has been built - must be built, have eroded even the trust of my own daughter. As for Karolina . . ." Rory's eyes darken, "that regard was largely lost many years ago. Now that you know, I speak not to defend myself, but merely to maintain the truth."

"Rory." Matilda cuts in, her face flushed, "I must say before you go on, that I - I told Karolina about the war, about Liam, but not ... not the, the core of your story. I'm sorry. I was so worried about you and Karolina - you must talk - Karolina's war-time experiences. Please Rory. You have more in common than ..."

"Matilda, I have always known enough to understand. It is that unspoken commonality that holds us together."

"And Rory - I think you should see a doctor - that bruise. The Festival's next week. But, but Rory I said nothing about your heritage."

"Let me continue Matilda." says Rory "Liam bound me to his story - stole my truth. Liam pulled the strings and - I performed. Oh yes. I became a skilled performer." Suddenly Matilda realizes that Rory's slight brogue is not assumed, not at all, because - of course! It was Liam who had taught twelve-year old Rory to speak English. Rory glances sideways at Matilda. "And I have to admit a certain pride in what you might call well-crafted subterfuge. - Politicians, celebrities do this daily, do they not? - Create a public persona. The shame intrudes when the performer does not sufficiently hide his essence. Or - and Matilda this is worst of all,when your performance becomes so skilled that you begin to forget who you truly are."

"The masks of Moen!" says Matilda as Rory pulls into the shadow of the willows to avoid a wobbly flotilla of High School kids. - And the Ned Kelly Bird too, she says to herself. Hiding behind the mask. The young people are clowning around standing up in the boats. The two standing up begin splashing the other boat with their oars. Matilda hopes they are able to swim.

"You begin to see it all as just a game," Matilda's heart jumps at the intensity in her father's voice, "a game about whose story will predominate," Rory continues softly, "both externally - and within your heart. Externally you play by the rules. But ultimately, like all games, it's about power." Rory rests on the oars in the shadows, leaning over to clear bottles and packages from the current. "The West, the modern west has no connecting story," He parts the willow curtains and pulls out into the current. "And this country too - it has no Great Song."

With a shock Matilda realizes that Rory is speaking as an outsider. She is reminded of her fourteen-year old self railing against the complexities of a family crisis beyond her comprehension that hot Gippsland night, when she had walked out on the cow-shed Christmas play.

"So are you saying Rory" says Matilda, her mind in turmoil, "that you kept that essence alive - passed it on to me in the only possible way that you . . ."

"Yes! You see that do you Matilda?" Rory swings out into mid-stream. Matilda, overcome is only able to nod. Rory's eyes are sad. "Yes. A broken song, the shadow of a song even - can be handed on, transposed." Rory's eyes meet Matilda's. Anything to keep the song alive! - As a youngster in Darwin, I was acutely aware of the - distortion that was wreaked upon me. And - before that, my childhood on Truk Island taught me a great deal about masks."

Rory pulls harder against the fast-flowing current. "She told me - that is, I was told how truth can be preserved. The coconut has a smooth green skin. A fibrous husk." Rory's eyes glow as if retelling a childhood fable. "The nut has a hard woody covering, and Matilda, there is a thick, white flesh. A hollow centre filled with sweet milk and then the kernel - the seed of life. Matilda, the coconut is a traveller - water-borne across seas and oceans. Washed up even on alien shores, the life still sprouts forth." Rory frowns. "Later, when the Australians came, the Australian phosphate company - they ripped out the whole centre of the island - a great hole. Only the edges were left. The heart was gone"

"Rory, I want to make this clear. I haven't shown Karolina the enlarged photograph. I haven't told the, the secret part of your - But Rory I did tell her about Nauru, about Truk , about how Liam didn't come back until you were twelve. I did say how Liam had silenced you. Karolina said, we'd better not take things any further, that you had your rights." Matilda reaches out towards her father. "Oh Rory, I'm sorry. I was, still am really worried. . ."

"Matilda, be careful. You know better than to move suddenly." Rory steadies the boat. "Matilda, it's allright. Karolina understands the necessity of silence."

"Silence, yes. But Rory if you would only talk to Karolina. No Rory truly. Since the heart attack, things have changed. You must - "

"Matilda I am only too painfully aware, that Karolina is re-discovering her ethnic origins. That can only be healthy for her." Matilda observing the pain in her father's face, wishes he would reduce the terrible speed of his rowing. "Matilda, as you must know I am struggling with longings that we could once again be ... " Rory's face contorts as he dismisses the thought, but the oars jerk and slap against the current with greater intensity. "So - necessity, yes necessity." says Rory forcing the words out, "Of necessity, you don the mask of the fraud, the joker."

"But Rory, you just said yourself, that it's healthy to re-discover ..." Rory rows so powerfully now that Matilda is not a little frightened.

"Healthy? - Yes. If those origins have been lost." Rory cuts in swiftly. "Matilda, you have I believe understood what the stakes are? - The story? The song?" Rory's voice is harsh. Matilda holds grimly onto the side of the boat as it slices through the water.

"Yes Yes, Rory, I - I think I do." Matilda is barely able to speak, "You have a story - a story of land. You are - bound to that. It - makes demands on you. It's special - sacred. But behind the mask also, there is - the story within the story." Rory is looking intently at her, "and within that story," she says quietly, "within that story, there is - love."

Rory slows the boat with a shuddering of the oars. "Yes, love. And loss. So my only power is - was," Rory lifts the oars, " to withhold the story - but all the while re-weaving my own truth into the fabric of the lie. But now ... Now I am beginning to see things differently."

"Differently?" Matilda glances at the blue scarf, the scarf wrapping the photograph in Rory's shirt-front. "Because, because now you've seen her?"

"Because I've seen her. Yes." Rory nods. "It was Liam who told me of my Irish mother." Rory taps his chest. "Until I was twelve I knew no other mother than my - my Island mother." Rory pronounces the words softly, as if for the first time out loud. He ships the oars a moment and they both can hear the river-noises - ducks, purposeful - foraging in the reeds, the whirring of cicadas in the heat, the spirals and eddies of water.

Rory turns the boat. Matilda looks down into the current flowing fast on the homeward run. She looks at her father rowing cleanly with the current - one of Matilda's earliest and most favourite memories this, of Rory on the homeward run to Fairfield - and yet my father who I thought I knew is a stranger to me, says Matilda to herself feeling the force of the water stir the timbers of the boat - But the spirit of him that spoke to me all those years ago here at this river was true spirit all along.

Chapter 21-25

Chapter Twenty-one


Karolina's car door slams. She kicks off her shoes, hauls shocked Bonegilla off his favourite cushion and sinks onto the sofa. She is not in the frame of mind to cook for Rory tonight after his Glenrowan performance, but he's coming soon to lay the new paving. Karolina hunches up on the sofa. .- Flaunting that Albertine dame! Rory's protestations of innocence are in vain. Best feed the man though. - Potato Bread with the Cabbage and Mince casserole would be the quickest and easiest. Karolina hoists herself up. Upstairs she throws her brief-case into the bed-room, sits down heavily at her desk, withdrawing the torn banner pieces Matilda had flung at her.

She fingers the fabric, putting down the remnants, taking them up again, smoothing them with her fingers, repeating Matilda's parting words, 'Nothing ever did fit.' - Always with Matilda the love and the hurt.' - Why does Matilda say these things? There is no pretending. Only the silences - on Matilda's part as well. - Today I have prised open the doors of the past. Karolina sinks her head into her hands, her fears confirmed. When the black mists surface, there is no healing. - How much of the banner has Matilda destroyed? And that other, more fearful destruction. Will her daughter fly off again to wild and distant places?

Karolina feels - somewhere in depths she had not known, a shift like the buckling and overlapping of tectonic plate as if in tors of granite a cry is entombed and pushing, pushing against the rock-face. What did she say today to crack the rock-face? Admitting the whole sorry business? - Not what Matilda expected! Or the photograph? How could I have showed her! Karolina stands up urgently, swivelling her chair aside..

"The photograph !" She stands on the chair to reach the embossed, leather compendium on the topmost shelf. How could I have showed Matilda when I don't even know which child is me." Karolina stretches, gripping the folder, "Nor which one is my - " - The seat swings, the wheels roll. Karolina feels herself falling. She grasps at the edge of the desk and breaks the fall with a jolt of her shoulder.

"Karolina! Are you allright?"

- Oh, Christ! That'll be Rory. Karolina struggles to rise. The arms enclose her.

"Just stay there till we see if any bones are broken." Dzaved's eyes are troubled

"Dzaved! What on earth?" Karolina forces herself upright.

"No, Karolina. Stay there. You shouldn't stand on that kind of chair. Here. I will help you up"

Karolina, a little shaky, gets to her feet. "I wasn't expecting - "

"Oh, yes. I'm very sorry. I rang the doorbell many times. The dog was barking." Dzaved looks a little embarrassed. "So I came round the back. There is something that I must show you. But first a cup of coffee. No tea would be better. Stay there." Dzaved bounds dawn to the kitchen.

Gingerly Karolina moves her shoulder. There is the beginnings of a bruise on her forearm. She hauls herself upright holding on to the desk. She scrabbles in the drawer and swallows the tablet. Dzaved has the tea made when she reaches the kitchen. She doesn't disagree when Dzaved insists that she would be wiser t put her feet up on the sofa.

Karolina's hands are still shaking. She grasps the mug of tea in both hands. There is a long silence.

"Karolina, I am really - "

. "Dzaved please don't apologize again. If you hadn't arrived I would probably be feeling a good deal more miserable than I currently am, which is -" She pause.

"Which is bloody awful? Dzaved looks at her a strange expression on his face. "Karolina when a story locked away for many years comes to the light, all that people will see at first telling is the dust on the pages."

"You mean Matilda? You saw her cut -"

"Yes I saw her. But no. I mean that the first telling most harms the teller. - And that would also be true for your daughter." Dzaved pours boiling water into the tea pot.

Karolina smiles a little. "First time I've seen a Yugoslav make tea."

"I am not a Yugoslav," Dzaved doesn't return Karolina's smile. "And it is this matter which troubles your daughter, the matter of - origins."

"That's not the only thing that troubles my daughter." replies Karolina sharply enough to remind Dzaved that he is the student and Karolina is the teacher.

"Yes, I have no right." If Dzaved is hurt or chastened he gives no sign. "Karolina would you care to look at this?" Dzaved hands Karolina a rather dog-eared photograph.

"Your family?" asks Karolina as politely as she can, scrutinizing it briefly, then handing it back to Dzaved.

"Yes. It is not familiar to you?"

"If you mean do iintensely peruse every 1940's photograph of somebody's Yugo - somebody's former Yugoslavian family in case?"

"Karolina, there is a well in the photograph."

"Dzaved, there is a well in every village in - in Eastern Europe." Karolina turns her head away. "My photo is quite different. Very formal. " Karolina feels a great heaviness in her heart, in her being. - No going back, though. She takes a deep breath. "Look, if it will satisfy you Dzaved, I'll go up and get the photograph and that will be an end to it." Karolina rises, but Dzaved is already at the foot of the stairs.

"A brown leather folder - embossed with gold. On the desk." she says, trying to keep the tension out of her voice. Bonegilla pricks up his ears and subsides back on to the mat at Karolina's feet. There is a rushing sound in Karolina's head, not loud but disturbing nonetheless. She slips outside to clear her head.

Rory is in the outside shower, enveloped in comfortin clouds of steam, wrapped in the warmth of the water and proud of a job well done. Karolina will be pleased with the paving. Hot jets of water prick his skin, trickle down his cheeks, course their way cleanly down his back. In the sprinkle and tinkle of the water, he twists this way and that, humming his bathroom hum.

"Calloo.Callay!" he yodels. "Oh wade in de water,chillen. Wade in de water! God's gonna trouble the wa-ter!" Luxuriating in the rolling vapours and the sweet fragrance of Karolina's bath-soap, Rory fancies the years rolled back, dares hope in the warm, scented, steam, that his Glenrowan dream may yet be realsed, that he Rory, accompanied by Karolina and Matilda may yet do great things together.

"O-o-o-o-h!" Rory gasps at the sudden shock of cold water. "A-a-ah! Karolina.! The water's gone cold! Karolina, could you have a look. See what's wrong!" Rory leaps out of the shower. He swathes himself in Karolina's bath-towel and pokes his head out the laundry door.

"You are what's wrong!" Karolina/Athena, Goddess of Plumbing and the Depths stands affronted, her hand still grasping the water meter.

"Karolina. Dear woman. What have I -" Rory towels himself desperately.

"Get out of my house !" shouts Karolina.

Rory still wet, scrambles into his clothes. At the kitchen door he sees Dzaved standing puzzled on the stairs. - So. That's what this assault on my person is all about! Rory opens the car door and throws in his spirit level and tile-cutters. He leaps into the car and takes off down the drive.

Dzaved hovers uncertainly on the stairs.

"Dzaved!" shouts Karolina. "Stop standing there like a scalded chook. . "Show me that bloody photograph!" Still Dzaved does not move.

"It is better perhaps that I go?"

"The photo, man. Show me the photo for Christ's sake!"

Dazed hands over Karolina's photograph. "No No. Your photograph!"

Dzaved holds the two photographs together, side by side between thumb and forefinger. "What do you think?"

Karolina rolls her eyes. "Dzaved, your photograph looks like some under-budget shoot of 'The Sound of Music.' Mine does too, but not so much. And the kids all look like the Famous Five on Dress Up day."


"Oh Dzaved," says Karolina briskly trying to hide her disappointment, "all 1940's photos from Yugo - from Eastern Europe look the same." Karolina hands back Dzaved's photograph. "Since you're here, you might as well eat. - " Karolina stops, embarrassed at her own off-hand manner. "Oh, I didn't mean it to sound that way. I have dinner in the oven. You have been very kind and I would like you to stay for dinner - that is if you're not doing anything else." Karolina finds a bottle of wine and somewhat peremptorily pours one for Dzaved. "Oh! Do you like Riesling? I didn't ask." - Karolina, you idiot, she says to herself. Bloody calm down.

"Riesling will be fine thanks," Dzaved takes both of the glasses to the table. "but Karolina," he says in a rush, "there is a well and a mineral spring in both of the photographs!"

"No, there's not." says Karolina re-corking the wine. "There's a well and a mineral spring in your photograph. My photograph only shows a corner of a well, or to be more precise, the wall of a well. Also, your photograph is an action shot." Karolina smiles, feeling she has regained her equilibrium. "Dzaved, Yugo -in the Former Yugoslavia there would be many wells, mineral-springs too I would imagine. You came from-?"

"Bosnia, but - "

"Well take Slovenia for example. I remember a little of Slovenia. - It is very mountainous, right? There would be lots of mineral springs there." Karolina goes to open the oven door.
"No, let me." Dzaved springs to the oven. "Bosanski Lonac!" he says, "Bosanski Lonac and Pirusa Krom! My God! - Indeed Karolina. one's ethnic customs take a long time to die."

- That they do, Dzaved. A long time dying, says Karolina bleakly to herself.

Dzaved searches for place-mats. "When I was a child we travelled all over Yugoslavia, so I love it all. - My father was an engineer. I have Hungarian origins, from Vojvodina in Serbia. My mother was Bosnian. A Muslim. But when that photo was taken, we lived in Sarajevo, where I was born.. The village wasn't far out of Sarajevo. We often went there. My father had work in this village. Always I went back to Sarajevo." Dzaved's face tightens a moment. He puts the dishes on the table. "In any case Karolina, you have seen your father's papers, you would therefore I assume, have seen his passport? So. You have other reason? As you would know, mostly these days, if people call themselves Yugoslavian, this means Serbian. Your daughter would know this. I respect your desire for - privacy," says Dzaved hesitantly, slicing the Pirusa Krom , "but could you not simply tell your daughter that you have a responsibility to your father, that you were brought up promising silence?"

Karolina puts her fork down. "Dzaved, I was more or less working up to that. Goodness knows I've hinted at it for ages." Karolina's eyes darken. "Obviously my crass attempt has brought about the division I've feared for so long"

"Your daughter has a fine, free spirit, deep and unpredictable as the headwaters of the Miljacka River. But she is sad - lost like the mists wreathing over the rivers." Dzaved reaches out across the table and briefly touches Karolina's hand, his eyes intense, in pain perhaps. "I have seen those lost faces in the children and young people of Bosnia. It is the reason Karolina, that I brought my grand-daughter to Australia. - My grand-daughter is eight. Her lost look is fading. Your father did the right thing."

- How the hell would you know! thinks Karolina. She leaps up saying too brightly.

"Coffee? Bosnian style coffee - Black as hell, strong as death and sweet as love!" Karolina falters a moment. "At least that's what I think they used to say."

"So!" You are Bosnian?"

Karolina sits down as suddenly as she had risen. "Dzaved, I don't know." She rubs her fingers back and forth across her forehead. "How do I know if I can trust my father's passport? He got me out - through Slovenia and into Italy. Even his name - my name. How do I know?" says Karolina miserably, choking almost with the tears of fifty years, tears she has always known how to control. - Just swallow your tears. That was what Karolina had learned all those years ago in her coat, her good, grey coat. And it was sound advice . Swallow your tears and they'll let you alone.

Dzaved takes the coffee-pot. "Come." he says, "You need to be more comfortable." Karolina thankfully sits down on the sofa beside Dzaved. She sips the coffee. "No." Dzaved is not satisfied. "If you will pardon me." he says, .sliding down off the sofa onto the rug and, in one movement lifting Karolina's feet onto the sofa. "Now, the photographs. Shall we compare them?" Dzaved holds the two photographs together between finger and thumb. He has, Karolina notices, very long thumbs with wide- splayed thumbnails.

"The big man in the striped shirt is the baker. He is playing a gadje - a goat-skin bagpipe. The baker's wife is sitting on a stool near the well. They have five children. Their oldest boy, the one in the peaked cap is working the pump handle for his older sister who is holding the bottle under the tap. Her other sister - she looks about ten, is also waiting for a bottle to be filled. The baker's baby sits on its mother's lap. I do not have the names of the family of the baker - perhaps they were only acquaintances?

Acquaintances. Yes. Well I suppose Dzaved would only know the names of his immediate family, thinks Karolina, immeasurably disappointed. - So there goes my hopes, small as they were, she says to herself as Dzaved continues.

"The other baby - me." Dzaved grins slightly. "I also am on my mother's lap. My father - he looks a lot like me, only with a bigger moustache is singing - bass I would think. My father's name is Draga. My brother, also named Draga, is sitting on the grass. The baker's other son stands singing beside his father. In his hand he holds a large Serbian flute a duduk - you know it?" Dzaved glances questioning, under his heavy brows. Karolina nods, disappointed, impatient. - God, this endless family photo routine!

"Go on Dzaved ,"she says.

Dzaved shifts on to one knee, holding on to both photographs between finger and thumb. He points with the other index finger. "My mother, Amina is the other woman with the baby. The one who is my grandfather is the older man playing the fiddle - Grandfather Ludovic. My Grandmother Kateryna is singing beside him," Dzaved flips his own photograph over a moment, reading the names on the back. "Here, the school-teacher, Milos. He is difficult to see. Here - partly obscured by that big baker fellow. Dzaved smiles. "And here, the writing says - standing singing, with her little daughter hanging on to her skirt, is the school-teacher's wife. Her name is - "

"I know her name. - Karolina. - Her name is Karolina."

"Yes." Dzaved is silent.

Karolina takes the two photographs from Dzaved's hand. She looks long and close, comparing the two, the child with the wide mouth, the dark hair, the mother, small, dark-haired with the same strong jaw, the same wide mouth.

"So this is me, she breathes. And this - oh Dzaved. This is my mother ." Karolina in turn kisses each of the photographs. "And you, Dzaved, if you had not been so - patient, so - bloody persistent." Karolina swings her two legs down from the sofa, takes Dzaved's shoulders in her two hands. "I nearly sent you packing along with Rory. I was so - I have to admit it, so downright scared. It seemed simply too much to hope for."

Karolina does not drop her hands from Dzaved's shoulders, but rather she slides her hands around his shoulders and locking her fingers, she cradles his head in her two hands. Dzaved kneels upright as Karolina draws him closer. She kisses him gently on the cheek, a circumspect thank-you kiss. They move apart a little, but still Karolina holds Dzaved's shoulders. The two stay there, not moving, eyes meeting. Karolina smooths Dzaved's shirt-front, her eyes questioning.

Dzaved nods. "Yes Karolina, I would very much like to - "

Upstairs as they lie together, Karolina is filled with sudden compunction.

"Dzaved, I have several - responsibilities and all of them are in jeopardy. I must say these things - first, you understand?" Dzaved sits up. He moves away. - Is he offended? No. - Karolina thinks not, but his face is very serious. Karolina hunches up, the sheet across her shoulders. "First of all there is my study, my Masters. I am in a very tenuous position. I - don't do what my supervisors like. My job. It's very - precarious. - In trouble a lot. Then - Rory. It is very - unclear, our relationship, I mean. Been like this for years." Dzaved strokes Karolina's cheek. He leaves his hand there as she continues in a rush. "And Dzaved, I am greatly worried about my daughter, Matilda. It is likely that she will leave Melbourne, flee if you like. - Ever since she was fourteen, Matilda has reacted to trouble by flight. No explanations.Not even a good-bye,"

Karolina, Dzaved can see, is very close to tears. He would not be surprised to be told that Karolina never cries.

"That grief. I know it too." There are answering tears in Dzaved's eyes. "My son's wife was killed by a sniper. I saw her fall. My son. My wife - there were mortars while she was shopping. I have only my grand-daughter now. My parents were shot. The war. The World War." Dzaved rests his forehead against his hands, his elbows on his knees. "Karolina we are a pair. But it is not the way to put these things behind us. Then this grief it will only eat us from inside.

"So you think we should wear our suffering on our sleeve?" Karolina is surprised by the salt taste of Dzaved's tears - but no they are her tears as well. And the taste is somehow sweet.

"Black armbands Karolina? No. Just carry it, the suffering - with truth. Love too, I think. There is a dance in Croatia, the Kolo. The men dance in the circle and then the women. They - alternate? But the circle still goes round."

"Dzaved, that is very - enigmatic." Karolina can barely speak, though surprisingly, it is good and strong to speak through the tears. " You are not making this at all clear."

"No. Not at all clear." Dzaved ruffles Karolina's hair very slowly. "It just goes round. - Waltzing Matilda and the voice in the billabong . All quite uncertain - Isn't that so?"

"Dzaved, please don't remind me of Matilda again." Karolina is openly weeping now. - Is it for Matilda, for Rory, for the little girl who was cold on the road?

"Forgive me." Again there is the faint glint in the eyes, or is it that tears also glisten? "I thought it was you who wanted to talk about Matilda." Dzaved rests his hand on Karolina's cheek, stroking the wetness, not brushing it away. "Has Matilda ever reacted with anger before, with destruction?"

"No." Karolina purses her mouth. "I have the anger. Matilda has the, the - what is it?" Karolina stops, thinking, holding Dzaved's hand on her cheek. "the grief, yes. And a terrible urgency."

Dzaved slips between the sheets. He takes Karolina's shoulders. She slides down, slowly, as if in a dance, the dance that is quite uncertain, sweet, sad and for all that, delicious. "So, Karolina," murmurs Dzaved, lying beside her, so that she feels the vibration of his voice against the hollow of her neck, "with Matilda this may be a time of reversal, mm - m? - Role reversal?"

"No more talk." says Karolina as she draws him down..

"You're sure it's okay to keep this?"

"Oh sure," Dzaved had said, "I've got another couple similar to that one anyway." He glanced at her under his eyebrows. "You might like to see them sometime? Tonight? - Or is it more - sensible to leave it

for ...?:"

"Oh definitely more sensible to leave it for a few days."

Dzaved's eyebrowss lift, "Next week then - but not after class. I must be with Angeliki."

"Angeliki?" Karolina keeps her voice steady.

"My grand-daughter." "Oh yes, of course." says Karolina in her practical morning voice, reflecting how complicated her life may soon become, has become.

"Yes, my grand-daughter," said Dzaved, kissing her - a light brushing of lips, the kind of kiss that could be interpreted as distancing, letting go - or simply as making space, moving away from passion to daily life, saying with the kiss, this night may have been just one night - we must wait for what might be and Karolina is glad of that.

Karolina stands at the back door. Dzaved has just gone. The post has arrived early and she holds in her hand a large brown envelope. She stands with Dzaved's photograph musing, looking down the drive

She selects fresh sheets and doona-cover from the laundry and throws last night's sheets, together with Rory's towel into the washing machine, dancing together - the kolo, wasn't it? in unlikely unison. - Oh God, Ill have to explain to Rory.

- No, why should I? thinks Karolina. He didn't explain to me about Albertine. - No, he did try to, but I wouldn't hear of it.

Karolina sighs as she flings the fresh sheets across the bed. It is a grey morning, humid. Almost there could be rain. The thought of cooling rain! Too much to bear in the dry of spring after the dry of winter. Karolina plumps up the grey pillows. She feeds the doona into its fresh grey cover. She folds the cuffs of grey sheets tightly across the bed - neat and chaste - a virginal bed. Karolina shivers slightly and drapes a cardigan across her shoulders. She catches sight of herself in the mirror, the grey cardigan over the grey satin-cotton dressing-gown. Then un-seeing, she stares out at the sky, oppressive in its greyness, like some flat, grey lizard sleazing between flaky clouds. Abruptly she sits on the bed. Her grey satin-cotton dressing-gown parts a little and her two breasts spill out pinkly. Frowning she pulls the garment together roughly. - So it's puritan grey, judgement-day grey, is it? she asks herself. - I find her and I feel the loss more keenly.

By all accounts she ought to be floating on clouds, sun-rise golden clouds, not mired in grey on a grey morning. - Grey is sadness, grey is grief. Karolina gazes again at the photographs. - Grey is perhaps a threshold to blackness, to death, to the emptiness of years.

And then a new thought strikes Karolina, a thought so utterly new, that she picks up the photographs, staring intensely into the black and white, the shadows of grey. And it seems to Karolina for the first time that there is a fullness in the grey. - No. There is perhaps a luminosity there, in the grey abyss, the empty centre. Karolina touches the photographs with fingers of love and in her mind she says the words, over and over she says them,

" - Mama. Mama Karolina. Mama Karolina, Mama Karolina," and in her mind her voice is small and high, piping, like the voice of a gull in the wind. She breathes deep and tries to find the threads, but her father's grey shadow falls across the wisps and fragments of memory.

Karolina shakes her head to clear the shadow. She thinks of Dzaved. - This man has come into my house, she says to herself, but she knows in her mind she had meant to say something different. - Into my ... my life - yes. - And now everything is turned this way and that, flipped over like last nights sheets of love, tumbling in the washing machine - cleansing? No. She holds up the photographs again. - Grey is not black- is not guilt. Grey is waiting. - It is the confusion and the tumbling that is grey.

Karolina puts down the photograph on the fresh-made bed and tears open the envelope. She reads in spurts and jags, as the roaring begins.

' ... Performance highly unsatisfactory ... non-compliance with management guidelines ... '. The final words are a blur ... 'mandatory attendance ... Performance Appraisal meeting.'

Karolina's hand trembes. "Oh Christ." she whispers above the roaring. She bites her lip, tries to breathe, but the roaring takes over and the letter crumples in her hand. The room spins - slowly at first then faster - misting over, dissolving into darkness and the darkness is grey.

Chapter Twenty-two


In the green light of the heart monitor, Matilda watches Karolina. - Only this doesn't look like Karolina, this thing of pale flesh, invaded by machines that bip and bleep, scribbling wild patterns on green screens. Matilda leans closer.

"Mum? Mum, can you hear me?" She catches sight of Karolina's shoes, her mother's comfortable indoor loafers under the bed. Matilda's stomach lurches. - Karolina may never be able to wear those shoes again! Matilda learns what all those who lose loved ones know - that without asking for it, you swing into grief-mode immediately the crisis hits. Matilda urgently needs to cry, but in the green light to cry would be out of place. She touches Karolina's hand, but the hand feels hot, quite unlike Karolina's cool touch.

Karolina feels the touch, hears the rhythmic suck of the machines. Suddenly there is complete stillness. The suck and the swoosh turns to a roar. She is caught in that recurring dream - The scent of violets, the rocking and rattle, the roar of the bullet train in the night. - The Berlin Train! The long, silent line shuffling forward . Little Karolina in the good coat, the Good Grey Coat holding hand of father, hand of mother in the vast Gorgon's cavern, that is the Berlin Station. Then the shouting. The barking of the dogs, huge dogs with teeth of steel. - The coat, the good grey coat - torn, the shoulder ripped completely off in the roaring and the green-cavern light. Karolina drifts in that light. The green is now green leather seats, the train an old red rattler, the electric train that used to make the bush run from Eltham to Hurstbridge. Karolina drifts and in the green light sees herself a child among children, leaping high - making it, the train roof , playing leap-frog on the train's roof, scrambling onto each other's backs, standing balanced , giggling in a perfectly executed pyramid on each other's shoulders, as the train sets out across skies and oceans. A train station flashes past, 'To Kelly Country' says the sign.

"Matilda?" Karolina snaps awake. "Matilda, I must tell you. - The war. They took my mother and father away. - No, listen!" Karolina speaks fast, breathless as if she must say this thing. "They took my mother and father away. I was with them at first. A forced labour camp. They took us to Berlin. There were dogs - like Bonegilla, only big of course. Bonegilla's my link. The dogs - they tore my coat.. "Bonegilla - is he allright?"

"Yes. He's outside. Mum, don't worry. It really - "

"I was boarded with a German woman. My mother visited me sometimes. But Matilda I truly remember very little. Later my mother died. Hints, - Hushed up. As if she'd died in prison - while I was on the road searching." There is anguish in Karolina's eyes. "No, Mum, please -" begs Matilda.

"I had a photograph which I showed no-one. - I didn't know which of the women - in the photograph was my mother. - Even which of the little girls was me. I just couldn't bring myself to . . ." Karolina's voice trails away.

"Mum. Don't !" begs Matilda.

"No Matilda, I must tell you . - I have another photograph now and it - confirms, who she is - my mother, in the photograph - and who I am. Do you understand, Matilda?"

"Yes, yes. I have the photos with me, the notebook you were working on . .The nomads? - " Matilda halts, unsure whether to proceed.

"And the letter, you have the letter?"

"Yes, it was open on the floor beside you. "

Karolina's eyes flicker. "Too many shocks." she murmurs, "The joy of that photograph, then that idiotic letter. - They're gunning for me." she says too calmly.

"Mum, you're not to worry." insists Matilda "You've got to rest." Matilda hesitates and then all the grief - and something like guilt surfaces.

She struggles to keep her voice even, "I have been really short-sighted, self-centred actually, insisting you were hiding things from me - "

" I was hiding things Matilda. I should not have."

"I simply didn't think that - from what you've told me just now - I, well it didn't occur to me the enormity of it - your childhood. - I'm still trying to - get my head round it. At first, when you told the students, I couldn't cope - And, Karolina to think that I cut the banner. I - I'll get it fixed." Matilda brushes away the tears.

"Matilda, of course you will! Don't bother worrying about that sort of thing now." says Karolina. "Just hear me out." Matilda settles back on the chair, her fingers twisting and untwisting. "After the war, as I said to the class, there was still bombing you see; I was on the road for months - , sometimes returning to the same place several times. Something to do with refugee policy, or lack of it, I think. - You have to remember that I was only about six and my father, for some reason never would talk about those days. I was quite uncontrollable - a difficult child they said in the children's refugee camp. I was classified an orphan, you see." Matilda nods at a loss. "Well you can imagine, Matilda why I never got involved in your father's rural adventures. - I was a nomad from a very early age, after all." Karolina turns her head away. Her voice is barely audible. "Our family was separated, each from the other. - I never saw my mother again." Silently Matilda hands her mother the photographs. Karolina looks for a long moment, then focuses again on Matilda.

"Eventually my father found me. We headed back to Yugoslavia - by train, truck, on foot. We got turned back many times." At that moment Matilda catches sight of Corey and Marcia at the door of the ward. She waves them away. "I got left with relations in Serbia." Matilda's brows shoot up.

"No, I'm not Serbian. I think my father may be. - His passport could well be false. But I was brought up in Bosnia - I think. And I think my mother was Bosnian - mainly from some of the things she said when she visited me - but I would have been only four at the time - so -o." Karolina draws a long shuddering breath. Matilda, I surmise - that my father did something very wrong. - Or perhaps it was simply the suffering that he went through. He was very - embittered and that wrong is passed on - I passed it on too."

"But why didn't you ask or - "

I was always too frightened. Once my father got the job at the Snowy, the past was a closed book."

"Oh Karolina. I'm sorry, so sorry." Matilda leans her cheek against her mother's. She leaps up. "I should go." Karolina grins crookedly.

"Matilda the best thing you can do right now is to get me out of this green cave." Karolina reaches out and rings the buzzer. "Go and find a nurse. - Oh and get Corey and Marcia in case they don't allow me any more visitors."

"Corey, Marcia! Now don't you make a fuss too." says Karolina her face pale above Corey's roses. "I've still got five more lives."

"Five?" asks Corey.

"Yes. One near miss in Germany and another doozy in Serbia, I think it was - on the way home to Bosnia."

"Oh, so you're promising to be with us for some time then?"

Marcia stands nervously beside Corey, eyeing the wavering patterns of the heart monitor with concern. "Looks like a Scribbly Gum."

"Yes, I thought so too - Scribbly Gum telling the story of your life." says Karolina.

Marcia's eyes widen. "Who told you that?"

"Oh, someone way before your time, Marcia. First friend I ever had in Australia. My Australian friend's mother was married to my father's friend. He was a Czech. We lived with them at first. Then I used to spend school holidays there."

"In Heathcote?" says Marcia.

"Nearby. Up the Wild Duck. In the Whipstick Forest. This girl, Anna her name was, showed me the Scribbly Gum, the tree that bends over like a blessing woman and writes the story of your life." Karolina smiles at the memory. "I never forgot. Her mother had lots of stories. She gave me a stone - a butterfly in amber coming out of its chrysalis. I took some stones that didn't belong to me, so she gave me the gift-as a replacemen. I think Anna got into trouble over the matter." Karolina pants a little with all the talk. "That was the last time I ever saw her."

Marcia's eyes flicker this way and that. "Did they ever call her Lowanna?"

"Yes, indeed. She was tall. I didn't understand the Australian sense of humour then. - Low Anna Highland they called her."

"It's not Low Anna. It's Lowanna." Marcia's face breaks out in a smile. "She's my mother."

Corey takes Karolina's hand. "Karolina, this is wonderful. More than a coincidence. Serendipity! We called in to set your mind at rest about the banner. Bonny will trim and hem the pieces. Then, if that doesn't work, Marcia's mother - your childhood friend, has some kind of system." Corey releases Karolina's hand. "So, you're not to worry. Now we'd better be off."

"No, no. Wait a bit." says Karolina, her face ashen, the old determined glint in her eye. "I want out! I need you as evidence that I can't tolerate this bloody green cave any longer."

Chapter Twenty-three


Matilda struggles to diminish the ragged gasps of her breath in the whisper-quiet studio. She concludes from Rory's unflurried grin that he hasn't heard of Karolina's heart attack. - Why doesn't he check his answering machine? Best get it over with. Matildas hates commercial radio interviews, but it has to be done.

She is taken aback by the high-tech studio, the control panel that community radio stations would die for, and by the overgrown gnome of a man at the panel in too-tight jeans and open shirt, neck wreathed in gold chains, the massive head-phones giving him the appearance of an inter-galactic insect. Rory's interview has just finished and a song is belting out about the world needing a big melting pot to render everybody down into one colour.

"Rory, have you heard about Karolina?" whispers Matilda, but the overgrown gnome intervenes.

"Matilda? Jacko Jockson, the radio shock-jock." He lets go the handshake in a slow slide. "A five minute interview. Okay?"

The black-currant eyes snap full alert. "Welcome back listeners! This is Jacko Jockson with a big hullo to Matilda Kelly daughter of festival coordinator, Rory Kelly. You heard it first from Jacko, - Rory Kelly announcing a decade of Festivals" Jockson presses a slide on the console and a sustained burst of cheering breaks over the airwaves. "Now here folks is the lovely Matilda Kelly!" There is a broad smile in Jockson's voice but

not at all in the shrewd eyes. "I understand your main portfolio is to promote and develop a state-wide, Green Corridors project That right doll?"

"That's right, Jocko - promoting the understanding of Bio-regions, but then your name's not Jocko and my name's not 'doll'."

"Oh ho listeners, I think we have a feminist here. That be right Matilda?"

"Good thinking Jacko. And you've obviously done your homework."

Jockson smiles pleased. "Yes listeners the policy is to restructure all health, education and employment regions on a bio-regional basis, so that we can all be green, clean and work-ready! That right Matilda?"

"I can only tell you about Bio-regions, Jacko."

"O-kay! So let's say that most of the listeners know that Bio-regions are climatic zones often shaped around watersheds, where inter-dependent living and non-living entities evolve and interact?" Jockson glances up quizzically with his small eyes twinkling a little. Matilda surprised, begins to warm to Jacko as he continues, "So your brief then Matilda would be to encourage responsibility regarding not growing exotic plants near bushland, responsible curtailment of domestic pets, use of non-chemical cleansers, responsible factory and car emissions and elimination of logging in native forests, so as to restore the land to its pristine state before white settlement?" Too late Matilda realizes that Jockson is having her on.

"Um, a bit extreme; you put it very well." says Matilda uncomfortably, "But you're not describing my job. Mostly I'm liaising with local Green Corridor and Land Care groups and schools, putting them in touch with flora and fauna advisors so that . . ." Jacko cuts in.

"Flora and fauna, exactly. - Matilda isn't this whole project simply another example of the radical Deep Green agenda of putting cuddly animals first, usurping the rights of humans to exist on this land?" Matilda wishes she had her mother's skill with repartee as she plunges on.

"Jacko, your - attack on a mistaken view of environmental standpoints isn't consistent with your initial support for all creatures' interdependence on a healthy Bio-region."

"So no crops, no organic farms?"

"Farming's not in my job description, only the restoration of thirty metre wide river corridors, through extending and widening existing corridors."

"But, Matilda that's just the problem with you environmental people. You don't look at the big picture. You'd have us all going back to being hunter-gatherers." Matilda flounders for a moment. She glares at Rory who attempts to intervene.

"Not at all. But we do need to learn from our ecosystem - what's sustainable, what is over-use, which land and water use activities are dangerous. We just can't go on with over-production and over-consumption. Otherwise by 2020 we won't have a - " Jockson's small eyes light up, "

Twenty Twenty! So Matilda, you subscribe to the revolutionary platform of the 20-20 group! You've heard me warn about the 20-20 listeners! Self-styled 'new republicans' who advocate a society of self-sufficient, permaculture communities, with a minimalistic, central administrative body, and the right to affluence limited by thought-police! Jockson slides a disc into the console, "Lets take a station-break, listeners for word from our sponsors."

"You cut me off!" Matilda is ropeable. "You didn't give me the courtesy of a chance to respond."

Jockson shrugs, "Matilda, Cool it Hon. This is commercial radio. Neglect the sponsors and you're dead."

Rory leans forward. "Give her a break, man. That was selective editing." Matilda casts a withering glance at her father.

"Rory, butt out! You didn't even reply to my message about Karolina."

"Message? The only message Karolina would be givin' me these days is to butt out too." Rory pauses shocked, staring at the coral necklace encircling Matilda's neck. "So it was you Matty, who raided me precious sea-chest. Matilda how could you?"

"Because you're untruthful." Matilda hisses, "Because your life is a fake, because ever since Corey's party, I've realised Rory, that you have concealed so much, that it would take a whole truck-load of leprechauns with picks and shovels to separate out the contradictions in your fucking stories!"

Never before has Matilda responded so explosively to her father. Rory is stung to the quick. His fuse crackles.

"Contradictions! Contradictions!" he whispers fiercely. "And who are you Matilda to be blathering of contradictions, when you can't even decide whether it's boys or girls you'd be loving?"

Matilda is stunned into silence. The hurt and anger harden her resolve. - She will get to the bottom of this - and without the assistance of any truck-loads of leprechauns.

Jockson raises a be-ringed hand. "Right of reply comin'up - on the signal." His index finger jabs the air. Matilda takes a deep breath.

"Mr. Jockson's leading listeners away from the point. He's mentioned a group I know nothing about. Then he linked a government decision to create green corridors to that group. He is sensationalizing a sensible project committed to making a difference regarding land and water degradation." Matilda takes another breath as the producer gives the wind-up signal. Jockson's hand hovers over the control panel. She leans over swiftly, pushing the sliding knob upwards. "I urge all the good people listening to contact the station regarding responsible approaches to the serious question of environmental danger. I'm suggesting that this radio station host a series of in-depth discussions on how we can rescue this Bio-region." Matilda keeps her hand on the panel, speaking rapidly, "And before I finish, may I just send my best wishes and love to my mother, Karolina Brankavic Kelly who is in hospital in intensive care. Bye for now." Matilda rises and is out of the studio before Rory can even assimilate the message.

Chapter Twenty-four


Matilda holds the canoe steady in the current, staring up at the overhang. - If anybody is there they must see her. She looks down-river, to where her father had built the canoe, her first canoe. Before that, there was Rory's own canoe. - What a swift beauty she was, fast - graceful, riding high and in Rory's hands a living thing.

- Why did Rory no longer row on the river? Why didn't her message about Karolina's heart attack get through to Rory? - Why it is that Rory has stuffed up so badly on two public occasions. Then there's the papers she'd filched from her father's seachest; there are worrying inconsistencies. Matilda ponders the duplicity of her father at Glenrowan. Losing concentration, she has let the boat drift back within eyesight of the Boatshed. She glances over to the east bank surprised at the sight of a huge Red Gum leaning perilously over the water. Matilda can hear a creaking in the branches. At any moment the tree could fall. With the advent of summer the river-level has dropped alarmingly. The mud at the river's margins, crazed and cracked like peeling sun-burn, exposes the tree's roots to the blasts of hot northerlies, eroding further the fine soil clinging to the tangle of those de-stabilized roots.

- Red Gums get a bad press, because they age early - snake their branches out every which-way. - People don't like old trees - same way they don't understand old-growth forests. Forest industry likes their trees to be young to mid-life - uniform shapes ripe for the chain-saw. Trees in a forest though; they're a community. The young in the shade of the elders - like Gary Snyder says, the really old trees with their extravagant gestures - are the poets and painters among trees, laughing ragged and fearless - yes.

Matilda's mind drifts back to that blazing summer in the Western District - a sheep station near Castlemaine. In those days you got a cool change after two or three days of heat-wave. Rory and Matilda were sitting up late by the camp-fire embers. They had performed together, their last father and daughter act, as it turned out. Matilda loved singing in that ancient wool-shed, the air pungent with the greasy-wool and sheep-shit, the crowd lounging on wool-bales they sang , 'The Bullocky's Ball' and 'The Lachlan Tigers.' For an encore, Rory accompanied Matilda on his violin, Matilda singing solo - 'The Convict Maid.'

"You lads and lasses all attend to me,

While I relate my tale of misery.

By hopeless love was I once betrayed,

And now alas I am a convict maid."

By the dying fire, Rory told Matilda that Liam was coming down and Matilda was looking forward to seeing her grandfather again after so many years, but Rory didn't sound pleased. The wind changed to a vicious, hot squall, blowing up dust, sending the camp-fire flames shooting up to the cold stars. Matilda threw dirt on the fire to damp it down, while Rory went fo corrugated iron to fence in the flames. Rory told Matilda that having reached thirteen, there were to be no more bush, week-ends for her and that he had agreed with Karolina that it was time that Matilda went to a proper school.

"But you can still go to Uncle Marco's or come away with me in the holidays, Matt." It seemed that he and Karolina had come to what he called an amicable agreement to separate for six months and that Matilda was to live with Karolina while Rory looked for an apartment and a full-time job. "The truth is Matt, I needed you to have this kind of life - living free, you know. To me it was important - vital. But it hasn't been fair on you really, because you need to be able to live in the real world." To Matilda, Rory's face belied his words, as he stirred the ashes and the fire sprang up anew from the furry white coats of fire-blackened logs.

"I - used you for my own healing, Matilda and a parent should not do that." Matilda saw that Rory was speaking in the past tense and her heart ached for her future. "But I have passed on to you what is precious." Rory glanced intently at Matilda, his face shadowed in the fire-light, " - what I am convinced is precious and true." Rory glanced skywards as a sudden thunderclap cracked its menace from the hills. Almost immediately a sheet of lightning electrified the horizon and a fat blob of rain splashed on Matilda's nose. Nearby campers were dousing their fires with tea from their billys. Matilda reached for the billy-can, but Rory had already grabbed the spade and was shovelling earth on the embers, so Matilda left him to it and ran for the shelter of the shearing-shed, bullets of hail peppering her face.

Matilda, worrying about her future, worrying about her mother and father, didn't sleep well that night. Next morning, she wandered out of the shearing-shed to find Rory raking the wet earth aside as the fire sprang immediately to life.

"You hid fire in the earth." said Matilda proudly, forgetting the previous night's distressing news for a moment as she popped the billy-can onto the hissing flames. Matilda hugged her father close for he looked sad. "Rory," she repeated, "You hid fire in the earth "

"Indeed I do." Rory had replied, "and one day you will blame me for this deed." Rory straightened up, "But remember the fire is still there though - in the earth." And he released himself from his daughter's embrace as if the hiding of the fire was a thing of great shame.

A team from Park Management zoom down-river in an outboard powered launch, chain-saws at the ready. They rope the area off, leaving only a narrow entry space.

"M ake up your mind if you're coming through." shouts the man in the orange helmet. "We're gonna topple this old fella. - Looks like he's had 'is day." Abruptly Matilda swings the canoe around and makes for the Boat-shed.

"Cal?" Matilda whispers as she drops down to the overhang. "I'm sorry. After I saw your video - you and your father, I thought - " Matilda pauses uncertainly. Cal is sprawled on a rug, a lap-top on her knees. "It's just that something doesn't add up. I - my mother's origins were a mystery - until recently and - "

"Yes, I heard about your mother. Is she out of the forest?"

"Out of the - ?" Cal's accent is so slight that Matilda is a little taken aback by her unusual turns of phrase. "Oh. Yes. At least they think so. But my dad - it's really - distressing me. But I don't feel I can trust his honesty. He exaggerates." Matilda's voice tails off. "Look I know this might seem ridiculous - compared to - "

"Why don't you sit down?" Cal pats the rug. "Saw you out there on the river." Cal glances down at the screen. "Matilda, I was a kid who rejected her background - totally. Didn't want to know, whereas you're hunting yours down - Walked out on my father when I was twelve."

Matilda drops on to the grass beside Cal. "Me too - at fourteen, busted my grand-father's concertina, vowed I'd never sing in public again - took off to Corey's."

Cal returns to the screen. "Whoops! Sorry Matilda. Something. I can't drop." She looks up. "Corey's? That was sensible. Me, I was totally wild. Living under bridges- derelict factories. - Just a tick." Cal stares intently at the screen. "Hah! I'm in! Trouble is Matilda," Cal scrolls down the screen, "It was just luck really that got me off the streets - and Lin."


"Yep. Lin was my probation officer after the cops picked me up - an O. D - back lane in St.Kilda. Lin took me to see a movie about the 'disappeared'. I confronted my father, 'You owe me.' I shouted. And then I understood - wasn't safe to tell a child her parents were in the resistance. "- Hang on." Cal focuses on data rolling down the screen. "Gotta concentrate," She taps in a command and scrolls down the screen highlighing a block of text. "Great!" she murmurs.

Matilda stands up. "I'm sorry Cal. You're busy."

"Sit down." says Cal firmly without looking up from the lap-top. "I'm busy and I'm embarrassed about it." Matilda starts as a flurry of ducks sets up a quacking squabble below on the river. They fly upwards, wheeling above the water and come down again in style on their webbed feet with a swish of wings and a high-flying spurt of water. "The thing is Cal, Rory told me I'd blame him one day. But I don't feel I can confront - that is, question him until I have something - tangible to go on." Embarrassed, Matilda looks out over the river at the scooting, chattering ducks, "I - I took some of his papers."


"There's not much to go on. An Irish newspaper, a few poems what looks like a tourist brochure - part of it hand-written, perhaps from a travel book. They're just the kind of things Rory would leave around anywhere. Not important at all."

"But have you examined them closely. There could be something - "

"No. I do need to go through it all word for word. I've been so busy with the Green Corridors, which is going nowhere. But I have to push on, because after the Festival the government will probably pull out - leave the funding to the Private Sector."

"Jesus, Matilda that must be a blow."

"Oh no. I expected it. It's only been window dressing on their part. But yes, it's still stressful. And Cal, I feel I contributed to my mother's heart attack because . . ."

Cal grasps Matilda by the shoulders, "Matilda. You mustn't go blaming yourself!"

"No Cal, listen." Matilda tells Cal how she had come to cut the community banner. "The problem is, that I - I simply don't know who I am - never have, not just who my parents are, but me - myself. I don't know if I'm making sense, Cal. I just thought that since you had perhaps a slightly similar - "

Cal takes Matilda's hands in her own, "Matilda, when you do find out the truth, it can just blow you away."

Matilda drops her gaze unable to face those strong and gentle eyes. "It's as if a river's in flood," she explains, "departed from its river bed, wandering all over the landscape, lost, not knowing what to do - can't go back, can't find its new course."

"Find out where you came from and then you'll know." Cal takes Matilda's head in both her hands and gazes intently into Matilda's eyes. Matilda feels herself falling, as if into a cave, warm and deep, feels herself swept away in a new stillness. Cal's eyes! Those eyes ... Matilda pulls herself back. She bites her lip.

"Your eyes. Cal. They kind of get to me. When I first came to Melbourne. That first night I met you - when you rescued Fiona. I - I thought your eyes were blue. I really did." Matilda lowers her eyes again embarrassed. "Blue like the sea." She looks up to find that Cal's face has broken out in a broad grin.

"Oh Matilda they were blue! The thing is that for the six years that I was on the streets, I was so out of it that I changed my name, ditched my beautiful Guatemala accent and spent what I couldn't afford on anglo-blue contact lenses."

"So the night I met you, you were wearing - "

"Exactly! I'd lost my normal contact lenses and you thought - "

"I thought I'd gone troppo!"

"Troppo? Oh, the mad dogs and Englishmen situation! Yes. I had to explain the altered eye colour to the cops too. They know me you see. " Cal throws her arm around Matilda's shoulder. Then her face goes very serious. She leans over and plants a polite kiss on Matilda's forehead. A kiss sealing more than friendship and they sit, hands intertwined, watching the ducks skidding in from air to water, sending a wake of water-droplets splashing upwards, while around the bend of the river the chain saws whine as the old feller tree is cut down to size.

2063 2065 2286

. Mick seems to have moved in to Corey's for the duration, though he is up and off somewhere very early. He and Mouse seem to have moved more or less permanently into the old red rattler railway carriage that Corey normally uses as her studio. Every morning quite early the back garden is alive with saws and nail-guns. - Some kind of

construction for the Festival, Matilda supposes

Chapter Twenty-five


Corey's front veranda is a hive of activity. Can I help?" Matilda asks nervously above the roar of the sewing machine. Cal is busy trimming damaged banner-pieces. Corey, spectacles on the end of her nose is pinning the pieces together. Mouse glances up.

"We need somebody to press 'em with the iron after I tack 'em together." The thick eyebrows disappear upwards into his floppy fringe." Bon, she's been complaining about my crooked tacking."

Matilda sets up the ironing board, passing the iron's cord in at the open window, surprised to see her father inside deep in conversation with Dzaved. Rory plugs in the iron and returns to the manuscript. He appears to be discussing a musical score with Dzaved. He's been visiting Karolina every day, but he seems to be distancing himself from Matilda. - At work we've kept to our separate areas too, though with the Festival approaching, there's so much to do. - No, we've both been avoiding each other.

Matilda sets up beside Bonny. Bon, suspicious of Corey's ancient treadle is ensconced at her own state of the art machine, from which she oversees activities like the captain of a Boeing 747 directing the cabin crew.

"Bon. This piece can't be retrieved!" wails Lin, sitting cross-legged like an old-time tailor. "Bon. Stop that racket will you?" Bon inspects the piece.

"The pattern would be damaged. See." Lin points anxiously.

"Okay. Put it in the basket and we'll have a look later."

Matilda sets the iron on low and carefully presses the restored fabric. Her hair, dragged into a loose and wobbly knot, jiggles precariously. "This one'll need backing do you think? It looks pretty fragile."

Bon stops the machine. "Matilda, don't ask me about every little thing.," complains Bon. "Just put it in the basket if you're doubtful."

"Here Matilda. Another basket. This for repairs"; says Corey." the other for re-makes." Matilda takes the basket, grateful that Corey at least recognizes her distress.

Lin takes up the damaged piece again. "Hang on a tick. You could cut this in half. Insert an extra piece. And it just might be possible to salvage with a new border."

Cal jumps up to look. "Oh great. That means that so far the only piece that can't be repaired is the bullion-work!"

Matilda stands the iron upright. She is close to tears. "I, I'm really sorry for putting you to all this trouble. You must think I've been childish. And I have. I've always found it difficult to handle working in the mainstream. I went into the Green Corridors project with my eyes open. I'm not - not surprised that they're handing funding over to the private sector." Matilda glances through the open window, where Rory is still deep in conversation with Dzaved. "There's been personal stuff too." She lowers her voice. "So if there's anything I can do to make up." There is complete silence. Matilda gazes from one to the other of her friends with troubled eyes.

"Certainly is!" Lin breaks the silence. "Peel me a grape, Matilda - one steamy Melbourne night!"

"Me too!" says Cal.

"Grapes. Crikey! They expensive right now," says Mouse, not quite comprehending.

Unexpectedly Matilda grins. She leans over and ruffles Lin's cockatoo-crest hair. "I must just do that you trollop."

But Bon at the sewing machine looks serious. "I just don't get this Queer Politics caper."


"This Queer Politics game. I don't get it." Bon re-starts the machine, raising her voice over the roar. "When I had my entry into the lesbian scene, you either were or you weren't." Bon slows down a mite to navigate a series of embroidered bumps. "But this gender-bender bizzo. Look Matilda, you're born with two hands, two feet." Bon zooms ahead on the machine.

Matilda doesn't need this. She is angry with Bon, Bon bursting into bedrooms, Bon the avenging angel of separatist rectitude. "And born with two sexualities?" shouts Matilda above the din of the machine. "That what you mean Bon?"

"Yes. It's the ones in between cause all the trouble. Set 'emselves up to - "

"Betray the cause?" shouts Matilda, surprised at her own audacity, but fortifying herself with the reminder that it was Bon who had denied her that rightful place on the oral history project.

"Matilda, if you think - "Bon stops short as Mouse holds a red satin piece up for inspection. "Mouse, I said if you're not sure - "

"No Bon. I am sure. I need gold cord - wider than this here - to cover up - "

"Okay, okay. Over there. The yellow box."

"Bon, the women's oral history was dear to my heart. I designed it. Does a person's so-called 'in-between' state disqualify them from the human race?" Matilda hears herself saying. Bon revs up the machine full-throttle gunning down the seams with all the power of the Grand Prix race-track.

"Your sort," she yells, "take the women. Next thing," Bon tosses the finished piece aside, barely pausing as she zooms around the hem, "Next thing you're off - back to the men and . . ." Bon stops as Corey comes over.

"Bon, does this pass?"

"Corey. No. For Christ's sakes. The end's crooked. You'll have to unpick the whole side!' She flushes. "Jesus, I'm sorry Corey." Bon slaps the palm of her hand against her forehead. "I'm having an argy-bargy with Matilda here about sex."

"No." responds Matilda. "About love. It's about love." Bon raises her brows

"Love!" Bon stops the machine with a jolt. Matilda aware of the eyes of Cal and Lin, stands her ground. Her hair slips out of the knot and flies out all over the place.

"Bon I'm not nearly as certain of myself as you are. I only know I can't confine myself - define myself. Neither of those." She lowers her voice. "The issue I just brought up - it's over. I reacted out of uncertainty." The intensity of Cal's gaze is somehow comforting. "This isn't something I want to have arguments about - I'm not capable of arguing about it."

"I didn't quite hear what went on." Lin glares at Bon. "My thinking is in line with yours Bon." Lin's voice is clipped and angry, "But your behaviour." Lin's scissors slide noisily through the fabric. "That's a horse of an entirely different colour. Lin folds the fabric and deposits it on a table beside Bon's machine. "And furthermore -"

"And furthermore Lin, you're all my friends." Matilda touches Bon's shoulder lightly. "Who's for a cup of tea?"

In the lounge Dzaved, puzzled runs his fingers through his hair. There appears to be tension between the two. "Rory, for the Great Concert I would really prefer direction." says Dzaved. Matilda notices the twitch in her father's cheek.

"Can't do that man." Rory answers.

Corey hands them both a plate of biscuits. "Rory, your notes for my harp solo. Could you make them a bit more specific?"

Rory takes a biscuit. He looks away. "It - it'll come."

"But Rory you usually give really precise - "

"No Corey. Not this time." Rory casts a look of anguish at Matilda heading for the veranda with the teapot. He attempts a light response, "My Muse has departed from me, but she'll be back that I guarantee."

Matilda, emptying the teapot runs into Mick and Ahmet. "Matt. We're going on a Southbank Ferry trip tomorrow. Wanna come?"

Lin answers for her, "Art Gallery's got an exhibition on. Early Oz art - Heidelberg School. We could all do with a break, hey?"

Chapter 36-40

Chapter Thirty-six


Rory plods up the track from the rickety boat-ramp he'd built illegally twenty years ago, after Karolina had succumbed to Matilda's pleas. ' Mu-u-m I want to go in the boat with Rory. We'll be really careful.' Rory is about to practise with Dzaved. - Odd this situation, thinks Rory. Just about to lose Karolina - in any real sense o' the word that is and along comes Matilda with this. Rory takes out the photograph for a quick look. - Gains and losses. Story o' me life. Can't say I blame Karolina. - And yet, - a most wonderful clearing has swept through the heart o' me. He re-wraps the photograph and slides it down his shirt-front. - Like a tidal wave it's been. And it's riding that great wave I still am and no mistakin' it.

Corey is on the jetty, despite Matilda's protestations, setting up the salads and fruits. Rory's ignores the ache at his temples, his mind full of the music rising up from the river. - Strange though how Matilda had sprinted over the boat-ramp like a frightened rabbit leaving him to secure the boat alone.

Matilda sits under the ancient plum tree refusing to join Karolina and Corey on the jetty, refusing cherry tomatoes, the thick slice of cold pie, and the walnut and apple salad.

"Matilda you used to love sitting here on the jetty when you were a little girl." says Karolina embarrassed.

Matilda hooks her shoulder-bag containing her River-book onto a branch and scrambles up through the aromatic canopy to the platform, where she used to take refuge as a child. She brushes away the rotting plums littering the platform, kicks off her sandals and swings up. She gathers handfuls of the scarlet fruit spitting out the yellow pips, savouring their squashy tartness. A tortoise-shell comb falls onto the platform. Matilda picks it up and pushes the comb back into her straying hair.

Somehow or other she can't seem to write these days. She's been drawing a lot, delicate, spidery sketches of cormorants - heads cocked to one side - perched on the sides of Thames row-boats roped together at the Boat-shed café jetty, the boats curved like Kurrajong pods, wobbling and bumping in musical harmony on the current. Matilda examines her sketch of the delicate tracery of the Boat-shed café's cast-iron balconies and the slanting, knowing black eyes of those platypuses who'd bumped her canoe that first morning home from Darwin.

Matilda leafs back to the Darwin section. Her mouth twitches. - No. No drawings there. Only pretty pictures cut out of travel brochures Aboriginal women at Kakadu making intricate cat's cradle turtles out of twine for their children. Photographs of Matilda eating tofu satay and sticky-rice cakes wrapped in banana leaves at Mindil Beach, a snapshot of Matilda catching and banding a Black Wallaroo at Udirr. Postcards of the fearsome Lightning-man in white and red ochre painted on the rock gallery at Nourlangie Rock by the Mimi-spirits ochre, painted so high up in the overhang recess that even the Aboriginal people couldn't reach. - But the Mimis, those tall thin ancestor spirits called those rock gallery walls down, painted the rocks. Then they just put those rocks right back again.

Matilda sketches thin, spidery Mimi spirits encircling the page. She swigs water from her bottle. - There's the photo of Matilda in the clear waters of Gunlom plunge pool. - Matilda the mermaid creature. She remembers the soft nibbles at her ankles of the little striped fish in their football jerseys. - The water so clear you could easily see the little critters. - Back a page to Matilda, ankles encircled by shoals of tiny rainbow-banded fish, cherry, gold and iridescent green - a cloud of citrus yellow butterflies hovering above the water. Matilda's mouth twists. - Such beauty is too great to be borne. She does not want to turn the page. - She knows what is there. - Matilda trying too hard to smile on the massive, wet rock platform below Gunlom waterfall, Matilda balancing gasping, seal-sleek, waterfall pounded, behind Gunlom's thundering veil, Gunlom, home of the Rainbow-serpent mother, Gunlom - named by the whitefellers - U D P Falls.

"U D P," Sarah had explained, "Stands for Uranium Development Project." Sarah took the photo for Matilda. - Sarah, the Jaywon woman who taught Matilda how to survive her first Big Wet in '96, who told her a little of the story of Gunlom.

Matilda isn't really sure now if it is Sarah's story that she remembers, or whether her own imaginings have embroidered it. - Appropriated culture - just like my father did, but without his integrity, she says bitterly to herself - No. Because white-feller got no dreaming. Matilda stares for into the darkening river. With a sudden movement she up-ends the entire water bottle over her head. Or is it only tears coursing down Matilda's face as with her thickest pen she outlines the crags of Gunlom, the cracked and ancient, grey-smudged thighs, the escarpment towering, striated sunset-gold, the sacred cleft, shadowy - torn and curved and the waters breaking - free-falling six-hundred feet to the round-belly pool.

Matilda draws surely now, the lines thick and jagged, the escarpment rock's dark centre gleaming wetly with the breaking of the waters as they burst down to the pool's deep curve. She stands her journal upright on the platform, glances intently from photograph to drawing - and holding her breath, searches for the finest, thinnest white pen and slowly sketches in the fine, frail tracery, the falling veil of the water's bounty, whispering to herself

"It is a hard birth." With deliberate strokes Matilda flicks in the white of the water. "To the deeps of this mighty mother I do not belong," she whispers, "I have tried and I have tried and I do not belong."

"Matilda where are you?" calls Karolina as Rory and Dzaved, unaware of Matilda in the tree, pass below her. The two reach the jetty and are soon deep in conversation. - Rory, after all he's been through, still able to be civil to Dzaved, to work with him even. How forgiving can you be? - I'm being really childish, she berates herself. Running for cover. Mum and Dad don't need me any more. Like the transparency of sunlight on leaves and jewelled fruit, the story is out, the book's open. - It's only silly me sitting in the shadows of the place where everything changed. She shoves her hair back into the teeth of the tortoise-shell combs.

Matilda drops to the ground, and skidding, almost falling on the reeking plum carcasses, she runs bare-foot and pale- faced through the dry, blonde summer grass towards the jetty. This is the wild part of the garden, behind Karolina's recent plantings. The slope, a tangle of Paper-barks and Black Wattles has changed little in fifteen years. There still, is the underground hollow covered over as always with great shaggy strips of Iron-bark, there the tumble of basalt rocks - just push the big flat one aside and no-one would ever discover you sitting inside, behind that wall of rock. A little more weathered perhaps are the rough, split logs of the jetty that jetty, still shaded by the willows - taller and shadier now but basically unchanged. - Yet here is the place where everything changed.

Matilda hesitates. The conversation of the group below on the jetty is slow, the kind of easy conversation old friends might have at sunset by any river. Dzaved's head is half in shadow,

" ... so I can't stay out late," he says, "I have a grand-daughter."

"You came out with your family then?" Rory asks tentatively, then recalling that Dzaved is a refugee, "Sorry don't want to be inappropriate."

"Unfortunately not. There is only me and my grand-daughter."

There is an awkward silence. Karolina, as if trying to re-assure Rory that secrets are no more, that he is still part of the circle, explains, "Dzaved's family lost their lives outside the theatre one evening on their way to a rehearsal."

"Well that is not entirely correct." Dzaved says slowly, as if correcting a minor error, as if among friends, it is necessary to put these things to right. "No, that's not quite the full story. My son-in-law was shot earlier. You have heard of Sniper Alley?"

Rory nods, "Dzaved you don't have to -"

"No. No. It's okay. It is sometimes important for friendship - and for me it is important, how do you say? - to share stories." Matilda recalls those horrific, media images, the eggs broken on the pavement, the hoses washing the paving-stones, water - blood-stained surging to the gutters. Her stomach lurches. At least in Kakadu she was spared these horrors. She tries not to listen.

"He was Serbian, my son-in-law - a war-resister." Dzaved continues in the same measured voice. "It was my wife and grand-children who were shot outside the theatre. My youngest grand-child was inside with me."

"And your daughter?" Rory asks, his voice strained.

"My daughter was taken to one of the camps, the, the . . ." Dzaved falters.

"The rape camps." says Karolina swiftly. Matilda barely hears Dzaved continue.

"It must seem strange to tell you these things during the - festive season." He shrugs apologetically, "At least I have my youngest grandchild here in Australia. That is a comfort - and a joy."

Matilda stops on the jetty steps. As yet no-one has noticed her approach. Her hand on the rail is shaking . She has made up her mind though.

"Dzaved, Corey. Will you please leave us?" Her cheek twitches. "I'm sorry. Something I've got to say to my parents."

Karolina intervenes. "Matilda I really think you should wait until . . ." Matilda meets the startled eyes with fierce determination.

"Now. I must speak right now."

"It's okay." Dzaved rises. "I can take you through the music, Corey."

Matilda tries to explain. "I - I've always respected the way Dazed has been so - upfront, how he insists on ... " Matilda searches for the words, "Well take the banner design - Khalifa's scarf and Zeinhab - the veils hiding the stories, the cartoon for the College paper and ... just now - the truth. Dzaved just speaks it. Whereas - Karolina - Rory, you kept your stories covered up. Look I know I didn't understand. I guess I felt that if you would just - just tell me, it would explain why I didn't seem to belong anywhere actually." Though Matilda is facing her parents, her eyes are lowered. Her courage is draining away fast - here, especially on this jetty.

"Well. That's about it really. A lot of fuss over nothing. And I've gone and embarrassed you. All along, I didn't realize I had such courageous parents." Matilda's voice tails off lamely. She shrugs and tries to smile. "I guess we're all victims of circumstances and - and of, of Liam too in a way." She shrugs again helplessly.

Karolina stands up suddenly taking Matilda by the shoulders. She is trembling faintly. "Matilda! Liam interfered with you! - In Darwin?" Karolina searches Matilda's face. "No? When you were a child! - At Rory's? My place? Here - the jetty? Of course! Oh Matilda!" Karolina clasps Matilda in her arms, "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."

Matilda breaks free of Karolina's grasp. She twists away from Karolina, stands alone - always has been alone - facing the river. It is almost dark now and Matilda's voice can barely be heard above the evening waterbird noises.

"You two were such opposites, or so I thought," says Matilda not attempting to raise her voice above the Kookaburras gone loco at the fading of the light. "When I was fourteen, I just wanted you both back together. I thought that if I told you what - had happened," Matilda folds her arms tighter, curling her fingers close around her ribs. "that, that it would only drive you further apart. - Liam hinted that he'd helped you financially Rory, in some way, that you were beholden to him, that he would withdraw that help if, if I told."

"Matilda. My Darling daughter, as if I would let ... "

"No Dad, listen! - One day I was under the slats of the veranda. I heard Liam offer to buy you the apartment. You accepted, but he was threatening you in some way. - I couldn't hear how. A sort of blackmail." Matilda turns to Karolina, frowning, but barely looking up from under her eyelashes. "Karolina, you were so pleased that Liam taking the trouble to get a copy of your College time-tables, so that he could look after me. - Look after me!" Matilda shivers. "I was angry, so angry that neither of you ever guessed." Matilda swings round. Her eyes bore into her mother's. "I blamed you most of all, Karolina. It happened here, right on this bloody jetty. Just as well you have a big garden - lots of hiding-places." Her voice softens. "And then, thank Christ, there was Corey's. - a haven. - Anyway Karolina, to me you had no childhood. You told me nothing of your childhood, so to me you were always an adult, in control."

"And Rory. When I first returned from Darwin, I wanted to tell you . I - felt so out of place back here in Melbourne - my home territory!" She drops her gaze. "But I began to suspect - after Corey's party, then more strongly after your - behaviour Rory, at Glenrowan, that your life-story was a - fabrication." She smiles bleakly. "So we're even. All of us!"

Karolina's chest heaves. She struggles to open a small, glass bottle. Matilda snatches the bottle from Karolina's fingers. "How many?"


"Mum, are you okay?" I'll stop if you ... "

"No. No Matilda, I'll be right." Karolina's breathing slows a little.

" Matilda, did you think I knew? Guessed and didn't act? I have to know!"

Matilda looks down, her face stony. "You thought I was capable of it. You thought I was - promiscuous enough. You didn't trust me. I was out of control. Your precious control! Why else would I go to Corey's?"

"But Matilda, you know that I thought you blamed me for leaving your father."

Matilda drops onto the decking beside her mother's chair. "Yes. Because to me, at the time and even now, affairs are no big deal. Love - well that's another matter. But recently I came to not to blame you, because - well since I learned your story - that's made all the difference. Anyway, I just had to wear your perception - otherwise I'd have to give the real explanation."

"And you Rory! I was your nut-brown maiden - free spirit - the makings of a real singer - father and daughter team! I broke the concertina. Deliberately I broke it. I left you both then. In my mind I left you." Rory reaches towards Matilda, not daring to touch her.

"Matilda, if only you'd told me!"

"How could I Rory? Your so-called Irish heritage meant so much to you. And it was all tied up with Liam - the only heritage I had - or thought I had. Liam had bought you off. How could I tell tales on the tale-teller? The great sea-captain! Matilda hunches over, her arms wrapped around her legs. "And then Rory, you wouldn't let me go bush with you any more."

"No. That was me." says Karolina. "I insisted that you settle down. I'd seen so much of the dangers of life on the road."

Matilda, her face buried on her knees protests, "My situation in safe, sunny Australia with my father was totally different from yours Karolina, but I won't argue with you on that score." - for the present anyway, she tells herself.

"Matilda I need to know," Karolina glances nervously at Rory. "Not necessarily now, but - at some stage - We both need to know - how, how far did Liam go? How often? But then again, you might not want ... Coming from me this will sound ludicrous, but I can assure you that - to unburden yourself - "

"Yes." Rory nods vigorously. "Daughter mine, why should you tell us these things, given that neither your mother nor I have been open with you." Abruptly Rory seems to lose control. "I tell you Matilda I will deal with that man my father. I promise you I'll ... "

"No Rory. No! It's my business. Now it is. It could have been different when I was fourteen, but it wasn't."

Rory rummages in the long box under the jetty bench. Hah. Still there! He gives the kerosene lantern, a shake to check the kerosene level, sets a match to the wick and the lantern flares into life. "Matilda, this is a great injustice to you and it is family business." Rory hangs the lantern on a branch. "You should not have to deal with it alone," He pauses a moment adjusting the light, "but there is something that doesn't add up! Matilda, why on earth did you go to Darwin - to Liam?"

Matilda's face is stark, furrowed in the flare of the lantern. "Four years ago, I didn't know whether I was gay or straight. - Even recently Rory, you used that confusion against me. You - Bonny, Lin, even Mick, you pathologise me - Uncertain. Sexless. Now you'll probably put it all down to, to Liam! Well it's not! I do not want these bloody boundaries and labels! - Being confined to one track all your goddam life." Matilda's eyes fix on Rory. "You, Rory, more or less tricked me into coming back here to an impossible job. - And Karolina, you used my action-research skills, claimed all the merit ... " Matilda stops, takes a deep breath. "I - I'm sorry," she falters, "Claim and counter-claim - only escalates things - keep to the point, ay? Why did I go to Darwin? I'm over-reacting. "Don't want to tell you." Matilda's tongue flicks across dry lips. "When I was fourteen, I really needed advice - how to handle things. - So I read - for advice. Sometimes I talked to Corey. Never came right out and told her. But she knew I'm pretty sure of that. Mostly I read. - Your books Karolina"

Matilda reaches for the jug of orange juice. "Mary Daly. She poured scorn on women who couldn't take the step - become a lesbian. Adrienne Rich - I loved her poetry. But she gave me nine out of ten. - ten outta ten's for if you fuck women. - Queer theory books. Post-modernist feminism. Queer theory- thought that might help." In her distress Matilda pours carelessly. The glass overflows. "Shit! - Any way the books were incomprehensible."

"Oh Matilda I could have given you - "

"No you couldn't, because I couldn't ask you." Matilda drains the glass and immediately refills it.

"Lynne Segal's 'Straight Sex.'" says Karolina and. . ."

"Yes. Yes. I've read that recently and Vita Sackville-West." Matilda shakes her head impatiently. Tendrils of loose hair fly out from the confines of the combs.

Karolina leans forward, "So you went to Darwin to confront Liam? I s that it? Was that - wise?"

"Wise? It had to be done - according to one of your books, Karolina. This book was critical of young feminists who took harassing men to law. She, this writer, implied it was cowardly. She said why couldn't you just kick the bastard in the balls? But I didn't. I wanted to but I didn't."

"So what did Liam do?"

Matilda takes a deep breath. "Well, it started, I realize now back at Warrnambool - when I was nine, when Liam said he was a lonely old man, whose wife was lost. I was sorry for him. I ran away. Hitch-hiked back to Melbourne. You hit the roof Karolina. We never saw him again until I was fourteen. I always managed to run away - or to resist." Matilda pauses, twisting and untwisting her fingers. "I mean Liam never actually. - He never wanted. - What he was after was what some might call - fondling, though it's hard to say. He could have wanted - " Matilda stops, biting her knuckles, - penetration is the word. He never actually managed ... but thank Christ I wasn't a virgin by the time he tried it on me, that I'd already had good, caring fun sex, that he wasn't the first." Matilda glances at her mother defiantly. "But Liam silenced me - just like he silenced you Rory. I've never admired your guts so much Karolina, since I've learned about Bosnia and ... Germany. I wanted to explain to you. But then, I cut the banner, ruined everything - you had the heart attack. Matilda brushes her arm across her eyes. "I've seen what silence does to, to love. And so I've always tried to - reconcile, to not polarize. Well - " She swallows the tears and continues, "well when I read that book, the one that said you should be assertive with perverts . . ."

Rory interrupts, "But Matilda, not at fourteen, surely?"

"No Rory. Twenty-five. I was twenty-five when I tried to follow the book's advice. I got the job in Kakadu."

Rory cuts in again, "So you actually planned to confront Liam?"

Matilda nods, tears shining on the dark lashes. "He met me at Darwin airport." She grimaces. "He was wearing the tweed jacket he always wore in Melbourne - 'Donegal tweed for a Donegal man,' " she mimics. "So I stayed at Liam's for a day, before shifting to Jabiru. I thought he might have changed his ways now that I was an adult. He gave me presents. I gave them back. By evening he'd started on the lonely old man routine. He tried to stroke my hair. I don't want to go on." Matilda leans back against the jetty railing. "It's this place! The jetty. I hate it."

"Matilda we can shift onto the back veranda."

"No no, it's okay.Anyway," Matilda continues, "I pushed him off. But he pinned me down. - He's an old man, but he's still very powerful. Said he'd tell Rory. So I said, "Tell him then you dirty old man." I felt so stupid, weak. Because I wanted to kick, scream, take him on the way that book said I should. And, and I've got the bloody skills. You taught me, Karolina - pressure point tactics, self defence - all that just went out the window! But - but, he had me pinned down do you see? I could smell the tweed in the heat ..." Matilda whispers shakily, "So all I said was, "Liam I am twenty-five. I am an adult. I am too old for your stupid immoral games." Matilda's cheeks are wet with the tears. She continues to talk through the tears. "With that he seemed to lose interest. He just let me go, stood up. Offered me a fucking cup of tea before - before he'd even zipped up his fly. Said in that casual smooth voice of his - that he'd take Rory apart if I breathed a word. So, while he was putting the kettle on, I picked up my bags. Went and stayed in a back-packers' hostel."

Matilda lowers her head, possessed by the shuddering of her tears. Karolina and Rory drop to the decking beside their daughter.

"Oh Matilda, I'm so sorry," says Karolina. "That book' s been roundly criticized for downplaying, and sympathizing with the very real power old men like Liam have. Matilda you did well. You were very strong."

"Oh Karolina, that's not the point." sobs Matilda. "It's Rory, his hold over you Rory. He still has that hold. I'm frightened - for you Rory, for all of us." Matilda searches her father's face, choking back the tears as Dzaved comes down the path from the house.

"Rory. Thought I'd better tell you right away. A phone message from your father. He didn't want to speak to you. He's coming down from the Northern Territory." Dzaved smiles, "He rang from Darwin airport."

"Oh shit. Liam! That's all we need!" whispers Karolina.

Dzaved looks from one to the other. "Sorry? Did I do something wrong?"

"No Dzaved, no. Of course you didn't." says Karolina. "It's just that ... " At that moment Rory's mobile phone shrills.

Matilda bites her lip. "Liam! Do you think it's Liam ... ?"

"Inflammatory, you say?" Rory stands up. "Inflammatory leaflets? But surely Mister Magnum that is no cause to withdraw - " Rory's brow is creased. The pain throbs above his left eye. "Well if that's Dunstable's position, his final position. - Yes. Yes I'll see to it straight away." Without looking up Rory presses the key pads rapidly. "Mick? A crisis. Can you deal with this? Can you get your building team down to the Festival site? - No. Immediately. It seems the shopping complex manager has refused permission for the Festival stage. Won't allow it on the property. Yes. - No, he's already had it dismantled. Says he won't be accountable. No. I don't understand his reasoning, no. - Something happening on the stock-market. Cabinet leaks - very odd leaks. He's linking it to globalisation protests. Look, Mick, the stage needs to be re-assembled. No. - Straddling Separation Street - above, not on the street. No. The street will be closed on the day. - Tomorrow as well. I'll arrange it. Dunstable's being paranoid - with good reason I guess. - Some computer virus has moved all his decimal points two - no five, or is it four places to the left? Apparently that's the hall-mark of Twenty-twenty. Anyway Mick. Get some contractors in if you need 'em. I'll clear it with the council. - Can you do it? Good man."

Rory snaps the mobile shut. " Matilda. You heard that? A last-minute problem. Gotta go. Ill be back within the hour." Rory's face looks enormously strained. "We will deal with this - once and for all." He takes Matilda's head in his hands, kisses her on the forehead. "Don't worry. Don't worry." he calls, heading up the path to his car.

Karolina begins stacking the dishes mechanically. "I should have realized." she says, standing up with the tray. She struggles to gain control and the tray rattles perilously in her grasp. Matilda takes it from her mother's hands .

"No, no - Karolina it's too late now. It's up to me." Matilda's small smile is fixed, her shoulders squared as she disappears up the path.

Rory jumps out of the car, rushes back inside, enfolds Matilda in a vast embrace., "What you have done Matilda - for me, for your mother - . And now - it is your own journey that you are taking. But we are with you. - Matilda, Matilda - this is not for selfish reasons, that I ask you this one thing. Though it may seem so, it is not." Rory looks earnestly into his daughter's face. "Matilda - the song. Will you sing? With me - at the Festival?"

Matilda looks down a long time. "Liam," she begins, her voice hoarse. He'll be there. I - I don't know if ... Rory, I don't know. And Rory I - haven't practised. I don't have any idea of the ... "

"No. That's of no concern. When the time comes. You'll know. - Here." Rory takes from his top pocket a small drooping bunch of gum-leaves. Quickly he tears the bunch in two. "From Lowanna. From - the blessing - woman tree she said, for luck. Wear it until the Festival." With a last hug, Rory sprints to the car.

Karolina comes in from the jetty. She is panting a little. She sits down heavily on the couch. "Matilda, now don't you go listening to Rory's blarney. Matilda I do certainly intend to talk with Rory. You were right - completly ." Karolina glances quickly across to Dzaved. Karolina hesitates. "There is one thing I ask of you Matilda. - The Story stalls - the women's story stall at the Festival. - Matilda will you put in your story? - Even if it's just a few lines - or a verse. Whatever you feel right about. Just one sentence even?" Karolina's eyes are very serious. "Matilda, you - showed me the road, the road home. Now it is your struggle and Matilda, you're not alone." Karolina looks up at Corey and Dzaved. She isn't sure what exactly has triggered Matilda's tears, so she repeats, "All of us. We're with you."

Matilda for just a moment, manages a small smile. "What was it you said once Corey - about diving into billabongs?"

"My idea exactly", says Dzaved not a little puzzled as he pours the coffee.

Chapter Thirty-seven


Matilda and Rory are coming round at 9.30 tonight for birthday drinks. One hour at this late, late time is all Rory can spare due to the crisis over the Festival stage. She is off to Fairfield's Greek cake shops for Galaktabouriko and Honey cakes, struggling out of the train with the laden shopping jeep. She stops short, enchanted by a spectacular mid-summer full moon rising above the Fairfield station Date Palms. She is just in time to see two possums scamper for cover in the ragged fronds. Karolina sits sipping café latte and scribbling in Delphi café, writing as one possessed. - There, that should do it!

Karolina, setting up the savouries worries about Rory, worries about Matilda. - What to do about Liam? Rory's being too blasted positive. Don't like it at all. - 'After the great song. Wait till after the song' is all he'll bloody say. Just have keep my head screwed on till after the Festival.

Karolina lights the three candles that Matilda's decorated for their birthdays. They raise glasses - Bailey's Irish Cream, for Christ's sake - that's what Rory's provided. - Oh well, thinks Karolina, - it could well taste a bit better than kava.

"Some poetry. One's a birthday poem for the Elders among us. The other's for Matilda."

"You, Karolina. Poetry! This I've got to hear!"

Karolina is a little nervous. "Here goes." She holds the paper out in the light of the candles.


"Street tree, melaleuca, paper-bark,

Koories wrapped their babies in your soft skin,

Street tree - survivor, the women ask you,

How did you handle the violations?

Travesty of a tree - hunched and cowering

FOR SALE - the signs plaster empty shops

and I am lost in forgotten places,

the countries of the Disappeared -

street tree stripped to remnants

last week's newspapers -

The Siege of Sarajevo.








Melaleuca, pounded by mortars of the wind

your sinews stretched, limbs unwilling spread,

contorted in resistance,

the clenching and the closing of knee over thigh,

forced entry of the predator down centuries

parades your kin down lines of wires.

And women who knew that one woman, however brave -

is not shamed in being victim of law-makers, gate-keepers

with hands signing documents down Ages of women,

who with streaming eyes and strong hearts,

resisted the ravaging, bore babies in bunkers,

sang lullabies of faith and loss. And shouted

to the weakling sun demanding light

and fire.


But paper-bark, in tatters

Provokes attention. Better not to struggle.

The ragged remnants ripped completely off -

They droop and twitch - the limp flags

urgent, brush wounded branches, melaleuca

and your skin opens to restorations of rain

and pink, cream, silver-grey wrap skillfully, strongly,

the struggle of the sisters."

Matilda is close to tears. "Oh Karolina. It's about you too. About all our struggles. Now Matilda, don't say a word." says Karolina. " - Healing that was about." - She smiles to alleviate the tension. "Now just bear with me for a moment." She turns the page. "This one's called 'Possum Palm Summer.' For both of us, me and Rory.

"Summer morning a-squabble with starlings

At Fairfield station, shrill dissonance,

wrap-around sound -

rains down from date-palm.

Date-palm soars upward.

Bract builds on bract

to petticoats of faded fronds

to deep green crinoline,

to new-green shock-top,

to tangerine spurt of date-bearing stalks.

Date-palm of many summers,

whole clusters of communes

housed within this roof of fronds.

Full moon tonight's in Sagittarius,

a ripe old age this many-summers moon.

Summer solstice and the Joker Moon!

Noon-day sun and Date-palm evicts ashrams of

Indian mynas,

Scuttling down skirts of fronds.

Sudden shock of Summery protest

In tatters of branches.

Wings a-flap, showers of sparrows

snatch sweetness at Date-palm crown.

Within are Wattle-birds

gobbling orange fruits,

erratic experts at unexpected flights -

they claim title to heart of palm,

celebrating ripeness.


Full moon - golden-round date-fruit moon,

takes it slow 'n easy,

flood-lights Date-palm,

gilds Date-fruits - moon-icing shimmer

on cobbled lozenges of Date-palm trunk.

Night-train decants weary travellers.

"Look Look. Possums climbing!"

But nobody sees the moon-light climb,

the silhouettes of possums purpose-full.

Pink possum hands clutch golden dates.

The shout breaks the feast

The watcher bereft,

Stands in a hail of date-fruits -

Jaffas down the aisle.

Up-dated at possum Movies!

Like I said, Full moon tonight's in Sagittarius.

And the Joker -

Is on me."

"I do not want any comments," Karolina says firmly. "First poem's about faith. Second one - sense of humour. Let's just hang on to that." And with that, somewhat to the mystification of Matilda, Karolina takes Rory by the hand and leads him upstairs.

Chapter Thirty-eight


"Matilda, at last!" Lin trudges up the tussocky mound beside the lake. - An hour till the Festival and workers in steel helmets are still making adjustments to the re-located stage. The story-telling stall people are busy setting up. The Bio-region display Centre looks like a small, tree-fern gully beamed down, intact, to the last Lyre-bird mound.

Lin precariously balances on her shoulder, card-board tube enclosing a bolt of fabric. She leans the package against a She-oak and squats beside Matilda, balancing on the balls of her feet, her hands resting on Matilda's knees, "Some last minute instructions?"

"No, my journal." Matilda stares out to the green-snake coil of the river and the blue-purple curve of the Dandenongs , - paper cut-out mountains in the heat-haze. The new park has opened up a wriggle of blue-lizard ranges. The park is at the top of the small, but steep, volcanic cone rising from the river-flats with the new shopping-complex sitting at the peak. This ancient hill has been built on for a century, but Matilda can feel the hill's presence underfoot. The park, created from the rubbish-tip infill, is a sloping shelf, near the hill's crest.

"Hah! The very reason I sought you out! We'd love you to open the women's oral history forum this afternoon." Lin wobbles, saving herself from tipping over, still leaning on Matilda's knees. "You must hand in that writing of yours - A S A P. Pronto."

Matilda shifts uncomfortably. "Hey Matilda you didn't oughta do that to your friend!" Lin tips over backwards .The card-board package rolls away. "Watch out! Shit, the card-board's ripped! The Chinese diaspora calligraphy. Best we could do in the time available." Lin retrieves the package. "There was no need to ... What's wrong?" Lin flops down, her arm encircling Matilda's waist. "Your story for the oral history. Not finished huh? - No. Something else?"

"Lin, My story. It's just a piece of crappy, prettied up creative writing. - Gutless! Been trying all morning to make some half way genuine alterations." Matilda snaps the book shut. "Don't know whether to even try. The thing is Lin, I don't know whether to go for this job at Lake Eyre. - A really good job at the world's most unique dry-river system . People are advising me against it, but ... my job here's over. You're off to Glenrowan with Mum and Dazed. Mick and Cal have their networks." Matilda tosses her river-book down on a rock "So I don't really see - "

"Hold on! One step at a time. Matilda you got a few facts outta' joint here, I swear!" Lin leaps to her feet. "One! You're looking at a City Girl here. Mei Lin of Shanghai metropolis. Catch me in Glenrowan? No way! I'm the city-side of Karolina's outfit. Second! Say Mick and Cal and you say networks. Say Matilda and you say networks - mostly pretty much the same networks, give or take a few radicals here n' there. Three! A network's not a fucking corporation." Lin's fingers clasp her chin a moment figuring it out. "Yeah. A a network's like a Taoist Way Through the Woods, Celtic Spiral - Aboriginal Song-lines. - You meander in. Meander out. Get lost in the bush sometimes, but your fellow searchers will track you down give or take a few slip-ups." She grins. "But who is the wayfarer and who the way? Does the land sing you or you the land?" Matilda turns away irritated. Lin's voice is clipped, angry. "Matilda. Who insisted that that banner avenue had to twist and turn like a river? Who was behind Karolina's action-research? Who blew her dad's story outta the water? Who tracked down every fucking foot-print on her ancestor-trail like a blood-hound with the hots?" Lin picks up the journal and shoves it up against Matilda's solar-plexus. "You better make bloody sure you hold the line. Now write!" Lin warns. "Two-thirty. That's the dead-line!"

Karolina waits anxiously with Rory at the stage steps. - No sign of Liam.

Here's the best place to get a view of the Great Song, or whatever Rory calls it. Then I'll go with Dzaved and the students to the Banner Avenue. Karolina looks up at Rory and wonders how he does it.

As usual, Rory appears to be energized by public events. His cheek twitches. A nervous smile plays on his lips. Nevertheless the throbbing behind his eye is more intense than when he fell into the lantana last week at the Merri Creek. The Opening Ceremony, honouring the Wurundjerri people, traditional owners of the land, proceeds smoothly with the offering of gum-leaves and the Smoking Ceremony. Rory fingers Lowanna's gum-leaves in his shirt pocket. He moves out of range of a T V camera. - No! It's Karolina they're after!

"Ms Kelly! With your husband as Festival Director, isn't there a conflict regarding his position and your letter to this week's local newspaper, where you criticized the government's inaction regarding alleged racism towards refugees?" The reporter waves the offending newspaper. "Did you also condone the circulation of a cartoon after your employer had embargoed it?" "Now just a minute sir! You hold it right there!" The man continues as if Rory had not spoken.

"Is it also the case, Ms Kelly, that at a recent Performance Appraisal meeting, you were accused of breaking a college order forbidding public comment?" The gleam in Karolina's eyes betrays her amusement. The reporter pushes forward again.

"Is it also true, Ms Kelly that you and a good friend - a student of yours, Mr. Dzaved Emirovich have connections to 20/20, the radical environment organization? Hey! Just a minute mate!" the reporter objects, as Rory motions for a security guard.

"Thanks!" Karolina smiles uneasily. "Rory, this is not the right time to tell you this, but if I leave it till any later, I'd be keeping my decision from you, do you see? - It's only become - clear to me right now. And it shouldn't make a difference." Karolina looks Rory directly in the eyes, "Rory, I want a divorce."

"A divorce!" Rory stops as if slapped.

"No Rory. No. It's not what you think."


"No. Yes. No - look Rory, it's not a problem!"

"Not a problem Karolina. To you no. To me though." In Rory's eyes is the shine of tears. The stage manager signals for Rory to begin.

"Rory!" Karolina's hand detains him, "Look. It'll be better, truly!" Karolina's eyes plead for understanding. " - Promise - will you promise to wait till we've talked?"

"There's nothing left then." Rory stands completely still on the stage steps. He turns back, takes Karolina's hand in his own two hands briefly, lets it fall, straightens up. "Nothing left." He shrugs, "Nothing but the song,"

Rory hurries to the stage steps. His mobile shrills. - Shit! Three minutes to go. This I don't need. "Make it quick will you?"

"Rory my son!" - That Donegal brogue. - Liam. He's here! "Rory,your father is watching. May you perform well, my own one, the performance of your life ay?" Rory snaps the phone off, handing it to the stage manager. "Don't answer. Unless it's a security call." he orders, mounting the steps.

Matilda, journal under one arm, pushes through the crowd to join Karolina. Karolina gives Matilda's hand a squeeze as Rory strides across the stage. In Rory's eyes is that glitter of excitement Matilda knows from old, but there is more - deep hurt, pain. - He hasn't recovered from all the tension of the last weeks. There is a hard look to the set of Rory's mouth. - I don't know him, thinks Matilda. - I simply don't know my father.

Rory stands alone, centre stage. Hughie, Corey and Marcia walk on slowly. - The violin! Rory's going to play the violin! But it's ages since . .

Rory begins - a long, slow single note. In the heavy air the sound hangs like honey. There is a hush in the Amphitheatre. Before the note has quite faded, the clap-sticks begin. The didgeridoo comes in - eight beats on the didg to five on the clap-sticks, the eighth beat drone overlaid with the whirring and stirring of a fifteen beat over-tone as if the earth itself is opening. The double drone slows to fierce whoops with the drone speeding up - menacing.

Pre-settlement! Matilda decides. - Pre-settlement Australia. - That wonderful first note on violin, the didgeridoo speaking earth. But now it's the story of white invasion. Rory's violin wails the keening of women, the cries of stolen children. The violin is edgy, the didgeridoo and clap-sticks raucous - like unsteady drum-beats. Suddenly Corey's harp rings out over the violin, - rippling, streaming with the sweetness of tears released, thinks Matilda - the heart song of the harp, the didgeridoo drone speaking land .

The harp murmurs - wind tossing wattle trees, the ripple of water over river-banks. Rory steps forward to the microphone.

"In these days of festivals upon festivals, today is not just any other Festival. It is - or could be, if we make it so, the standing up of a people to declare unity in all our diversity, because at this celebration, we assert our grief and shame - as well as our joy." At that moment a gleaming black Daimler, speeds up the Banner Avenue accompanied by a police motor-cycle escort. Only V I P cars like Magnum's Daimler are allowed on-site.

Magnum looks puzzled as Rory continues. "Our community banner turned out to be more than we'd ever thought. It's a story in itself." Rory glances briefly in Karolina and Matilda's direction.

"Speaking o' stories," he continues, talking easily, confidently, as if at home with everyone there, "this festival embraces all of our stories through the oral history project, because this country was, and will be again - a story-telling land." Rory nods. Hughie on the didgeridoo, trills a long, soft roll - birds at sunrise. "That is why we are opening our celebration story, with - the singing of the land - the Great Song." Rory draws the bow across his violin, plays a few chords, low and sweet as he speaks. "This singing of the land. - The Aboriginal people since way before the invasion of 1788 have always storied the land with song-lines."

Out of the corner of her eye, Matilda observes Nelson Magnum wince at the word 'invasion'.

"The tradition of story in song has been central to all cultures," continues Rory, " - to Celtic bards and minstrels, to story-songs of African, Asian and American indigenous peoples and to the peoples of the Pacific Islands, with their traditional Great Concert."

The sun is high in the hot sky by now, where heat has all but drained out the blue. A thick band of incongruous, grey clouds slinks in from the Bay as harp and violin soar together in the golden air. But from Rory's violin comes a tension - the breaking-point that follows hubris, over-extension. Harp struggles with violin. The rhythms are at odds, the dissonance cruel. There is a long clap-stick roll - staccato, like bullets. The didgeridoo shrieks then drops to a slow rumble - fire buried in earth. The clap-sticks shiver. It is an unravelling, like the destruction of a people after war.

Matilda clutches her mother's hand. She stares out over the cloud-wrapped river. Tears start to her eyes. - That melody! Is it? - No. Could be though. Strange how that song melts the heart. - A fragment of that song perhaps? ' The ... ghosts . . .may be ... heard.' - No, it's gone. Sweat pours down the players' fore-heads. Rory's face glistens with perspiration. The jagged wound on his face begins to stand out. In the uncanny light, Matildas is mesmerized by the melody and the massing of the blue-black clouds that have piled in from the coast, as if summoned by the music.

The violin drops to a whisper - troubled and scratchy like the whirr of captive wings. - Kookaburras! Six. Eight. A dozen and more of them. Kookaburras - at mid-day and away from the river. Impossible. Kookaburras are territorial. Wouldn't fly over virtually treeless streets. Kookaburras - cruel-curve beaks, crew-cut heads, the sky-blue wing-chevrons, the glittering button-eyes - alighting, one to each pole on all of the flag-poles allotted to the community banners. Rory sees the kookaburras. His eyes are way too bright, his cheeks flushed. Suddenly Matilda is very worried.

The violin fades - or does it waver for a moment? Matilda is not sure. Only the harp lingers like the sounds of evening - and with the harp, Marcia on the clap-sticks, a complex clattering roll like the pre-laugh warm-up of a kookaburra clan. Lowanna, standing nearby, straightens imperceptibly. Rory moves closer to the microphone.

"Australia is a land of ghosts," he murmurs, "Ghosts thin and dangerous as the Mimi-spirits of Kakadu. Our country is starved of stories. Our shadow-stories are dislocated. The Great Song tells the truth of one's story. Rory straightens up. "I myself was brought up to believe that I was Irish. And now it is I who say, that I was - assimilated." The violin lurches into a limping parody of a Celtic melody, dark and off-key. It screeches to a stop as suddenly as it begins. "The truth of the story is the beginning of healing. This I have learned. I urge all of you to find and speak your true story - perhaps to record it at one of the oral history centres here - to tell the story of your ancestors - truly to tell that story, to consider how the truth of that story connects to reconciliation and to the diversity of this land."

Rory's eyes seem to seek the distance of the ranges, but there is no focus to his eyes. Now it is Karolina who is concerned. Rory moves away from the musicians, standing alone front of stage. He throws his head back, so that all may hear.

"In the islands of the Pacific, decades ago on an island occupied as a prison island," he says, as Hughie on didgeridoo - breathes the drone and wash of waves on reefs. "I owe my life," says Rory strongly, "to an island woman who raised me on that prison island - and, more truly than to my Irish origins, I inherit my culture from the people of Nauru." Matilda notices that Dunstable seems to be giving Rory the wind-up signal. - Strange, thinks Matilda. - He's not the Director of this Festival. My Dad is. Rory pays no attention, though his voice does seem to falter for a moment.

"On my - on the Island, there was a custom. This custom was the responsibility - the imperative - to sing the story of the people. This was called the 'Great Concert.' From our song came the creation, the bringing into being of the land the people and all creatures. The Great Concert was the ancestors' memory. The Great Song was a sacred duty." Rory's voice wavers. Corey on the harp comes in over the soft-surging didgeridoo.

How on earth has Rory, with all the pressures of the past weeks managed to put this performance together? thinks Matilda to herself. - There is no written script. Practices were ramshackle, last-minute affairs. It must be sheer improvization. And yet the co-ordination and unity of the players with her father indicates fore-thought - precise crafting, surely? Another really odd thing. There's no audience unrest. - No, she tells herself. I'm approaching this as if it's a performance. And it's not. It's the Great Song.

Below the clarity of the harp, the Didgeridoo rumbles deep and sure. Then suddenly both stop completely, as the lone clap-sticks - heavy mulga-wood clap-sticks ring out, single beats at first, then stuttering faster, faster, closing shivering on the brink. The clap-sticks stop. There is silence.

Rory steps forward again. "At war's end, I stood in a canoe on the shore of my island home with all of our liberated people and with my - with my island mother." Rory leans close to the microphone. He speaks - apparently rapidly, a musical fluidity to the words. - Language! Rory's speaking in Language - his islander language. Matilda's eyes widen. Rory translates, drawing the bow across the strings and it is as if the violin also speaks,

"I was saying how we sang our grief, our great struggle." The violin shivers like the thin, faint voices of Mimi-spirits. "And also, how we sang the story of our survival."

Rory lifts the violin from his shoulder. Arms wide, he gestures with it towards Matilda. - 'Matilda. The song - with me. Will you sing - with me at the Festival?' Rory had asked, that day, Christmas Day, the day I spoke my own true story. Matilda shakes her head.

- Liam. He's in the crowd somewhere. She feels it. Still Rory continues to face her. She shakes her head again. Rory squats and reaches down over the brow of the stage, attempting gently to pull her up. Rory winces. - The pain of the injured shoulder defeats him. Hughie hands his didg to Rory.

"Here, I'll deal with this." Hughie squats on the edge of the stage, reaches down, takes Matilda's hands in his. "You gotta come up - You're the Song-man's daughter!" Hughie hauls Matilda up, as Rory whispers to her. "Descant. No words. Just hum. Second verse it is." From the back of the ampitheatre a small group steps forward. Dzaved takes the bass. It is only for a brief moment, the richness of this melody, but Matilda knows it is for her that they sing. She feels the strength return and the wordless chorus rises as Matilda sings in her head the dear words, ' tho' time and tide may vary,' , she hums her high, clear descant, 'my heart beats true to thee.' Rory coaxes the violin, draws out worlds of tears, broken chords, stumbling from lost lands, easing into possibilities of home. Matilda squats at the side of the stage, shaking her hair free from the tight pony-tail. The violin hints at streams rushing down from the high country.

Then - two voices, rich and deep as a blessing. - Rory and Dzaved, singing together! Violin and harp follow the voices, swooping over and around - making wordless music out from caves and forests. Corey brushes the harp-strings - wind-shimmer of the Mekong. Violin and harp switch genres. The audience relaxes, smiles. The violin hints at streams rushing down from highland glens, trembling air above the blue Adriatic. Another group stands forward at the west side of the ampitheatre with deep-mountain chants - throat-song from snow-peaks. Yet another group - the grief of Balkan valleys. And suddenly there are groups singing standing forward on all sides. They are not singing in harmony - no, not at all, but in the dissonance and complexity, strangely - there is a new sort of sweetness. People begin to clap in time to the music - wild, klezmer, switching to Latin-American. The dancing begins.

Dzaved scoops up his grand-daughter, swings her up onto his shoulders and pushes through the crowd to join Karolina and the students. Matilda looks puzzled. Apparently there has been a change of plan. - Ah yes, of course! Matilda, familiar with the programming, realizes that the re-location of the stage has made space available underneath. The community banner bursts out from under the high stage like a flower unfolding. Something distinctly odd though, has happened to Lowanna's re-constituted banner, for Lowanna has re-connected the damaged pieces in such a way that the banner is no longer an oblong shape, but rather it resembles a huge, ragged-edged pennant, a comically magnified parody of those jousting flags that once adorned medieval lances. There are chuckles of appreciation as the strange and colourful banner takes its place with all the other banners falling into line behind it.

Karolina breathes a sigh of relief. This less than perfect banner has captured the mood of the crowd.

"It looks like a gum-leaf!" says Dzaved. "the way it tapers."

- Well, reflects Karolina, - if this crazy icon personifies culture, we're in for an idiosyncratic future!

Matilda glances at her watch. She has to be at the oral history site to launch the project. - As for my own story. I'll decide later. The crowd is pressing forward to get a better view of the floats and banners. Matilda is carried forward in the crowd's wake. She pauses for a moment by the wall of the youth story centre. - Best to edge along here rather than get swept up in the throng. Matilda nods briefly to Mouse as he leaps down the steps in a great hurry.

"Software! Gotta get!"

- What was he saying? - Some software at the Overhang - His problem, not mine.

The crowd thins out a little and Matilda feels she can risk stopping to see the Youth Refuge performance. - At least the music's uncomplicated. - 'Waltzing Matilda.' - The Queensland version, three-four time - more jolly than the official four-four version. - Wonder what all Mick's fuss was about to have me ensure the Refuge performance would head up the program?

The swagman - played by Ahmet is it? Somebody tall at any rate, - divests himself of the rolled-up swag and sits, by the billabong. - Nice touch, the billabong . A silken fabric, rippling back of stage, just above floor level. - Here come the Troopers and the Squatter. - Pretty bland performance if you ask me! Unbidden, Rory's nut-brown maiden song steals into her mind. - Looks like a very ordinary re-enactment. Matilda is disappointed. - The sort of thing school-kids have performed for a hundred years.

- Oh well, I'm not missing much. Unbidden, the song rises again. 'Oh Matty, bright-eyed Matty' Matilda shakes her head, ordering the song away. But it returns, 'by land or on the sea,' murmurs the song , 'though time and tide may vary,' Matilda grasps her journal firmly, turning the corner, 'my heart beats true to thee' the song whispers insistently. Matilda, shaking by now, takes out her pen. She squats against the wall, leafs rapidly through her river-book, ripping out whole pages, crossing out, scribbling in margins.

" - There!" Matilda gasps in the cloying heat. She closes the book, turns another corner, hurrying a little now.

- Footsteps! - Behind. She feels rather than knows. - Faster. I must - . Matilda dare not look over her shoulder. She doesn't look round, until the arm - tough as steel, pliable as a stock-whip, encircles her waist and she feels against her bare skin the prickly texture of the tweed, breathes in the heavy, woollen odour of tweed in the heat.

"Matilda. - Matty! My dear grand-daughter!"

Karolina is pleased that the stage site has been re-located to span Separation Street. - Much easier to get a glimpse of the performance here than from the earlier site beside the lake and the methane vent. - The tower structure of the vent would have obscured the view. Karolina recalls how Matilda up to age nine was constantly performing and re-interpreting her song as she'd called it. - Anyway Karolina herself at age fourteen, had already had a gutful of Australia's unofficial anthem. Karolina, in her apple-green organdie dress with the cherry-red sash, perfecting her deep curtsy to the youthful Queen - all to interminable re-plays of 'Waltzing Matilda' on the scratchy, school record-player.

Karolina has to signal for the start of the procession so she must concentrate until the second-last line. She notices something odd about the Squatter and the Troopers one-two-three. - All four characters suddenly switch to contemporary clothing. The troopers peel off their riding leggings and don 20th. Century police caps, the Squatter plonks on his head the modern, bush-hat of the pastoralist. - Pastoralist! Ah. So that's the point!. Suddenly Fiona and Cal dash on to the stage bearing large banners. With outsize padlocks they lock on to the central pylon. The banner reads 'Pastoral Lease. Keep Out! All Members of the Public. All Aborigines. Keep Out!' Karolina grins. - Can't help admiring their bravado. Not sure though that the general public will comprehend. - Message is a bit obscure.

Now a horde of young people besiege the stage shouting and waving placards. Karolina can clearly make most of the messages. 'Two thirds of Old-growth Forests Gone!', reads one. 'Free Child-care - Gone! Fees For Nursing Homes!, says another somewhat obscurely. Sell-offs of Water, Gas, Electricity! 'Transport for Private Profit." 'Public Housing Sell-offs! - This is over-kill surely - or is that perhaps the point?

A blinding rose-gold spot-light flashes on to the stage back-drop. Slowly, as if a jig-saw puzzle is assembling a map begins to appear on the screen of the back-drop. - Australia. It's a map of Australia. Karolina believes she sees, momentarily, the spiky head of Mouse up in the projection-box. - Strange how the map is assembling itself though. - Peculiar sorts of boundaries - not bearing any sort of resemblance to ... Karolina recalls the map on Matilda's wall. It's Bio-regions. Australia as Bio-regions! The map fades to a shot panning the length of the vast Kakadu Escarpment. Then, superimposed on that spectacular landscape is a map-outline naming the 'Thunder Region.' Cyclone clouds of the Big Wet roll across the escarpment. 'Real Jobs Slashed! Replaced by Uncertain Contract Work!' - Another group of young people has broken through the line of police horses. "Truth!" they shout. "This is our truth!"

Up on the screen appears, filmed from above - the dry, red earth, thin, twisted water-courses, torrents flash-flooding down to Lake Eyre - the desert greening, as the Bio-region map overlays the red landscape - Cooper's Creek Basin Bio-region this. - Blue water swirls across salt-pans. - Water! Karolina catches her breath. She feels the splash of water on her face. - Impossible. It's not raining. She squints up into the sky where the blue-black clouds are bulking, certainly. But there is definitely no rain. Another splosh of water pricks her eyes. Karolina looks round. A thin spout of water shoots skywards, blossoms briefly like a frayed, silver umbrella, then falls to earth slowly. Another placard-bearing group of young people break through the police cordon onto the stage. 'Real Republic Shelved!' their placard reads. In the melee, Karolina finds it difficult to concentrate.

The Bio-region map is over-laid with an image of the Australian flag, then, as if on a word-processor, a small white arrow appears, moves upwards, clicks on to the top left-hand corner of the flag, moves the Union Jack up and completely off the screen, so that the blue Southern Cross now fills the entire screen, Just as the music reaches the second-last verse, and Karolina is about to signal for the banner parade to begin, the Swagman bursts from the arms of the Troopers and dives into the rippling, blue silk folds of the billabong. Karolina signals for the banner procession to begin. The music stops dead and even the mounted police hold back in the ensuing silence. The lone voice of the Swagman resonates around the ampitheatre.

"The ghosts must be heard!" The music repeats the line. Karolina is really confused. She raises her hand for the banner procession to move off as the people on the stage shout and wave their placards. - What is it that they are shouting? As if at a signal, the music stops again. There is deep silence for a moment. Nelson Magnum motions to Dunstable. Dzaved grasps Karolina's arm.

"Horses, Karolina. - Mounted police! They're lining up behind the stage."

Liam pauses, diverted by the commotion. He loosens his grip on Matilda's arm just a fraction. Matilda seizing the opportunity, bursts away from the tweed-clad arms. She races straight into the crowd. Liam, on the hill's crest, catches sight of Matilda below, running against the flow of the spectators. He circles the ampitheatre's rim and dives into the crowd. Now he has Matilda again, her arm pinned against her waist. In her free arm, Matilda, struggling, holds the journal tight against her ribs. Liam notices the book's textured cover.

"My dear child. - Your 'River Book' is it not? Liam reaches out, clawing at the book. "You think I don't know about the surfacing of stories? You think I don't know the consequences?" Liam paws at the textured cover

"Matilda, it would be a great foolishness to follow your father's example." Liam breathes. "You intend to go to one of those story centres Matilda, to tell secrets properly kept only between us, Matilda." Liam slides his fingers between Matilda's arm and the journal, just as a group of children swarms down the slope. Liam staggers, loosens his grip and Matilda ducks under his arm and flings herself again into the crowd.

Liam stands staring this way, that way. His breath rasps in his throat. He doesn't hear the shouting resume on the stage, doesn't hear the voices shouting,

"Truth!" they shout brandishing the placards, "This is our truth!" Liam hears only the sound of ghosts, thin and dangerous like Mimi-spirits whispering across the Timor Sea.

"Matilda? Matilda? - Don't betray your grand-father!," Liam calls. " - Gone! he mutters. "Taken the story with her." Liam struggles up to the stage, elbowing, shoving. - He will seek out his son. He will forbid ... Liam vaults onto the stage. Only Karolina sees him. But she is too far away, down with Dzaved and all of her students holding aloft the oddly-shaped community banner.

Only Dzaved and Karolina see the captain of the Mounted Police signal the charge, see the shields and batons raised, the visors snapped down. - Is it Mick's performers and the young protestors the police are after? - Or is it Rory?

Rory stands centre-stage - like the captain of a sinking ship, thinks Karolina. Liam sprints to the microphone bellowing,

"This is not my son! This man Rory Kelly is no longer my son! Go home all of you. This Festival is a farce." Karolina's anger, hot and keen, flares rise in her gut. The banner gives her credibility. The crowd parts before her. Few people hear Liam over the din of the chanting ' - Truth! Truth! This is our truth!', over the clatter of horses' hooves - on the stage itself now. Ahmed scrambles out of the folds of the blue satin billabong. Cal and Mick raise on high the blue satin. Mouse scrambles up the central pylon enveloped in the fabric. A blazing wind swings in from the north and the Eureka flag billows out above the ampitheatre. Above it, Marcia struggles to install the Aboriginal flag.

- Oh God, thinks Karolina, nearing the stage, - What an over-statement! Can't these young activists get anything right? The crowd falls back as a police squad, batons raised, encircle the stage. Liam's voice thunders at the microphone,

"No respect! - My son has no respect for authority - for tradition . . ."

The chanting starts up again. - Truth! Truth! This is our truth!"

Suddenly from the centre of the site comes a rumble as of a muffled, underground explosion. The decorative scaffolding above the methane vent vibrates. A second explosion even louder, like the rumble of a massively-magnified fart. A sheet of flame shoots upwards from the methane vent. The police horses on stage skitter nervously. Their riders struggle to settle them. The crowd surges up the slope and pauses uncertain and curious on higher ground. A nauseous smell emanates from the methane vent. Some people run for the car-park. "Terrorists!" someone yells.

"Rory, do something!" Karolina with the banner has managed to get herself onto the stage. "The crowd's getting out of hand!" Rory signals to the sound engineer and Liam's voice fades to diminuendo. Marcia taps Rory on the shoulder. He raises his eyebrows. - This calls for drastic measures. He motions to the police and Dzaved is allowed through. Rory bends down to Marcia, nods, straightens up, steps into the glare of the rose-gold spotlight. The police have Liam pinioned in the wings. Rory nods to Dzaved, strikes a ringing chord on the twelve string guitar. The didgeridoo bellows a magnificent thundering drone, with a long whooping over-tone - skidding to a wild screech. Heads turn.

Rory raises his arms above the crowd. "Are you with me, yes?" The crowd shouts back,


Matilda steps forward and whispers to Rory. He waves to the crowd, grins.

"Things about to get dramatic. - Might be that you'll get a bit wet. Don't panic or you might get very wet!" Rory strums loud and strong on the twelve-string guitar. Another flame streaks from the methane vent. Rory's strumming halts not at all. The didg joins in - belting it out - four beats to the bar - blues/rock - nothing complicated, just sheer volume, Matilda in the middle of Dzaved and Rory.

"Wade in de wa-a-a-ter,

Wade in de wa-a-ter chillen,

Wade in de wa-a-ter!

God's gonna - trouble

De w-a-a-a-a-aater!"

The crowd sings along, drenched but happy. The police are about to hustle Liam down to a waiting paddy-wagon, when he bursts free from their control. He races onto the stage and snatches the microphone. His voice is lost in a whoosh of water. A tall jet of white water shoots upwards from the lake. - This is serious. A near-stampede of people rushes to the shelter of the Shopping Complex and the car-park.

"The stage!" shouts Zeinhab," "It's the highest ground." Marisol and Tranh take one end each of their banner, racing towards the higher ground of the stage as the shooting water contacts electrical systems and sparks fly from overhead wires.

The mounted police abandon their siege of the stage and gallop after the panicked crowd. Matilda heads back to the women's story stall. Above, a light globe shatters. Then all of the lights ping off, one after another. Matilda tries to avoid a group of people streaming to the car-park. She twists aside and all-but crashes into Mick and Cal.

"Matilda. This way!" Matilda believes they are merely taking shelter beside Nelson Magnum's car until she sees Mick expertly fiddling with wire and a pocket-knife. He slides into the Daimler pulling Matilda in to the back seat. Marcia and Cal jump in.

"We haven't got much time!" shout Mouse and Ahmet, squashing in beside Matilda. By now the water-spout has subsided, but the lake, bubbling and sputtering, has doubled in size.

"Ground-water!" shouts Matilda, "You've hit fucking ground-water!"

Mounted police are joined by S E S forces over-seeing stall-holders frantically packing up.

"Mick, where the fuck are you going? What's going on?" shouts Matilda as the Daimler swerves to avoid Nelson Magnum and a cohort of armed S E S troops.

"Matilda. Sorry." Mick grimaces. "We need your help. A slight miscalculation."

"Slight!" says Marcia, before Matilda can chip in with exactly the same word, "If you'd just listened to me in the first place . . . Matilda, we've left some computer software at the Over-hang."

"Mouse told me. Can't you just leave it?"

"No way," replies Cal, "We'd planned to dismantle the whole Overhang anyway after the Festival. Essential that we do."

"And return your tent." Mick interjects without taking his eyes off the road. They have been heading north along less crowded side-streets, but now they turn east, then south towards the river. Matilda notices that theirs is the only car crazy enough to head river-wards. The north-bound roads are clogged with cars loaded with hastily gathered together possessions. Police are on duty at all the cross-roads. An evacuation seems to be in progress.

"So yet again Mick, you're taking me into a situation of danger. - Asking me to trust you, when you all know what's happened." Matilda is angry, so angry - and not a little frightened. "You- you've hit ground water, You're responsible. And God knows what'll happen to the river. - You did this. - Mick! Stop the car!"

"No time!" Mick screeches the Daimler down a bumpy, bluestone lane. Matilda can barely hear Mick above the roar of the nearby river. Marcia takes Matilda's hand, smiling momentarily, then staring calmly into Matilda's eyes, as if Matilda is a child needing to be put straight on a minor misapprehension.

"No. - Matilda, you did this thing too. The river's moving. You know about as much as we do. - And where you should be is right here!"

The Daimler plummets along cobble-stones to the Over-hang. "Twenty-twenty!" she shouts. "You're all from the Twenty-twenty!" No-one answers. The car screeches to a halt. Cal opens the door.

"Another thing Matilda, there's just a chance that Fiona might be back at the Over-hang, that she went back there on her bike to rescue the equipment." Matilda is shocked,

"Fiona! Now you tell me!" - Strange priorities these people have got. Matilda leaps out of the car and rushes to the river-bank.

" - Backwards!" she shouts, "The river's running back-wards!" There is no foam on the current. The khaki water is opaque, but beneath the taut surface is a muscularity that forces branches and leaves back to the hollows on the margins. Only the Black Ducks seem unconcerned, free-floating on the dislocated current. - This is extremely serious, says Matilda to herself. - Could mean that the river's being sucked into some under-ground stream that the collapsed methane vent's opened. - Or else ... My God! "Mick, come quickly. Cal Marcia, Mouse!" Matilda waves her arms dramatically. "It's going to be really dangerous soon." She points to the fast-flowing water running backwards towards the ranges. "Look. Once the lower-reaches water's all sucked into the methane vent, the sea will come up-river! Do you understand?" Matilda tries again. "The river's re-positioning itself. - Look. - It's like a king-tide. Sea-water rushing into a narrow bottle-neck." Matilda clutches at Cal's sleeve. "And that's not all." she yells. "Once the backed-up waters start coming forward again - starts running down to the methane-vent lake, do you follow? - The in-coming sea-water's going to hit the river-water! It'll be like an inland tidal-wave. It'll happen right here!"

Cal shakes her head. "No. It's low tide." Matilda shrugs uncertainly, but stands aside for Cal to buckle on the climbing-gear and swing down to the Over-hang. Fiona emerges from the tent. She has lashed the computer and equipment together neatly and covered them with a tarpaulin. She smiles.

"I've got everything. You're late!" she jokes. "How did the performance go?" Mick dismantles the tent.

"Fine!" Everything happened right on cue."

"Meaning what!" says Matilda, but Mick, busy folding the tent, doesn't seem to hear.

"Mick, you're not going to load that stuff into the Daimler. The water's rising. Look!" Matilda drags Mick to the edge of the Over-hang where the water, now less opaque - like muddy coffee swirls at the roots of the Ironbarks. "The road could be impassable before long!" Just at that moment an outdoor table and large café umbrella float past. The Boat-shed café is disassembling. Matilda tucks her hair behind her ears. She lashes a rope firmly onto the largest of the tent poles, just as the first of the Thames row-boats, the pride of the Fairfield Boat-shed, bobs round the bend. "There's just one chance!" she shouts. She flings the rope like a lasso - misses, tries again, paying out the rope behind her. "Hold it! Hold the other end!" .

"Got it!" They haul against the current and Matilda secures the boat to a tree.

"You're right Cal. Current's not moving so fast yet. How long - do you know?"

"Coupla' hours. No. - Not till this evening." Mick and Cal haul the loaded tarp aboard and begin loading.

"Take it out. Take it out!" yells Matilda. - Too dangerous. It's either us or the equipment!" Another vessel rounds the bend. Mick unwinds a coat-hanger - a coat-hanger for Chrissakes, wraps it round the tent-pole. He leans out - hooks the boat from the current.

"Piece o' cake!"

"Here. Let me!" Matilda knots the rope, making double-sure. Suddenly a line of boats appears - all chained together.

" - Bewdy!", exclaims Mouse. Out goes the improvised boat-hook.

"Mouse. Drop it! There's four boats! You'll never be able to ... " But Mouse has the landward end of the rope knotted round the Iron-bark tree. The boats knock together, but they hold. Matilda secures the rope around the tree.

"Mouse. What on earth? - We don't need . . ."

Mouse smiles nervously. "You never know. Maybe later. We can come back and . . ."

"Later! Mouse, we're trying to bloody survive now! Are you really certain you want to save this stuff?" The four nod emphatically.

"Believe me Matilda, We could need this lot, considering what's about to happen." says Marcia.

"Okay! I hope you know what you're doing!" She passes the rope round and under the keel, winding it round and across the load . "We can't risk waiting for the water to rise. We'll get snagged in the branches on the bank - crash into fences - debris. Gotta haul 'er up." she says, "That way we'll have some control over which direction we take."

Matilda secures the second boat in place. Fiona and Cal leap aboard and secure the load in the scuppers. By now the river has risen to the level of the lower branches of the Iron-bark. Matilda climbs up the bank to where the pulley is attached to the tree above the Over-hang.

"Up here everybody. Quick!" Matilda checks the pulley and swings down again to the boat, a coil of rope looped round one shoulder. The water, a dull lemon-green, like weak, cloudy urine, seems to be running faster and choppy wavelets slap against the boat. Matilda slings the rope rapidly through the iron rings at the bow, scrambles aboard and signals to the four above to haul on the pulley. She locks on the climbing-gear and leaps off, as the boat tilts upwards like a flatfish on a hook. The timbers groan. Matilda lurches, struck on the shoulder by the ascending boat. The boat wobbles, spins backwards - and holds.

"Matilda!" Mick yells, "Come on up for Chrissakes." His face is pale. You'll be thumped to pieces! That boat is a weapon!" The four hold the boat half in, half out of the current. Crab-like, Matilda inches up to the pulley-tree. Now the boat, with the five of them hauling, lifts up vertically, rips and batters against the branches, spins, twists, until - straining, they drag it clear of the trees' grasp. - No time now to re-rig the pulley. Matilda fears the water-wall, the crash of king tide against seaward-running river.

"Get in the boats" shouts Matilda. "Life jackets! Put 'em on!" The boats lurch against tree-branches. Matilda pushes the oar against a light-pole and swings the boat around looping the rope around the pole and jumping into the rising torrent. "Water at street-level's not high enough for the boat yet. Hold steady." Matilda severs the rope from the second boat leaving it tied firmly to the light-pole.

"Matilda! The equipment! You've cut it loose !" shouts Mick.

"Oh, Mick. I'd like you to trust me!" she yells, not a little vengefully, "No-one's going to burgle your bloody boat. You can pick it up later." The water mounts higher. "Hold the rope! Hold on to the rope! Here it comes! Fiona, you bail out the water!"

There is a splintering crash up-river, just beyond the over-hang, the crash of water against water, as the reversing river, sucked into some under-ground aquifer, slams against the in-racing tide. Desperately they grasp ropes, row-locks, seats, as the boat bucks and heaves in the wake of the colliding waters. "Now, listen!" screams Matilda. "when I say let go, release the rope. - Ready ..." The bonnet of Magnum's Daimler disappears under the current. Matilda springs back aboard. "Now. Let go!" And the boat, like a living thing, leaps out down Separation Street.

" - Careful!" Matilda calls at Waterloo Street, as a half-submerged Volkswagen sweeps down on them from a side street.

"Look." calls Cal. Transfixed, Matilda looks back to the river, where the gleaming cruiser, the'Port Phillip Queen' swerves down from the dock-lands - the very same ferry they'd boarded only last week, on that blistering bush-fire day before their gallery visit. - How could this be possible? Cal has the same thought.

"It's the last of the incoming tide. Low enough to allow transit under bridges. - Tide'll go out soon." she falters. "At least that's how I figure it."

"Fiona. Mouse. You keep a watch each side for floating objects - underwater obstructions - okay?" - Now, thinks Matilda, we're nearing the dip at the beginning of the volcanic hill. Here only the roof-tops are visible. Already the flood-waters will have all-but encircled the hill. - No S E S helicopters in the sky yet. Matilda supposes they haven't activated the State Disaster Plan yet. - Unless of course it's worse elsewhere and the whole landscape's altered.

Fiona, at the stern is trembling violently. "Matilda!" she shrieks, "The boats. They're coming!" Behind them, spread right across Separation Street - a whole flotilla of empty boats. It must be the entire fleet from the Fairfield Boat-shed, ripped from their moorings.

"The tent poles!" Cal drags the poles out. "We can knock them back with " Now the boats are upon them. The first boat slams head-on, front against stern, setting their boat spinning in the current. They shove with the tent-poles and oars at the next advancing boat. It slews round side-on.

"Push together!" yells Matilda - This time the impact gives them enough momentum to out-pace the rocketing boats.

Now the current slows into a temporary lake, blocked by the slope of the hill ahead. Water seems to be spurting out of the methane vent and spilling over down-hill to join the current flooding down from the river. The Festival stage looms ahead. The stage - so hurriedly completed! Mick's face is anxious. There are people on stage - too many! - Will it hold he wonders?

Difficult though it is for such a tall fellow, Ahmet tries to make himself inconspicuous as police re-inforcements rush the stage. Dzaved and Karolina call him from the steps. He looks the other way, eyeing the brimming lake dubiously. - At least the water-spout has subsided for the time being.

"Ahmet. Ahmet! Jesus, Ahmet. Are you deaf?" calls Lin. "Help us up with the banner like a good man." He dashes to the steps. Liam is still ranting into the microphone. Ahmet notices a police officer meticulously taking notes at Lin's elbow. Any reservations Magnum might have had about Rory's role in the crisis seem to have evaporated, for the time being, as he pours over a site-map with Rory and a senior police officer

The sound-system, though horribly distorted, is still operating. "Multiculturalism is un-Australian!" Liam shouts, "One white Australia! One language. One race!" Rory shoves the map into his pocket and takes Liam by the elbow. Liam lunges at Rory. Police officers rush forward. One restrains Liam. The other holds up a hand, as if controlling traffic. Rory backs away.

Karolina storms forward, shouting in Liam's face, "You broke my daughter's trust!" The policeman attempts to move Karolina away. "You intimidated. Bullied. Almost destroyed your son and your grand-daughter." Karolina gets a good grip on the end of the banner pole. She rams it into Liam's solar-plexus. "You drove our daughter away from both of us!" Liam winded, drops to the floor. "From her true origins. You lied - deceived!" Karolina wields the banner-pole like a lance. Her dark, short hair is whipped upright in the hot wind.

Liam attempts to grasp the end of the pole. But Rory is too quick for him. He seizes the heavy pole from Karolina's grasp. He plays his father at the end of the banner-pole - the toreador with the bull. The hot wind swings to the south, sending papers and equipment eddying upwards. The banner, streaming and flapping in Rory's grasp, billows upwards, whipping its folds against Rory's face. The wind slams the banner against Rory's bruised shoulder. The pain leaps to his forehead. He sways on his feet, blunders into Liam and father and son fall, enfolded in the banner into the rising torrent.

There is a sudden surge of water from the lake. Karolina scans the flooded site. "Rory!" she shouts. She can just make out the two forms flailing in the grip of the banner, - the banner streaming out in all its tattered splendour. The last of the stall-holders and spectators rush the stage. Over-loaded, the stage steps give way. In the distance the roar of river. Below in the hollow of the hill, the gathering of waters. From the methane-vent, the gush and thunder of the water-spout streaming from hidden places, pouring out its long- buried waters. "Rory!" she shouts again.

A few lucky people struggle up the scaffolding onto the stage. Rory, in the water sees, or thinks he sees on the white water bearing down on them all - a black boat plummeting down Separation Street.

"Matilda!" Rory shouts, breaking free of the banner.

"Dad! Rory! Hold on to the scaffolding." Matilda shouts. Blood streaks down Rory's forehead. The boat bumps heavily into the stage. Matilda and Marcia clutch at the scaffolding, holding steady the boat. Cal and Fiona lash the boat to the poles of the stage. Karolina, white-faced, leans over. She clutches at Rory.

"Can't do it!" he pants. "Shoulder, my shoulder."

Ahmet hooks his hands into Dzaved's belt. Dzaved, leans out perilously. Slowly, slowly he pulls Rory up the scaffolding.

"Rory, Rory. You're safe!" Ahmet, Dzaved and Karolina hug Rory in a sodden circle.

"The banner!" Mouse leans out from the boat. Fiona holds onto Mouse. Mouse and Marcia haul in the dripping banner, pass it up to Lowanna, pole and all, as the boat bucks wildly against the stage-posts.

Matilda - calling urgently from below, "Haven't got long! Once the water rises to the top of the hill, it'll spill over - down-hill. - to the Merri, the Darebin, Moonee Ponds Creek. Maybe the Maribrynong, Jackson's Creek. Even the Werribee River." She shrugs. "Best that you all stay here. This is the highest ground. - We're going to follow the river."

"Matilda!" Karolina's face appears over the rim of the stage. "Stop talking nonsense. The police here will help you!" Mick shrugs.

"No way." There is a glint of excitement, perhaps even of triumph in his eyes. Fiona, Cal and Mouse shake their heads

Lowanna looks over the parapet. "Okay girl. You can come on up now. You done good." Marcia's eyes flash. Her mouth sets in a straight line, but she scrambles up nevertheless. "The lie o' the land!" she calls down to the others, "you'll let me know?". Matilda grasps the scaffolding.

"Matilda, please! All of you!" shouts Karolina, "Come up where you're safer."

Matilda hesitates frowning, her wet hair plastered to her cheeks. "Just one thing." she calls urgently. "My story?"

Lin's face appears over the parapet. "Matilda.It's okay. I gave it Maggie. - It's published. Your mother's got the original." Karolina holds aloft Matilda's River Book, wrapped in the blue scarf.

"Mum, look out!" Liam looms behind Karolina. Rory, pain searing his eyes, staggers to his feet, snatches the book from Liam's hand. He reaches down to the boat.

"Take it, Matilda, take it!" Rory tries to shout, but his voice is lost in a sudden spatter of rain.

"Give that to me!" Liam leans out, clutching at the book dangling in the blue scarf. Liam seizes the banner-pole. He beats at the boat, at Matilda, at the book. The folds of the banner flare out like a giant sail. The banner and Liam fall - slowly it seems. - In a flaring streak of fire and steaming water, the methane vent explodes. Above the lake, the water swirls - a spiral, a whirlpool. The banner wobbles, gains momentum, speeds round the spiral. From the methane vent another explosion - a hail of rock, fire and water. The whirlpool rocks, shivers, breaks into a long, roiling wave, washing all before it, speeding down over the rim of the hill, taking with it the banner and the dark figure entangled in its folds.

" You're not safe on this stage for much longer!" Mick shouts. "Scaffolding won't hold." Mick scrambles up onto the stage. He looks around carefully. "Get across to the Community Health Centre roof." A hand falls on Mick's shoulder.

"Mick Delaney?" Mick turns. "Michael Delaney," announces the police officer, "I am arresting you for illegally occupying a premises, to wit a Youth Refuge. Secondly, you are arrested for the distribution of seditious material harmful to the good order of the State of Victoria. Anything you say ..."

Mick shakes away the arm of the law. "This scaffolding wasn't built to withstand a deluge," he shouts. "What you must do - immediately is dismantle the back-drop of the stage. Connect the scaffolding to the Health Centre windows - the windows - right?"

The policeman looks dubious. "My orders are to arrest ..."

"Now you listen to me, Sergeant!" Mick's finger jabs the air. "After you've re-located the scaffolding, you need to lay the timber of the back-drop across from the stage to the buildings as a gang-plank. - Only let one person cross at a time, okay? - Got that?"

The policeman nods, clearly convinced. Matilda purses her lips at the authority in Mick's voice. - So is this what the river re-constituting itself means? Mick's commanding display with the Boys in Blue; - is this what we might come to expect? Mick climbs down into the boat. Matilda flicks the dripping hair out of her face.

"Let's be off then!" She unties the ropes. The boat speeds under the stage and races away down Separation Street.

Just as well she doesn't at that point hear Karolina cry out, "Bonegilla! He's back at the house!"

Chapter Thirty-nine


It's the big trucks stuck underwater, that are the most bother as they near the Maribyrnong River. The flood-waters have swept them over the Merri, Darebin, and Moonee Ponds Creeks. No need to row. The oars and tent-poles are coming in handy for staving off floating cars. Near the Geelong Road the current veers south. The Werribee River!" shouts Matilda. "It's taking us out through the Werribee River."

"Out where?" asks Mouse anxiously - because his sea-legs aren't all that fantastic.

"The Bay, of course! You'll be okay Mouse." Matilda reassures him. "The water's level in the Bay."

"Yes. And the tide's still running in," says Cal, "so we won't have to row all that hard if we want to get back to land."

"What do you mean 'if'? Unless you want to join that lot." Mick jerks his head in the direction of the passengers on the docks waiting to board the last, departing overseas liner. Mick laughs. "There's Nelson Magnum - looking distinctly soggy lined up with our civic leaders - Australia's finest. - Should we toss him the car keys?"

" - He's probably got extra Daimlers stashed away in Singapore. There's Grantling! And Lillian! How'd she escape the deluge?" Matilda waves. "Hey! There's Tranterer and Albertine. Oh wow!"

"Who are they?"

"Oh, nobody important." says Matilda as the boat swings back to the river at the Dock-lands.

"Just as well the tide's not running full," says Cal thankfully as they row up to the Basin, the old sailing-boats' 'Turning Point'.

Nearing the casino Fiona dips her finger in the water, "It is - Sea water - sea water!"

"Ah, so that's why we don't have to row. - Sea-water's chasing the river. River's still running backwards." says Mouse. "Lower reaches are turning into a - what do you call it? - an estuary?"

"Could be." says Matilda. "After all, the sea-water always used to come in this far but no further."

"The rock wall", says Mick - the old Yarra Yarra rapids?".

"Exactly." - I sound so clear, thinks Matilda in her head, but this tumult of rivers. It's in me like the crack of the rock-wall. River's finished. Lower reaches at any rate. "Maybe these lower reaches will degrade into a tidal estuary."


"Well, tide's running in now, but when it runs out, the river could be un-navigable. Like what's happened to the Murray mouth. In a word - mud. So we've got to be quick." The in-running tide speeds up, as if in sympathy. They are well in the current now, running fast under the Southbank foot-bridge. "If there's a really high tide coming, we'll be in trouble getting under the bridges." Everything looks normal at Southbank, apart from the tumble of café-tables, the security staff and waiters wielding straw brooms and the muddy line at the Casino's first-floor level. Crowds of curious observers lean over the balustrades, staring idly at the wreckage.

A television crew has just finished filming and there is a post-disaster feel about whole area.

"We're in luck," says Matilda. "Well be able to row under the bridges as far as the Boat-shed. - Won't even need to row, the tide's running so well. We can pick up any gear we need and our friends and relations, before heading on upriver." They all nod in unison.

"Funny thing is, Matilda," says Fiona, "nobody else seems to realize that the river's changed course. That it's headed out across country." Matilda raises her eyebrows.

"They bloody soon will."

"Trouble up ahead!" calls Cal. One of the larger river-cruisers has slewed around, blocking entry under the Swan Street Bridge. They row round the cruiser carefully, using the tent poles. Not really a problem in the clarity of the sea water. In the lea of the cruiser, the water is jammed with plastic tables and boxes - even a couple of bicycles.

Approaching where the Merri used to enter the Yarra, Matilda feels the current rising. - A second water-wall - incoming tide meeting the river? - No. The new water-course out through the Werribee River gorge ought to have established itself by now. A shallow lake might develop all around Collingwood - the Collingwood Flats of the 1840's, when Melbourne's vegies were grown there. Wetlands before that and wetlands once more. - But it's early days yet. Best wait and see.

"Matilda?" asks Fiona, "would it be an idea to follow the railway line, instead of the roads? We could by-pass any drowned trains. - The railway lines are straighter - more direct."

"Only one hitch, Fi," replies Matilda, "the overhead wires - real deadly!" Embarrassed, Fiona lowers her eyes. "Ideas always welcome though." says Matilda. - Hey, this is something new!, thinks Matilda to herself. - I'm being consulted. Is this what Mick meant by 'the other side of the equation?'

"Mouse - there's your extra boat!" calls Matilda. "How's about we tow her down to the Festival stage - see if the folks are there?"

"Ship ahoy!" shouts Fiona, "Bloody hell. It's a whole fleet!" Sure enough, the Festival survivors, thanks to Rory, have taken to the boats.

"A whole bunch of boats came barrelling down Separation Street not long after you lot took off." Ahmet explains. "Food and supplies in the boats we're towing."

"Supplies ...?"

"The Shopping Complex!" Dzaved explains. "The Camping Gear shop's quite good. - A bit difficult when all but the top shelves are under-water. Ahmet and Marcia did the rowing. There wasn't anyone at the check-out!"

"Rory and Karolina!" Matilda's oars rattle in the row-locks. "Where are they?"

"One moment." Dzaved turns the boat, rowing up alongside. He ships the oars and reaches out, taking Matilda's hand in his. "Matilda, I do not have good news, but it is not without hope."

"Dzaved, what's happened?"

"Karolina went back for her dog. Rory says Karolina's house is well above the collision of the currents. Karolina took her car. Rory went by boat."

"Jesus Christ! Rory would have had to row against the current. Row through the water-wall!" Matilda drops Dzaved's hand. "How could you have let Rory go? Let Karolina even try . . ?"

"Hang on Matilda. Karolina was off before we could stop her. Rory wouldn't listen. The cops tried to stop him," says Ahmet. "But he'll be okay for sure. - Matilda, can your father ever row! The water was dropping down over High Street. Rory rowed against that current - went sort of sideways, skirted the methane vent to where the water was less turbulent. Last we saw, he was rowing side-ways - sort of like tacking in a sail-boat."

Matilda's oars slice the water. The boat springs out. Down to the Ivanhoe end of Alphington, the boat skims like a frantic, black water-beetle. - Easy enough to locate the terra-cotta roof of the old home. Karolina waves from the roof.

Matilda sighs, "Oh. Thank Christ."

"Rory got me up here. - You know how I am with heights Matilda. Then he just sort of collapsed."

"Collapsed? - he's unconscious?"

"Yes. Well, floating in and out of consciousness. I've got him more or less balanced so I don't have to take the weight."

Matilda keeps the fear at bay. - Last thing I need now is to pack it in. - But Rory. He's indestructible. She closes her eyes a moment.

"Hold it right there Karolina. We've got ropes - pulleys." Matilda slings one end of the rope round a tree, lassos another rope around the chimney. She tests the rope for holding-power, clips the two together, buckles on the climbing gear and twists her hair out of her eyes into a rough knot. "Got your pills with you?" she asks as casually as she can.

"Matilda of course. Rory helped me out the window - practically pushed me out actually."

"Mick? You know what to do?"

"Think so, Matt. The pulley?" Matilda nods and grasps the down-pipe.

"Matilda. Be careful! I haven't renewed the spouting for years!" Beneath Matilda's feet, the rusted spouting gives way as soon as she sets foot on it. Matilda spins on the end of the pulley. She reaches out, grasps an overhanging branch and scrambles onto the roof. She eyes the tiles warily.

"Tiles don't look too crash-hot either." Suddenly, with a rattle and crack, the loose tiles give way. Matilda dangles again on the end of the rope.

"Matilda, wait! Hold on!" Dzaved pulls up. He leaps into the tree carrying aloft a large plastic bag.

"Dzaved, I'm not going anywhere." calls Matilda. She'd feel foolish, comical even, if it weren't for the urgency of the situation. Dzaved reaches the roof. He nods.

"Not too bad here. - Just a minute." Dzaved rips open the battery-pack with his teeth. The electric drill buzzes. "That's better!" Dzaved fishes in the bag. He slings a rope ladder up to Karolina. " The other side of the roof!" Ahmet looks blank. Then he cottons on. Agonising minutes pass as Ahmet rows round the submerged house. The rope ladder tightens. "Got it!" Dzaved clambers up the rope ladder. Matilda follows.

"Rory first!" insists Karolina. Dzaved unrolls the sling from his back. Out come clamps and clips. Matilda attaches the ropes. Together they roll Rory into the improvised sling, Karolina, straining, holding him steady.

"Okay Mick. Let 'er down!" - Matilda's mouth makes an 'O' of surprise. The banner! Rory is enfolded in the community banner!

Chapter Forty


Rory peers through the slit of his half-opened eyes. - A world - a water-world, it seems. A vast wetland and it's me that's floating upon it. A flotilla of black boats silently rowing, rowing in comradeship. It's a river of tears, he decides. - two hundred years of tears. - Family! 'Tis true family. Must be, since here he is rocking smooth and safe, on a river running backwards.

Rory jumps. Mouse in the other boat, has turned up the volume on Fiona's radio.

" - Whole region's flooded", says the announcer, "Some worrying signs State-wide. Rivers behaving unpredictably, breaking their banks - pre-figured by unaccountable ground-water activity. The Yarra - from Dock-lands to Swanston Street has currently all but disappeared. The public are urged to remain calm - keep tuned in to regular State Emergency announcements. - "We go now to our reporter on-site at Fairfield." Above the rush of water, a woman's voice.

"Collingwood and Fairfield are awash. The river appears to have changed course. Low-lying ground as far as Fairfield is experiencing tidal flooding. The C B D and the Casino are floating in a sea of mud." The radio crackles.

"Shit. Not working." Mouse tries another station, hoisting the radio onto his shoulder. The radio comes to life again, then fades.

"Members of parliament cross the floor!" shouts Mouse. . "An immediate election! - Ouch!" Mouse yells as the radio, close to his ear, bursts forth again.

"We now cross to the Stock Exchange, where incomprehensible activity has resulted in a sharp drop in the financial markets, mosly in mining, logging and the futures markets. - A computer virus . . ." The radio cuts out briefly. "What appears most extraordinary of all is the shifting - four decimal points to the left, on all Stock Exchange records. Investors are assured . . ."

"Here. Give it to me.," calls Dzaved reaching across from boat to boat. Dzaved takes out screw drivers and tools and sets to work.

"How's Rory?" asks Matilda.

"No better, no worse." replies Karolina. "He's talking. Can't make it out. Islander language perhaps - or could be just ramblings."

"Shit Mum! It could be concussion!"

"Concussion!" Dzaved drops the screw-driver. "Why didn't I think? - That bruise on the forehead! All sorts of dangerous things crashing through the current. - We don't know what he might have gone through to get down to Karolina's house."

Dzaved bends over. He looks carefully into Rory's eyes. "I think he's okay, but he's in shock. We'll have to look out for a comfortable, dry place to rest for the night.

Mick calls out. "Matilda, any idea where we are?"

"We've been following what was the river's course. - Should be somewhere near Warrandyte." Matilda scans the sky - hears the whirring of wings, those kookaburras again - swooping down for their sunset laugh-in ... Dzaved has the radio going again,

"All old-growth logging to cease. All mining contracts in National Parks cancelled." says the fruity voice of the announcer, "A radical overhaul of employment and public transport, including returning privatized gas, telecommunications and electricity to public ownership. Bio-regional Councils to re-establish Green Corridors "

Dzaved switches the radio off. "Just some list of politicians' promises. - Do you really want ...?"

"Hang on Dzaved." says Mick. "Could we have that again?"

"This is the list to date of the radically amended Cabinet documents pre-figuring legislative changes." says the announcer. " - Oddly, the government is denying that these are in fact Cabinet Documents and claims that original Cabinet Documents have been tampered with and then leaked onto the Internet."

"Oh, Wow!" says Cal, fishing under the tarpaulin for the lap-top.

"Free Child-care and free public education are to be restored," continues the broadcaster. "while, contrary to previous government policy , health and age care services will be expanded."

"See," says Dzaved, "A list of promises, because there's a crisis." He goes to turn off the broadcast again, but this time Karolina restrains him.

"A Bill of Rights and a popularly-elected president." continues the announcer. The boats stop, gathering in a circle, as they strain to hear. "Most extra-ordinary of all for a conservative government, the Cabinet Document asserts that all legislation diminishing Aboriginal Sovereignty be revoked." There is a long silence, then the announcer continues, "We apologize for this break in transmission, but several land-lines are down due to the unprecedented levels of flooding. Injuries and loss of life are as yet unknown, but the deaths and flooding in bayside suburbs may account for wide-spread rioting there. In rural areas the Bio-regional Councils have averted what has been described as near civil break-down. They have stepped in and restored order. It appears that many people are demanding radical solutions to this crisis, seeing it as signifying the advent of environmental collapse."

"My God! What do you make of that?" calls Corey from the boat behind. Matilda glares forbiddingly at Mick, who is about to respond.

"I have my suspicions, but right now I don't want to know." she replies darkly, "All I want to do is to get Rory bedded down for the night somewhere clean and dry." Red-gold sunset streaks the flood-waters, and the light is fading fast. The kookaburra-laughter is subdued - lacks its usual sundown confidence. There is an edge to it - close to madness almost, echoing across the flooded land. A cluster of buildings looms ahead. "Warrandyte", says Matilda, greatly relieved

From the replenishment of sleep in the comfort of a real bed, Matilda jolts upright, summoned by the urgency of kookaburra laughter. "Rory? He's gone! - Must've recovered." Matilda snuggles down again. - No. Better check. Matilda twists the old, cerise scarf, - now decidedly the worse for wear, around her dishevelled hair. She puts on the kettle and strolls out into the early morning. - Better check the boats. Tied up tightly, the boats are riding as high as ever. "Matty!" Matilda jumps at the familiar voice. Rory's tousled head, rising from sleep, appears over the side of the boat. He looks a little embarrassed.

"It was the boat, Matilda, the comfort of a good boat on the current." Rory ducks his head and reaches back under the blanket, "Found this little feller here all alone."

"Oh Bonegilla, I'd forgotten all about you! So Karolina did save you!" Bonegilla scuttles out bouncing at Matilda's knees, feathered tail waving "Come on you two, breakfast!"

Rory peers back at sleeping Karolina. - She of all people fast asleep on a swaying boat after a night of waters merging, slipping and tumbling to new-found deeps. Best let Karolina sleep in peace a wee bit longer.

"Food's not going to last much longer." Mick, rowing beside Matilda, speaks quietly. "We'll have to overland the boats or hide 'em well, before we cross the ranges. Get to the youth-farm by land. On the radio just then. - The Loddon-Campaspe region's flooded as well." Matilda nods, glancing up under her eyebrows,

"Might head up to Baw Baw first," Matilda says, "recuperate. Learn a few skills." She stops rowing, looks seriously at Mick from her dark eyes.

"It's going to be hard, Mick. - Harder then some of this lot will ever know. - Wait!" Matilda raises her hand for silence. She waves for all the boats to halt, signals for quiet. A mob of kangaroos is drinking at the water's edge ahead.

Silently Matilda vaults out of the boat. It all happens very quickly. She falls on all fours in the grass. Fiona gasps in alarm, but she is too late.

"Matilda, don't!" A young kangaroo falls. Before the event even, Fiona sees the red gout of blood flowering at its throat, the dagger as it slits the carcass.

"Come and look everybody - how it's done. Pretty quick, if you know how." Expertly, Matilda wields the brass-hafted dagger. Fiona hasn't seen that dagger since her attacker had wielded it last July.

"Oh Christ!" Fiona's face drains of colour. "Matilda, I thought you were a vegetarian!"

Matilda releases the kangaroo, sheathing the dagger. "Meat. If you're hungry for meat, that's how you do it." She hands the tomahawk to Fiona. "Firewood Fi. We need a fire ." Matilda scrutinizes the river-flats. "Over there - just above the water-line - Warragul Greens, a nice big patch. We'll need them - Tastes like spinach. We'll need to go off the path. Get some bush tucker. - Myrnong, Warragul Greens. Tubers, bush nuts and grubs. Away from the mainstream. There'll be disease. Mainstream's too cultivated - carries the most danger."

The group of boats has been rowing cross-country to save having to negotiate the river's meandering course, but it's been hard work. Three extra boats have caught up with them. Two Land Rovers loaded with washed-out farmers have agreed to meet up with the party at Baw Baw.

"That's it." ays Mick . "No more joiners till we get ourselves established." On a rise ahead is a cluster of corrugated-iron sheds, a farm-house and a sheep-dip, half under water. Ringing the slip-rails is a stand of Silky-oaks in full orange-gold flower. Ibis and cranes poke about in a water-logged hollow. A little further down the slope is a sprawling, country pub, flooded to veranda-floor level. The farm yard is alive with the din of hammers, and chain-saws. A Silky Oak topples, falling half into the river in a flurry of russet flowers. Four vessels are moored at a make-shift jetty, one a large motorized launch, loaded with building materials. A luxurious cruiser seems to be the team's residence.

Matilda motions caution. The workers hoist a large sign up to the pub roof. A woman, incongruous in a black suit is poring over what appears to be a site-plan.

Rory draws in his breath sharply. "By Christ I'll deal with him once and for all!" With the roof-sign in place all becomes clear. 'Yarra Valley Wet-land Eco Tours!' announces the sign. The boss turns. Matilda would recognize that tweed waistcoat anywhere. - Liam! A shot-gun cracks. A line of bullets rips across the water. Bonegilla springs to the edge of the boat, barking in an earsplitting fury.

"Quickly. Row! - Row like hell!" shouts Rory. "If he recognizes us we're no match for those blasted cabin-cruisers!" With the morning river-mist rolling down from the Great Divide, the row-boats, riding low on the current are soon out of sight.

Fiona, still distressed, has commandeered one of the supply boats with Mouse.

"Have to keep an eye on those two," says Matilda quietly to Lin.

" - Ah, yes, the course of true love - so divisive it can be!"

"Lin! I'm serious!" Matilda tousles Lin's hair.

"Time for a song." Cal gives Rory the nod.

"Wade in the water, Wade in de water chillen." they sing, falling about laughing, "God's gonna - Trouble - The wa-a-a-a-aa-ter!"

"No, please!" begs Mouse, "No more water-troubling!"

Lin's boat knocks up against the stern. "Hey Lin. Go easy!" says Matilda.

"Matilda, what's with this going off the path - away from the mainstream? - Meander in, meander out of the Taoist Way, huh?"

Matilda nods, "Celtic spirals, Aboriginal Song-lines - all that jazz?" Lin's eyebrows lift.

"The path that can't be followed - goin'everywhere and nowhere?"

Matilda catches Lin's mood. "For sure. Off the map is where we need to go."

Lin winces faintly, "Into the wild?" Matilda reaches across, pulls Lin's hand over against her lips. Her eyes glint,

"No worries, Lin," Matilda kisses Lin's hand with a strong kiss. "Off the path is coming home actually."

Matilda watches Mick, beside her in the boat - urgently, before the mobile cuts out - contacting the Youth Refuge farms. - Organizing the troops, no doubt, she thinks to herself somewhat bitterly. Matilda has assigned Mouse and Fiona to collecting Melaleuca twigs and Fire-weed in the supply-boat. "Sun-screen. Mozzie repellent. Disinfectant. Lots of uses." she explains.

"Mouse, he's pure gold." says Cal. "Always been totally faithful to -"

"To 20/20. - Don't tell me!" Matilda cuts in. "But faithful to the kind of revolution us lot are up to our necks in. - I don't think so."

"Whereas you are, Matilda?" Quickly - ashamed of the lapse, Matilda reaches for Cal's hand.

"Sorry. Cal, I'm sorry! We're all new to this!"

From the hill's shoulders a half-fledged rain-bow struggles to get air-borne in the mist. Rory watches Matilda up ahead, prow-goddess on a wide, little row-boat, not rowing, but guiding, watching - leaning out over the current, pointing, waving her hands occasionally, like water-lilies that drift in billabongs, turning to talk, but mostly still, though moving with the river's motion - calm mostly, the turbulence contained. - The ancestors are with us, the true ancestors, he whispers to himself. Up ahead Rory can just make out another stranded convoy of vehicles. - Cities are de-populating for sure!

Matilda leaning from the prow, doesn't hear Mick.

"I said, do you think Rory will go back to the islands - Karolina go off to Bosnia?"

"All I know is it's time to move clear out of the mainstream. - till everything shakes down. - We'll work it out once we get to Baw Baw" Matilda calls out, so that Karolina in the boat alongside rolls her eyes, surprised at Matilda's vehemence. Mick looks confused.

"Baw Baw's the top end." Matilda explains. "It's the furthest north of Yarra Yarra. Up Jindivick way. Neerim South. Jackson's Track - you know, the special place - place lots of Victorian Koories used to live back in the thirties."


- He's out of his depth, thinks Matilda. "Oh Mick. Baw Baw's the top-end of - of our Bio-region don't you see!" - There! That should make it clear to the dear man. - Matilda turns round and grasps Mick by the shoulders. Suddenly she kisses him on the mouth. "We'll have to see what the river decides."

"What's so special about this Baw Baw destination?" Karolina asks with some asperity. "The seat of the New World Order?"

Matilda grins, "Oh Karolina, Bio-regions don't have seats. It's not about Order. Look at the way she's spreading out. It just flows - through water-shed, through nervous system and food-chains . . ."

Cal interrupting, takes up the words, "The regions are everywhere and no-where. We are all illegals. We are natives and we are restless." Matilda's smile widens. She cuts in on Cal.

"We have no country. We live in the country. We are off the Inter-State ."

"Max Cafard's Manifesto, huh?" Laughing, Micks chimes in with Cal,

"The Region is against the Regime - any Regime."

Matilda ships the oars. She throws her arm round Mick's shoulder. - What have I got myself into? she wonders in a comfortable sort of way.

"Matilda. Cut it out!" Cal smiles, "I can't row with you getting in the way." Matilda gazes long into Cal's river-deep eyes. She throws her head back, laughing - long, soft chortles - like the kookaburra at sun-birth, knowing - a little crazy even; her shoulders shake with the laughing. She unties the stores canoe and leaps over to row alone. Rory laughs, vaulting also into an unoccupied boat.

Rory catches up, rowing strongly. - A fresh start - washed river-clean, he thinks to himself. - Matilda's right. Best we steer clear o' towns and roads. Whole team present and correct. That Dzaved. - True-blue. Rory glances with affection at Karolina and Dzaved. He smiles. - Meself - always was one for transposing ... - As for Matilda, the whole crew's with her and no mistake.

The vessel is so whisper-quiet that no-one notices until it is almost upon them. At the last moment, the fog-horn blares. "Shit that was close!" All of the boats rock sickeningly in the cruiser's wake. With a blaring of horns and a clanging of bells the ferry comes to a halt mid-current.

"Hey, Gubba!" Hughie, captain's cap at a rakish angle, leans casually from the bridge. "You done good, mate! No time to stop and yarn." Hughie jangles the bell vigorously.

Marcia and Lowanna wave, "It's all happening ay?"

"Lowanna. Hang on!" Matilda calls, "The banner. It held Rory's weight. He was stranded on a roof. What did you join the pieces with?" Marcia cups her hands, calling, "Possum-skin cloaks. Mum makes possum-skin cloaks. Kangaroo hide. It's the best! See you up at Baw Baw!"

Rory and Dzaved pull ahead strongly. Rory begins his river-hum, slow and golden in the water-world morning. Dzaved joins in, resounding, rich and warm across the water. The river-hum spreads to the whole flotilla, a sweetness of water-borne harmony. Matilda frowns a worried frown, speeds up alongside. "Rory, I know you're the greatest rower, canoe-builder - fantastic in a boat . . ." Rory smiling, pretends not to hear. "Rory, we nearly lost you. - Rory," Matilda urges, "Slow down! Let me ... Rory, I know the ways of rivers! You are a salt-water man!" Rory's hand reaches out from boat to boat. The Great Song has been given. So it is time for the daughter. Matilda's hand it is now, that reaches across the current. The fingers stretch almost touching, the song-man and the song-man's daughter. Karolina looks up quickly, but perhaps she doesn't hear, for she looks away, as if indeed she does not hear. "Her name, Rory, I know her name. Your - heart-mother, her name."

Their eyes hold. Matilda nods. She pulls at the scarf, throws it into the scuppers and her hair springs out, a torrent, a burnished, living stream, whipping upwards, uncontrolled and free. The two hands clasp. Canoes on water, on rivers and oceans.


The boat of the song-man's daughter leaps away, Rory's alongside, the water unfurling from the oars, the widening wake of each arrowing cleanly out, further and further, as Matilda skims ahead and herself expanding with that spreading wave.

Chapter 16-20

Chapter Sixteen


Community Arts Centres stir up unpleasant memories for Karolin, She had passed through Glenrowan as a child on the way back from seeing her father at the Snowy. She'd lost her Community Centre job through the wretched woman who'd neglected to post the Migrant Art Exhibit invitations.

"Cost me my job" she tells Matilda. "Of course in hindsight - it forced me to get teaching qualifications. I'd like to get even with the bitch."

Matilda knows better than to respond. - I sure remember the fallout - Mum and Dad arguing about who would look after li'l old me, with Karolina studying.

Karolina appraises the Community Arts Centre building with a critical eye. The place looks blindingly new, bearing signs of hasty preparation for today's opening. Lining the side fence are stacks of corrugated iron roofing. Everlasting Daisies are planted among large, river rocks - Dargan Hill Monarchs, jostling with fringed, Sea Daisies. - Sea Daisies do look good with natives, thinks Matilda.

. "The garden designers've gone a bit over the top with the roses, don't you think?"

Matilda agrees. Straggly roses line the path "Climbers aren't they? Or Standards badly in need of a prune. The plants still have their price-tags on."

"Probably planted the roses in late winter and didn't prune then." says Karolina, " - Ouch !" Karolina jumps, her cheek stabbed by a row of thorns on one of the unkempt bushes. .

"Karolina are you okay?" Gingerly Matilda untangles long cane. "Hey you got quite a slash!"

Karolina doesn't answer. Beads of blood dot her cheek. "Mum, what's wrong?"

. "Those bloody roses. Vicious." she complains, with what would later prove to be prophetical.

Rory who has disappeared into a glassed-in office, pops his head out. "Karolina, you must meet Anthea - woman over there in the black suit. Anthea's Employment and Training Officer for the Migrant Tour Guide Project." Rory's head disappears into the office. He seems to be conversing with a woman inside the office.

Matilda wanders over to the luncheon table. The ochre tablecloth is strewn creatively with Gum leaves. The centre-piece is a model camp-fire, set on a concealed hot-plate with a billy there, boiling. Matilda inspects the equally pretentious finger-food. Miniature Dampers, Kangaroo Rissoles. Rory re-appears.

"Matt. - Green corridors people" Rory jerks his head sideways, "On the Miners' couch in the corner. - Guy in the navy suit - Tourist Department chappie, Romulous Wanderborn. Also influential, Estate agent - Developer, Victor Sojo." Rory swoops out of the office and parks his guitar safely under the table, muttering, "Something I gotta check up on." He disappears into the office.

It is not too difficult to spot the Green corridors people, Michaela in Indian skirt, Nick in patterned waistcoat and pony-tail. Matilda introduces herself and meets Jill from a local Land Care group,

"We're Purposeful Travellers," announces Nick, with a wink. "We usually get in first, before people call us ferals - or nomads. Nomads being purposeful travellers."

"We're in desperate need of videos, movies," says Michaela," especially about he effect on waterways of damming back the headwaters. We've caught some of the locals damming the creek with agricultural plastic for a private swimming pool. Not a thought about the loss of flow downstream. Even with the glaring example of the Murray. The Snowy - high country, icon river, reduced to a trickle, before the push for restoration, thinks Matilda. - And my own grandfather part of the destruction.

"Developers want to make our meandering creek into an artificial lake with introduced native plants from Queensland." Michaela rolls her eyes. "Who's the ferals - us, or people who wreck a Bio-region with plants from three thousand miles away"

"These two blew in to town six years ago," Jill explains, handing Matilda a mug of tea. "We've had green corridors around this district for years. "Organic farms. Also the youth refuge farm's quite a showcase."

Mailda takes the mug gratefully. "Lots of co-operation among farers here, then? Creeks, or farm borders?"

"Farm borders mostly. Three metres each side, usually. Up this way some farms've been running sheep and cattle without a break for well over a hundred years. Ground's so compacted. We put the ripper over the worst paddocks. Black Wattle comes up first, Small, tussocky plants. Then we planted out Grey Box tubes. Native grasses started to return."

"And the sheep?"

"We've diversified. No more mono-culture. Not suited to Australia. Honey from the Grey Box, Yellow Box too. A trial run in Bush Tucker. An arrangement with an Aboriginal Co-op."

Matilda turns to Nick and Michaela "If the Bio-region project hadn't been foisted on us in the first place," Nick is saying. Matilda jumps as if she has been stung. Matilda can't catch Michaela's response, but she does hear Nick's comment quite clearly. "But the best, most viable, living part of the river wouldn't've been put under this pressure."

-Oh Christ! Exactly what I feared all along, thinks Matilda, - No consultation with rural people. Matilda wishes she'd not let herself be persuaded by Rory's enthusiasm. She stands stock still, unsure whether to break in. Rory resurfaces and taps his glass for silence.

"Welcome, one and all. Just a brief interruption to let you know that the official opening of this Centre will take place in thirty minutes. Or so." Rory takes a sip of the Guinness. "There's Guiness on tap. Wine and beer and lots of fascinatin' food." He closes the office door. It seems to Karolina that Rory and two other people are poring over a model . Perhaps it is not to scale. They are deep in confabulation.

The woman in the black suit hurries through the crowd to meet Karolina.

"Anthea Mettleson." she says smiling hugely. "Karolina, I've been dying to meet you. I'm extremely interested in your Action Research! Your husband has told me so much about it." Karolina winces. Second only to disliking the wife label, Karolina dislikes being thought of as the possessor of a husband. Karolina, this is Victor Sojo from the Tourism Board." Anthea pats her impressive bun. "-Victor's the most active member of the Board." Karolina, nods.

"I'm only a visitor here. But Anthea, I'm equally interested in your project. - training Tour Guides, I believe? "

"Oh, your husband told you?" Anthea is pleased. "But it's not true that I developed the curriculum entirely on my own. Victor developed all the maps, - site descriptions. Kelly Country Tourism sponsors the guides' uniforms, their identification badges and Ned Kelly bush hats." Anthea's scarlet fingertips rest a fraction of a second on Victor's sleeve. "The maps and brochures given to the tourists are provided by -

"Kelly Country Tourism?" asks Karolina, glancing sidelong at her daughter.

Victor Sojo excuses himself. "Matilda, Rory's daughter? - Rom!" Sojo calls over his shoulder. He takes Matilda's elbow. "Matilda, this is Romulous Wanderborn from the Tourism Authority. Er, Matilda can we find somewhere quiet?" Sojo steers Matilda out to the front veranda .

- That's some suit, thinks Matilda, as Wanderborn withdraws a large document from his inner pocket. Sojo pulls up deck chairs. Wanderborn smooths out the document on the bamboo table-top.

"We - wanted to give you a private viewing," he says almost with the air of a conspirator. "Site plan. Here - town forest. Nicely obscures the car-parks. Eight hundred cars. - here native shrubbery . Around the lake - wild flower plantings" Matilda tries to appear interestedl. "You'll notice we've restored the old dog-leg, post and rail fences." says Wanderborn in the smooth voice of the seasoned tour-guide. Matilda mystified attempts to interrupt the flow. "Here's the home paddock - stringy-bark cow-shed, wattle and daub house. Tourist Complex surrounded by Cootamundra Wattles and lemon Scented gums."

Matildas interrupts, "You have a problem with the wattles and gums."

"Quite correct, Matilda. "They're not native to the area, but - "

"Nor native to anywhere in the state," says Matilda crisply. "but please, can you begin at the beginning? What site is this?"

Sojo cuts in. "Oh, sorry. I thought - because you were talking to that Land Care woman, she would have told you by now." Sojo can barely contain his contempt. He smooths back his hair. "The site plan for the Ned Kelly Country Tourist Centre. Your father will surely have told you? An eco-tourism project."

"But my position doesn't cover tourism projects." Matilda tries to sound non-committal. "For re-vegetation, you can contact the Department of Agriculture - I'm only involved where there are creeks and rivers." Matilda is getting more than a little fed up with explaining her role.

"But surely Matilda, the local Green Corridor people have been on at you regarding the creek diversion?"

- Creek diversion! Suddenly Matilda recalls Michaela's distress about the artificial lake. She inspects the site plan more thoroughly.

"As you can see, Matilda, this project doesn't impact on the Green Corridors in any way."

"Victor has been meticulous in locating the Ned Kelly Country Tourist Centre three kilometres away from any waterway." asserts Wanderborn. "So of course any fears from Green Corridor members is groundless." Wanderborn holds the plan down with a well-manicured hand.

Matilda takes a quick breath, "This isn't the time or place. My role is advisory and promotional, that's all." She turns and makes off down the path. "Going to check out the town," she calls over her shoulder.

"Anthea, your curriculum?" asks Karolina. "How do you match students up with same language tourists?"

"Oh, it's a simple matter really." Victor could explain this better than I could. The Tourist Office does it, You must meet Romulous Wanderborn from the Tourist Department"

Once again Karolina is irritated. "But surely it's more complicated than that?"

Anthea looks puzzled, "Complicated? Your husband just gave you a brief outline of the project then?"

"Tourists from Eastern Europe, Russia, Africa. As tourists, these people would be a bit thin on the ground?" Now Anthea is confused. Karolina is cross with herself. - Stop trying to score, she tells herself. Just because of the husband stuff. "The curriculum," she says a little more kindly, "- local history, tourists' preferences. I'd be very interested."

"Oh yes, we give the students very thorough coverage of local history." says Anthea. "Take for example the siege of Glenrowan, the Violet Town hold-up. - We give the students a test about that. A tick the box test, because it's easiest for the students. - But it's quite rigorous just the same. Then there's the historical outline the Tour Guides give, That's an oral test. They have to be word-perfect on that one.

- Hardly imaginative, thinks Karolina. Sounds rather like just another of these boring, little short Courses that pass themselves off as training for the unemployed

"Then there's role-plays." says Anthea.

- Role-plays, thinks Karolina. - Well that sounds a wee bit better.

"Yes. The students do role-plays on the most likely tourist questions," replies Anthea eagerly. "Like, for example, 'Why did the Kelly gang make those heavy suits of

armour?' "

"Dead easy" says Karolina, "The armour and the ammunition store were set up because the Kellys, together with the bulk of the people of the Loddon Campaspe were fed up with police injustice, with being ruled from Britain, by the colonial authorities, because they were serious about cutting the painter."

"The painter?" Anthea looks more than puzzled, but Karolina in her enthusiasm doesn't really notice.

"Yes. Cutting the painter. Oh, sorry - cutting the painter was a term they used - maritime, I suppose, meaning cutting loose from the Colony." Karolina is animated, recalling Auntie Eileen's night-time, Ned Kelly stories. "You know - the Republic of the North."

Anthea clearly does not know.

"The Jerilderie Letter?" says Karolina. "The Jerilderie letter proves it, surely - Okay, one day more evidence will surface, don't you think? Minutes of their meetings - the Republic of the North-east? "

"But, Karolina, how do you demonstrate the armour wasn't just to stop the police bullets?" protests Anthea.

"Not a problem" says Karolina, "The boys were expert horsemen. You don't need armour to escape bullets if you've got speed. How would any right-minded person explain why the most skilled horsemen and escape strategists in the whole Colony would burden themselves with armour and stores of heavy artillery if they didn't want to start an armed rebellion?"

"Armed rebellion!" Anthea looks horrified.

Too late Karolina realizes she has been talking to an amateur. Amateur historian, amateur teacher, amateur employment trainer - the kind of opportunists who market Mickey Mouse quickie courses in collaboration with developers and business sharks. She nips her blistering response in the bud, just as Rory appears again at the door of the office, where he has been engaged in intense discussion with a small, fair woman.

"Everybody happy?" asks Rory." - Won't be long good people. We are here today to open the Glenrowan Community Arts Centre, to launch the Ned Kelly Country Tourism Project, the Migrant Education and Employment Training Program and - " Rory tosses back the good Guiness, "and to have a very good time." He refills his glass before disappearing into the office.

"One more thing, Anthea," asks Karolina, "How many hours do you devote to handling discrimination - racist behaviour?" Anthea riffles through her booklet.

"Oh yes. We call this unit, 'Handling Difficult Customers.' Students find it very useful. Here it is. - One and a half hours."

"One and a half - " Karolina is speechless.

Anthea is on the defensive. "Karolina, it is only a thirty- hour course."

"Thirty hours! Thirty hours for a Tourism Officer? But surely?"

"Karolina, they're only volunteers. Work for the Dole - You can't -"

" - Volunteers! Excuse me!" Karolina turns on her heel and heads to the door. Anthea senses something amiss.

"Karolina, perhaps we could have further discussions. - This is only a trial project." Anthea positions herself between Karolina and the door. "If you could see your way to apply your refugee-teaching experience to -" She touches Karolina's arm, "Seriously, though, if you would be interested in extending your research in the direction of migrant employment . . ."

But Karolina has pushed through the crowd and out onto the veranda. Body heat has warmed the corrugated iron roof . She needs fresh air. Unwilling to tangle with any more uncontrolled roses, she goes to the back yard, where the drive is blocked by an ancient and very colourful bus, decorated with peace slogans and emus running at full stretch.

- Probably belongs to those two ferals I saw Matilda with, thinks Karolina.

The concreted back yard is separated from what is little more than an overgrown paddock by a line of peppercorn trees. In front of these is a tottering shed . Karolina picks her way down the path. She settles thankfully on a moss-covered log. The back of the shed holds a surprise.

Up the peppercorn tree scrambles the most rampant climbing rose Karolina has ever seen in the full glory of Spring bloom. The roses are multiple-petalled, the bursting buds plump-breasted as opera singers, crammed inside their green sepal wrappings like crinolines in a case. The full-blown blooms curl and crinkle at their edges - pale pink suffused with just a touch of saffron. - There must be hundreds of roses here, thinks Karolina thankfully breathing in the wild perfume. The climbing rose has hoisted its skirts up through the entire tree, The pungency of the peppercorn tree mingles sharply with the roses.

- This must have been a very old house before the decorators got to it, thinks Karolina. - Probably here at Ned Kelly's last stand. She looks down to the tumble-down back fence. Most of the palings are gone and just beyond the fence is the glint of water. Too small for a dam. Spring-fed perhaps? Her attention is caught by a high, piping noise. - A chick! What a strange little creature! The chick stands on long, wobbly stilt-like legs. Its downy baby feathers are tawny coloured and dotted with dark brown spots. - Like a Christmas pudding on legs, thinks Karolina.

From behind Karolina comes a frantic peeping. - Hey, it's the mother-bird. I don't believe this. The mother bird makes little darting forays toward Karolina, then runs away on her long, yellow legs. - Decoy! She's trying to lead me away from the chick. The mother bird is more interesting than the chick. It is about the size, colouring and shape of a plump sea-gull on stilts. The strong, yellow beak curves above a convex, shovel-shaped excrescence that can only be an extension of the beak, but resembling a welder's mask. Karolina stops in her tracks. - Or ... A Ned Kelly mask! It's a Ned Kelly bird. The bird's peeping escalates, distressed probably. - Won't be long. Just want to get a look at that mask. Karolina moves in closer.

"Mum ! Look out!" Matilda appears beside the Peppercorn Tree. Or at least it sounds like Matilda, but she is completely hidden behind a sheet of corrugated iron. Too late. The bird slashes again. Deep, red arrow-heads mark Karolina's ankle. She lashes out and the bird jabs her arm.

"Mum, get behind me." Matilda pulls Karolina behind the shelter of the corrugated iron. "Backwards." she says calmly. "Down the drive."

Despite the shock, Karolina can't help feeling how ridiculous they both must look. - Like two inept medieval foot-soldiers. She chuckles to herself, as Matilda flings the corrugated iron aside and bends to inspect the damage.

"Mum, you should have known better. It's nesting season. Does it hurt? Masked Plovers can pack a wallop."

"Masked Plover? Well I was close."


"I called it the Ned Kelly Bird."

They are sitting on the steps of the colourful bus. A window winds down and Michaela's head appears.

"You've been attacked? The head disappears and Michaela opens the bus door, flourishing a First Aid kit. "Come inside. We'll get that cleaned up and then you might like a cup of tea." Nick hands round mugs of tea, while Michaela swabs the bites. "They 're swelling up." she says. "You'd better get to a doctor as soon as possible."

"No need to fuss." says Karolina. "I'll just sit here for five minutes and catch my breath." She sips the tea thankfully. Karolina, protesting is propped up on the long, leather side seat. Matilda joins Michaela and Nick at their drop-sided table.

"Nice bit of rescue work you did there." drawls Nick.

"I wish I'd been able to rescue the Green Corridors project before the wheels got set in motion." Matilda answers hesitantly. " It was a top-down decision. "

"Aren't they all?" says Michaela. "I kind of hoped the educational aspect might be of some value."

"Oh, it is. It is," says Nick "especially with the kids. Land Care people - already doing a great job. The Bio-region concept - as an - entity, if that's the right word." He pauses to refill the mugs. "It's just that - "

"Has the Green Corridors idea brought opportunists out of the woodwork?" asks Matilda. "A local tourism big-wig and a developer nabbed me before. I was glad that you'd mentioned a developer wanting to divert a local creek. He showed me the site plans. They looked horrific." Matilda takes a gulp of tea. "Now I feel terrible, because I can see that he's worked out a way to subvert the green corridor proposal."

"Hey. Steady on!" exclaims Michaela. "Sojo and Wanderborn are true-blue White Shoe characters. More shady than a rainforest! If the Green Corridors proposal hadn't been around, they'd have tried to set up their Ned Kelly with Bells and Whistles Eco Tourism project on the banks of the Campaspe itself."

Matilda breathes easier, "It's just that I overheard you comment that it would have been better if the project hadn't been foisted on you in the first place and I thought -"

"You thought you were to blame, whereas you've taken up a shonky proposal and made a real difference possible." says Michaela smiling. "You really must call in to the youth refuge permaculture farm on the way back. . See for yourself. It's linked to a city-based youth refuge with a hands-on work and education approach."

"Of course most country people are far more aware than city people about how crucial the river systems are." says Nick, "- Not like the urban romantics, ay?"

"You won't get an argument from me on that," says Matilda, taking note of the address of the Youth permaculture farm, seeing she'd lost the piece of paper Mick had given her.

"City people don't have the opportunity to see rivers as the carriers of nutrients, as life blood.." says Michaela. "Like the veins of your body. They don't have that need."

"Rivers as destroyers, transformers." continues Nick. They don't realize that either, because, most big cities are at the river-mouth, so even in summer, the river's still there. Not down to just a trickle, or lost in the sand."

Matilda looks round the old bus - at the feathers and bits of driftwood decorating the dashboard.

. "The river is an artist too - shaping its wetlands, carving out its valleys. -destroying to create." Matilda stops, surprised. "Yep. The old is made new again! -Should have recognized this bus earlier! This bus used to belong to some friends of mine. When I was fourteen. - The Gippsland Peace Bus, we used to call it."

"Matilda." says Karolina, " I think I need to get these legs active, before advanced gangrene sets in. I'm going to look over Glenrowan."

"Cool, Mum. I'll come with you." If truth be told, Matilda doesn't feel Karolina should be trotting round on her own with those injuries.

All the men in Glenrowan appear to favour Ned Kelly beards, long, square beards that blow in the wind. Karolina and Matilda have looked through Kate Kelly's Cottage, checked out the Ned Kelly Museum, stared up at the enormous armour-clad statue of Ned Kelly in the main street, scoffed pancakes and billy tea at the Ned Kelly cafe and tapped their toes to the Irish fiddle music belting out from Ned Kelly's Bistro. They feel like guilty children as they enter the gloom of the anamatronics show, 'Ned Kelly's Last Stand'

"Tis better be good ," says Matilda.

Be it on Rory's head for bringing us here." responds Karolina

At the entry annexe, a disembodied head laughs from the grave and the ghostly Glenrowan train roars through. "It's all done with movie cameras." whispers Karolina, remembering how Matilda used to be scared of such tricks.

"Mum, I'm not a child any more." protests Matilda. There is a ringing of bells and a roaring of wheels and the 19th Century Glenrowan train arrives.

Soon they are in the 19th century Bar of the Glenrowan Pub. A frenzied group of anamatronic Irish fiddlers plays in a corner. A baby bellows, unattended in its pram. An anamatronic rat scuttles across the Bar, where Ned Kelly, clad in a distinctly modern oil-skin coat and bush hat, delivers his Glenrowan speech as traitor, Aaron Sherritt skulks off to betray the Kellys. Outside the pub, imitation rain spurts from the roof. The troopers arrive and Ned Kelly in his plough-share armour falls to the ground. There is a whoosh of flames, acrid smoke billows forth and amid shrieks of fear, the Glenrowan pub burns to the ground.

Next is Ned's famous last words at the hanging. Matilda starts in surprise when Ned Kelly's two booted feet plummet through the ceiling trap-door and the severed head sings wildly a comic song of retribution. Karolina is ropeable.

"What about the court transcript that proves Ned didn't kill the troopers?" she demands. "They've taken the completely wrong slant she announces to a group of uncomprehending, Japanese tourists.

Afterwards, back in the Ned Kelly Café Karolina complains, "They've turned an important Republican tradition into a childish folk-tale!"

Matilda didn't know that her mother felt so strongly about Ned Kelly. - So Mum and Rory had Ned Kelly in common, she says to herself.

"I used to wonder why you didn't revert to your maiden name after you and Dad broke up."

"Well, I suppose the name Kelly did have its appeal. The first Australian story I heard. -it spoke to me somehow. The boys hounded, always on the run. But in control, just the same. Put it this way Matilda. "The Kelly's took a stand. They knew who they were."

Karolina stands up a little gingerly.

- So Mother dear, thinks Matilda, before chiding herself for the unworthy thought - you married a Kelly. And just who have you been taking a stand for all these years?

Karolina almost stumbles as she ducks under the straggling branches of the roses planted along the Community centre pathway. - Dodgy lot of roses,. - Almost like a poor relation to that feral climber out the back. Karolina lingers allowing Matilda to enter the centre ahead of her. Something is troubling Karolina about the roses. When she enters, Rory has started on the second verse of 'Galway Bay.' - Oh no, says Karolina to herself, - Not 'Galway Bay'!

"Oh the strangers came and tried to teach us their way," sings Rory.He pauses reflecting. "The Strangers." Oh yes. That would be the British in Ireland. Or, then again, the words could be referring to any - any - vested interest, let us say, or elite - ruling class, some might call 'em, any O-pressor if you like." Rory puts the guitar down. "They try to teach us their way," (Rory gestures dramatically ) "as the song tells us." He takes up the guitar again, "But we must not conform to the ways of strangers." he mutters darkly, "But keep our own cultures. - Develop naturally, organically, Irish-Australian, Greek- Australian, Somali-Australian. - And. And so forth."

The office door opens and the two occupants emerge - a man and the short, fair woman. It appears to Matilda that Karolina seems drawn to the woman and yet repelled . Rory picks up the guitar again.

"Sorry." he says, "Lost point." He sweeps his fingers across the strings, crooning slowly, too slowly, hamming it up. "They scorned us for bein' what we are." Rory strums dramatically. "What we truly, truly." Rory's hand falls still on the strings. "The Boy in the Canoe," he says swinging the guitar on its shamrock embroidered band, shoving it behind his back, the better to reach over and pour himself another Guiness. "The Boy in the Canoe!" he repeats, "Dipping the paddle in the bright waters of Galway Bay!" Matilda darts anxious eyes from her mother to her father, to the fair-haired woman, to Karolina's flared nostrils, to the hard glitter in Karolina's eyes.

"A toast!" continues Rory, "to the Community Arts Centre. You may inspect the model for the second stage in the office." Rory indicates the man at his side. "Tom Tranterer, the Shire President will then address you." Rory waits for the glasses to be filled. He raises his glass. "To the Community Arts Centre!" he calls, swaying just a little. "And to who we truly are!"

"Who we truly are!" Karolina plants herself foursquare before the fair-haired woman,. "And who are you. Truly? Albertine?" There is venom in Karolina's voice. Tom Tranterer looks alarmed. Matilda stands rooted to the spot. She knows the ice of Karolina's anger.

"Shall I tell you, Albertine?" says Karolina, "About the rose you plant wherever you go? That sweet, Albertine rose. That's its name. Pretty, pink, standard rose-bush." Karolina's voice is low, vibrant. It does not carry very far. The crowd is passing in to the office. Heads turn at the intensity in Karolina's voice.

"This time, Albertine, "intones Karolina, "something has gone horribly wrong. Those pretty, pink, standard Albertine Roses have got out of hand - straggling all over the place outside. Almost you might think - like that wild, out of control rose out the back where it can't be seen." Karolina points, her hand shaking. "Because that rose, Albertine, is the real Albertine Rose - Albertine the climber!" At the back window, necks crane, attempting to get a glimpse of the huge plant draping the peppercorn tree.

Albertine attempts to reply. Karolina raises her hand for silence. "No Albertine, I will finish. - Albertine, you have been very remiss. You have inadvertently planted the wrong rose along the footpath. It looks similar to your trademark. But it is not a well-behaved Albertine standard. - Is this rose who you 'Truly Are' perhaps?" Karolina smiles. - Here it comes, thinks Matilda wanting to run. "Yes, this rose - the rose bordering your path - appropriately named however. You speak French, Albertine, I recall?" Karolina's voice is silky as she plays with the words.

"This rose, Albertine, was named by Napoleon's Josephine - 'Souvenir de la Mal Maison.'. Yes, Albertine, you blush. Shall I translate? Hardly necessary, is it?" The small, red, thorn scars on Karolina's cheek are barely noticeable, so luminous are her

eyes. " - Souvenir of the Brothel. - Trophy to pin on yourself and wear with pride, don't you think?"

Albertine, flummoxed, attempts an explanation to the Shire President, who has hustled her over to the door. Michaela stifles a laugh.

Rory, queroulous, asks, "Mal Maison? - Means bad house, somethin' like that?" But nobody is listening and Karolina stomps outside, triumph in her eyes.

Chapter Seventeen


Rory in the back seat of the car is completely out of it, curled up, slumbering like a baby. Matilda insists that with the bites from the Ned Kelly bird, her mother is in no state to drive. She keeps an eye open for a doctor's sign. The car rattles over a cattle-grid. Rory suddenly comes alive.

"A misunderstanding. Apologize. Need sleep - work it out. Menace of a woman. He sits upright abruptly. "Possibilities are limitless! For you Karolina. You too Matty. - Loddon-Campaspe. It's Kelly country.!" Rory sinks back against the head-rest. "Bad impression. Not the way of it though."

"There's a 24 hour clinic just after you come off the highway." Matilda glances at Karolina's swelling ankle. "You hold out till then Mum?"

Despite the sharp tingling in her leg, Karolina feels very self-satisfied. "I certainly socked it to that dame. You remember Albertine, Matilda?"

- I surely do, thinks Matilda, calculating that there just might be time to call in at the local youth-refuge farm.

" Matilda, I built that Centre not Albertine - from a suburban, Neighbourhood House."

Matilda only half listening has got caught up in a convoy of trucks. Karolina readily tells stories from the recent past. But the distant past. That's another matter altogether. - Pity there won't be time to call in to the youth refuge farm.

"I organised the first Art Exhibition. Albertine waltzes in. Plants all those stupid roses. Then ... " Karolina pauses dramatically.

"Sabotage." says Matilda, having heard the story many times before. Karolina looks surprised.

"But today was pleasure. Pure pleasure." Karolina's mouth curves in a wide and wicked grin. "Blooming Albertine. The bud has burst - Pruned." Karolina smirks.

- That rosy, peaches and cream face. The startled, baby-blue eyes now fading into rosy, sunset clouds, gone, all gone to wisps and fluff of sunset

Matilda always has a different slant. "But Mum, There's no real evidence that Rory had an actual business arrangement with Albertine. Or with Anthea's tour guides. Or with that Kelly Country Eco-tours business."

"There you go Matilda, defending your father."

"All we actually know is that he opened the Centre. Got pissed. Bloody-well sang Galway Bay - yet again. And that there was some sort of stuff-up in the office." Matilda changes lanes for the trucks to pass. "We don't even know if Albertine was substantially involved at all., or involved with Rory" The last of the trucks passes. .

"Oh, come off it, Matilda." Karolina jerks herself upright, sending a sharp stab of pain up her leg. "The whole bloody building reeks of Albertine." Karolina carefully shifts her leg. - Must be infected, she tells herself, imagining tall, solid Rory and tiny, perfect Albertine fucking away, a-jig, a-jig, a-jig, . She grins hugely. "- Mal Maison misfit!" She chortles, "I fucking hate fucking blondes!" .

The sun rolls along the hill-tops on the Melbourne side of the Great Divide, gilding bronze gum-tips, sending snake-shadows creeping across the highway verges and fading the hills to olive velvet against a sky turned suddenly scarlet. Another jab in Karolina's leg. She settles into the pain and a long-lost sensation seeps up from her solar-plexus. Karolina breathes in the eucalyptus-evening. - Something from the Whip-stick Forest re-members itself. "- Getting feverish", she murmurs. "Matilda, did you ever feel that the land sometimes reaches out -" Karolina stops a little embarrassed, then plunges on. After all, Matilda's always rabbiting on about these sorts of things. "Mm, the land I think it is Matilda. It, well - sort of grabs you by the ankles."

"Sure do."

Karolina's hand gives Matilda's elbow a squeeze. Matilda reaches out in response.

"Ouch! That Ned Kelly bird bit me on the arm too."

Matilda slows down. She pulls over beside the red, clinic light in a small, shopping strip behind the university, with a pharmacy, Milk Bar and the local police station. Only a few years ago an outer-suburban community hospital had stood on the site. Until the government closed the hospital, selling the land to developers. A roadside hoarding advertizes 'University Grange.' Matilda's anger mounts, thinking of her father's dubious dealings with Glenrowan's eco-tourism project. - How could he? she asks herself. Rory stirs in the back seat.

"I'd die for a coffee." Rory stumbles into the Milk Bar plodding back with four coffees. "One each and two for me." He heads for a nearby bus shelter and sits down heavily. "I've got some explaining to do," he says .

"Just tell me if you've got any business arrangements with those Ned Kelly tours characters and the tour-guide woman." Matilda avoids eye contact with her father. "And Albertine as well, while you're about it."

Rory slumps on the bench, his head in his hands. "A risky business. It was always a risky business." he replies. "Open to misinterpretation. - By you and Karolina, I mean."

"Rory, how could you let yourself be . . .?"

"Hang on. I admit to supping with the devil. But the spoon was extra long. Matilda, daughter, I knew what I was doin'." Rory carefully puts the coffee cup beside him on the seat. " Albertine. - Nobody more surprised than I was. All my dealings have been with Tranterer, the Shire President and only with Tranterer. I was so worried how Karolina would react that I imbibed a little more of the good Guiness than I should

and -"

"A little!"

"Yes, well . But as for the Kelly Country tour people - And the tour-guide training." says Rory thinking carefully. "Discussions, - but not in any way did I have a business agreement, nor would I. - But I did have me own plans."

"Rory, this sounds like double-speak."

"But Matilda, forget those eejits. Matilda, there are opportunities, marvellous opportunities, for you, for Karolina." At that moment Karolina hobbles out from the clinic.

"Matilda, Doctor wants to know the proper name of that bird."

"Masked Lapwing."

"That's not what you said up at - "

"It was called Masked Plover until recently, but it's been re-classified." Matilda opens the wrong door for Karolina, mistaking the next-door police-station for the clinic-entrance. She swears under her breath.

"Rory, you can't just go about making plans for Karolina's career. Mine either, such as it is. I can't believe that you'd attempt to line us up with that lot."

Rory shakes his head, "Matty, you say you can't believe I would line you up with those shonky characters. But your voice says you do believe just that." He glances up at Matilda from under the expressive brows and in his eyes is the hurt and the pain he sometimes reveals when no-one is looking.

Rory falls silent as two men arrive at the bus shelter. The taller man has a slab of beer balanced on his shoulder. Each of the two rip open a can.

"Hey you!" says the smaller of the two. "Move your fuckin' coffee,"

"Sure. Not a problem." replies Rory, spilling a little of the coffee as he shifts over. Matilda stares at the shorter man. There is something familiar about the small mouth, and the little tuft of hair sticking up over the shaven forehead.

"Shit man! Whaddya think you're doin'? You spilt coffee just where I was gonna sit." Rory brushes the seat. "Fuckin' wogs!" continues the smaller man.

"Bloody stupid wogs." says the taller man. "Don't know fuckin' nuthin' about how to keep clean ."

Rory stands up "C'mon Matt. Let's go back to the car."

"Think you're too bloody good to sit here, ay?" The smaller man faces up to Rory. "Fuckin' Arabs, Islanders, Abos. All the bloody same."

"Rory, look out!" says Matilda. "He's got a knife!"

It is long and deadly, this dagger, brass-hafted, the blade of twisted steel. Rory spins sideways, deflecting the blow. The blade slits through Rory's sleeve from elbow to wrist. The thick cuff mitigates the momentum. Nevertheless it is more than a surface wound, the jagged slash from wrist to finger-tip. Matilda assesses the distance to the police-ststion.

Thankfully, at that moment the bus arrives. The men push past Rory and board the bus.

"Rory, call the cops. Your mobile!" Matilda leaps aboard the bus, scrabbling for change in her pocket, taking her time. "Hold it right there!" she says to the bus driver, flashing her ID card. "Plain Clothes." she says. "Special Branch." Rory, taking the cue from Matilda, holds up his own ID card for all the passengers to see.

"Special Branch.;" His hand holding the card is slippery with blood. Out of the corner of his eye Rory sees the police car pull up alongside

"Constable, I want you to arrest these two for assault. Racial vilification as well,

- That one." Matilda indicates the narrow-eyed man with the blonde tuft on the shaven head, "- wanted by City Patrol for attempted rape and robbery back in July. A worker from the Youth Employment Project has the details. I was a witness."

"Well done Matilda." Rory squeezes Matilda's shoulder with his unbandaged hand.

"Oh that's okay. Are you sure you're fit to drive, though?"

"No problem at all. We've all had a shock. - And Matilda darlin' it's tired you look." Matilda slips thankfully into the front seat beside her father.

"I'm cold." she complains. Rory wriggles out of his black leather jacket.

"Here dear daughter. Put this over your shoulders."

Matilda wraps herself in the jacket. She slips her arms into the sleeves. Her eyelids close and she feels herself drifting. Enveloped in the comforting leather smell, Matilda is once more Rory's nut-brown maiden - returning almost to that source, as her head droops on to her father's shoulder. Her arm hangs loose in the long sleeve. She bolts awake when her fingers find the cut, the beautiful, black leather flapping lifelessly like a dead crow.

"I'll just pick up a few things, before I drive you both home." By that remark, Matilda knows that Rory means to stay the night with Karolina. - Hasn't got a hope in hell, says Matilda to herself. But she has an idea.

"Dad, I'll give you a hand," she says taking the keys.

It was too easy really. Rory's sea-chest is easily located. The original of the Boy in the Canoe photograph. A small box of papers. Some coral beads. - And I don't even feel guilty. Matilda tells herself, stuffing the booty in her bag just as Rory reaches the front door.

Chapter Eighteen


"Matilda, - your writing! You sure do have a way with words." says Bonny .

Ah, yes. . - But it's in my River Book that you'll get the heart of me. This is Matilda's second session with the women's oral history group. They are on Corey's front veranda, where the wisteria has just come into bloom .

"Your story's like a fairy-tale," says Bonny, "Communes in Brisbane. Blue Mountains Folk Festivals. Alternative School. Singing in shearing sheds. How old were you when you first sang in public?"

"Ten." Matilda answers, thinking to herself, - God, Bon's a worse romantic than Maggie. Worse even than my Dad. Bonegilla is sprawled on the front doormat, stretched out at ease in a pool of yellow "An urgent call from the refuge. Mick wants you to get hold of a van immediately."

"Oh Christ, they're being evicted!" Matilda jumps up. "Where the hell will I find a van?"

"Evicted, you say" Bonny stacks her papers. "What're you waiting for?"

"Oh Bon. Your kombi. Thanks!" Matilda sprints to the drive.

"Bon, you'd be best parking at the end of the lane. I'll give you the all-clear from the back window." Matilda jumps at the touch of a wet muzzle on her arm. "Bonegilla! Shit, we can't leave him in the van. He's got a bark to wake the dead."

Bonny scrabbles in the glove-box. "Here's a rope."

"Great!" Matilda loops the rope around Bonegilla's collar. A large removal van is parked just out of view of the refuge. On the tail board sits a man in a blue denim cap and jacket, peeling a large banana.

"Nice little doggie." he says. Bonegilla stands, front paws on the tail-gate, feathery tail wagging, all his attention focused on the man's tuna sandwiches. "I've got a job on in twenty minutes. And I'm not lookin' forward to it. - Sheriff's office. - Know what that means?"

"Not sure."

"Eviction, that's what." Bonegilla's ears prick as the man unwraps his sandwiches. "Not a pleasant job. They're goin' to clear out a youth refuge. Repossess stuff from homeless kids. Nice sort of world, isn't it?" Bonegilla whines urgently and licks the man's hand. "Hungry are you doggie?" The man breaks off a piece of the sandwich and Bonegilla wolfs it down.

"Bonegilla! Sorry, he's not usually this bad-mannered. Best let you get on with your lunch."

The seriousness of the situation hits Matilda when she sees the refuge walls denuded of their posters and chairs stacked at the open windows. The whole place bears the air of all soon to be vacated premises. Boxes, stacked in three rows, are labelled respectively 'River', 'Corey' and 'Ahmet'. Mouse sits on the window ledge lowering boxes on ropes into the ute.

"You didn't park out the front!' says Mick by way of greeting.

"Credit me with some intelligence and hullo to you too." replies Matilda. "Bonny's got her kombi at the end of the lane".

"Bonny!" Mick looks dubious.

"She's okay. Don't worry." Mouse waves the ute off and signals for Bonny to move up alongside the window.

"Mick, the removalist out the front says the sheriff'll be here in twenty minutes."

"Jesus!." Mouse scrambles down to the lane and Ahmet supervises the lashing of ropes to the fridge.

"Ahmet, that's bloody hopeless. Let me." Matilda trusses up the fridge. Fortunately the refuge has the wide windows of past eras, as well as a still serviceable pulley. It is a relatively simple matter to swing the gear down to the kombi.

Suddenly there is a loud banging at the front door.

"Jesus the Sheriff!" Matilda shoots down to the front door with Bonegilla. "Sool'em boy!"she whispers. Bonegilla undergoes an immediate metamorphosis. The hairs bristle on the back of his neck. He emits a deep, German Shepherd growl. He snarls and bares his teeth. The snarls interchange with barking fit to wake the dead. It is nothing short of astonishing that from such an innocent-looking little dog should arise such a menacing tumult of sound. The banging ceases and the men retreat.

"Must be a Rotweiler." Matilda overhears, as they depart for reinforcements.

Matilda leaves Bonegilla at the door and sprints back upstairs. "Your jacket Mick

Can I ? . . ."

"Anything Matilda, anything!" Mick kisses her on both cheeks. She zips Bonegilla up snugly in the jacket and slides down the rope in time to see the kombi disappear in the direction of the river. Bonegilla's nose,then his two ears wriggle out of the collar of the jacket. He squirms to be released. Matilda jumps as a young copper at the end of the lane smiles indulgently.

"Keeping your doggie safe?" he says. "Good idea. There's a vicious Rotweiler back there in the warehouse and you can't be too careful."

"Thanks Officer." replies Matilda as she strolls off to find the railway station.

Matilda has taken to grabbing breakfast on the run, before her early-morning row. Corey's home seems to have become the de-facto Y E H P headquarters. Mick, Mouse and Cal have been staying in the old Red Rattler train carriage . Zack is living on the back veranda. Breakfasts have tended to resemble the ramshackle, refuge breakfasts.

"Matilda! Jeez, I must be up early." Lin sits at the kitchen table absorbed in a novel. "Steamed buns- Chinese yeast buns for brekkie? The genuine article!"

"Thanks. What're you reading?"

Lin winks. "'The Romantic Tale of Matilda and Lesbian Love and the Tragedy of Lin.' Lin takes Matilda's hand. "Wanna' read it? Or better still. Participate in the real McCoy?"

"Lin. You're impossible." laughs Matilda Even the backyard is alive with early activity. Mouse and Ahmet are laying out a timber frame on the only patch of lawn in Corey's garden. Fiona is wrapping a pole with he bolt of blue satin she had seen at the overhang. Lin slides one arm gently round Matilda's shoulder, whispering,

"Looks suspiciously like a protest banner to me, knowing that lot, while poor me hasn't got a hope in hades with the Chinese community banner. When it comes to banners, our lot are all flagged out! I've said before that the OZ flag is too British. Too Noble."

"Gotta go to Karolina's class tomorrow. To finalise where the students want their design placed on the join, community banner." She makes a mock-comic face.

Lin turns Matilda around, sliding her hands behind Matilda's neck. "No, look - This country needs a relevant flag, Busy me can't whip up the troops to even get our banner started. Fact is Matilda dear woman, the Oz flag's got too much bloody blue - all sky. Not enough Land."

Matilda is not so sure. "The Southern Cross was the Eureka Rebellion flag, though. It was blue." But Lin insists.

"The current flag doesn't fit this land. -Doesn't recognize the original people. - No, really. Matilda, with your banner-job hat on," Lin curves her hands around Matilda's unruly curls, "can't you exercise a little influence? I mean,. Australia's so dry, so ancient. The flag should recognize that."

"No. No influence!

Anyway, since I was in Darwin and the Gulf Country, the blue of the oceans, - the Wet Season. Lots of blue in the Northern Rivers - ." Matilda shrugs Lin off, embarrassed. Mick is around somewhere.

Lin gestures dramatically at Fiona's handiwork, "The Eureka flag. That's it! They're making the Eureka flag!"

Mick emerges from the red rattler with an armful of scaffolding.

"Matilda, thanks heaps for the rescue last week. "Did you get to see the youth refuge farm onthe way back from Glenrowan?"

"No. We ran out of time. Ran into some of your mates up there though. They live in a bus. - Never knew you had an agricultural string to your bow."

"Well not me personally. You're the one who wants to save the planet, Matt. Us lot only want to change it."

"Same thing isn't it?" - Is Mick being contentious, because I didn't visit the youth farms, or - no it's because of Lin. Oh shit!

Mick shifts the load on his shoulder. "No. Not at all actually. You need a strategy."

"But I do have that, surely."

"You've got part of it, the natural world. But production - agriculture, work, city-life. What - who the hell produces! There's your sustainability."

Matilda sits down suddenly on the outdoor bench. "So I'm the problem. Too green I suppose!"

Mick jumps at the intensity of Matilda's response. The scaffolding on his shoulder wavers, then tumbles to the ground. Mick squats down to retrieve the load. "No, Matt, not at all. You do what you do and - "

"And I'm useful to you?"

"No Matt, No. I don't look at it that way. We're a team."

"But you don't tell me."

Mick, still squatting, looks up distressed. "No - not what I'm not free to, - Look Matt, it all comes down to experience. - You've spent most of your adult life in the bush."

Mick's rejoinder strikes a raw nerve, "You sound like my mother!"

Mick pushes the poles together with a clatter, as if trying to re-establish some order to his thoughts, "To me, Matilda, you're at home whenever you're in the bush. - Down at the river here, I've seen you." Mick sits down on the edge of the outdoor table, his feet on the bench.

"Mick, lots of environmentalists are political. They draw up alternative work plans for old-growth forest loggers. They go to mining company Board meetings as well as sitting in front of bull-dozers. "

Mick interrupts. "Matilda, I'm a city person, a worker. - Never happy without a hammer in my hand - bosses, cops, making a living . -That's my life. - The cities. That's where the changes gotta be made. - Whole systems changes. Fair wages and hours. Free Unions. Then you can have your composting toilets and grey water recycling!" Mick swings round, his feet either side of Matilda, smiling - eyes serious. He leans over, holding Matilda's shoulders. "You Matt. You're the other side of the equation."

"Equation! - Other side? We talk a different language, Mick. But we both want the same thing." Matilda looks away. "Mick, I guess I don't actually want to know all the inner workings of your activities, but," Matilda looks directly into Mick's eyes, "But don't see me as the other side of your equation!"

Mick's fingers tighten on Matilda's shoulders. "I don't. I truly don't Matt." He grins briefly. "You're the wild-side though." Matilda's wide eyebrows lift. "The City or the Bush!"

"Pardon? - Oh. I see. - Henry and Banjo, huh?"

Matilda touches Mick's cheek briefly. "The City and the Bush, ay? - Gotta go."

Chapter Nineteen


"Are you sure you won't have a little of my Potato Bread?" Monica over lunch, had certainly given Karolina the run-around over the definition of a refugee.

Monica shook her head. "Karolina, I do take your point, but I'm not sure the examiners will. - Well just a little." Perhaps if you were to deconstruct the experience of Nomads and compare that with refuhees.

Karolina, referring to her notes, focuses the hose on the newly planted bed of African Daisies and Nasturtium, her mind on her notes.

'Nomads travel apparently without purpose,' she reads, 'but actually they follow nature's bounty, such as water for live-stock in the Sahara, or Bogong Moths or other sources of seasonal food on the Australian High Plains. Nomads travel light, unburdened by possessions or clutter.'

- That's me, - Or it was once. Still could do it! No-one would guess today that I know the ways of the Nomad, better than Rory, better than Matilda. Karolina gives the Nasturtiums a final squirt. This is what Karolina calls the civilized part of the garden. The plantings are part of Karolina's Christmas party plan. She holds the hose carefully and glances down at the notes. "Bullshit!" she says alou.

'Nomads can not in any significant way be compared with Displaced Persons.'

'- Displaced Persons!' Even today the word has the power of a rocket. Karolina loses her grip on the hose and it twists in her hand like a crazed serpent. Her feet are wet. The note-book is dripping. Karolina regains control of the hose. She flaps the note-book to and fro, shaking off the water. - Now then Karolina, don't be losing your grip, she chides herself, smiling at her own humour. She flips the page over.

'For Nomads the sense of place is at once absolute and yet fluid.' - She recalls Monica's words..

"All definitions are fluid and constantly re-positioning according to the perspective of the subject. It would be interesting Karolina, to deconstruct 'Refugee' as symbol and icon of the 'fin de siecle' " - Crickey, thinks Karolina to herself, Monica's French is just appalling. But Monica had more to say. "You must read Bertollucci's 'Nomads of the Present' for his analysis of late 20th. Century social activists' lack of connectedness to community."

" - Nomads! I'll show 'em." Immediately Monica had departed Karolina started work on the current soggy note-book.

Karolina sets the hose in a stake and flops down on the garden bench with a bottle of mineral water. - Have to leave for work in half an hour, because Matilda is coming today to display the partly-completed Community Banner.

'In certain cases, (such as the Aboriginal peoples of Australia)' Karolina reads, Nomads' connection with the land is so intense, that as they move through their territory, they actually create the land. If they neglect, or are not able and all creatures.' Zeinhab! thinks Karolina. Her cosmology hasn't collapsed. Karolina pours herself a long glass of mineral water. - But not everybody's as strong as Zeinhab. Rosie Braedotti? - What was it she said? Karolina leafs back through her wet note-book , 'People from settled societies need to leave home, at least in thought, so as to be jolted out of their settler self, their everyday ego , so as to live the uncertainty of the Nomad.'

"For how long though?" she asks aloud, "For how bloody long?" Karolina is surprised at the hoarseness of her voice. She takes a long swallow from her glass and refills it immediately. "Bit of light relief." she mutters, pulling a book from the stack. - Personality Types ay? Quickly Karolina pencils in her responses to the questionnaire and consults the relevant page.

'You are a realist, a survivor, conscientious, with a pragmatic approach to life,' she reads.' You have little time for romantics or dreamers.' - Load o' crap, she says to herself. Pragmatists have their dreams. Why else did I marry Rory - bear a child like Matilda? She tosses the book aside and takes up another. 'Athena, the Goddess.' Karolina allows herself a faint smile. - Time to score a point for feminine cosmology. If Rory should ever happen to show the faintest interest in a Great Mother, instead of some cosmic stag creature, Karolina will have to eat her - her thesis, that's what!

'Athena, Companion of Warriors,' Karolina reads, 'Goddess of the Intellect.' - Ye. Karolina reads swiftly. She knows all this stuff. 'What was Athena to do?' she reads, 'At her birth, Athena, daughter of Zeus sprang fully armed out of her father's head. Perhaps our 20th. Century jousting with Patriarchy has its origins in Athena's unnatural birth and the swallowing of Athena's mother, Metis by Zeus - Metis who the Greeks demoted into the dangerous and vicious Medusa, she who turns men to stone? Interestingly Athena bears upon her shield, the image of Medusa, the Gorgon.'

Without looking, Karolina reaches for the mineral water and takes a deep pull straight from the bottle. She reads on rapidly. 'Medusa's original name would appear to be 'Metis' or 'Mother'. Metis is thought to be one of the names of the All-Mother Goddess in her most powerful aspect of the Crone and even more significantly, the Goddess as Eternal Other.' Karolina, excited turns the page rapidly tearing the wet paper. 'This is not the Goddess as all-loving Mother,but rather the transcendent and utterly 'Other' manifestation of the Unknowable Mother.'

- Unknowable! Karolina's breath comes in fast, shallow puffs. Her eyes close. Her whole face crumples. She drains the last of the mineral water hurls the bottle at the recycling bin, and misses knocking the hose right off its stake. The hose, like a living creature, leaps and swings wildly, arcing a gush of spray across books and table, spurting a hard and vicious jet straight into Karolina's face.

Karolina groans from her gut. "Oh Jesus!" She wrenches the tap closed. . "Oh Jesus!" Karolina looks at her watch and brushes the water from her dress. "Gotta go to work." She stands up helplessly. "No. Rory. Have to ring." Karolina reaches for her Mobile. She brushes the wet hair out of her eyes, speaking to Rory's Answering Machine.

"Rory? I'm ringing about the paving you offered to help out with." Karolina takes a deep breath, surprised at the hoarseness of her voice. "Come over tonight if you can. I'll give you a bite to eat. The pavers are stacked down the end of the civilized sector of the garden." Karolina looks down ruefully at her sodden dress and manages a ragged grin. "This is Athena signing off."

Chapter Twenty


Dzaved hovers outside Karolina's office, a sheaf of sketches in hand. He notices that the head of Department holds the student newspaper. Dzaved pauses indecisively, before deciding to return to class.

Matilda spreads out the completed banner-pieces. The students crowd around. "As you can see, some of the pieces are painted. Others embroidered. You can decide where on the community banner you would like your design to go." Matilda sits down and idly leafs through a copy of the local paper on Karolina's desk.

'Teacher's Breakthrough Research Project!' is the heading. 'Local teacher, Karolina Kelly is transforming public opinion about refugees.' 'Teacher-researcher, Karolina Kelly of Inner North College says refugees should speak out about their experiences - 'telling it like it is' as refugees. Ms. Kelly has developed a unique method of self-directed inquiry, whereby participants themselves take control of their own research..'

Matilda reads with increasing disquiet. - This is written as if Karolina bloody-well invented Action Research..

'Ms Kelly says the system involves a constant cycle of action, thinking, and then action again. Ms. Kelly believes that migrants and refugees should speak outs so that their experiences are included in the Australian story. Karolina Kelly asserts that this 'speaking out' will bring about a significant shift in public opinion.'

Matilda scans through the rest of the article. - No. Not a single credit to all those who have worked with Action Research. Matilda feels a great sadness and below the sadness is fizzing and sputtering the anger spark, ready for ignition

Karolina could have credited me! thinks Matilda, realizing all at once that both of her parents' careers have benefited immeasurably from her freely-given support and the advice. - And where does that leave me? she asks herself, folding the paper fiercely, almost tearing it.

"Matilda, may I have a word?" Dzaved sits himself down beside

Matilda. "It's your mother. I - we are worried about her. The Head of Department has some kind of - a vendetta, but I do not have the words, so perhaps I exaggerate."

"Dzaved, my mother can take care of herself." replies Matilda sharply.

"It is not just Karolina's position here - at the College." persists Dzaved. "This telling of the story. - One is not always prepared for this and yet there is a time when there is no other way."

"Dzaved, my mother is very strong. She knows how to look after herself." Matilda insists, tears in her voice.

Matilda surveys her mother with new eyes distressed by the temerity of her conclusions. - Gotta be fair. Matilda's always thought of herself as generous, not ambitious. So why do the claws of envy scrabble in her gut? - It's the job, she decides. Working inside. Nine to five. She must leave. Get back to the bush - soon.

Matilda is possessed with a terrible urgency. She drags out her River Book and begins to draw. - Wandering means searching, searching for nourishment, truth. Matilda sketches in the river waters, dark, murky, way down there where no light penetrates. Unaccountably - she recalls Grandfather Liam's story of the Sealy woman, separated from her lost children of the land by her passion for freedom, for her true element. - It's all about shifting, she tells herself. Shifting location, - shifting perspectives.

Matilda is lost to the class-room goings-on. She slips on her platypus skin and dives deep into the dim waters, sight obscured in the floating flotsam, - leaf-tatters, rock-flecks all drifting, sinking to the slushy bottom, where you can't get a foot-hold. You just sink and drift like the platypus, turning over this, scrabbling through that, while all the while your true home is disappearing - uninhabitable.

The students seem to have decided on the Banner-design placement. Matilda snaps her River Book shut as Khalifa and Zeinhab approach the back table to check out their preferred position.

"So long as it is somewhere on the margins." calls Dzaved, "That's where we reffos belong." Matilda finds Dzaved's use of the term faintly contrived.

"Now the pieces can be sewed together." asserts Zeinhab.

"And every piece pricked with blood." says Khalifa proudly. - She's not joking, thinks Matilda, but most of the good people who view this banner will just think she was just acting the over-dramatic Ethnic.

The students are working in group with Karolina encouraging, advising. - She does this kind of thing well, thinks Matilda, despite herself. - Time to go. Matilda begins to pile together the banner pieces as Zeinhab asks if it's okay for her six year old son to eat in class.

"Sure. So long as he's quiet." replies Karolina. "A well-fed child is quiet and a hungry child isn't."

- But a hungry child has a right to more than crumbs, says Matilda to herself. She notes down the students' decision and begins to wrap the banner pieces in their protective bag, preparing to leave, as Zeinhab and Karolina hold a brief whispered conversation.

"Oh Zeinhab that's just awful." says Karolina. She holds the little boy's shoulder briefly, her fingers gentle, looking closely into the child's bruised face. She comes to a decision.

"My supervisor has agreed to the inclusion of your experiences before coming to Australia. I think it is time for me to keep my promise to tell a little of my own experiences." Karolina's voice fails and she speaks so softly that Matilda at the back table can barely hear.

"It was cold on the road." Karolina's voice is quiet, very matter-of-fact. "I - don't remember much about my home town - , that sort of thing," she says as if apologizing "I - we, because of the war that is we were forced to leave home. I was very young. About three, I guess. My parents were needed somehow." Dzaved looks up sharply, goes to speak and thinks the better of it. "I learned to be resourceful, accommodating to different languages, to hardships. - searching for food, for instance." Karolina stops again. "Dandelion leaves, Dock-weed. Any crops. Searching for shelter too."

Matilda is riveted She re-opens her River Book beats a tattoo on the page, bites her lip, half-rises as if to go. She blocks in the river-mud, the slow swirl and tumble of river-silt and the platypus searching, feeling its way in the murk.

"You learned to find shelter in ditches - from the bombs. Butnight shelter. " Karolina half-smiles, "Quite a problem. For a child it was - frightening. Terrifying actually."

"And your parents?" asks Khalifa.

Karolina swallows. "My parents were both with me at first." She pauses, a long time. "Later only my father. - My parents were forced to do some kind of - war work. - After the war, my father went to search for my mother. Or perhaps he went to fight. - Some sort of civil war." She stops again, "I'm sorry, I have only a child's view of all of this. Anyway, I was left with lots of different people. In a way it stood me in good stead. I learned several languages. - These places were a cross between an orphanage and a -" Karolina's voice wavers. "And a Displaced Person's camp. - By the time my father came back for me, my mother was dead." There is a murmur from the class - distress, sympathy.

Matilda crushes the pastel to pieces in her hand. She looks at Karolina from head to toe. She looks away. Memories, incidents that she doesn't care to recall, insinuate themselves into her brain. - Who is this person standing before her? This person who has denied Matilda her origins all these years? - A mother unmothered. No kind of mother this. Matilda feels the race and surge of anger, hot and bright as flame. Its dance of danger plays around her. - Leaving home at fourteen. By Christ I was right. - I made my own way and I will continue.

Karolina glances for a moment across to Matilda. Matilda meets Karolina's eyes with a stony gaze. Karolina looks puzzled, hurt perhaps.

"I suppose I was very - street- wise - able to adapt to any circumstances." She raises a taut smile. "Anything to get a feed. By the time I was five, I knew how to survive, even - " Karolina breaks off. Conscious of Zeinhab's son in the room, she writes on the white-board, 'to cheat and steal' and swiftly rubs it out. Karolina shrugs her shoulders. "It was just as well for me that when my father was working at the Snowy, that there was only single men's accommodation there; that he had to find a home for me with his Czech friend. The Czech friend's wife taught me how to live,- how to be - civilized. When I arrived in Australia, I was pretty wild."

"This is exactly the problem that I have with my kids!" Khalifa bursts out.

Karolina forges on as if no-one at all is there, is listening. "It was only after my father died, that I was going through his papers - "

His papers! Matilda leans forward expectantly. - So here it is, the key - to country, to heritage. However Matilda's longings are not to be answered, as Karolina's next words confirm.

"Among my father's papers was a photograph. It was a group photograph taken beside a well. A small black and white photograph."

- So thinks Matilda - the photograp Jackie saw in 1986 at the Peace Festival. It exists. The photo exists! Karolina never showed me, never told me of it. Matilda scribbles rapidly - the platypus twisting, flipping over, all fluid movement, rushing towards the surface.

"In the photograph," says Karolina her voice muffled, hesitant, "there are children - three boys, two babies and six girls - four of them about three or four years old. My father is in the photograph, standing at the back with three other men. They seem to be singing, playing musical instruments. The women, two older and three younger, are beside a table listening to the music." Karolina brushes the hair out of her eyes, smooths the folds of her dress. - She looks quite - dishevelled, thinks Matilda to herself, hair in disarray and dark streaks on her dress.

"So you are in that photograph Karolina?" asks Marisol eagerly, " And your mother? For me too the photos of the disappeared are precious."

For a long time Karolina doesn't answer, but stares out into some unknown, fading distance. "No." she replies. "No. - Or at least I don't really know." She falls silent again. "Precious. Yes, they would be. If I only knew. - But I don't, I don't know which child is me. I don't know which woman is my mother." Karolina shakes her head slowly from side to side. - In her mind there is a wall, a wall of rock and stone. And this photograph. It speaks from beyond the wall, carrying stories of music - of love and joy, but the stories are in some strange, lost language and like one blind, Karolina cannot discern what she knows must be there.

Karolina sits on the edge of the table struggling for control.

"I learned the value of silence well before I came to Australia," she continues "This habit of silence was re-inforced by my father. 'Don't tell them any more than you must,' he'd say to me. 'To them we're all Balts, Reffos.' He was proud of the fact that I learned English so quickly, that I was so - adaptable." Karolina smiles but the smile is sad. "As so many of you here keep saying, when you get off the plane at Tullamarine, you can't just cut your memories out of your - " Karolina searches for the word "out of your soul - without losing the soul of who you are. That's the biggest mistake that Australia makes. They do it with the Aborigines. They do it with migrants. It's the culture of forgetting."

"So you became Australian very quickly, Karolina?" says Nguyet.

"No. I assimilated. There's a difference,." replies Karolina. "I was so successful, that by 1954 I, of all the girls in my school, was chosen to present the bouquet to Queen Elizabeth, when she visited the Snowy. Later, the Queen Mother came out for the Olympic Games in Melbourne. I had a friend for a time - from Yugoslavia, from a neighbouring republic. You understand - Yugoslavia was made up of a number of federated republics in those days. Well I tried not to mix with her too much. She didn't suit my image. She used to wear long dowdy dresses with a funny pinafore. Her hair was in two plaits wound into two little buns just above her ears and she wore thick, red stockings. I tried to explain to Sonja that the reason I had been chosen to curtsy to the Queen was because I looked right."

Karolina recalls the dress of apple green organdie with puffed sleeves, the wide cherry-red sash, the frill at the yoke and four inches above the hem, the white ankle-socks, the matching cherry-red, patent-leather shoes with the thin cross-straps, fastened at each ankle with a shiny red cherry-bob bead,.

"I was the one who dropped the most perfect curtsy and who was able to say with a near-perfect Oxford accent, "Welcome to the Snowy Mountains, Your Royal Highness."

Dzaved throws back his head and guffaws, "And you a Republican!"

"Oh I always was a Republican. Ned Kelly was my favourite Australian. And don't forget I came from a land of Republics!"

- Ah yes, but which one of those Republics did you come from? asks Matilda under her breath. - You've admitted to having your father's papers. Matilda is increasingly agitated. She sketches in swirls, wavering and clashing, the up-swimming platypus, near to breaking the surface.

There is a peremptory knock. Grae Grantling bustles in with the current student newspaper.

" Won't take up your time." Jabbing at the paper, he mutters to Karolina, assuming that migrant students don't understand football slang, "You will be hearing more of this, Karolina. You lift your game! This er, student newspaper. The work of this class I take it? The cartoon here, - when did you send it in to the editorial office?" Grantling holds the paper away from his nose, as if it gives off a bad smell.

No-one speaks. The students' faces are impassive. Zeinhab takes a risk,

"The answer to your question would be in the editor's office, perhaps?"

"Yes, yes." Grantling replies, aware that Zeinhab has his measure.

"One thing I can be certain about," says Dzaved, "is that we have complied with - regulations. I have an Arts-engineering qualification in my own country." Dzaved fishes in his brief-case and triumphantly hands over a sketch. Karolina's hand flies to her mouth.

"As you can see the date is well before the beginning of the Action Research project."

"So it appears." says Grantling doubtfully.

"If I may. - Mr. Grayling." says Dzaved at his most charming. "This cartoon is my work alone. It was done as you can see before our teacher pointed out that such action is forbidden."

"No, No. Certaintly not forbidden. - This is after all a democracy," counters Grantling discomfited.

"Oh certainly. As you point out - a democracy. But you will forgive me. As refugees, we are familiar to - (forgive my poor English!), familiar with accommodating to the forbidden, to negotiating, - maybe subverting the forbidden. These are our cultural experiences." Grantling looks puzzled as Dzaved continues smoothly. "May I suggest an accommodation? Perhaps I could do the graphics for a most positive race relations edition of the student newspaper - accompanied by our report on the Action Research! You have seen the new edition of the local paper?" Dzaved hands the newspaper to the Head of Department.

"No. No. I must confess I hadn't seen this." says Grantling." , his smile is now distinctly less frosty. "Fine. Fine, then. You do that."

Dzaved's smile is not quite ironic.

"It is for this accommodation and negotiation that we have all escaped war, and oppression."

But by this time the Department Head is gone.

Everyone is smiling and trying desperately not to laugh in case Grantling is still around.

"Tell us about the Olympic Games in 1956 Karolina. Did you go? Were there rallies over Land Rights - anything like that?" asks athlete Marisol, who had avidly followed the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

"Oh no, Marisol. Nothing like that. Australia in the Fifties was very different. There was no awareness regarding prejudice. It was a very - insular place, - self-satisfied, inward-looking."

Karolina hears again the crowd's roar - the Melbourne Cricket Ground, 1956. She remembers the school children singing to the Queen Mother at the close of the Games,

'Will ye no come back again,

Will ye no come back again?

Better loved ye canna' be.

Will ye no come back again?

(and then to the tune of Waltzing Matilda)

Come to Australia, back to Australia,

Come to Australia, the land of the free,

With the slip-rails down and the billy boiling merrily.

Wide-open arms will be waiting for you.'

"And that," says Karolina, "was before they even dreamt of Disneyland."

- Oh Christ! thinks Matilda. Nearly fifty years ago and we're still doing all that stupid stuff, but this time with bells and whistles.

Karolina goes on to tell the students of how in her ignorance, she had cheered for Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union, (because Yugoslavia was part of the Soviet Bloc) "and for Australia too of course." She remembers rising to her feet with Sonja as Zatopec burst through the tape, remembers her father pulling her down,

"Don't cheer." he ordered. "Don't cheer any other countries. Only cheer Australia. Do not cheer Yugoslavia."

Then, not long after the Olympics Sonja and her family went away - back to Yugoslavia. Sonja said her father and mother were worried about their relatives. Her father would not discuss it.

"It is not safe." was all he would say.

Karolina flicks her eyes around the class-room. - Yes. The students understand this thing that I may not speak of.

Matilda raises her head. - The platypus bursts to the surface.

"So where did she actually go?" loudly asks Matilda from the back of the room, "Your friend Sonja, to which of theYugoslavian Republics did she go?" Matilda's voice is truculent, harsh. There is tension in the air. Only Dzaved has an inkling as to what is going on.

Karolina's eyes snap open - full alert. They drain of all expression. - Shut Down, that's what it seems like, thinks Dzaved. - Total Shut Down. He notices that her hands are trembling. She locks eyes with Matilda. She turns on a tight smile.

"Matilda, as you know, I was brought up to believe that I was born in Yugoslavia and that is quite enough for me."

The platypus skims the surface. Against the current the webbed feet paddle fast, the flat tail its magnificent rudder. On its back feet the spur, the poison spur. No-one has yet

discovered the purpose of that spur. There is no thought on Matilda's part. All is purely instinctive. The scissors slash. They hack at the embroidered pieces - hard to cut, those. They snip through the painted pieces like a knife through butter. She sweeps the torn and jagged pieces into her bag. On her way out Matilda drops a ragged remnant on to her mother's desk,

"Nothing ever did fit." she hisses, "so why the fuck go on pretending?

Chapter 26-30

Chapter Twenty-six


Absently Matilda strokes Lin's head. Lin is weeping on Matilda's shoulder. Rory has just departed, head bowed, shoulders slumped. They are sitting on the decking of the foot-bridge linking Flinders Street Station with Southbank's restaurants. The contemporary, single-span bridge with its web of steel pylons slung from arch to decking links the 19th Century station's Italianate towers and copper domes to the bicycle paths and blue stone edifices of modern Melbourne's river-side playground. Everything in the bridge's architecture is off-centre. It doesn't cut straight across the river. Its metal balustrades are at an angle to the perpendicular. The decking humps up-hill to the centre of the curving arch and the triangular supporting struts face the current like compass legs . The over-all effect is of fragility, temporariness. You know that you are on a trembling foot-bridge. You are all too aware of the brown current below.

Lin's weeping is drowned by the screeching of sea-gulls. A man is feeding them potato chips. They wheel and squawk. Twenty then fifty or more gulls compete in a blur of snapping beaks. Matilda still stroking Lin's head is overwhelmed in the flurry of wings. She can't forget Karolina's pale face. Nor can she put aside Rory's dissemblance, now that she has the evidence.

- Didn't think he took me seriously when I showed him the photograph. - Six year old Rory from nowhere. "I know your secret Rory. About the boy in the canoe." Rory dumbfounded, wanted to sort it out then and there. "No way. - Not in front of my friends." Matilda had said. "This evening at the Boat-shed. - Chapter and verse. You give me back my life!" Matilda turned her back on her father. "Just go Rory!"

I can't take Lin's tears, thinks Matilda, but she rustles up enough fellow-feeling to ask, "Lin what's wrong?" Lin explains that she had decided to look in on the exhibition. She was standing thoughtfully in front of a Fredrick McCubbin painting together with a group of Japanese tourists.

"A gallery official said. 'Would you rejoin your group madam,' I told him they weren't my group. Somehow things escalated. A voice came from the crowd - soft, but clear enough, 'Asians out!' I got upset. Took out my Uni card, my Commonwealth Bank card and my driver's licence. I marched right up and down that line of Lost Child viewers

and - "

"So it was the 'Lost Child' painting?"

"Yes. Anyway I marched up and down that line and I shouted, 'I am an Australian citizen. I have a right to be here.' People started arguing. And then Matilda, I really lost the plot and I sat right down in front of the painting of the lost child and I said, 'This is who I am. This is who I am.' "

Matilda chokes back her own answering tears as her friends arrive. Marcia looking like a land-locked turtle, is weighed down by a heavy rucksack - quite inappropriate for a ferry-trip down the Yarra's lower reaches on a hot summer day. Besides she might get taken for a terrorist. Matilda dismisses the thought.

Cal and Mick sprint up the gang-plank and immediately engage the captain in animated conversation. Marcia with an air of intense concentration, plods to the stern and stares purposefully into the yellow-brown water foaming out from the wake. Lin s hunched over moodily, is sitting amidships, similarly unapproachable. The boat passes the totem figures bulking in the water, at the Turning Basin. She hears from the Bridge the captain explaining to Cal and Mick how these River Cruiser don't feel the slap of the incoming tide until they reach the docks.

"You see Mick, the tidal impact is minimized by the unnatural shape of the river-mouth."


- Mick is all ears, thinks Matilda. "Yes. The river mouth has been tampered with as it were. Hundred 'n sixty years ago" replies the captain. "The river was dredged and enlarged to make way for the docks. And it's still constantly dredged these days to clear out the silt from upstream."

The captain interrupts the conversation to announce morning tea over the P. A. system. "The river today runs at a fraction of its natural flow and that is because of the dams and reservoirs upstream holding back the waters." The cruiser reaches the wide basin of the Port of Melbourne and the docklands area. A massive container ship is being unloaded at Swanston Dock. Several vessels are laid to, close to the wharves awaiting entry. "Ninety seconds is the average turn-around time for unloading, compared to two whole days' work by ten men in pre-mechanized days." The captain nods towards a clutch of tug-boats like purposeful beetles nudging at the stern of the container ship.

- I don't for the life of me know why Cal and Mick see fit to ask the captain of a tourist cruiser all these questions, thinks Matilda crossly as the captain continues.

"Of course there is nothing much that is natural about a port river - any port river. - Most unnatural of all perhaps is that the river is sliced off completely from its original historic entrance to the bay," The captain warms to the attention of Cal and Mick, "Nowadays people think that the Yarra and the Maribyrnong were always two separate rivers, whereas the Maribyrnong used to flow into the Yarra."

That a fact!" Cal is full of admiration.

"Yes indeed. They sliced out a hunk and created Goode Island." The captain shoves back his impeccable, white peaked cap. "The city fathers thought the island was an ideal place for a chemical-storage site. - It's only blown its top once." .

- Only once! As if that wasn't enough, thinks Matilda, recalling the exploding flames flung from Goode Island's chimney-stacks and the noxious, black smoke that had blanketed the city. Matilda feels the powerful pull of the out-going tide as the captain swings the cruiser round for the run back to Southbank. The P. A. crackles into life with the captain giving a potted history of the Port of Melbourne. Matilda doesn't really want to hear how the docks are giving way to theme-parks and yuppie high-rises. She only half-listens to the captain's value-neutral account and is not surprised to hear that the historic workers' cottages are selling like hot cakes.

Matilda stares into the water imagining the Yarra. before Batman's 'Enterprize' sneaked up-river to drop anchor below the rapids, tries to reconstruct in her mind the Kulin peoples' vast system of wet-lands teeming with pelicans, turtles and egrets busy in the reed-beds, magpie-geese and black ducks wheeling overhead, black swans, ibis and cormorants afloat on clear waters and an abundance of eels and fish in the seas and billabongs.

Marcia, straightens up, gazing intently into the river. Matildas is aghast as from her back-pack. Marcia takes a large, round stone, holds it in cupped hands a moment, then casts it

into the water. - Christ, she'll be taken for a terrorist, thinks Matilda moving to intervene. Something holds her back, as Marcia stares at the outline of the waning moon, curving like a thin, gum-leaf - just tipping the casino-tower. She casts the next stone, singing to herself, facing the white moon-fragment as it rises over the city. The vessel veers in the wake of a large pleasure-boa. Marcia swearing under her breath leans out perilously. Methodically she continues casting the stones, which fall with a faint 'plonk' into the current until her bag is empty.

Matilda has to admit that the captain knows what he's talking about as far as tides and currents are concerned, though his history is a the usual, tourist spiel and he doesn't mention the stuff-up over the correct Aboriginal name for the Yarra. Now Mick is probing about precisely how far up-river the salt-water of the tides is likely to go, disagreeing knowledgeably on the respective heights of neap and full-moon tides. - Why don't Mick and Cal ask me thinks Matilda. I could put them in touch with all the experts you could point a stick at. The lower reaches of the Yarra had never interested Matilda. - Take care of the headwaters and the middle course and then . ... . The docklands building project has put paid to any hope of a healthy river-mouth. Cal and Mick are taking far more than a passing interest in the river's lower reaches. -

Well, she says to herself, since everyone's being so anti-social, I might as well do some sleuthing of my own.

Matilda takes the folder out of her back-pack and angles the photograph to the sun. - To think that Rory's favourite photo had been sitting on his wall all these years and all it took for the photograph to speak its truth was to have it enlarged!

The little boy - five or six years old, very tanned - quite dark actually, but the distinctive eyebrows, the wide, full mouth and the thick cloud of curly hair - yes, definitely Rory - know that lop-sided grin anywhere. But the enlargement shows people - lots of people, standing in the shallows smiling - or maybe singing with the people in the boats?. Many boats. Looks like palm trees. The people could be - Aborigines, or Pacific Islanders even. - Definitely not Galway Bay. Shed Number 24 shadows the photograph - , the original sailing-ship port before the river bend was straightened and the rock wall eliminated. -In Rory's photo there's a woman standing at the water's edge Eighteen or nineteen at most. Maybe she's just emerged from the surf - Aboriginal - Islander, or could be Indonesian? She's holding her arms out to Rory. Liam's not there. Matilda pauses for the cruiser to pass under another bridge. - Strange that this woman didn't show up better in the original photo. Her form is shadowed by the corner of what can only be a large square sail and by the canoe's prow, riding high in the water and behind the stern, angling outwards - an outline of spars and struts. An outrigger!

Matilda stares up distractedly at the masts and spars of the 'Polly Woodside', the restored clipper-ship moored up ahead. - An outrigger canoe! All those Pacific War posters. Makes sense now. Matilda fingers the coral necklace she had taken from Rory's sea-chest along with the photograph and papers. She jumps as a pollution-control boat passes them, siren blaring and realizes with a shock that the young woman in the photograph, holding out her arms to Rory could possibly be her grandmother. - Rory might not be Irish at all! Not on his mother's side. She slips off the coral necklace holding it in the hollow of her hand like a talisman.

Matilda takes Rory's tattered copy of 'The Irish Times' of 1943 out of a plastic wallet and examines the handwritten Irish poem, scanning it rapidly. - Rory's usual Celtic stuff. With the building of the huge casino, the old 'Turning Point' in the river, the 'Pond' of 1841, had been reconstructed at the site of the rapids' demolished rock wall

- the rapids that had given the Yarra River its misconstrued name. Matilda scrutinises the handwritten page written in Rory's familiar scrawl.

'The men built the base on an airstrip and the women and children were sent to a near-by island. One man swam across the lagoon to his wife and was beaten. There was no rice- only gruel. One Japanese wireless operator who didn't like war was friendly to the people. A third of the people died.'

Matilda re-reads the paragraph. - Are these notes merely an account of Rory's obsession with the Pacific War - or, given the evidence of the photograph, are these notes her father's own recollections?

'There were savage beatings. One hundred and fifty people were once shot down on the cliff's edge. The U.S arrived in October.' Again Matilda pauses as the ferry moves under Queen's Bridge. - Nearly there! Matilda tries to decipher the abbreviated words as if Rory had scribbled very rapidly from some speech perhaps - or from memory? Matilda squints, still in the shadow of the bridge.

'By October, when the U.S. arrived,' she reads, 'only 759 out of 1,200 had survived.' Matilda mouths the words as she reads, 'On-board ship we rehearsed the songs - our songs as our gift, so as to arrive properly.' - What does that mean? Matilda frowns. - Ah yes! She breathes the words,. 'We were so excited. We practised all night because our history is in our song. We didn't waste time sleeping. We saw trousers, beer in tins. Cakes. Oh what joy! We got clothes. Jungle Greens for the men. White sailors' outfits for the women and children. How we laughed. I got a commander's uniform. They laughed and saluted me. We took the collaborators back home too, so that our police chief could investigate according to Australian law.'

Australian law? Matilda is again confused. She glances up at the phallic bulk of the Casino giving the finger to low-slung clouds. -A gambler must always appear in control, Matilda recalls, must never reveal the turmoil inside, but must face life's game with the mask intact. Well Rory's been gambling with my life and now it's me who'll be calling his bluff.

Then there's Karolina. Does she know this? Always felt there was something off-centre about Rory. But I didn't want to know. After all he gave me such a good childhood, so I never really levelled with Karolina. Matilda catches her breath as the boat cuts across the current, preparing to dock. - To speak out now would endanger Karolina's recovery and yet Karolina's blamed herself all these years. Matilda shivers despite the heat, as the cruiser ploughs through the casino's shadow.


She reads on quickly, 'When we first heard the American planes we were very frightened, but they only bombed the Japanese fleet and the airstrip and - and' Matilda confused again, stops reading - what's this? 'the airstrip and - parts of - Dublin.' Oh this is nonsense, she thinks to herself, but she reads on rapidly. 'When we saw the U.S, boats, we waved and called out, "We're Australian citizens!" Then we all sang 'The Star spangled Banner' to let them know se weren't the enemy !" '

With a sudden jolt the cruiser swings against the jetty. The crew slip mooring-ropes over the bollards. Matilda shoves the papers in her bag. Cal is flipping through her clip-board notes, studiously noting down - what? Certainly not the captain's simplified information. All her attention is focused on the vessel's instrument console, the computerized charts and flashing green lights. Matilda suspects that Cal has all the while been copying this data onto the grids and graphs on her clip-board.

Matilda feels a sudden flash of anger as she catches up with Cal at the head of the gang-plank. "Why didn't you ask me to help out?" she asks, thinking, - I don't even belong in my own generation among my own friends! They have their own secrets. Even they keep me out. The hot wind whips her hair into her face and she stumbles.

"But Matilda, you're more into the botanical - as against the mathematical side of science!" smiles Cal swivelling one hip sideways against Matilda's hip. "The botanical. The cosmological, the sacred feminine side of nature -That's your strength!" Matilda had thought - after that afternoon with Cal at the Overhang, that Cal had understood. But she can't - never can it seems, get Cal's measure. Is she having me on? I don't know. Matilda twists her flying hair into a rough, ropy twist and ties it into a tight knot - hair tied with hair.

Mick smiles "C'mon guys! Food first. Then the Gallery awaits the sacred masculine!"

Mick is being competitive, Matilda thinks as - to escape the heat they bound up Southbank's bluestone steps. "Women more in touch with nature, huh?" says Mick to Cal. "Sacred signs and all that! Lin's story of her friend up north. - Big deal!" Mick jams on his battered sun-hat. "So what, that when you were in Broome Lin - Maccassar-Aboriginal wasn't she?"

"No, says Lin, "Irish-Macassar-Japanese-Aboriginal. A Policy Officer with local government. And a Law Woman an island off the Kimberley coast - island's disappeared. Mined out. Her father was a diver on a pearling lugger."

"So?" Marcia breaks in. "What's the problem? All Aboriginal people have to come to terms with being so-called mixed race. That's how reconciliation started. - within our own families. My mum's Aboriginal-Irish. My dad's Czech."

"Paint your face. Is that what the Law Woman said?" Mick turns, walking backwards as he talks, facing Lin and Marcia. "As I understood it she was talking about tribal markings, right?"

"Yes, of course, but -"

"I think the idea is to lose your everyday self. Let the land speak." Lin looks inquiringly at Marcia.

"No good asking me about Kimberley law. Paint your face with the clays and ochres of the earth. Let the land speak, yeah. Sounds fair enough." Clearly Marcia doesn't want to be drawn any further on the matter.

Mick, (is he being mischievous?) falls back in step with Matilda and lowering his voice, "You know Matt when you were talking about that platypus you saw? - When I caught the little gecko?"

- No. Matilda decides, he's serious and embarrassed, so he's acting mischievous.

Mick rushes on. "For most of my life it's been well, a struggle to - survive I suppose - dysfunctional family. Lots of predators. The biggest predator of all was my dad." Mick's eyes are shaded by the brim of the sun-hat. Matilda can't read his mood and she is in no frame of mind to comfort anyone.

The cruiser below is taking on a fresh load of passengers. It is only then that Matilda realizes what luxurious vessel she is - sparkling new obviously - the 'Port Phillip Queen', - capable of cruising the bay as well as a long way upstream. Matilda glances up at the Casino. _Taller than any tree would've been in pre-settlement days. - But the City today. - It's still shell-beds, possum nests, river clay, re-worked tree-trunks, peregrine roosts, creek-sand. Matilda comforts herself with the thought that the City is till a house of stories that reach down to bed-rock. Whole city's wrapped in stories. Yes.

"I - we, the kids and my mum that is," Mick continues, "we spent a lot of time hiding - on the run. Off to friends, women's refuges, cheap, bed-sits - like geckoes hide under rocks. Only come out when it's safe. Couldn't take it." Mick stops to jam the hat even further onto his forehead.

- I can't handle this, says Matilda to herself. . He ignores me on the boat-trip. Now he's asking for support

"You know how I was a complete petrol-head by the time I was twelve?" says Mick staring down at the riverside joggers "And then how I got into the dope and booze? - driving like a maniac - pinching my first car at thirteen." Mick looks up briefly from under the hat. "A loser, that's what I was, if I hadn't met Corey." Mick clutches at the sun-hat in a sudden hot wind gust that sends the crowds watching the buskers scurrying for shelter. "Bush-fire weather by the looks of it. But the thing is, Matt I don't seem to have, what is it, - the inner resources that you have."

- Inner resources! thinks Matilda . - Then neither of us knows each other!

"Matt, I've been putting everything I've got into this - this action we're involved in." Mick takes off the sun-hat and wipes his brow. "Things been pretty tense lately. I just don't feel I've got anything left - inside that is and I've been trying to keep out of your way lately - to give you the time to sort things out, which doesn't make sense to me, but - " Mick speaks faster, urgently. "Matilda you said a while back that you needed time, that you didn't know something about yourself - something important. But Matt; time's running out - only a coupla' weeks 'til the Festival."

"Mick, not now. Please."

Mick shrugs, barely hiding the pain in his voice. "Okay. Thanks for listening anyway."

At the Art Gallery court-yard they sit down on the bluestone wall of the gallery pool to finish their falafels. The wall is hot from the searing sun. Matilda trails one hand in the water of the gallery pool, but the water too is unpleasantly warm. Her hair is escaping from the knot and uncomfortably flicking in her face.

Mick shoves the hat onto the back of his head. "Oh, by the way, you haven't forgotten about fixing the program so that the refuge act is on first, have you?" Mick grins briefly. "Anyway those geckoes are smart, quick. . Masters of camouflage. Fool 'em. Drop your tail and run. Hard though - lost tail if you're a gecko. It's actually the biggest part of yourself. Bits of lost childhood ay Matt?"

- My God, says Matilda to herself. - Where am I in all of this? First Lin and now Mick. I always thought Mick was reliable, really steady and responsible. Just then Lin flops down nearby on a cast-iron bench, shoulders tense, eyes moist with unshed tears. Lin too seems to have gone to pieces. Lin - Passionate. Strong. Funny. Unbelievable to see her so shattered. Matilda's eyes have an odd glitter - brown, shiny like the hot, summer river. "Talk about leaving aside your every-day self," she says angrily to no-one in particular, "but no-one ever bloody gave me an everyday self!" She turns away, her mouth set.

"Oh Matilda, I'm sorry. I've been thoughtless," says Mick. "What's wrong?" But Matilda shakes off the encircling arms.

"I'm okay," she protests, but the arms will not go away. Matilda's mouth trembles. "No. I'm not okay. - It's Rory. Some truths I've uncovered." Her voice wobbles then steadies. "Everyday self. What's that?" she says bitterly. "Trouble is the most important bits weren't ever - " Matilda laughs shakily. "Origins," she says in a small and toneless voice. "Never had any as it turns out." Matilda looks up into the anxious eyes of Mick and Lin.

"The Irish side of my family," she says. "I loved it. The music. Rory's stories. I was always uncertain about my mum's back-ground. But Rory. I thought I could count on my Irish side - the enchanted child singing in shearing sheds around camp-fires." Matilda shakes her head as if in the grip of a bad dream. "Well the spell's broken. It's all a lie." She stops suddenly realizing that Cal and Marcia have come up behind them. Matilda turns to them. "Look I'm sorry. I'm rabbiting on when I don't have any real - Well I do have almost, conclusive evidence, but it's not confirmed yet and it's all so -" Matilda takes a deep breath, "so completely confusing. - Anyway, we're supposed to be enjoying ourselves. "No." She raises a warning hand. "No, no. Sorry." Matilda finds herself saying, "Forget it. Just leave me alone for a bit, while you go and get some drinks. - Anything will do." Matilda rustles up an almost credible smile, hooking the flying strands of hair behind her ears. She sits down alone on the wall of the moat.

Quickly Matilda pulls out the folder and again leafs through its contents until she finds the place in Rory's scribbled words, 'Australian citizens. We're all Australian citizens.' - What on earth does it mean? Matilda puts aside the Irish Times and the Celtic poems - familiar territory that, and smooths out some printed sheets. These pages appear to have been torn from a tourist brochure. Again there is no heading and no title and the article begins in mid-sentence.

' the most striking feature of the island is 'The Beautiful Wreck', draped in seaweeds and marine growth and bearing a whole convoy of war-planes and patrol-boats. In that same harbour are over 60 vessels and 250 planes. The island provides entry for large ships and was an excellent anchorage for the entire Japanese fleet and staff.'

Matilda looks up suddenly, but because of the heat, her friends are still caught in a long queue for drinks.

'Operation Hailstone' destroyed that fleet in 1944, as well as hundreds of planes" she reads. 'Today these sunken vessels constitute the largest man-made reef in the world. Popular with scuba-divers is the Fujikawa Maru, shawled in marine growth, and still carrying its deadly cargo of guns, warplanes and patrol-boats.' The blazing North wind makes reading difficult. Matilda dashes water from the pool onto her face and over her head,

'There are 15 islands in all,' she reads, 'rising from an azure-blue lagoon, which is enclosed by a necklace of low coral islands. The western islands are renowned for canoe-building. The population today is Spanish, Islander and Japanese.' Matilda takes a long pull from her water-bottle.

'The main island is famous for making the only masks in all of the islands. The masks are worn at dances and are displayed on the gables of the men's houses. These masks' Matilda reads, holding firmly onto the paper, hair blowing into her eyes, 'had magical powers. The masks hid the warriors' true identity and were clearly tied to the people's reverence for magical powers. The masks enabled the islanders to hide their inner feelings, because knowledge of such feelings was thought to make the person vulnerable.'

Matilda takes a deep breath, - Yes vulnerable, she says to herself. - Trouble is I don't know if I can rustle up what it takes to get to the bottom of all this. She puts the paper away and trails her hands like two gentle fishes in the water of the moat. - Less than two weeks to the Festival. Matilda frowns as the song comes out - a few sad lines from the old Henry Lawson poem -

Past worryin' and carin'

Past worry and despairin'

Yes I have gone past caring.'

Matilda's voice tapers off and she stands up, flicking a silver trail of water onto the dark stone. "Time to explore the lost child." she says into the wind and soon she is swallowed up behind the Water Window.

The Melbourne Art Gallery stands foursquare - a bluestone box, flanked by two bulky, wombat-like red-gum animals with bared, grinning teeth and surreal sculptures of steel and bronze beside the heat-shimmering moat. Typically Melbourne, the gallery seems to be sending itself up, making a mockery of the very concept of an art gallery, a place of stone and water. The moat ripples up to the water-window - reviled by some for its tackiness, revered by others for its resemblance to the water windows of the 1950's fish and chip shops. Today, a week before Christmas, the water-window is festooned with heavy red and gold garlands. At each opening of the automatic doors, the wind's breath roars in from the north.

Looking back over her shoulder as she enters, Matilda notices that the sky is palled with a thick, red-grey haze - bush-fire smoke on the furnace-wind sapping all energy. Matilda is thankful for the cool of the air-conditioning. - I've had to go through all this over Karolina, thinks Matilda, closing her eyes against the grit blowing indoors on the win, her hair all awry, springing up and snaking down every which-way. - And now I've got to repeat the whole fucking process with Rory. In the cool interior of the treasure-box that is the state gallery, Matilda is drowning in the world behind the water-window.

Now they are in the Heidelberg School exhibition. Heidelberg - called Warringal 150 years ago. Matilda wonders if the white people got the Aboriginal name right that time. She finds she has new and odd sense of distance, when the words, 'white people' cross her mind. No wonder the 'Heidelberg School' artists rejoiced in the sparkle of sunlight on tree-trunks in that place by the pristine river. Were there any people of the Kulin still there when the Heidelberg School artists 'discovered' those massive, ragged River Red Gums? Matilda catches Marcia's eye and Marcia rolls her eyes,

"Too bloody heroic for me, those Streetons." she mutters, "like chocolate boxes."

But the lost child paintings are of a different order entirely. At least that is Matilda's belief. She feels vaguely responsible, hoping the others will share her liking. Suddenly they are standing in front of Mc.Cubbin's 'Lost in the Bush' -A group of men in cloth caps block the view. Weird! They stand lit starkly like a black and white photograph from the 30's Depression times. Are they real? Matilda wonders; they remind her of the workers in socialist-realist paintings. She hears the workers mutter 'Grief and glory' and then they repeat over and over,' Lost Child, Lost Child.' Matilda's heart lurches. She regains equilibrium as Cal and Lin turn questioning, waiting.

"Well," Matilda hears herself saying, "McCubbin often painted this theme, the lost child. It's more than just stories of children lost in the bush. The lost child figures heaps and heaps of times in Australian art, in stories and, movies. 'Picnic at Hanging Rock's one example. The media gets obsessed with stories of lost children." Matilda realizes she sounds like an art critic, but she presses on, possessed by the moment and the void within, the void of the great hole in old Melbourne town, the drownings in the deep pool of the stump-hole lake, the duplicity of John Batman's exchange of blankets and mirrors to the peoples of the Kulin and the death by drowning of Batman's only son - falling from the rapids of the mis-named Yarra River, the water turned to salt, when they blew up the rapids. Matilda shoves aside her escaping hair "The immigrant people, the invaders felt uncomfortable being here in Australia - couldn't cope with the unfamiliarity of the place, talked about the vastness, the silence - seemed to separate out the original people, same way they shifted all they didn't kill away from their own home-country." - Home country - what's that? thinks Matilda, barely able to continue. Her hair flops completely down, a tightly curling curtain, all-but obscuring the troubled eyes.

"Perhaps unconsciously," she says hesitantly, "the artists pictured a crucual issue for non-indigenous people, for all immigrants to this country." Matilda spreads her hands helplessly towards the confused and exhausted children cowering in the immensity of alien forests. "It's a question of belonging to this land." She stops for a long, silent moment. "I mean that is the question, - belonging. We don't. - Lost in the bush; " Matilda stumbles over the words. "We're all lost you see."

Chapter Twenty-seven


Matilda's fingers tremble on the keys. She works quickly, automatically, bringing up the Site Plan. She must talk to Corey before meeting her father at the river. She clicks over to the folder on Bio Region and Story-telling stalls, the back-stage site-plans, the program for the Great Concert itself. She scrolls through to the Performances data-base. - If she hadn't promised Mick ... Matilda frowns. - Rory hasn't allocated time to the Great Song. - Probably still hasn't got his act together. - The Great Concert, Spirit of the Nation! Matilda sets her jaw thinking of Rory's grand performance. She flicks a strand of hair back from her eyes. - O K Rory can't blame me if I give Mick's performance a good 20 minutes' time straight after the Great Song. She saves the changes.

The screen wobbles, flashes a warning, a rapid and unreadable Data Form - NAZDAQ REPORT? Cabinet Files? - No! It's going down. Fortunately the screen returns to the program. Matilda breathes again and brings up the Yarra-Yarra Bio Region map. Amazing how beautiful a map can look hand-drawn by a creative cartographer, or a computer graphics artist - the green of the Yarra Valley shading to the ochre and red of the Great Dividing Range and the snowy mountain-tops, Mount. Baw Baw, furthest rampart of the Kulin peoples, Mount Buffalo of the massive granite tors - the territory Matilda had thought of as her home-place, embraced in the arms of the blue Dandenongs - the curves of the Shannassy, Little Yarra, Moonee Ponds Creek, the Plenty, Diamond Creek, Mullum Mullum, the Darebin, the Merri, the Maribyrnong - all the creeks and rivers of the Yarra River system. Not that it matters so much anyway - now that the government's going to put management of the Green Corridors up for Tender. As the program fades, she feels in her gut the fragmenting and fading as if nothing is real any more, not even herself.

Matilda fishes in her bag for Rory's sea-chest papers, scanning the hand-written notes again. - Is it truth or fiction - notes from some conference perhaps? Matilda's lips move as she silently reads the Celtic verse.

'so since your heart is set on her sweet green fields,

and you would leave me here,

go quickly, heed not my words,

although it be the voice of your friend,

you are captured by the voice of your own land.

Who am I to hinder love?

Why should I blame you for your weariness?

If but Christ would give me back the years,

and the strength of my youth,

and darken the white hairs on my head, I would go with you.

The wide seas that must be crossed, terrify me:

but go, my son, may your ship cut swiftly

through the waves, and do not quite forget.'

Matilda stops reading mid verse. - Too close to the bone right now. All that Irish exile stuff. Beautiful, but the information leads nowhere. An urge like fire under a blanket of earth strains in Matilda's solar-plexus. She wants to run. The Exile and the Wanderer are astir within; '- May your ship cut swiftly through the waves.' -Oh yes, she breathes. - Maybe it's time to wander the roads again?

Chapter Twenty-eight


"He's been acting a lie Corey don't you see? It seems indisputable that my father spent some, maybe a great deal of his early years in the Pacific." Matilda bursts into the fernery where Corey is sorting herbs. "In fact," Matilda continues emphatically, "my father may not have even been born in Ireland at all but somewhere in the Pacific. What do you think?" But Corey seems intent on bundling the bunches of herbs as Matilda pours out the story of Rory's duplicity. "Don't you see?"

All Corey says is "Somewhere in the Pacific."

"I've always tried to keep Rory and Karolina . ." Matilda's voice trails off, "I've always wanted to prevent them from . . ."


"Well I thought that if I let well alone . . ."

"So you want them back together again?" Corey pulls apart a clump of sage.

"No. Well I mean they never actually split up, so -."

"And that gives you?"

"Well some sort of - security I guess. But that's their decision." Matilda yanks at a bunch of sage. Her hair tumbles out of its top-knot with the effort.

"No Matilda. Not like that. You're damaging the roots."

Matilda puts the bunch down and straddes the garden bench, her eyes intense.. "This, this - Rory's cover-up, - it could influence - ."

"Influence? Our past always influences our present. Whatever we hide of our past has an effect - perhaps stronger than the truth. But sometimes it might be the only way."

"But Corey."

"Matilda there are always unforseen consequences." Corey's voice has a slight edge to it. "Karolina's health, do you mean? I hardly think any revelations of Rory's would be crucial . - A Migrant English teacher who knows the absolute centrality of secrets. A strong woman who held on to her own secret 'til it nearly killed her? " Corey knocks a clump of herbs free from their terracotta pot. "Matilda you'll have to do better than that." Corey's level gaze is uncompromising.

Matilda picks up a ball of twine, twisting it inexpertly around a bunch of rosemary. She lowers her gaze. "Okay Corey. My - big secret. You know it. I've never told you, but - you've guessed. That's what could blow everything out of the water"

"So, you've answered your own question." Corey turning her back marches to the herb bed. She winces, leaning momentarily on the shovel.

Matilda draws Corey's attention to the supposed Galway photograph. "Corey, this is serious dishonesty. He's let me down. He's let Karolina down. Rory wasn't even at Galway Bay as a seven-year old. - Perhaps never!" She advances down the path with the enlarged photograph. Corey casts a cursory glance at the photograph and returns to digging up the herbs.

"Corey, please. There is a way - and the words tumble out. "Corey. Could you speak to my father. - He listens to you. - Look, if I insist on the truth from Rory, I'd be obligated. By rights I should - "


"Well yes. But if you talked to him, perhaps I wouldn't have to tell him or Karolina." Matilda walks across the herb bed, unaware of the crushed fragrance under her feet and faces Corey, pleading.

With some difficulty Corey lifts a heavy shovelful of herbs to the table. "Matilda. I've always supported you and your family, but I've never acted as go-between." Corey's hand goes to the small of her back pressing hard. "It's painful - digging."

"Oh Corey. Let me." Matilda suddenly recalls that Corey is some years older than her father. "What's wrong?"

"Oh, nothing heroic," says Corey. "I call it old war wounds - which is true. It sounds less boring to the young than bloody arthritis." Corey lowers herself down onto the bench.

"Corey, you rescued me when I was fourteen. You've always been my support-person." Matilda wills to herself the persuasiveness of her father. "Corey, I need you now. Truly. I - I'm thinking of ditching this job. There - there's a job possibility - Lake Eyre. The whole Cooper's Creek Basin. I've been up that way before when I was sixteen - Roxby Downs uranium mine blockade. The arterial basin's one of the world's greatest underground water systems." Matilda's face is flushed." Dry creeks - thousands of kilometres

- from Queensland to South Australia. It goes right up the braided river system in Queensland and Northern Territory - the intertwining system of Wet Season creeks that look like braids - plaits. I've seen it from the air. In the Wet Season, Cooper's Creek, the creek that's completely dry for most of the year. In flood, the Cooper has a greater volume than the Nile!"

Corey holds up her hands for silence. "Matilda, you decide. I supported you when you were fourteen. - Ever since you broke your concertina. Came and stayed at my place. But you're nearly thirty now."

"Corey that's not fair. I've always been independent. Been all over Australia since I was seventeen. And, and lately I've single-mindedly tried to find my real origins." Matilda clasps the edge of the garden chair, her knuckles white. "but now I feel completely - completely lost." Corey continues methodically knocking the herb clumps against the side of the garden table. "This - this job vacancy at Lake Eyre," says Matilda. "It's quite important - not like some of my other short-term positions" Corey swiftly ties up the last bunch of herbs and stomps back to the herb patch. Matilda calls after her. "A proper career. Karolina would approve. Non-indigenous Australians don't understand Dry-creek eco-systems!"

"Then go there Matilda."

Matilda in a panic, streaks down the path after Corey, shattering clay pots, trampling on chives and basil, scattering shards of pottery. "But, but Corey. You've always been my role-model, a true mentor to me."

Corey leans all her weight on the spade, frowning, blinking - a hint of tears in her eyes. "Matilda, you are an adult. It's time for you to change from seeing me as role-model to simply being my friend. You have been all over Australia searching," Corey continues, her voice almost shaking, "and that was - honourable at the time." Painfully Corey lifts the shovelful of herbs. "A Dry-creek system. That might be just the thing for you! Because this time Matilda you need to ask yourself if your departure is a continuation of that search, or merely an escape. Do you really intend to insist on your father's disclosure while you perpetuate the cover-ups? This is not worthy of you, Matilda. You came back. Especially you came back from Darwin. You fought. You risked. I can't and I won't help you."

Chapter Twenty-nine


"Steady now! The load's a bit wobbly." Hughie is backing his red, Bedford truck down the Co-op drive. The load of gum leaves is lashed together loosely on the truck's open tray. "Somebody oughta cut back those overhanging branches, Can't see ... Christ! That was close!" Hughie jams on the brake. "That bloke just darted across the drive. - Didn't even look." Rory steps aside as the wavering truck-load of gum leaves screeches to a halt.

Marcia grins. "That's the feller who's going to kick off the Festival. The feller with the song - you know?" Lowanna swings down from the truck ahead of her daughter. "Ah - my friend Karolina's husband. So that's him."

"Yep. Matilda's dad." Marcia slides down from the truck. "Director of the whole Festival."

Hughie switches off the ignition. "Who gives a shit? Meself I don't give a flying fuck if he's the bloody Director General in Chief! But the song! Now that's important, ay girl? - Hey gubba!" Grinning, Hughie leans out of the truck window.

Rory's knees are still trembling. He feels all the uncertainties and tensions of the last days arise in a flood.

"Roy, is it?" says Hughie.

"No, Rory."

"Oh Rory. Right. You're the song-man? Need a didj mate? You'll be needin' a didj for your ceremony - the whadd'ya call it the Great Song?" Hughie begins unloading the gum-leaves into a heap by the back shed.

"Uncle Hughie's fantastic on the didj!" says Marcia. "Real deadly!"

"But I thought the Koories weren't officially participating and I don't want to infringe on any - "

"Then what're ya doin' here ay?" asks Hughie.

"Well I just thought . . ."

"Nuthin official about this feller." says Hughie heaving the last of the load onto the heap. He strolls over to the truck and starts up the motor.

Lowanna tosses Rory a small bunch of gum-leaves. "Nice to meet you." Lowanna's gum-leaves are thin and crescent shaped, the olive-green of rivers in sunlight "Take this Rory. A gift. Keep it in your pocket 'til the Festival. Don't forget." Lowanna smiles. The anthracite eyes hold Rory. His unease escalates. He wants to look away. Lowanna drops her gaze. She takes the gum-leaves from Rory's hand and tucks them into his top pocket. "Two nights from now. At the Co-op. Hughie'll kick the song on for you. Christmas eve. You can practice then." It is a command not a request.

"Gotta go." says Marcia and the truck lurches off in a cloud of smoke.

Chapter Thirty


Matilda lets herself into the Festival-site office at the side door in the lane-way. Matilda doesn't much like using it at night, but she reasons that so close to the Festival, the place is bound to be crawling with security guards. She notices that the lane has been graffitied - quite artistically, as it happens, with Twenty Twenty slogans. She pulls off the note she had left for Rory on his computer screen and rapidly re-writes it. Rory has left a letter on her desk - a response perhaps to her own note. She sticky-tapes her reply onto the screen and pockets Rory's letter without reading it. She scoops up her belongings. - Just in case the wander-lust gets the better of me over the Christmas break, she tells herself, pushing the red security-button and closing the door gently behind her.

Less than a fortnight to go 'til the Festival. In the distance the city is alive with the noises of pre-Christmas festivities. Matilda shivers despite the heat. There is no sea-breeze whatsoever. Masses of flowering shrubs and potted trees are already luxuriantly in place around the great stage in readiness for the Festival, but the heat has not been kind and the foliage droops a little in the incessant hot wind.

Arc lights illuminate the stage and its surrounds. A small van pulls up quietly beside the site sheds. Rory had said that they were going to work day and night, Matilda recalls - but surely that was not until after Christmas? But here they are, workers in steel-helmets and overalls driving - what's it called? A bob-cat? Matilda isn't sure of the name of the big yellow machine. One worker jumps into the cabin of an on-site truck. Another clips on a safety-harness and swings down into the shaft of the methane-gas vent. - Obie and Marcia had warned of the hazards of methane vents last July. The man in the vent calls to the bob-cat driver, directing him from the depths of the pit, as the steel bucket bites and swallows earth. Then in the nick of time the man vaults out into the open air, out of the clasp of the machine's teeth.

There is a deafening clatter from below in the shaft. - Must be another worker down there as well? A pneumatic drill drowns out all the Christmas noises from the city. Thankfully the racket stops. The worker climbs out, then drags up the drill from the shaft. Curious, Matilda peers down into the steel - clad vent, then backs off hurriedly as the bob-cat plummets forward and a rain of rock and soil tumbles from the steel scoop and into the tray of the truck. The truck careers off with its load and yet another dusty figure in overalls and a steel helmet clambers out of the shaft. A familiar cream ute pulls up. As the ute's door opens, the figure turns to survey the site. - Mick! Matilda draws a sharp inward breath and flattens herself against the wall. - Yes. It is Mick. Matilda calls after him, but the moment is lost. The door slams and the ute takes off. A swirl of leaflets flurries up in the wake of the departing van.

Matilda jumps - frozen in the light of the security guard's torch. She flips open her I. D. card. "No. It's okay. My father said they were going to work day and night. Something about the methane vent." The security guard relaxes and lowers the torch.

"Oh yes. Sorry. Rory Kelly's daughter? Incredible man, your father. A true-blue Aussie. Fair dinkum. Buggered if I know where he gets his drive from, ay? - You must be real proud of him."

"Oh. Yes." Matilda pockets the I. D.

"Hey. One more thing.' - Oh no! Matilda turns. "Just wanted to wish you luck for the Festival." The guard smiles. "You must be getting excited!"

Matilda laughs unnaturally. "Excited? Oh no. Actually I've gone beyond excitement." In the light of the torch Matilda notices one of the leaflets. She picks it up. A red and yellow leaflet. In black print are the words.

A BIO-REGIONAL REPUBLIC? Matilda studies the fine print


' We Need a Vision for the Human and the Non-human World.

Aboriginal Land Right as ownership & sovereignty.

Simplified Life-styles.

Positive Vision Inspires Commitment to Needs of Place & All Life forms.

Live within the limits of Home Place - Regional Self-sufficiency -

Socially inter-dependent, not individualistic, expansionist production.

Bio-Regional Self Government.

Small Government' at Federal level, ie. Secretariat Status,

Enlarged Conservation Reserves, (with surrounding buffer zones.)

Inter-regional Trade in ecological surpluses only.'

- Strange, thinks Matilda - that these leaflets should fall from the back of Mick's ute. Surely Mick hasn't been appropriating her Bio-regional ideas? Like those political groups who ride on the coat-tails of other groups' campaigns for their own ends. Matilda thinks back to that day at the river when Mick first spoke of the gecko, his knowledge of tides at the river-mouth. Perhaps Mick's connection with the rural youth refuge farms? Might that be an influence? - Is this leaflet another of Mick's projects?

With a shudder, Matilda recalls the body of old Sam in the river. - Never found the culprit either. - Old Sam, the 'walker' who delivered leaflets for Mick's projects. Matilda recalls Mouse saying so and recalls Mick's warning glance. - What does it all mean? It's hardly possible that Mick and the refuges have genuinely gone green. Matilda wheels her bike out into the street. - What's happening to me? With a shock of recognition, Matilda realizes that she is envious of Mick. - He's got no family worth thinking about, but he's got his life together. - No! It's just that he doesn't tell me. Matilda reminds herself once again that she had agreed to Mick's conditions. "None of 'em tell me what the fuck they're up to!" she says angrily. She is about to pocket the leaflet, but on an impulse she holds it up in the light of a street lamp the better to read the fine-print at the bottom. There is a name and a Post Office Box number. Twenty Twenty! Matilda shoves the leaflet in her pocket. A notice of betrayal. No other way of looking at it. - TwentyTwenty! - This I do not need. Matilda jumps on the bicycle and hair flying, coasts rapidly down Separation Street hill. She is glad of the wind in her face.