Chapter 01-05

Chapter One


Matilda on the Melbourne-bound train draws river-maps, worrying about her mother Karolina, worrying about how even rock walls can be made to crumble. If sufficient pressure is applied, that is. Outside the train window in the Great Dividing Range, the cliffs and peaks flash by, rain riven, frost scarred. – What’s one millennium more or less to the Great Divide? thinks Matilda, her anxious face in the train window superimposed, blurred and shifting onto cliffs and crags. - But what of that other divide, when you outgrow childhood and the face of the rock, the familiar face, is suddenly impenetrable, as if wrapped up in mists? If what you utterly depend on, – the enduring ground of your being, if that crashes down, what then, thinks Matilda, her thoughts running helter-skelter in the racketing train.

Nearly dawn and fog in the foothills. Matilda recalls how Melbourne always wears fog with flair. After all she is a nineteenth century city, comfortable in shawls and veils. Matilda unwraps her journal from its blue scarf – her River Book as she likes to call it. She flicks idly through its pages. – Living on a river-bank, fossicking around in depths and eddies of the muddy, murky Yarra can give you a certain attraction to danger and mystery, she decides.

Way back, even before she started school - on nights of mists, and a round moon, she’d slip out the back window and down to the river. She’d lie on her back and listen to the evening sounds, the flutters and chuckles of kookaburras bedding down for the night; she’d shiver at the deep growls and heavy breathings, deliciously terrifying, because she knew it was only possums crashing through the branches.

- Sitting on the jetty, Matilda recalls, - that was where I’d hear the river running. I’d hear the intermittent plops and scurries in the water. I’d see faces wavering in the current – faint, indefinable and I’d think of my mother and my mother’s mother and her mother – all those faces of mothers splitting and shifting, as if they were in mists and waters, running away and away - and I’d have this idea that the arms of rivers were the arms of mothers that encircle forever the lands of home, lands that keep disappearing in those running waters.

- Hard to see clearly though. Hard to find the stories still there in the mists of winter - in fog, sneaking in from Port Phillip, obscuring Southbank, the Rialto and all those tarty, fairy-lit trees from Flinders Street to Spring Street. Matilda nearing Melbourne. Fog stirring memory, dissembling, re-assembling. - You must remember. Because forgetting necessitates invention. Matilda’s father, Rory said that once. But who remembers? Matilda drifting into landscape? Karolina? Rory? Does the land itself remember, or Melbourne town, clutching memories in mist?

Nearly dawn. Fog rolls up-river; re-members Yarra-Yarra, the masts and spars of clipper ships jostling at the King Street wharves. Matilda on the Melbourne train, still north of the Great Divide, where the sun rises early, sees for a moment a hint of crimson, crowning between belly and thighs of the Great Divide; it might be dawn - but not yet. Darwin to Melbourne – a long journey indeed.

The river is freed of the rock wall - the rapids of 1841, the rock wall Governor LaTrobe had removed for shipping access. A long time ago. Strange then, that just teetering into the next millennium, these memory-fragments stir in fog.

And all unknowing (or half remembering), the civil servants sharpen their quills with British precision. They hunch over ledgers. Matilda sees them in her mind. They name and divide the Colony that is the Land of the Kulin (though this name they do not know). Hoddle's Line - Due North he draws it. Hoddle's Line, setting the parameters of Civilization. The Great Divide, they'd named the ranges up North - barrier to settlement (and more besides!).

Plenty Road, goldfields road to the Plenty Ranges – later lost to tarmac and prosaically renamed High Street - Wobbles a little at the foot of Rucker’s Hill in Northcote, then quite foolhardy, corrects itself, heads up the steepest flank of Rucker’s, (old volcanic plug is Rucker’s Hill – oldest geological feature in Northcote) - with the now de-commissioned Town Hall at its peak, where the trams labour up the steep ramp, especially constructed for them, near a century ago, if Matilda’s got her facts correct.

The mists dismember, re-constitute. The she-oaks on Spring Street hill - growing taller than the tallest building, the Prison - the first solid building – taller even than the Strangers' Parliament. The river red gums spreading wider, deeper, thwarting Hoddle's plans; a whole bullock dray and team disappearing in the stump-hole lake on the corner of Collins Street and Elizabeth Street, the great hole in the heart of old Melbourne Town.

Matilda, studying river maps on the Melbourne train at that time of the month, drifts into landscape- a difficult sun-birth this coming day, North of the Great Divide. That Great Divide – between mothers and daughters, maybe even fathers and daughters, Rory my dad, the big guy with the smile, who knows?

And the Story Teller, Omniscient Other, doesn't laugh, not till sun-birth time, time of the Returning and the breaking of the Waters. So do not be deceived by sun-down laughter, for the sun-down racket is hysterical, the time when kookaburra snake-killer hoots and cackles in hectic clamour, railing against the darkening of the Light; when even the Story Teller is out of control in the land of the Kulin; while the Strangers sort and shape the Stories into Tall Tales and Travesties and truth is hidden in mists.

And Rory, Big Red Rory? - Matilda on the Melbourne train worries about her father, he the teller of tall tales. A mover and a shaker if ever there was one - late mid-life re-constituted hippie; nearly sixty actually. Matilda’s lips curve in a smile. - Makes things happen does my dad, Rory Kelly. She shivers. Been in Darwin too long. Going Troppo. Matilda zips up her parka. The train feels cold to her, despite the air-conditioning.

Matilda worries about her father Rory, the copious correspondence he’s sent about the job he’s offering her in Melbourne, worries about her mother Karolina. The heart attack – not critical, so they say. - Reminds me of Athena Karolina does, Athena springing fully armed from the head of Zeus. Can’t imagine my mum having a childhood. No, not Karolina. An eternal adult. How the hell could a dreamy kid like me ever cope with a mother so competent? Matilda studying river maps, considers the creeks that fought back.

Outside the train lights bore through fog. - Be in Melbourne soon, city of lost landscape. Hoddle's grid overlays the lost hills and folds of Yarra's valley. Contours disappear. Creeks too … the creeks that disappeared, straightened, concreted over, lost - like the creek that came back, remembered its place, in the city thoroughfare, came back to its old course.

- Elizabeth Street a raging torrent again, sweeping flotsam and cars before it down to Flinders Street station, (take that, Surveyor Hoddle!), connecting, almost connecting to the Yarra, in the year that Matilda first saw the light of day, little Matilda, almost connecting - even then? She with the dark eyes, dark eyes set aslant; unsettling those eyes, even to her parents, the wild child who swoops and drifts, like mist whipping away in wind.

- Of course rivers fight back. You can't control them forever. Matilda knows that. Every landscape engineer fears the Hundred - Year flood, when the river takes over. -- Grandfather Liam explained that - the time when control is lost. The Heidleberg-Warringal floods of 1849, thirty- foot floods. Obliterated everything. Farms, houses, market gardens. They had to start all over again,

Obliterated. - Grandfather Liam would know about such things, the past colliding with the present. So much for Hoddle's grid, the square grid of Melbourne town. The train rattles through the outer suburbs and screeches to a halt at Sunshine Station. Next stop Melbourne



Dawn soon. Rory at his lounge room desk by the bay window is thinking about Matilda heading homewards. Distracted for a moment, he glances at the faint sky-blush over the river, sighs and takes out a fresh sheet of paper.

‘Project Proposal’, he writes, then scratches it out vigorously. Christ, I’m already in charge of the festival state-wide – a decade of festivals! A fortunate fellow I am. He flings open the windows.

"Festival of the North?” No. Doesn't have a ring to it. –” Rory takes a long gulp of strong black coffee - coffee the way he likes it, with just a drop of the best Irish whisky and all the while the percolator bubbling aromatically beside his desk.

A concise statement – that’s what’s needed - with background material for the Minister’s Cabinet Paper, to give the fellow environmental brownie-points. A festival in each Bio-Region. Rory’s wondrous eyebrows lift heavenwards. - Had quite a bit o’ explaining to do, before the bureaucrats got even the faintest idea . A commitment to Bio-Regions as administrative entities. A definition? Yep. Rory scrawls,

‘Bio-regions, the natural climatic eco-system zones, natural, as distinct from the arbitrary dividing-lines of state borders.’

- Bio-regions. The Aborigines, knew all about bio-regions. . Rory pours a wee tot of whisky into the sweet, black coffee. - Hah! Restructuring all administrative districts into bio-regions set the Municipal Authorities dancing. Some of 'em wouldn't know a Bio-Region from ... an Anzac biscuit! Without looking Rory reaches for the cake tin he keeps on the coffee-jug table. Rory does not like feeling hungry while he is working. His taste is traditional Australian cake shop fare - jam tarts, custard slices, peanut - biscuits.

Rory is thinking about the Baby Boomers. - Making mid-life crisis fashionable now, they are. Privileged lot! What would they know? And if you're not a Baby Boomer? Late mid-life I call it. Not over the hill yet, by a long shot! The dark cheeks flush. With his long fingers he rakes through his hair, the mahogany cloud, grey-streaked. - Who ever articulated mid-life for my generation, the pre-baby-boomer lot? Us war-time kids? Rory bites hungrily into a ginger-nut biscuit. He swallows the coffee, surprised to find a lump in his throat. - Funny, must have been the biscuit. Something soft … I need. Rory wolfs down a Napoleon slice. - Get on with it man. He bends over the desk again.

- the post-festival working groups? - Important to Matilda that, yes! If I don't score that one she won't … This festival, bench-mark for a decade of festivals - has to mean something more substantial than the millennium festivals. - Festival Working Parties? Shit no. Rory’s pencil drums a tattoo on the mouse pad. – Never still, that’s Rory, not even when he’s relaxing. - Anyway, ongoing task forces. - That's it! Task Forces, of course - working as Bio-Regional Committees. Rory smiles to himself with the pleasure of the planner before the event has encountered reality. - Task Forces in each bio-region to promote the arts, whole Community sector, yes indeed! The Minister favours the intellectual side o’ things – talk-fests alongside celebrations. That’s his line for sure. So - that’s the line I’ll be takin’ and no other!

Rory sees in his mind's eye the inaugural event, the Great Concert, banners flying, the Story-telling Booths, (or is Story-Telling Stalls a better word?) - the Wild Life Corridor Information Booths. Yes! Matilda would definitely go for that. Essential to darlin’ daughter Matty, if she’s to be involved, wild life and bio-regions it is! Rory starts again on a fresh sheet.

‘... essential that the Task Forces be ongoing’ - yes. ‘Bio-regional and Green Corridor Task Forces that will enhance and protect ... ’ (He writes more confidently now)

‘ - will greatly enhance World’s Best Practice for ... ’ - Let's see. ‘Community Capacity Building, Community-corporate Partnerships for social harmony.’ Yup! that’ll do fine!

- Too bad the Minister for Industry and the Environment didn't quite promise the Urban Wild-life Corridors. Though he did infer ? The dark eyes soften. What a coup! Nelson Magnum on the policy committee ... The Handshake! - On all the evening newscasts. The impeccable suit, the ski-slopes tan; was the smile really...? Nice touch, the little pudding-basin bush-hat. Slight serrations of the teeth, slight curl almost of the lip; - definitely a commanding smile though. - And, to be named at the Press Conference! Rory devours the press release with his eyes.

‘... actually the brain child of Mr. Rory Kelly ... on-going Festival Working Groups,’ (must change that to Task Forces), ‘While retaining state entities and borders, for environmental administration purposes only, there will be a division of the entire nation into Bio-Regions .’

-Such an impressive presence - a fine speech. (Rory lapses into his father's brogue), ‘bringing together collaborative Task Forces’. - Ah! I did put ‘Task Forces’ in the press release - Good! And Nelson Magnum has correctly articulated it here, - ‘A network of green corridors linking all creeks and rivers ... - yes, ‘to launch this land into the future throughout the Millennium.’ - Millennium? Been done to death. But since they’ve promised a whole decade’s worth of festivals, why not? – ‘Millennium Ten’. We’ll hold the Grand Opening right here in Northcote. The City of Melbourne’s not going to host this . No way!

Rory re-writes the Cabinet Paper title, takes another gulp of coffee pours in just a dash of the good whisky and raises his mug to, ‘The Boy in the Canoe’, six year old Rory, His photograph. His special photograph enshrined on the wall.

- Come a long way from Darwin and old Ireland and those ... Other days, Rory old son!

“Well, even if I myself am only first generation Australian,” says Rory aloud, “I toast you too, Patrick O'Brien, 1850 to 1867, Warringal Schoolmaster.” Rory turns to the sepia photographs on the wall. "And you too, Father Viventius Bourgeois - Parish Priest of Warringal - dwellers in bark huts, pioneers the both of yez.” Rory raises his coffee mug again. "Warringal, the French and the Irish!"

- Nice of me old Dadda to tell Matilda that a relative, even if a distant one, crossed oceans in the coffin ships of 1848, the Great Famine - a link to that generation,. Not exactly an active committee member of the 150th anniversary o’ the Great Irish Potato Famine ... still, organizing the Potato Famine Anniversary Festival in 1998, if nothing else ... gave me the contacts. Rory munches reflectively on a ginger nut biscuit and turns on the computer. “Connections to Australia, ancestors o’ this land, ancestors of ould Ireland, connections to the Dry Continent, the Dead Heart. “it’s these connections I must have. Indeed, indeed.”

He shrugs. - Then there's Karolina's angina. My god. - They say to rest ... Rory sighs. - I hope Matilda won't feel that I'm pressurizing her with this green corridor job … Rory often pictures Karolina as a Dark Presence; - vibrant of course, though, wouldn't dream of criticizing her career-choice. And my god, her work-load! A wonderful woman. I wish we two could once again be if not actually as man and wife then ... No. No use in hopin’. He grins suddenly. She still laughs at me though, when we spend the odd night together.

- And Matilda, a gem ... Rory’s smile widens. - My best critic. She loves her old Dadda. No, Karolina and Rory may be separated as man and wife ... But Matilda, she keeps the family together, yes. Those eyes though! Like being drawn into a rock pool. - Ridiculous! Afraid of your own wife and daughter.

Rory wonders if Matilda got the latest Fax, wonders if old Liam's got garrulous? - After all, he did unearth this new information about the ancestors. - No. Can't imagine my Dadda changing tack now, the auld spalpeen - wandering worker, made his pile now - cargo boats, Cairns to Sulawesi and all the memories buried under it. He glances at his sandalwood chest. There is reverence in his eyes. - Loving memories at least. No harm in that.

Matilda on the Melbourne train, heading home from Darwin, heading into deeper waters than they all imagine.



Karolina's eyes are like two fiery, brown flints embedded deep in the purple rings of her eye-sockets. She hasn't been to bed at all. Nearly dawn and a fog outside. The room feels overheated though. Her dog, Bonegilla, stirs on the rug. Bonegilla is a German Shepherd Corgi cross. Matilda and Rory have always been amused by Karolina's succession of small dog, Shepherd - cross animals.

"Bonegilla to honour my migrant past,” in memory of Bonegilla Migrant Hostel. After all I was only seven when I came here. Bonegilla Hostel was naturally my first real memory."

Karolina wonders how long Matilda has been away this time. - Over four years? Hard to keep track of Matilda's comings and goings. I wanted so much to give her freedom, that I didn’t impose boundaries. Let her wander off with Rory like a little, apprentice hippie. How was I to know that she’d hit adolescence overnight? No family life to speak of once Matilda turned fourteen. And the sparks have been flying ever since. Why does the past always repeat itself in the daughter? She seems to return just at the time when I need, no ... when ... Well. I suppose it's actually when her Park Ranger's contracts run out. - Darwin this time. Staying with Rory's dadda, the wily old goat. Not much of a father to Rory I'd guess, the wanderlusting old ... must be filthy rich by now - cargo boats, wasn't it? Now he's into importing. - Well the old bastard produced a charming blarney-boy of a husband for me ... Christ, I’m even beginning to sound like him and me a gal from the Balkans! Why can't I be rid of the man though?

She returns to the screen. - Of course once I finish my Masters’. . . Still not happy with the title, she muses, ‘The Refugee Experience - Deconstructing Personal Narratives.’ - Deconstructing! I hate this bloody post-modernist crap. Deconstruct and what do you find? Suddenly Karolina feels a great longing for her daughter. - Matilda seems to have a knack of coming back when I ... She compresses her lips. – That child is so utterly precious to me.

Karolina throws open the window to the fog, plum-grey now, with the struggling sunrise. She shivers and squares her shoulders. - What has that girl got? There is bitterness in her eyes ... I am a successful manager. Got my English as a Second Language Qualification when Matilda was fourteen, then ... Karolina’s hand goes to her brow. - Did that break up the marriage? Her mouth tightens. - I had to keep body and soul together, while mid-life Rory wandered off folk singing and womanizing and now ... Matilda coming home. Probably won’t stay with me. She’ll take off to Corey’s most likely, just like she did when she was fourteen. Must be this drought, winter drought - no autumn rain, no winter rain - dry, dry - a bag of tough, dry bones. Now then Karolina! she berates herself, You've got a Master’s degree to finish, and you are going to be right on schedule for – success!

The radio crackles. - The early morning News. "Mr.Rory Kelly, Director of the state-wide Millennium Festival series ..."

Karolina half hears as she adjusts the Layout.

"Task Forces to oversee the Story-telling Australia project ... Bio-Regional Task Forces to ensure that criss-crossing the state, the Green Corridors become a reality, " the radio voice announces. "Great Concert and Exhibition ... a ten year process of documentation, celebration and participation, ... "

Karolina snaps the radio off and hits Enter for Print Out with more than usual force, as the fog rolls into the room.



Mick, waiting on the platform of the Sunshine railway station, stamps his feet against the cold.

“ - Sunshine!” - he mutters in the mist. “What idiot named this place Sunshine?” His fingers are inert and blue on the bicycle handles. Drifts of steam issue from his lips. He winds the long scarf up to his nose. With only the worried, hazel eyes visible. - What to do if the train doesn’t stop? Matilda's on this train - coming down from Darwin via Sydney to a Melbourne winter. Well this news isn't going to warm her heart. But we do go back a long way. Two kids hanging out at Shopping Malls. Propping for the night at Corey’s place. Sleeping rough wasn’t a problem for me. Never knew any different. But Matilda. I could see straight away that she’d been loved only recently. – Knew how to take care of herself though – so resourceful you’d think at first she’d been living on the streets for months. He shakes his head. - No way did I want to see her go down my sort of road. His eyes turn inward. - If I hadn’t put my pride in my pocket and taken us both off to Corey’s, I’d never have found the best friend I ever - I hope to Christ, this time ... Mick closes his eyes tight. – I must be fair. You just can’t tie Matilda down. I know that. Keep the personal side out of it. But I’ll have to tell her about the crisis before … Have to ask her. Not fair of me to - . The train looms through the fog . A few passengers alight. Mick swings the bicycle aboard. - Illegal probably for a suburban passenger to board an inter-state train. He secures the bike onto a rail and searches the compartments .

“Mick! What on earth?” A quick hug from Matilda. She searches his face.

"It's been a long time - four years.” says Mick.

“No, fifty months.” Matilda likes to be accurate. . "But why ..."

“Bit of a crisis, Matt. Thought I could count on childhood friendship. Two kids on the run taking refuge at Corey’s place. Had to get to you before your Mum and Dad.” Mick sounds offhand, but Matilda knows his ways.

She frowns. "Is it the Festival? – No? Mum - Is she okay? Dad said her heart. You keep in contact. I’ve been so worried - "

"No, no. Your Mum seems all right. But, actually Matt. It's me. It is connected to the Festival in a way but,” The words come in a rush. "Matilda – Matt. They're closing the Youth Refuge down, not just ours, but all twenty of the Youth Education projects!” Mick shakes his head. “Look, I'm sorry. It's unforgivable of me to front up like this

but – ”

Practical Matilda cuts in, "Mick, we'll be in Melbourne in twenty minutes. So, two points - the reason for the closure. And what you want me to do about it?"

“O - kay". Mick collapses on the seat and unwinds his scarf. "Well, as you know we lost all our funding six years ago except for the premises. Had to raise alternative funding from the churches, public appeals, go commercial, - that's when I started the Youth Building and Maintenance Project ..."

“I know, I know ... Go on Mick "

Mick swallows. "Well now the Community Affairs Department is arguing that, that the kids are motivated, not without personal resources, that if they're capable of undertaking Year Twelve, they're not destitute, not, as they say, ‘truly needy.’ In other words,” Mick twists the scarf in his hands, "our very success is our undoing. Because we move the kids on to normal school and housing when they're ready - "

“So are they just going to tip the kids on to the streets?"

"In effect, yes. Because you can guess the Department's alternative. Foster parents, adult mentors. You don't know my co-workers Cal. and Mouse. Also the kids we've got now - there's no way they'd fit in to some nice middle class home . . .”

Matilda nods . “Yeah. They'd rather …"

"Exactly. Back to the streets. No more school. But look I wouldn't be here just because of the closure. One of our Media Studies groups started an Internet project. It's important for us. - No time to go into that. But, one thing led to another and now we hope to staff one of the Festival story-telling stalls, where people tell their stories related to the Millennium, you know? But now.” Mick blinks. "Matt, they cut the phones off last night - Look, this letter ... “

Matilda scans the paper. “ ‘Notice to vacate . . . twenty eight days ... All twenty of the Youth Education Projects to close ... after-school coaching but on a fee paying basis . . .’ - Bastards! You’re going to fight it?"

"In our own way, yes. We've got a plan. You're part of it. At least I hope you will be. You could be positioned in such a way. .. But I can't tell you yet. It could be - dangerous is too strong a word, but ... Matilda, how much do you know about your father's Festival?”

"Only that he got the job as state-wide Festival organizer and that my Action Research is to be used for an oral history project, that it’s connected with extending green corridors. He asked me to come back, because - ”

Matilda parodies her father's deep, rapid voice, - “ ‘exciting new concept - the grass roots meets the mainstream – vastly expanded, wild life corridors linking all state wide Bio-Regions. - A real chance to make a difference.’ ” She grins. “He wants me to coordinate between the government’s bio-regional task-forces.” She shrugs. “Despite Rory’s enthusiasm, he’s no environmentalist. Community arts – festivals. None better than my dad. But this green corridor program’s been tacked on as some kind of dodgy, government public relations sweetener.. Maybe he just wants me back home. Rory and Karolina, they’re always on at me about that. - But Mick, he said Mum was having another ‘incident’ - her heart ... Anyway my Darwin contract finished up. I'd almost decided to come home. - Something I've got to do." She looks away. “I – I’m not clear what on earth needs to be put right, but Mick, my Mum was a rock to me and then ... Well it all went wrong as you know.” Matilda blinks. “Sorry Mick. More of that later.”

Mick fumbles in his pocket, hands Matilda the Festival leaflet. “No, got it. Dad's Fax . He’s sent me heaps of info!"

Mick's voice is urgent. "Matt, if you get involved in the Festival, you could help us, but then again it might affect - not your reputation, but - perhaps your career path.”

“Career path? You sound like my mother!”

“ - I'm not asking you just yet, Matilda, but if you'll give such an unclear request some thought ."

Matilda takes Mick's hand and puts it against her cheek. "You're working too hard by the looks of it old friend. Of course if I can do anything. But if I will need to be filled in."

Mick smiles. "That's all I needed to hear."

"Here we are, Melbourne already.” Matilda shoves her hair into a wollen beanie. hoists the back-pack down from the overhead rack and lets out a long sigh. "I could do with some sleep. Corey's an early riser ."

"You staying at Corey's? Jeez, won’t your mum be upset?” A dark copper strand of Matilda’s hair has escaped from the rainbow beanie. Matilda’s hair, like her father’s, is so thick and uncontrollable, that Karolina has always despaired of her daughter ever approximating her own well-groomed neatness. Mick takes up the errant strand and pulls the beanie down over Matilda’s ears. “Listen Matt, come round to our place. You can get a couple of hours' sleep before the kids get up. That is, if you don't mind sharing the futon.” Mick's mouth twitches, "We're a bit crowded at the moment.”



At Spencer Street station they board the suburban train. An announcement crackles through the intercom. Some problem. Everyone has to alight at Parliament Station .

Once on the Underground Matilda feels like a child again, thrilled by the roar of the underground loop train, deep below the surface of the city. Surprisingly she feels safe down here. It's years since she's been here at Parliament Station - so high-tech, so tacky, decorated with squat, white, moulded-aluminium pillars, apparently intended to evoke the pillars of Parliament House, directly above the station.

The Parliament Station escalator ascends like a giant silver caterpillar. All is silver - shades of silver. The silver - grey, grooved steps are like the teeth of some monstrous creature, the roof of the escalator shaft a stark and sparkling silver, more searing than the banks on banks of fluorescent tubes, reflecting their white-light glare on to all the metal surfaces, in shocking and blinding mirrors of light. The painful light beats down from the curved arch of the silver ceiling in dazzling reflections - a vast silver cave, with the escalator an endless and glittering Luna Park machine, into whose maw Matilda may well be swallowed up and hurtled back down into the depths again.

Just before reaching street-level, Matilda quells the vertigo and forces herself to turn and look back down the gullet of the escalator, a tanned and lanky Persephone, re-entering with trepidation a world she once knew.

Buskers and beggars loom like disembodied beings in the fog, haunting the entrance to the underworld of Parliament Station. Crowds pour out of the trams.

"Shift workers?”

" More likely part-timers and casuals these days", says Mick.

In the early morning half light, clusters of yellow globes, like out- of-season Christmas lights are strung in all the trees. As they stride down Bourke Street, Matilda is struck by the frequency of flags, flags in shiny, colourful fabrics, bearing indecipherable logos hang limply from all the lamp posts. The street vendors' stalls, painted in uniform Brunswick green ‘heritage’ colours also flaunt flags on their pointed, aluminium, circus-tent roofs, metal pennants cast in a manner suggestive of flapping in a stiff breeze. But, as Matilda recalls it, the South-westerlies don't usually blow in from the Bay till the afternoon.

In the mist vague shapes loom suddenly and as suddenly disappear. An animal, dog-like, barrel-chested and wide of girth, with pointed ears and a gross pig-like snout bulks fearsomely out of the fog. Matilda swerves just in time. Mick grins. The creature is only a bronze sculpture.

On every block there is a McDonald’s, a Kentucky Fried, a Hungry Jack's, so it comes as no surprise to Matilda, when they come across on the pavement, as if forgotten by a giant shopper, an open purse, a metre wide, sculpted in pink granite, a bizarre reminder of the altars that graced old St, Francis' church - red Galway granite and green granite from Cork. - Were they still there, she wonders? - Atop a tall, tapered, bronze pillar, a fragile, cartoon-like, female figure, with tossing hair and flag-like wings a-flap like two pennants, is poised for flight. - Like me, thinks Matilda, - yes, trying to escape the city.

Matilda is helping Mick strap the bike on the roof-rack, when the mobile shrills. Matilda, untangling herself from the back-pack, just manages to scramble in as the car screams off.

"Sorry, Matilda. Emergency."

Mick's statement barely sinks in, such is the unreality to her - fresh from Darwin and disoriented in the winter fog. Mick hits the accelerator, frowning, tense, erect in the seat. But Matilda, half awake, half asleep, dreams almost in the surreal streetscape. She becomes aware that Mick is speaking.

"My fault. We usually patrol the city in twos. It's Cal. Our new worker, you’ll like her. Some sort of trouble. She had to go out alone. Nearly there. Just around the next corner.”

The car screeches to a halt. A siren screeches behind them. A blue light slices through the fog, but Mick is there a fraction ahead of the police. Matilda hears a scratching sound beside car door. She glances down and sees a thin face looking up at her. The thin, pale rosebud lips are compressed tightly. The head is shaven, but for a tiny blonde tuft - like a veranda, thinks Matilda, Then she realizes - It's the attacker! She hits the horn - hard, and the figure sprints off between the buildings and up over a fence.

Cal holds the girl tight. She must be no more than fourteen. – The girl is beyond weeping though. She trembles violently, face drained of colour, as the blood soaks into the shirt-sleeve Cal has torn off to stop the flow. The gash runs thin, but deep, from cheek-bone to just below the jaw-line. A razor probably. Any lower and an artery would have been sliced through. Unthinkable. Matilda slides down in the seat. She tries to shut her eyes, but finds herself drawn to the blue lights spinning, the shadowy bulk of the police, the blood-sodden shirt sleeve, the thin, white face of the girl, the brilliant eyes of Cal. The police take over. Cal and Mick flip open ID cards. Cal argues with the police.

"No, I'm coming with her. I can identify. Yes. No. I'm quite O.K. Black eye swelling up. That's all."

To Matilda crouched in the car, the voices are crisp, professional. I couldn't concentrate in a crisis the way those two do - as well as give comfort to the girl. Cal's eye is swelling fast, puffed up in a purpling bruise, but her uninjured eye is intent, focused, the brilliant blue of ... Darwin Harbour ... Ridiculous! Matilda jerks upright. Drifting off, I was, she chides herself - drifting off. ... - But blue perhaps, those eyes, more like the police car light flashing. Cal probably wouldn't appreciate the comparison. But, yes that's it, yes, very blue ... Mustn't go to sleep, because I can identify - Matilda presses her nails hard into her palms ... She is thankful when Mick slides into the driver's seat and she falls asleep immediately on his shoulder.


Chapter Two


Warehouses converted into apartments encircle the youth refuge.

Softened by the fog, the old building, looks surprisingly peaceful. Matilda, shivering in the unaccustomed Melbourne Winter still sees her home city with tropical eyes, - Cool, cultured Melbourne. Shape up or ship out. – Well it didn't work, even when I faced it down in Darwin. I just don’t have my mother’s guts.

Mick fusses with an extra doona cover. Matilda in Tee shirt and nickers sits cross-legged on the futon, her long, brown frog-fingers, her soft, clever fingers twisting the thick hair into a loose knot. - A frog princess, that’s what she is, thinks Mick, but I don’t get to kiss.

Matilda looks stricken. “Mick I’ve gotta make it right with Karolina. She’s one gutsy woman. I keep trying to work out what went wrong. Umm, maybe Karolina’s just a childhood person, you know? Not skilled when the child starts a life of its own?” Her sigh turns into an enormous yawn.

“I know we're both whacked but,” Mick's eyebrow quirks upward, "a bit of lovin'? I like it with you Matt. I know you don't often. . ."

"No, I don't often. A long hug would be nice though. Gotta face the folks in the morning"

Matilda wakes to a sound like a hundred elves in hiking boots tramping in fields of broken glass. Her stomach lurches as the bowels of Parliament Station, in shards and splinters, spurt forth to the surface in sharp blades, its underground steel. Matilda clings frantically, as the escalator plummets to white-hot light, then back to black depths. She hears a whispered announcement, "The Tunnel at the end of the Light", then a merciful silence as she opens her eyes to Cal squatting comfortably by the video-recorder, dark blue eyes intent on the screen.

"Sorry.” Cal swiftly presses the ‘Mute’ button. On screen Cal is seen alone in a dark lane. Matilda just catches the words, ‘Five years on the streets.’ and, ‘Homeless means a lot more than being without shelter.’ A single tear slides out between Matilda’s lashes, catching her by surprise. Cal Fast Forwards to an intense exchange between Cal (and - her father perhaps?), concluding with a long, tearful embrace. The camera zooms in, to a photograph - Surely Cal's mother?

The next shots are blurred, grainy; in black and white; the camera jumps and jars; then grinds to agonizing slow-motion; clubs, pistols, cattle-prods? It is difficult to distinguish the weapons of the beatings. A group of women in a city square hold up photographs; one is of Cal's mother. ‘Desparacido’ flashes across the screen Cal's father appears close-up, tears in his eyes. Sub-titles; he is speaking in Spanish perhaps?

"We were in the Resistance. I could not tell you. Even in Australia I feared reprisals. Through my fear, I almost lost my daughter.”

Cal nods scribbling something in a note-book. “That’s it” she mutters, satisfied.

Matilda wipes away the surprise tear with the back of her hand. – How can Cal watch this loss of daughters so nonchalantly? - Why should she, Matilda feel this desperate longing? Cal grins across at Matilda. – She knows! Matilda is filled with the foreboding of not knowing what it is that Cal perceives. – Oh God, I’m envious of Cal. – This much I know, thinks Matilda, her mouth tightening, Cal has travelled down a road that’s closed to me. Cal’s grin fades, but she does not drop her eyes. Matilda looks away. – Cal looks so young, but she seems totally – what? – In possession of herself? Because Cal posesses her story, she owns her own heart. Perhaps making the video has been a catalyst?

Cal presses ‘Pause’."Sorry ... Something I had to check. Hot chocolate's brewing. And porridge. Do you like it?” Her injured eye is swelling up. Promises to be a real shiner.

"Like it? It's ace.” Matilda struggles to keep her response even. “That hand-held camera! Can we see through to the end?"

"Sure. But breakfast first. It's a cold morning.” Matilda asks if they are going to use the video for the Festival. Cal nods. "There’s four story-telling rounds, with a multi media exhibition – writing; crafts; - a snapshot of . . .”

Mick interrupts, "Matilda wrote the original submission. It grew out of action research she did with young women living on the streets. She turned the action research into a play and . . .”

Matilda looks embarrassed. "Yes. Well, not exactly. I wrote the proposal for the community story-telling. We workshopped the play. Then it snowballed.” Matilda wishes Cal would stop looking at her in that knowing way. “I'm beginning to think there's a danger of over-kill, you know?” Matilda adopts a self-mocking tone. “Once the bureaucracy favours your project . . ."

Cal smiles agreement, "True. Like the first of these videos – made purely for funding-promotion. - History of the youth refuge movement; our rural projects. Three videos of different kids' stories. – the stories, that’s what really matters.”Cal takes out the cassette. Our theatre group does a globalisation performance - connections to local unemployment. Got great reviews.” She shrugs. "Won't impress some of our patrons.”

“Well I’m impressed.” Matilda hopes she sounds casual. Self-possessed. Like Cal.

A small, dark head with a pair of very alert eyes appears around the kitchen door. "G'day, I'm Mouse. Hot chocolate coming up"

Matilda is pleased. - Breakfast! And still early enough to head down to the river, before dropping the gear off at Corey's. There is a loud knock at the door. They freeze. Matilda apprehends the extent of the tension, when Mick pulls the doona completely up over the two of them. She doesn't feel less ridiculous, when she hears the voices. It is Maggie, with a friend.

"Matilda. No, don't get up.” says Maggie, stating the obvious, as Matilda and Mick stare up at the visitors from under Mick’s ruffled thatch and Matilda’s wild curls - their two heads displayed, like coconuts at a fair-ground.

"Corey said you might be here. Maggie is her usual friendly, blustery self. “Matilda, meet Bonny, the new light of my life. Just wanted to make sure you got this, - the Women's Oral History update, You got the pre-conference papers? Here - Story Telling sessions – the dates.” Maggie waves a folder. “Hope we didn't wake you up. The meeting's Thursday. Really sorry to barge in so early. But seeing you wrote the original submission, you'll be a certainty for the Steering Committee, a shoe-in."

Maggie, resplendent in her velvet patchwork jacket, sprawls in the only arm-chair, as Mick signals to Mouse for his jeans. With an offer of coffee, Cal diverts attention from Mick and Matilda hastily clothing their nakedness under the doona

"Yes, porridge, if it's not too much trouble. - Bonny? Yes, both of us.”

“No, I'm fine on the floor.” Bonny sits, her thin frame braced comfortably against Maggie's knees. Maggie fusses with the milk and sugar.

"Got to be careful of the new jacket. Bonny made it, the love.” She plants a kiss on Bonny's forehead. "Goes down well at the Literature Board. Bonny's on the Steering Committee too. Works in women's refuges.”.

Bonny glances around the room with a sceptical eye. "This place here,” asserts Bonny, taking in the ancient stove, the graffitied murals, the boys and girls - dreadlocked and body-pierced, surfacing for breakfast and Mick and Matilda, still under the doona, bowls on their knees. "I'm told this place is a Youth Refuge?” she asks an edge to her voice.

Mick puts the bowl between his knees. "Officially it's a Youth Refuge, but it's also a return to study project. The full name is, the Youth Education Housing Program. Mostly it's shortened to Y. E. H .P., so people call it "YEP.” He grins slightly. "You get it?"

"If that's a joke, it’s not particularly funny," replies Bonny. “And it's even less funny that you've got kids from the streets - some of them possibly under-age, living in a mixed household."

Mick carefully balances the hot mug Mouse has offered. His voice is measured, the response of one long familiar with criticism. "Seeing you're making these comments with the residents present, I'll leave it to them to respond."

Zack takes Bonny's empty porridge bowl. "Glad you liked the mixed household porridge.” His face is expressionless. "We‘re legally incorporated. So you're way out of your depth, lady.” He pauses, flushes, realizing the over-reaction and adds clumsily, ‘with respect". Cal continues smoothly.

“You're welcome to come to one of our committee meetings, Bonny. We’d be keen for you to see the set of videos we’ve made for the story-telling side of the festival.” Cal reaches for the sugar smiling slightly. “You could even come round to seeing things our way, before we get evicted next month."

Maggie, cheeks flushed explains the situation to Bonny, wondering why Bonny hasn't heard of the YEHPS. "All the Youth Education Housing Programs have been de-funded. There are some single-sex houses. But Bonny, the YEHPS have a good track record."

"Let's hope they keep it.” Bonny smiles suddenly. "On a less contentious note, the funding for the women’s conference got the green light."

Maggie explains, "The Literature Board was impressed with your idea, Matilda. The oral history videos and live performances are on-track for regional launching. The bad news.” Bonny flips through a manilla folder muttering, " um, ‘Women and Housing’ - this’ll be a great festival movie! - ‘Bonegilla Migrant Camp.’

“Bonegilla! That's my Mum's dog.” interjects Matilda.

"Here it is. - ‘Womens’ Action Research Project.’ ” Bonny passes the letter to Maggie. Maggie looks distressed.

Matilda's spoon stops mid-journey. "How bad?"

"Nothing. The letter says, ‘Funding denied. The Ministry considers that a professional market research organization would be better equipped to collate the oral hist . ’ . ”But it's got nothing to do with Market Researchers, for Christsakes!” Matilda's spoon clatters into the empty bowl, "The women from the Neighbourhood Centres - it's their stories.” Matilda's cheeks are flushed. She pushes the tangle of long hair away from her eyes. "The research has already been done The women should have the recognition."

"Get real!” Bonny takes Matilda's bowl. "Sorry. Don't mean to be blunt, but you're talking a different lingo with these turkeys in Canberra."

Matilda pulls the doona up to her chin, her voice tight. "No, of course, you're right. It's just such a . . .”

“Don't worry, Matty darls.” Maggie hauls herself out of the armchair. “We'll work something out at the Steering Committee".

Bonny turns one hand on the doorknob. - Is the parting shot vindictive or is it merely mischievous? - "You do need to wise up though.” She winks at Mick. "These het feminists are more easily conned by the males". And she is gone.

"Now what did I do to deserve that?"

Mick sluices the bowls. "You're you and you're here- Youth Refuges - everybody's target.”

"But Maggie's one of my oldest friends. How could she ? . . .”

Mick hangs up the teatowels. "Territorial. Perhaps Bon's letting you know.”

"Oh, Mick. That's a very blokey comment.”

"So women are perfect?"

"No, but ... "

“Matt, nearly forgot. Can I borrow your climbing gear?"

"Sure. But I'll have to search for it. I think it's at Mum's place. Is it urgent?"

"Not exactly. I do need it ASAP though. - Gotta go.” Mick sounds edgy. "Ahmet’ll be outside.”

“Ahmet!” Matilda smiles, “He’s still working in the refuge then?”

“No Not exactly. Ahmet works with us on employment projects now. He’s starting up a big building contract today.” Mick picks up a sheaf of papers. “Matt, I’ll be in touch soon. – Bit of a crisis I have to deal with . You can borrow the bike if you want to go to . . ."

“The River. Yes please!”

Ahmet’s tall figure appears in the doorway. “Matilda! You’re back!” But Mick hustles Ahmet out and they are off.

Matilda, just back from Darwin, huddled in thick parka and boots, strides purposefully through river mists in her long, stockinged legs. In the river gorge, she appears little more than a wraith, a blurred and lanky blob. Down the steep steps from the boat-shed she slides and crunches in frost - the river bank silent in morning fog resonates to the clatter of boots on decking, the steps white, powdered, slippery with frost, the river bank silent in morning fog resonating with the clatter of boots on decking, the steps white, powdered, - slippery with frost. She nods good-morning to the cormorants and water-hens, up before the ducks, perched already on the skiffs and canoes.

The back-pack is heavy with her belongings - All my worldly goods. Silly I suppose to feel I've got to come here first, before dropping my things off. - But the river; had to check in to the river first. Matilda surveys the curve of the river, the graceful Federation lines of the Boat-shed coffee- house, the sweep of the willows, the wattles and eucalypts on the opposite bank, the frost-encrusted span of the old, pipe-bridge.

- Bit different from the Northern Territory – King-tide country. There the water'll sweep you off your feet. But now back in Melbourne, back at the Yarra - homeland river. - It's like ... like I have to finish something. She stops for a moment on the landing hitching up her back-pack.

Matilda zips up her parka against the bite of the river mists, pulls the rainbow beanie down over her ears and squats carefully on the frosty decking, pushing against the bollard with one boot, drawing the skiff closer and throwing the back-pack into the scuppers. Water-hens flutter off the prow and early-morning sea-gulls hover hungrily above the back-pack, which is spilling into the skiff the half -eaten sandwiches she had bought on the train.

Unloose the moorings. First, rub the scarf along the oars, de-frosting, yes and swing out into the River. Matilda hums a frosty hum in tune with the oars and little puffs of steam float out of her full, cherry lips. Up-stream first, towards Warrandyte, past the swirl where the Darebin enters the Yarra. Through the tumble and rush of waters - rowing more strongly now, faster than the ducks - black ducks, the wild ducks. Teals as well, Muscovies-big whites. An Indian Runner. - domestic escapees, like me, I guess. Matilda casts off the parka and the rainbow beanie and lets her dark-copper curls warm to the sun.

Mist rises in straggles off the water, sun gilt-edging scimitar leaves of dripping red gums. Matilda lifts the oars a moment. Mist clearing a little reveals a scree of stone and rubble across the river. Impassable for boats. Tears slide out from her dark lashes. - Perhaps if I overland to the next stretch. No. You're in the city now. Besides,how do I know there won't be yet another barrier. . .

She holds the skiff motionless, listens to the river, the sucking, rushing chortle of white water over wet rocks. Matilda turns the skiff. A few early rising birds whisper wake-up calls. Kookaburras start their slow, sleepy chuckles. She recognizes the chortles and squawks of the rainbow lorikeets and the metallic call of a wattle bird.

- No. Can't be. Wattle bird'’s intermittent, like a rusty gate. No. -Too regular for a wattle bird, she decides, cross with herself for not recognising the call.

In the half-light of the misty morning, Matilda feels quite light-headed. - Lack of sleep? Or culture-shock. - A foreigner almost, she has to admit, in her Melbourne and her river also - unfamiliar.

Dark shadows dart under the prow. - Must be diving ducks, water-hens? - No. Matilda grasps a branch jutting out over the current, checks for safety. Old Black Wattle - could be borers, unstable. – OK. This time the creature, jolts the side of the skiff. Matilda feels a soft thud at the stem. There’s two of them. She calms the rising fear. - Matilda - River woman. You're at home here. Yarra, your river. They've gone! No - diving deep - twisting, turning, whipping round. But they're not fish - Birds? No - sleek like little seals - river's so murky here and the fog doesn't help. -

Platypus! Unbelievable, they're never seen these days below the Plenty River. Must be platypus. - A vortex, swishing sleek in the vortex. At home in the river. Platypus. Of course. They're playing! - With me?

Shafts of sunlight sift through the mist. There in a sparkle of water droplets - Breaking the surface - A platypus! And another. Matilda splattered with water sparkles, alive with fog-dew, remembers the Sealy Woman tale, - Dad's Irish story, the Sealy Woman - Shape Shifter. Platypus Shape Shifter? She takes a deep river breath, breathes in river mist, in her mind feels herself swooping, diving deep in river mud, twisting and turning in river corroborees of the platypus. She laughs from her belly. “ Platypus Woman!” And then they are gone.

Easy run home to Fairfield. Hardly need to row. Just glide with the current. She feels a hum rising again as her craft takes her, secure and shining down river.

Back at the Boat-shed Cafe, sipping coffee, Matilda is surprised to see Mick, Cal and Mouse struggling down the track to the Boat-house burdened with large boxes. Mick and Mouse share the load of an even larger box encircled with twine.

“Here, let me fix those handles.” Matilda is an expert when it comes to knots. "There, that's better. - Guess what. I’ve seen a platypus. No, two.” .

"Lucky you - You'll find it hard to convince anyone, though.” says Mick flatly. "They need clear water - pristine. Can't take the phosphate and lead in the sediment - Run-off from cars is the worst.” Mick and Mouse haul the large box up through the Boat-shed Cafe entrance. "Anyway, from what you tell me, the Environment Protection mob's as toothless as an old man platypus. So, if the pollution doesn't get 'em, the feral cats will.” .

Matilda is surprised. She didn't think Mick knew much about wild-life. - Street-wise, living rough. That's more his line.

"Yes," Mick continues, “They go fossicking around in the slushy, deep mud. Think they'll find nourishment there. But we've ruined it for them. - All overlaid,” his brows knit for a moment, "with our muck".

If Mick is so familiar with platypus habitats, why doesn't he believe me ? thinks Matilda crossly.

Mick manages a smile. “I did see a gecko sunning himself on a rock at the top of the track. Put out my finger to say hello to the little feller. But he just drops his tail and runs. Leaves this fat, wriggling tail behind. The original street kids, ay? On the run. Hunter-gatherers of the city. Living light."

There is an awkward silence as Cal organises the coffee tray. Since this morning, her eye has taken a turn for the worse; the brilliant blue eye is little more than a sunken slit in the purpling bruise.

Mick stirs the coffee as he speaks. "Sometimes when you try to solve a problem, the solution turns up so many extra problems, that you wonder why you started off trying to solve it in the first place. Stuff up, solution. New stuff up.”

Cal nods. “So true. - Thesis. Antithesis. New Thesis. - New opportunity for cappuccino, right?” With a wink of the one, uninjured, blue eye, she heads for the coffee counter. Mick secures the boxes under a table.

“Makes more sense than a platypus in the lower Yarra.” He straightens up, then shrugs. "Sorry Matilda. Must seem like we're talking in riddles here. You need to be filled in properly. You staying at Corey's for a while?"

"Probably", Matilda replies in a hurt tone. Then she repents. After all Mick is under a lot of pressure. "Yes. But I'll give you a ring just in ... "

"No. Phone's cut off. And we have to keep the mobile strictly for emergency calls. I'll give you a ring in a few days and we'll talk then.”


Chapter Three


Rory, in his office sips bitter coffee. “So here you are old son. Back in the White Collar game again. Successful. Not like ... Still nobody could say I can't take a joke. - Memory like an elephant.” Rory slips into his father's brogue. “I don't forget the burdens I've carried, though there's no telling of ‘em.”

- Momentary relief. That's all I ever wanted. Ecstasy to sweep away grief. Arts was a growth industry in the Whitlam era. Ministerial Advisor. Those community forums. Heady days. Building Australian culture we were. Who better than Golden Boy Rory Kelly - wild colonial boy, turned Arts Administrator?

Rory swivels the office chair to face the poster wall - his posters - Ned Kelly, Celtic and Folk Concert posters, the clapping, the hand-shakes.

Handshakes, dismissals, betirayals. 1975 - The people take to the streets again. Never been political and by then I was a married man. Wife and child. But the balloon was collapsing. Got my hair cut then. Rory grins. Me lovely Afro hair just had to go. Those hand-shakes changed to hand-shakes on the deal.

- Always shook hands with women colleagues. Yes indeed. Nobody could call me sexist. - Except of course my wife. Taught me all I ever learned about feminism - the hard way. Got a lot to thank the dear woman for really - Handshakes and friendships. Hold the hand a little longer, clasp a tad less firm, perhaps with women colleagues. My downfall, those handshakes. Albertine was the first, despite Karolina's disbelief - certainly the first major relationship. Rory's heavy brows knit for a moment, then the fine, dark features soften. The wide mouth breaks into its crooked grin. - Albertine! Reminded me of all those gorgeous, young girls at ‘Outpost Inn’ back in the Sixties - the free and easy loving at ‘The Commune.’ Albertine, with her long hair like pale honey and her ice-blue eyes. The sweet, rosy bud of a girl.

The rose she used to wear. - Albertine Rose. Didn't believe her till I saw the name-tag in a Plant Nursery. There it was - Albertine Rose, My undoing. She pops it in my button-hole and - Christ, I forgot it! Karolina threw me out over that rose - that Albertine rose. Embarrassed, Rory rubs at his wide-splaying nose.

- And then Matilda took off to Corey's. Only fourteen, she was. Karolina blamed me for that. Rory's pencil beats a tattoo on the desk pad. He can't clear his mind of the song.

' Ramblin' Rose , Ramblin' Rose . All my trials no-one knows.'

"Shit. Stop it man.” - Another song to replace ...

' I've been a wild rover this many a year ... '

Rory stares moodily at his wall of posters. - Well of course Karolina was cross that I spent ten years working part-time - Wild Rover muso, art projects. Stood me in good stead for this job. Nowadays they want diversity.



Matilda clatters down the metal steps to Alphington Station in her best city shoes, grateful for the native plantings under Alphington’s River Red Gums. – Sky-blue Wahlenbergias. - Be blooming come summer. Native grasses, silver-leaved Billy Buttons, scarlet-capped Correas – plantings by a local land restoration group. Matilda stops stock-still on the landing. – The entire station-surrounds are afloat with butterflies – black-veined white beauties, their umbrella-scalloped wings lace-edged with red and black, Caper Whites swirling on south-blowing winds. – a Queensland species! – out of country, swept down the slopes of the Great Divide - trying to survive the city – Matilda, surveying the tiny scrap of bushland, welcomes the tumbling butterflies – nearly misses the train, so possessed, so captivated is she by the lost wild, fragment hanging on - still there at Alphington station.

Matilda hops off the bus. Same old run-down Pizza Bars, cheapskate, supermarket, tired, fabric shop, and uninspiring entrance.

Matilda had expected her father's office to be in a more salubrious position. The entry is barred by builders' fences and orange plastic barriers. She picks her way over site-boards, oozing yellow clay. Hastily she winds a cerise scarf around her unruly, mahogany curls. A tall steel and glass tower bears an ‘Excuse our scaffolding’ sign and a wall-board announces in Heritage lettering, ‘Festival Towers. Stage One of Your New Millennium Shopping Complex.’

The deep coir mats are insufficient to properly remove the yellow mud. – Coir - from coco-nut trees, thinks Matilda – Every little thing here’s from Bio-regions; the yellow clay by rights would be sheltered with top-soil, but the Bio-region of the Yarra Yarra. It’s just a shadow-world here. Matilda feels a great sadness at the glimmer of its fragments. A thick, mulberry-coloured carpet leads to whisper-quiet elevators and Rory's office. Matilda unwinds the cerise silk scarf confining her curls. - Karolina would go ape over the colour.

“Red-heads shouldn’t go near any kind of pink,” she would insist. Matilda re-winds the scarf and the dark red-gold hair springs up, spills down, as it always does, under its own weight – a lively, untidy waterfall.

"Matilda! Darling daughter.” Rory lopes to the door. The two heads - burnished copper clouds meet in a long hug.” I won't be a moment my darling. Rowena a cup of coffee for Matilda! Matilda, meet the manager Daniel Dunstable and Rowena, my secretary. This place will re-incarnate as a glass-roofed, luxury carpeted, Shopping Mall, with eight metre palms, running water, underground car-parks, piped music. Right Daniel?"

- They look like a cartoon pair – the wild and the tamed, thinks Matilda contrasting Rory’s tall, effervescent prescence with Dunstable’s contained energy. Dunstable's hand-shake is a shade too firm, possessive almost.

"So you're Matilda, who wrote the original proposal for the Oral History projects and inspired your father to ... "

“My father doesn't actually need inspiration from me or ... "

“Hah! Like father, like daughter. Excuse us a moment?"

Rory and the Manager turn aside to converse over site plans. The secretary finds Matilda a tissue to clean up her only decent shoes. - My father's women are getting younger, thinks Matilda, eyeing the same soft, young-motherly features, the soft, but athletic body, clad in an outrageous pink suit - always the antithesis of Karolina's dark wiry presence from Albertine on.

-A lot like Albertine. Fourteen, no, fifteen years ago. Leaving Rory and Mum separated, but not quite. Weird really. - I'd hoped going to Darwin might help me see things differently and here I am, getting drawn into the same old routine.

“Pardon? -Sorry, Rowena. No I'll just look around.” But Rowena insists and soon returns bearing coffee and thoughtfully - more tissues for Matilda’s mud-splattered shoes.

The premises here are impressive, thinks Matilda.. The posters are reasonably appropriate - cohorts of smiling multicultural children, a wall of Koori art and local, Koori projects, another wall bearing, (Rory would emphasize this), historic posters - Ned Kelly 100th Anniversary, Eureka, and of course Rory's Tropical Wall, - Not a small ego, my Dad, muses Matilda. - The Pacific War - that brilliant Damian Parer photo-pic of the wounded soldier struggling with his mates across the Papua-New Guinea river, the shells, brooding, tribal masks. - Of course, the dear man would then insist that we are part of the Pacific.

Really he's over the top with the Irish theme. Matilda, sipping coffee disapproves. - The Irish tri-colour, the wall-banner with harp and Celtic knot border. Under the banner is a shelf of leaflets and entry forms of some sort.

‘The Australian Ceremonial Banner Competition’, she reads hurriedly, ‘. - Cohorts of community groups encouraged to enter.’ - What on earth does that mean?

Rory looks up. Matilda notices her father's receding hair-line, the thick red-gold waves have almost parted, isolating a circular tuft. - It's cute, though, Matilda decides, - like a clown's.

Rory interprets Matilda's gaze as a silent question. "Take a few forms - for your mother, for Corey. Oh, and the Youth Refuge. We're encouraging joint efforts. Have a look at the posters. – Won’t be a minute."

Matilda studies the colourful map - all green lines and blue curves linking creek to creek. She examines the Legend. - It appears that the Green Corridors are to be only expanded by thirty metres! Thirty metres! That can't be correct. - Thirty metres! Okay for kookaburras. No good whatsoever for wombats. Or bandicoots. Rory catches Matilda's expression.

“ It's a start Matilda. It's only a start."

As Daniel Dunstable exits, it occurs to Matilda that the fellow looks as if he is dressed entirely by the Men's Wear store in the foyer, that even his hair-style resembles that of the well-suited fashion dummy in the front window. All style and no substance. Matilda rounds on her father.

"Corridors. They're barely even pathways!"

"Now then Matt. Don’t forget there’s to be cross-country green corridors to join up between the river systems as well. Road-side verge corridors expanded by five metres. A survey progressing as we speak. And the Bio-regional Task Forces? - Direct line to the Ministry! Land regeneration, eco-tourism promotion, land purchase recommendations, significant input into de-salination legislation. AND a national, coordinating authority. - The greening of Australia. - A real possibility!"

“A real impossibility, you mean. Direct line! Significant input! Political double-speak. - You know that, Rory!"

“Matty. Darling daughter. You always were an idealist. Don't ... Matilda, don't turn into one of those embittered idealists."

“Rory, four years away has been long enough to make me a little bit cynical. Darwin's a tough place for an environment worker."

- A tough place, yes, thinks Rory. - But not so tough as fifty years ago. Post-war Darwin - the bomb craters and air-raid trenches A fine place for a boy to play in. A long time before they filled 'em all in. All too familiar those craters - great holes in a childhood, yes. Aloud he says,

"Tough, yes. Make a man of a boy would Darwin. For a woman, Matilda, I don't know. But Liam, my Dad. How is . . ."

"Leave him out of it.”

"But, but Matt, it was a lovely surprise to get your letter where Liam told you about the Ancestor! - Don't tell me you've forgotten. - Patrick O'Brien, the Headmaster at Heidelberg!"

Again Matilda feels a jab of anger. "Oh Rory that was four generations back. A really distant relation. Even if he is the only actual ancestral relation. -But Liam. He's not likely to change. And me? I'm –fine, I guess.” She hesitates. “I've changed. - Quite a lot, I think. - But not different enough for - the things I've got to do."

- Not different enough? Odd, the things Matt comes out with at times. Rory places one hand on Matilda's shoulder.

"And the dreamer? Rory's lovely daughter? Oh, Matilda, I can move a mountain or two when I've a mind. - But, Matt. It's the vision in you.” Rory speaks urgently, "I'd hate to think that the vision had left you!” Rory straightens up and smiles the old, familiar smile and the glint kindles in his eyes.

"The Greening, ah yes! That's you, Matt. The networker. Just imagine! It could at least be a start. You've got the experience. Park Ranger, Australia-wide community consultation; experience on waterways - Action Research, community development . . ."

"Rory. Stop! There's loads of people with more experience than me. Certainly with higher qualifications. The Yarra Bend people, the Environment Farm people.”

"Don't be so sure. - Not with your particular Environment-Community Development mix. A lot of people would love to see you in this job.”

"Why should they?"

"Well the planners and administrators have already been appointed. Infrastructure's in place. Task Forces soon to be appointed. So now they need the inter-regional coordinator.” Rory stands up, pointing to a flow chart behind his desk. "First up, they'll need staff to liaise with the flora and fauna experts, - someone who can bring in the right advisors to inform the Task Forces about soil and water - facilitate workshops for them and for the public. Workshops on bio-regions. Think of that!"

Matilda frowns. "But Rory. These narrow little so-called corridors. It's a joke! - Also there's no way that land owners are going to be persuaded to give up even more of their river frontage . . ."

Rory smiles. "Matilda, they're not being asked to - yet. This is only the early stage - the Education stage. See.” He points out a heading on the chart. "Besides, with the failure of the fruit crops this season, people are increasingly worried about the rivers. Worried as hell about the state of the Murray too; our greatest southern river on the verge of collapse."

Rory turns towards Rowena gesturing at the door. He shakes his head. "Also you have to remember that with the land grabs for development in National Parks, possible privatization of water, the Environment movement's expanded more broadly into the community. The terrible droughts and bush-fires, if anything - have been a spur.”

Rowena's blonde head appears again at the door. There is a brief, whispered discussion. "Sorry Matilda. The Complex Manager. - Five minutes!” Rory darts out.

Matilda, abandoned in Rory's office pushes the coffee mug aside and stands to study the green corridor diagrams more closely. She shrugs impatiently, gazing without seeing at the Pacific Island masks.

-Rory's offering me a job with a miniscule hope of convincing people that it's the Bio-region that gives us life. Matilda crushes the leaflet in her palm. - A Bio-region job - in Yarra-Yarra Bio-region, her own home territory. “That is, if I belong anywhere,” she whispers to herself. She pulls out her journal - her 'River Book' and begins sketching urgently.



Matilda shifts uncomfortably in the too deep arm chair. "Rory, I'm out of touch with what's going on in Victoria. And I completely disagree with your reading of the situation. – But I, - I'll ask around. Go and see the people at the Environment Farm.” She pauses. "There might just be some - mileage to be made out of the concept of the Bio-Regions.”

- Yes, thinks Matilda. - After all, we belong in communities. It's how we survive and thrive. I, of all people should know that need. But Communities have been sidelined or de-funded - superseded by Festivals and, and shopping. Matilda shifts uncomfortably in the armchair - Break the chain of interdependence and the eco-system collapses. Empty celebrations; empty landscape, empty lives. Aloud she asks.

"Where is the Festival being held, Rory?"

It is Rory's turn to shift uncomfortably. "Quite close to here, actually"

Matilda peers at the architect's model beside Rory's desk "Close? Here? At the Shopping Complex? - Rory . . ."

"Matilda. Listen. - Not here. Nearby. They’ve been most supportive. They're funding the Ceremonial Banner Project, the Oral History Exhibition Centre - not just some little stalls, but a whole multi-media centre. They're building that. The stage will be . . .” Rory unrolls the architectural plan. "Look, here."

“Rory, I can see. It's the Shopping Complex ! "

"No Matt. - It's next door. Listen … just listen."

“I'm listening.” Matilda folds her arms glaring from under her wide eyebrows. "Because next door is the local TIP! Rory, if you think . . .”

“Matt. It's not a tip any more. You're forgetting. In the days before the mega-councils, the local council consulted with the community. The tip's being turned into an urban forest and community cultural centre. Here!” Rory bounds over to the model. "See the label. Ceremonial Banner Avenue. It'll be brilliant. The banners will fly on poles all along the avenue! Here's the Oral History Exhibition building. Here's the central stage for the Oral History performances - sound and light shows, multi-media performances, -choirs - the Women's Oral History Project you initiated.” Rory points enthusiastically, “ And. Look. - Here's the lake ... "

Matilda's mouth is set tight. "And here. The real title - not ‘Community Cultural Centre.’ Oh, Rory, how could you. - ‘Northcote Theme Park!’”

"Okay, okay, we'll change the name. That's only a matter of negotiation. - Matilda. Matty! You know if ever anyone can play both ends against the middle, it's Rory Kelly. It's not utopia we're after - yet. This is just a workable beginning. - Trust me. You know you can.” Rory takes his daughter's hand into his own two hands.

Almost Matilda feels herself melting back to the old trust in the energy, the style that comes with the territory, thinks Matilda, yes - with the golden voice of Rory, her Dad, who sang to her of the nut-brown maiden; almost, but not quite, the feeling returns and she finds herself saying - with only a slight, new hesitation in her voice, though she wills herself not to smile. "Sure, Rory. Sure, I know can trust my Dad."

How does he do it? Matilda asks herself, catching sight of his ‘Boy in the Canoe’ photograph. Six year old Rory. - Nearing sixty now, but still he has that sense of - wonder, perhaps - or is it innocence? Matilda does not know. - It can't be innocence, she decides, because there's a mystery to him.

"Look Matilda. Think it over. You know your old dad. You can trust him to put on a grand show. - And your mother. It looks like she'll be coming aboard too” In his excitement, Rory stumbles over the words. “You know how she's doing her Master's? Well - well, her, her students could be involved too. Rory smiles hugely. "So you see Matilda this Festival has the makings of a - a family affair! "

Matilda disengages herself from Rory's hands. She sits upright in the chair. - Karolina! - How could she not have thought of her mother until this minute?

“Mum? How is she?"

Rory answers slowly, his dark eyes confused. “Well ... she's - different somehow. I can't quite understand, to tell the truth, Matilda.”


"Well, she's had this huge project going - making over the entire garden.”

"The garden! But Karolina doesn't know one end of a spade from ... “

"She does now. You should see it! Then next thing, she takes to her bed for a month. - Didn't budge. Hardly even had me over and when she did, I could see she wanted me to clear off.”

Matilda is shocked. "You mean Karolina didn't go to work for a month? She must be really . . ."

"No no. I mean she went to bed early every evening after work. And most week-ends. Perhaps -her early life...?"

"No, Dad neither of us knows anything about Karolina's early life. - But Karolina - in bed doing nothing?”

“No. No. - She was in bed with these stacks and stacks of blasted books - oh and her lap-top”

“Rory” Matilda smiles. “That's hardly a total collapse! So I'm not really needed then?"

“ Matilda darlin'. It's needed you are.” Rory leans across the desk and takes his daughter by the shoulders. "When you come back, we’re a family again.” He rises.

"Got to go, my darling. Here - the Job Description. Oh - and my card.” Rory enfolds Matilda in his great, warm arms. Then he turns at the door. "It's all coming together, ay Matt? Call you tomorrow - at Coreys."


Chapter Four


Karolina arrives early hoping Matilda won't arrive in the middle of her thesis meeting with Monica. Her thoughts flying every which-way, she eases herself out from under the Cootamundra wattle powdering the car bonnet with its lemon-gold pollen. - Matilda is a young adult now, she muses. - I would love Matilda to see me as calm, cool - on top of things - Which in fact I am, she assures herself. But I do wish she'd relate to me more as - yes, just a normal mother. - Seems funny that, thinks Karolina walking briskly through the car-park.

Karolina hoists the heavy bag up higher on her shoulder, concentrating on the thesis. - The title - God, I still haven't got it right. "Refugees in Australia.” she mutters, “Individual Refugee Narratives. A Comparison with the Stereotyping of Refugees in Public Perceptions.” - Too cumbersome. - Christ, why did I decide to do this bloody thesis?

Karolina glances up the slope. at a court-yard, overarched with the delicacy of Gossamer Wattle. - What I really want to show is - the GULF between public - no - Anglo prejudices dammit, and refugees - as human beings. She heads up a track over-hung with She-oaks. - Those trees have a – Presence, she decides. - The diversity of refugees – I really want to demonstrate that; - the personal side of histories. - Like me, for instance - I just want to do my bit for non anglo recognition, yes.



For a moment Karolina forgets the uneven jumping inside her rib-cage - Those gum trees! The solid, black corrugations of the Iron Barks and the white, gawky nakedness of the Lemon-scented Gums somehow speak to her. “ - I am determined, - People's stories must be told.”

She pulls out a folder and flops down on a bench, recalling that last meeting with her supervisor . . .

"Yes, Karolina. The overall method is okay - oral history, personal narratives. Though the title's a bit biased, don't you think?” Monica had said.

- Oh God, I hope the new title's acceptable. Stories showing Refugees as normal as- say, World War Two child refugee, - a father who says ‘Start afresh – always the best way’. - And a mother ... Karolina grimaces at the dull pain in her chest. – Put the past behind. - Sometimes the wisest procedure.

She glances up into the clusters of leaves, pungent and grey-green, curving like thin, crescent-moons observes the tattered ochre-brown bark trips, peeling from the trunk revealing- etched on the whiteness - wild scratches and scribbles - like the markings on a cardiac monitor.

Karolina sits bolt upright as the folder slides to the ground.

“ Mount Ida!” - The past is grabbing her and it will not let her go.



- Mount Ida. Back of Heathcote - out Costerfield way and Mia- Mia, the Whipstick Forest - Wild Duck Creek. - Come back. Come back to old Mount Ida, bulking behind Heathcote in the round-curve country across the Great Divide - the Great Divide of childhood. - Little Karolina, eight years old, heading up Mount Ida with Anna.

- Always been an icon to me, Anna Highland - highland girl. Anna -Karolina's first real friend in Australia. Kids in the township called her Low Anna - Because she was so tall perhaps. - Karolina still doesn't understand the Australian sense of humour. City kid, Karolina and Anna Highland twinkle-toes in early summer grass, crossing the Wild Duck Creek on stepping-stones.

"Don't cross the Wild-Duck.." warns Auntie Eileen. "There's deep pools in the sand confusing - looks shallow"

"No." they promise fingers crossed behind backs.

Keeping to the stepping-stones they cross the Wild-Duck - shallow waters running deep as a paradox. They hear the kookaburra - Karolina's first kookaburra - bird of paradox and the laugh was a gambler's laugh, sinister, rollicking through the Yellow Box - beckoning and warning. - the attraction and the repulsion, thinks adult Karolina. - And I marry Rory Kelly, rollicking Rory -couldn't resist.

School bags of brown leather are on their backs, with leather straps and metal buckles. In the bags are cheese sandwiches and a thermos of hot white tea. The first barrier - great rounded rocks - worn down tors, -lichen-slashed.

“Like some sort of scribbled writing." ventures Karolina.

"Don't be silly.” Anna knows these rocks. "The lichen's just two plants growing together - one for air and one for water - needing each other. - But, if you really want to find Inscriptions,” Anna intones solemnly, in capital letters, “follow me." Karolina, still new to Australia, struggling to lose the accent, has never seen anyone quite like Anna Highland - gawky as a gum-tree, she of the eyes dark as the Wild-Duck pools, the shock of black lichen hair matted over the crag of the young-old face.

"Here's the wild-flower meadow - Tread carefully. - That's Early Nancys, Milk Maids - all pink and white, Bacon and Eggs, - see the yellow yolks in the middle? Flying Duck Orchid - the centre bit is the brown duck. Green Hood Orchids - be careful! These are Billy Buttons - big, gold-button globes. They last for ages, like the Paper Daisies. - Now, take this twig. See this tiny, pink flower. Just touch the pointy part - here. - See, it flicks over and jabs itself - puts the pollen in to make seeds. It's called a Trigger Plant - male and female in one flower."

“ Male and female?” Karolina's eyes widen. “But they're only flowers."

"Only? No such thing as only where flowers are concerned."

"Come on.” Anna yanks Karolina up a rocky outcrop and they drop into a hollow that is a near perfect circle, mossy and fern covered. On the central grassy rise is a tall eucalypt, the trunk white and flesh-covered - bending over.

"Like a blessing woman".

“ What?" asks Anna.

"A blessing woman, I said.”

"Yes. Look closely. - See the writing? A Scribbly Gum - See. Inscriptions. She writes it all down. the blessing woman. Takes care of you."

Mount Ida, the stuff of dreams and Anna, Low Anna Highland. - Far away over the Great Divide.


"Pull yourself together, woman!” Karolina shoves the papers back hastily into her big, leather shoulder-bag.

- They say a Master's isn't worth doing unless it’s something you're totally passionate about, thinks Karolina. But it's not only prejudice that needs a, a – critical airing. It's peoples' stories. She smiles wryly to herself as she opens the Cafe door .


Karolina studies the menu with its clever logo - long blue legs and a mortar board with flying tassel – The Blue Stocking Cafe, rising from the ashes, as it were, after the Vice - Chancellor closed the Women's Room, following a fundamentalist group’s complaint about the lesbian collective's sex advice booklet. Now the Women's Room's a Cafe. - Ads on the back of the menu - contraceptive advice line, the anti-sexual harassment centre and, yes, the lesbian collective.

For a new university, Gavan Duffy didn't take long to toe the line, thinks Karolina – closing the student newspaper and Women's Lounge, doubling tutorial sizes, exporting short courses and quickie degrees to the Asia-Pacific - Where is Monica? Jesus! Matilda will turn up soon and ...

"Karolina! Sorry.” It is Monica. This is Lillian. You've heard of her? Researches Pacific Islands Health? -We haven't got long. An Overseas project's come up. - You don't mind Lillian sitting in?” Monica appears flustered. “Karolina they liked the - oral history, personal narratives, though the title still needs clarification.” - Oh god, the bloody title, says Karolina to herself. .

"Well.” Karolina begins, realizing that she is using the academic language awkwardly, “In the process of people sharing their experiences of racist. . ."

“Which people?” Monica cuts in. Karolina is confused. Hasn't Monica read her Proposal?

"My students, of course - the class that's made up entirely of refugees,” replies Karolina somewhat truculently. "My adult refugee students at

I. N. C.”

"What on earth is ‘ink’ ?” This time it is Lillian giving Karolina the once-over,

- What business has Lillian? -This is a private discussion . "Oh, I thought you'd have known.” Karolina responds somewhat tartly. “It stands for Inner Northern College - I teach Migrant English.” Karolina peels off her jacket. - bloody air-conditioning's too high. "My students will be discussing,” she stumbles over the words, “Well, sharing their refugee experiences . . ."

"Go on."

Karolina wishes she could phrase her responses as crisply as Monica's questions. “She chooses her words carefully, "the students will be encouraged to compare mainstream perceptions . . ."

“Mainstream?” Monica smiles, seemingly unaware of Karolina's confusion.

Karolina hesitates, cross that her voice sounds apologetic. "Meaning ... the media as, as a source of mainstream perceptions as, as ... , - how the media portrays refugees.” Karolina struggles into her jacket again, finding the air-conditioning suddenly too low. “I'll, I'll be - documenting media material. – then . . .” Karolina casts around, wishing her brain would respond more rapidly. “Oh yes. - And government policy documents, - how they depict refugees - the ‘Children Overboard’ reporting in particular - the gaps between the Facts of refugees’ in detention centres, and, and politicians' speeches .” Karolina stops

“Politicians' speeches about what? And do you mean only ‘asylum seekers’", asks Monica swiftly.


Karolina wonders if the third degree is meant to put her on her mettle, or - No, I do believe Monica's trying to impress this Lillian woman. Well bugger her. She forges on.

"Well - About stereotyping, for example.” - What would Monica know? thinks Karolina, from the privilege of her Ivory Tower. - a walking encyclopaedia, no doubt. – But; Experience! No way. "Yes, stereotyping,” Karolina continues, trying to sound self-assured, "stereotyping related to refugees' habits, culture ... being seen as uncivilized." Lillian draws breath, as if about to break in again. Karolina decides that she finds Lillian far more intimidating than Monica. - That awesome, black overcoat, the brilliant, silk scarf, the expensive briefcase.


Lillian waves a manicured hand. “You've already assumed that these supposed ‘prejudices’ come only from an undefined ‘mainstream.’ whereas prejudice and stereotyping may well also come also from the refugees, surely?” - Lillian pauses to consult the Wine List. “Shall we share a bottle of Chardonnay? The wine here's not too bad."


Lillian waves to a tall, stooped figure. "The Vice-Chancellor! The University of Micronesia project - the agenda for the Nauru Conference. We need a word.”

“Sorry!” Monica whispers as Lillian drags her off.

Groaning inwardly, Karolina flips back to the Preface to her paper examining it avidly.



. Without any apology Lillian returns to the table and the topic, speaking rapidly.

"Now, what you will need to do is - to deconstruct refugee prejudices, their ‘misconceptions’ about Australians. -I assume you were intending to examine Anglo-Australian prejudices, but you will need to make that clear.” Is it not prejudice to depict refugees as faultless, without any prejudices? - No pun intended but,” Lillian raises a delicate eyebrow, “ you must not paint a Black and White picture.”

Karolina decides to ignore Lillian since. Monica is definitely the more sympathetic of the two. At least when she challenges, she doesn't demolish you completely.

"So, in essence,” Monica sums up, "you intend to counterbalance your refugee students' experiences with factual, mainstream information?"

“ Yes. No.. Not quite.” Karolina leans forward eagerly. "You see Monica, the students will do the comparing ... "

Monica glances quickly at Lillian. “So you're asking untrained . . ."




“No. You see that's the whole point, Monica. - it is their experience and therefore their right to be an equal player in the research.” Out of the corner of her eye, Karolina observes Matilda slipping into a seat at the next table. - Damn! I don't need Matt to hear this balls-up

Karolina rushes on to prevent further intervention. “then they naturally enough will ask, “ ‘Why does the Australian way of life, (whatever that means), need so much protection?’ "



Karolina finds herself talking faster and faster. "Indeed they could then ask, ‘why can the so-called Australian way of life not be enhanced, by difference and diversity?’” Karolina swallows the Chardonnay in one gulp. .

Monica chooses her words carefully, as if not wishing to hurt. “You draw a long bow, Karolina in assuming that the refugees will, as you put it, ‘naturally enough’ ask the questions you would like them to ask,.” Monica pauses as if to lessen the impact of her words, "questions that fit in neatly with YOUR thesis. But they may ask something altogether different - or worse still for you - nothing at all.”

Karolina sweeps away the concerns, leaning forward, dark eyes intense. "No! At the very least they will be asking,‘How - how can we change this?’

Monica attempts to respond but Karolina is well and truly wound up. "What if we write our own policy, about how we want health or, or housing , or - ". Karolina stops, embarrassed .

There is a long silence. Then Monica claps a palm to her forehead "Ah! You're talking about Action Research!” Monica looks half pleadingly at Lillian. "Participatory Action Research - participants joining in a Social Change activity - right?” Monica makes an odd, rather graceless, circular motion with her index finger, in a cork-screw gesture. “Like a Spiral! - Action - Reflection - Further Action. Yes?"

Karolina nods briefly, "I - I'm not too familiar with the academic application, but to me, it's just the normal way people think and act about their problems.”

"And of course you're right!,” smiles Monica. "Though the issue has to be a burning one for the participants. "

Monica glances meaningfully at Lillian, as if pre-empting disagreement. "Of course there are connections to post-modernist approaches - the open-ended inquiry, for instance.” Monica raises her glass to the light, as if to gain inspiration for the next onslaught, thinks Karolina. "Mind you, though I personally am impressed by the integrity of your approach, "the reality is Karolina, that you absolutely must address post modernist methods more rigorously."

- Here it comes the demolition job, thinks Karolina, controlling her rising anger.

Monica taps the paper with her ballpoint pen. "You have at least implied that you intend to address SOME of the more negative aspects of the dominant discourse - the media attitudes and so forth. - But . . .” - Uh huh, here's the catch, thinks Karolina.

"BUT”, continues Monica, "Do you deconstruct refugees' discourses - their attitudes, their prejudices?"

Lillian nods vigorously. "Also. You should take more control of your research process. - After all, it is your thesis that will be presented. You are the one who will ultimately be passed, Lillian fixes Karolina with her steely gaze, “ - Or failed.” There is a brief pause. “ - SO. Tighten up what appears to be - of you will forgive the metaphor - a tossed salad of rather dated and discredited Grand Unified Theory. - Isn't that so Monica?"

Karolina becomes aware that Matilda, at the next table has risen in her seat. She leans back, flashing a beeseeching and forbidding mixed - message. Matilda's determined smile vanishes; her wide, dark brows knit, but she does resume her seat - Little ears flapping no doubt, thinks Karolina.

Monica tries to explain, "You see Karolina, with the collapse of the Soviet states - and of the Left - and of the Christian world-view, the grand visions of western thought are over. There is NO over-arching theory, NO formula to fix the world up. - That's why we deconstruct all perceptions"

- You would, thinks Karolina, - like some feral, ethically challenged, child monster let loose on the world's Lego.

Lillian takes up the argument. "You seem to be insisting on a Marxist framework of Class and Power - dominant Anglos - oppressed ethnics.” Lillian waves a hand emphatically, "But power is not fixed.” Lillian's voice is ironic, resonant with the cadences of the best schools. “You need to realize that power is fluid and constantly re-negotiated."

Karolina manages to suppress her sarcasm, “ By refugees.?” is all she says.

"At times, certainly, though not in the discredited sense the oppressed overthrowing the supposed ‘system’ Lillian continues with the slightly bored voice of one explaining to a child. "-Your structuralist approach allows for no changes in power relations. Whereas in reality, people are always re-positioning themselves, in the contested flux of power."

- Yes. Well you'd know about power, thinks Karolina.

"You need to deconstruct the narratives of all actors - including the refugees.”

- Well, thinks Karolina, this dame sure is building up a head of steam; must remember I am in the presence of my superiors. Her eyes glint, but she keeps her voice steady. "I suppose you would even deconstruct ethnicity itself?"

"Certainly.” Lillian nods approval. “-Is the concept of ethnicity meaningful to the actors? For what purposes? Why does a person feel "ethnic", or ‘Australian’ for that matter?"

Karolina glares at Matilda who has again begun to rise. She wills her daughter to resume her seat, turning again to face Lillian. "And a refugee?” Karolina asks all innocence. “I suppose you would also deconstruct refugee?"

Lillian smiles, pleased that Karolina appears to cotton on. "Indeed.” she replies.

" - What purpose would serve the actor to see him or her-self as a refugee? - Why not as a hopefully, permanent resident, an escapee - or merely an illegal migrant?"

"As you say," Karolina replies, her eyes narrowed, "Why not merely,” - she faintly emphasizes the word ‘merely’. "Why not ‘merely’ a migrant, - or - I'm getting the hang of it now. Or for that matter, refugees in the Detention Centre at Port Hedland. Why not deconstruct them as ‘merely’ visitors?"

- My daughter's going to see her mother really take this academic personage apart, crows Karolina, helping herself to the last of Chardonnay.

"If they perceive themselves as such - yes,” replies Lillian calmly. "It is they who do the perceiving - not me, but if they would regard themselves in this way - yes,” replies Lillian, pouring herself a fresh Chardonnay, "but this I think is beyond the scope of your thesis.” Lillian cups the glass in both hands. "However, since all is contingent - fluid -constantly re-negotiated, then clearly such concepts as ethnicity, class, refugee status and, if you like Aboriginality are indeed meaningless except as social constructs in which individual actors are immersed.”

"Immersed, immersed!” Karolina can barely contain herself. "Sounds like a Jehovah's Witnesses' Baptism!”

Lillian smiles "Mature age students take some time to get used to the new thinking” She drains her glass. “They do tend at first to feel as if they are going through an adult baptism."

Lillian glances at her watch and picks up her expensive briefcase. “Your analogy is most apt. - Look we must be off. - Nice talking to you, er Carol".

Karolina calls after the departing Lillian, "Karoleena! Karoleena! Get it right damn you! My name's Karoleena. I'm an ethnic - a refugee. An undeconstructed, ethnic refugee!"

Monica touches Karolina's hand briefly, whispering urgently, “Karolina! I do truly apologize."

Karolina's eyes are hooded. There is ice in her voice. “Monica, we were supposed to have a private, forty minute discussions. - You said . . .”

"Yes.I am really dreadfully sorry - Next week. Same time? I do have to go."

"Yes, but alone next time. - One to one."

"Yes. Now you see the constraints I am under.”

"What do you mean? How dare that woman. Who does she think she is?”

Monica's eyes widen. "You mean you don't know? - Karolina, Lillian is the Associate Professor. - But no. - It'll be okay. Truly. You have a right to . . ."

"Oh Shit! Matilda!” Karolina reaches back behind her, clasps her daughter's hand in an urgent grip. "Matilda. Stop lurking about. Come and give your mother a hug, for Christ's sake!".

"Mum, Karolina!” Matilda swings her chair around with a grinding and a scraping that turns the few remaining heads that have not already turned . "Mum, that horrible woman!"

Karolina sees that Matilda is on the verge of tears and is surprised to hear the break in her own voice. “Oh Matilda, damn and blast both of 'em! ."

The two are entwined in the hugs typical of the long absent. A hug, a break in the hug, eyes searching faces - the long, searching look of brown eyes of Karolina to black eyes of Matilda - black, West Coast Irish, Rory calls Matilda's eyes. To Matilda, Karolina, recovering from the altercation, looks vibrant, energised even.

- Karolina just thrives on a good stoush, thinks Matilda. Me, I hate it. She vows not for the first time to buy out of such interactions.

“You sure gave as good as you got Mum.” says Matilda, knowing this is what Karolina wants to hear. Matilda takes her mother's hand in hers. She is overcome almost, by the hugeness of her joy, the ferocity of her anger. – My mum shouldn’t be put through the hoops like a junior just out of college, she thinks to herself. "Truthfully now, how are you really, Mum? Dad said your heart was playing up again,” Matilda scans her mother's face anxiously, "that you'd been over-working . . ."

"Your father is an interfering, ignorant, old busy-body." says Karolina emphatically. "Most of the time he acts as if we're still a normal married couple, as if we'd never separated.”

“No. He acts that way all the time.” Matilda corrects her mother, thinking that she'd better let well alone. – I’m getting competitive already, she says miserably to herself.

Karolina lets go of Matilda's hand. "Now you tell me truthfully Matilda, you didn't come back because of Rory's nonsense about my supposed heart problem?"

"Truthfully - yes I most certainly did.” As always, discussion about her mother’s health seems to be out of bounds. Matilda, at a loss, studies the menu for a moment. “I also came back because of dad’s Festival - promoting an environment issue that isn't understood clearly enough yet.”

"Oh yes the Bio- Regions?" says Karolina ordering her third coffee, “I would imagine a Bio-Region means much the same thing as an eco-system. I think the public would know that Matilda." says Karolina. "There's not much point in taking on a job simply because you'd like to clarify a definition, though is there?”

Matilda is always confused, when faced with her mother's over-simplifications.

" I hope Rory hasn't tried to lure you back with un-achievable promises, to yet another of his epic schemes. Matilda, you're an idealist. - I worry about you. I suspect that your father almost desperately wanted you to be involved in the festival.” says Karolina, trying but failing to smile convincingly, ordering another coffee.

- Just address the facts, says Matilda to herself. - Ignore the barb about Rory’s job offer being the catalyst for me to come home. Mum and I just aren’t good at being personal with each other.

“The job would involve locating and lining up flora and fauna consultants for the Bio-Region Task Forces, community education work - that's all." Matilda replies. And then her fears tumble out. “ - I did come back because I was worried about you Mum.” Matilda confesses. "After I saw Dad this morning, I thought he might have exaggerated a bit, but - "

“Exaggerated a bit !” Karolina rolls her eyes, "Now Matilda, you know that I've always tried to keep a - respectable distance, to not influence you in your relationship with your father. "I know you're close to the foolish man. - And yes, he does usually do things with style. - and blarney. - With the notable exception of the Potato Famine Festival . . ."

"Oh, yes, the Potato Festival! What a disaster that was."

“However,” Karolina continues somewhat prohibitively, "He's still your father and he's very gifted in his own way. But not, I would think in the field of cardiac diagnosis. Believe me Matilda, I had a minor attack. - I did the sensible thing."

Matilda grins. - How could Karolina not be sensible?

"After work - mark you - for the best part of a month, I took to my bed.” She gestures dramatically. "I got the Thesis Proposal finished, roughed out my first chapter.” Karolina's voice is vibrant, her eyes intense, "Got through a mountain of reading too.” She laughs, "Looks like I bombed out with those two academic dames. - Less than impressed, weren't they?” Karolina breaks off. "You know Matilda, in a way your women's oral history prompted me to try out Action Research as the method for my Master's.”

Privately Matilda wonders how her competent, organised mother will handle the contradictory twists and turns of community research. – How ungenerous I am, she berates herself. – feeling as if she’s taking over my territory! To be fair, Karolina ran a community centre when I was – what? Twelve? While that terrible Albertine coordinator woman was off fucking my dad. Matilda is surprised when Karolina admits,

"Maybe I got defensive with those academic characters, because I don't have your community experience?” Karolina lowers her voice as if concerned that colleagues of Monica and Lillian might be listening. “They’ve launched your oral history. Heart-home, you called it? The Youth Affairs director still sings the praises of Matilda Kelly’s action research on homeless girls, did you know that? They’ll probably ask you to facilitate some of the festival, story sessions.”

"Yes, I'd like that a lot.” says Matilda feeling a small warmth near her heart at Karolina’s rare praise, but she is dismayed to find herself responding with an edge to her voice, “The homeless young women’s project was a group effort. It was accurate,” she mutters half under her breath, “because I was a street kid too wasn’t I?” Matilda bites her lip, seeing the hurt in her mother’s eyes. Quickly she reaches over and touches her mother’s hand.

“ – No, forget that, I mean I really want to forget all that!” Matilda takes a deep breath. Her hand closes over Karolina’s. “Oh Mum, it really is so good to be back.” she says urgently. “After two years in Darwin and at Lord Howe Island, I guess I’m having trouble adjusting to Melbourne, to - family. It’s a – a pretty solitary life up there.”

Karolina. studies Matilda’s face. How drawn she looks beneath the tan, And that lost look in the big, watchful eyes, the floaty, disconnected but graceful movements, almost slow-motion, like a water-creature trapped on land. “That’s okay. You got my letters, the e-mails?”

“Letters, yes. I love the way you always send me cuttings from Melbourne papers and magazines. It’s such a fantastic antidote to the parochial, red-neck crap in the Darwin papers. But e-mails, no.”

“No? But I e-mailed Liam’s web-site.”

“Haven’t seen Liam in ages. I should’ve given you my e-mail address in Jabiru. I only called in there once a fortnight though, when I desperately needed pickled cucumbers!”

Karolina smiles. “Pickled cucumbers! Your favourite. Anything that can be pickled and you’d go for it. You always were Irish in the story and song department. Yugoslavian in the food department.”

“I wonder who I got that obsession from? Imagine me cucumberless, way out in Arnhem land with the mangrove assessment team.”

Karolina shudders. “Mosquito-ridden nights under canvas!”

“Under canvas no. I slept in the back of the four-wheel drive. More protection from mosquitoes – as well as crocs and wild boars – you know?”

“I don’t want to know. I suppose you visited Darwin Harbour, saw the luggers where your father grew up?”

“Yes, but Rory wouldn’t recognise it. The Australian navy’s got quite a presence there now – very high-tech.”

“Your letters, Matilda. You have such a gift for description. But Matilda,” Karolina ventures carefully, “I don’t seem to get a feel of – of how you are – in yourself I mean.” A cloud seems to pass across Matilda’s face, so Karolina continues hurriedly, “Oh there was the exception when you wrote about how you tried to pickle Bush Cucumbers – wild cucumbers. At Cooinda!”

Matilda laughs. “What do you mean, tried? I succeeded! Cooinda store was out of pickled cucumbers.”

“That would never do! You and me – we’re pickle addicts.” Their eyes meet and they both smile hugely.

“You know Mum, Darwin’s fantastic for Asian food, Chinese, Thai, Indonesian, Malay, Vietnamese. At one stage I got hooked on Japanese salted plums out of sheer desperation for a fix of your pickled cabbage.”

Karolina smiles and strokes her cheek thoughtfully. "I suppose action research couldn't be simplified - stream-lined? I'm thinking of cutting a few corners for the sake of - efficiency. If the participants could be – led, in a manner of speaking, to follow some sort of pre-set plan . . .”

"No way.” Matilda breaks in angry at the thought, angry at Karolina’s efficiency passion, but telling herself that her mother is only fishing for information. "Action Research isn't about being led ."

"Of course not.” Karolina nods vigorously, "People giving voice to their own issues. - Researching those issues and taking action. That was what attracted me – reading your fascinating report!” Karolina's eyes are solemn. She leans forward. "Believe me, Matilda, I'm convinced about the principles"

As the coffee arrives Matilda says - more sharply than she had intended, "But you can't turn action research into,” she hesitates, observing her mother's anxious face, experiences daughter power, wishes she didn't, but plunges on. “ - into some sort of formula.” Matilda corrects herself. "I mean action research is group research.”

- Oh God, I’m handling this badly, thinks Matilda anxiously stirring her coffee over and over.

“Matilda, I’m a quick learner.” retorts Karolina. “As a teacher, I will have to use more authority than is proper to your – principles.” Karolina puts her cup down and continues more gently, but with a quizzical look in her eyes. “People rarely go beyond their comfort zones. I certainly don’t. And neither do you. Meanwhile – your coffee. Are you breaching a hole in your comfort zone right now or are you just trying to bore a hole in the cup?”

“Oh. Yes! No. That is I got carried away.”

"Yes, well then, I don't think we will have any insurmountable problems. This class is highly motivated. I’ll get people started on their stories - If they want to," Karolina adds, “and we'll just hop straight into it . . ."

- Karolina doesn't get my point, thinks Matilda miserably. She’s just had a heart attack. Now she’s taking on refugee stuff, that’s so close to the bone. She tries again.

“With your class. - I can't see how action research would work really."

Karolina is affronted, “Matilda! Why on earth not?"

Matilda fiddles with the cutlery as if unwilling to continue. "Well, for

one thing,” she says slowly, "they're a captive audience. For another, there's the - , the power difference between you and your students ...”

Karolina is put out. "Let's get out of here.", she announces, standing abruptly, "Look Matilda. I am a skilled teacher - quite capable of leadership. Of inspiration, even.” she asserts pushing through a group at the cafe door. “and - I'm not a novice when it comes to a campaign. Recently, for instance - Management closed the student-run newspaper. I was, un-officially of course, involved,” she smiles briefly, "and let me tell you, . . ."

Matilda touches her mother's sleeve. "No Mum, look, you need to look after your health. I mean, it could be difficult to find a workable compromise."

"Compromise!” hoots Karolina, giving her shoulder-bag an angry hitch. “Matilda – that scarf! I do wish you wouldn’t wear those bright pinks ... Not round your hair. Your hair’s not right for pink. I know I’m labouring the point, but pink doesn’t go, not with your hair Matilda.”

Bloody hell! thinks Matilda, - how much of this stuff do I have to take – as if I’m still fourteen. Yes, that’s what this is all about. Karolina not adjusting to me – to adult me!

“Still,” continues Karolina in a more conciliatory tone. “You were right to tie your hair back for the job-discussion with Rory. Unconfined, your hair is so uncontrollable. It’s none of my business any more, but Matilda I hardly know you – as an adult that is, so I suppose I shouldn’t criticise. We’ve got some compromising to do, the pair of us. But you suggest I compromise the research, rather than act?"

"No, Mum, you suggested compromising action research, with a pre-set plan! In a democratic research process, you can't just have some Grand Plan and expect . . .”

Karolina strides on. "Compromise - academically acceptable! - I'm telling you, Matilda. I will find a way. - Next you'll be quoting that Lillian dame.” There is venom in Karolina's voice. “ Deconstructing ethnicity - gender - no such thing no, - everything – fluid! Hah!” Karolina stops. They have taken the wrong path and before them is a steep drop leading to the river, shining darkly below them. "Yes fluid.- All shifting, as if we were nothing more than - than, reeds in a river. - No leadership. No controls over our own destinies."

Matilda catches her breath. "Karolina, that's not fair. I don't have your academic background. - I'm not interested in mind-games like post-modernism ..."

"Neither am I Matilda. And I hope you're not suggesting that I am.”

"No. No I’m just worried that – . Well you never know - .” Matilda stares out unhappily over Karolina's shoulder at the river-bend, at the thin, ragged line of trees and beyond to the vast stretch of the city. “I mean, you never know who, or what is going to shift,” she pleads. "Things changed; especially who I was - how I was in Darwin and now back here.. It’s scary. As if I don’t know anything. Everything I used to know shifting, as if I’m,” she falters, “just - waiting.”

Karolina stops out of breath. "Matilda, how passive of you. And you call yourself a feminist. I would have hoped you might have started to take control of your life by now, not all this waiting and uncertainty." Immediately Karolina regrets her reaction. “Oh Matilda you’re talking about yourself. No – about both of us!”

Matilda sinks to her knees in the long grass. "Karolina I wish, I really wish I could take control! Maybe I’ve been among wild rivers for too long. I feel so – ambiguous, rudderless.” Her voice wavers and for a moment Karolina sees the tear-streaked face of fourteen-year old Matilda, Corey leading her back home, Matilda whispering ‘I’ve come home Karolina, but I have no home really, not any more.’ - Oh sweet Jesus, thinks Karolina, - I simply don’t know my own daughter! She’s still carrying those – burdens, that I can’t for the life of me comprehend.

But Matilda, as if in a dream says slowly, stumbling over the words, "Uncertainty’s normal for a real river – an untamed river, but not with rivers imprisoned in their beds. When rivers go walkabout, they replenish the whole landscape. Or - a bushfire in a Bio-Region. - All the creatures flee. The trees are blackened ruins. - Then a few months later, the ovals of the new leaves cluster all the way up the burnt trunks. The understorey plants pop up, Then the grasses. The seeds exploded by the fire start to unfold and …"

"Yes, yes Matilda. Come to the point.”

“The point is Mum that action research isn't to be taken lightly. It changes You. - whether you like it or not and with your heart - ”

Karolina stands very straight. Her chin juts forward. Something seems to have shifted in her mind. "Heart, yes. The heart is the heart of it and Matilda, the point you seem to be making is that you need to be home, really home. And I need –” Karolina takes a brief, shuddering breath. “And I need to find out how I – how we can learn to be at home – both of us.” Karolina takes Matilda’s face in her hands, raising her eyebrows in mock despair. “But, Matilda, when dear child are you going to get some decent qualifications? You trek off all over Australia - from desert to rain-forest. You're not a youngster anymore. - It's about time you thought about studying - at least some sort of career. When on earth are you going . . ."

“ – To settle down.” Matilda finishes Karolina's sentence and both smile at the familiar pattern.

- It's almost as if Matilda, has shouldered the burden of my own childhood, thinks Karolina, knowing she is in uncharted territory, the uncharted territory of her own childhood, but plunging on just the same. “This - footloose life-style, ever since you were fourteen. Breaking your grand-father’s concertina - taking off to Corey's when you were fourteen, - that was no way of behaving. - You might not remember this, Matilda, - But I let you go. You had your own needs at the time.” Karolina when distressed always speaks in her most formal tones. "I have put this very badly. The problem is now that I, or rather that we, need to recapture somehow those lost years, don’t you agree? It was not an easy time, Matilda,” is all she says, though wishing to say so much more.

Matilda stands up and moves to the edge of the river bank. For a long time she stares out over the curve of the current. - I tried, she says to herself, to make things right again - but I couldn't, so now they'll never know.

"When the landscape's been flattened by flood or fire," Matilda says slowly, "restoration takes time."

"Oh Matilda, don't be so – precious.” retorts Karolina, angered again. - "Our family wasn't flattened. We came through the break-up better than most. And yet you took off. And you've been a wanderer ever since, but Matilda even a wanderer needs to be settled inside themselves.” Karolina's face is in shadow. A sunset shaft flashes suddenly, bringing into burnished prominence the mobile mouth, the strong jaw.

Matilda raises a faint smile. "The wanderer? Well yes, that's me I suppose, Karolina.” She is smiling sadly - at herself, perhaps. “You're the achiever, the settler and yes, I'm - the wanderer. That’s me, I guess."

Matilda turns away from the river, missing the living flash of blue - of ultramarine and turquoise - the kingfisher - nomad bird, a mobile jewel over the water.

"Matilda!" Karolina looks intently at her daughter, "Now who's talking as if things are set in concrete?” Karolina smiles the rare, warm and easy smile Matilda remembers from long ago. “Let's just both agree to be ready to change, hey?” Karolina stands abruptly. "Good thing you look so well. We're all going to be busy over the next few months and not just externally by the looks of things.” Karolina takes Matilda's hand. "So, first - a celebration. Corey’s mid-Winter party."

"Corey's Solstice parties! Hey, that brings back memories.” The two stroll back to the car-park.

"Well, seeing you've been in sunny Darwin, Corey said you could bring the fruit.” Matilda tugs at her mother’s arm.

"Mum, that gum tree. - It's the Blessing Tree, isn't it? - The tree that carries the stories?” The two women stop, arm in arm, embraced by the great eucalypt.

"Who told you that, Matilda?”

“You did - years ago."

"I did? And a bush girl told me, Anna Highland, my first Australian friend - told the little refugee girl. 'Inscriptions', she said. 'They tell the story of your life.' - It's a Scribbly Gum."

- Refugee girl? Matilda is surprised. - 'Refugee!', - Never heard her use that word before

. “Come on," Karolina continues, "I'll drive you to ...?”

“The Environment Farm. Thanks. Gotta see what the people there think about the Festival.” Mother and daughter reach the car and head off down the drive, unmindful of the yellow powdering of the wattle pollen dusting their heads and shoulders.


Chapter Five


Matilda tip-toes onto the veranda. Corey's house is in darkness. - Never mind. I know where the key's kept. - Damn! She fumbles under the pot-plant, - Let's hope the top window's open then ... Now - it's just a matter of . . .

Boots tied round her neck, she finds a toe-hold on the chimney, wriggles through the window and gazes carefully into the room - An easy drop on to the bed below.

A shrill shriek. - A tangle of arms and legs. - My god - someone in the bed! Matilda has landed on a sleeping body!

The startled occupant of the bed dives under the doona. "Help. Corey! Help !”

"No. No. Sorry.” Matilda extricates her legs and arms from the bed-clothes and leaps to the light switch.

"Sorry. - I really - Didn't Corey? . - I'm Corey’s friend, you see."

A muffled voice, "Matilda - is it?” Strange noises issue from under the doona.- Laughter? Couldn't be! Matilda at a loss hovers at the door.

"I' m sorry - the key. It wasn't . . ."

The doona is cast aside and one pillow - then another is hurled at Matilda

"The goddess descending!” chortles the occupant of the bed, still hurling pillows. “I've dreamt of this.”

"Pardon?” Matilda isn't used to naked women throwing pillows.

"Matilda! - Port Hedland? How could you forget?”

"Lin, Mei Lin. Of course! - But you've changed. Your hair! You've cut - "

"Well it has been ten years, Matt. - Give me a moment to come to my senses . . .” Lin retrieves her glasses and wraps herself up in the doona.

Matilda sits on the rug, leaning against her back-pack. "So how on earth did you get to be here at Corey's?"

"Dead easy. - You said you were one of Corey's kids. You told me so much about Corey in Port Hedland. In Broome - after I got released from the Refugee Detention Centre. - You were always talking about Corey."

“Yes. I suppose I was.”

"So. - Been here over a year. - Didn't Corey tell you? "

"She's a shocking correspondent, this morning, she didn't say you . . "

“She left a note stuck on the front door. A reshuffle. Some of the Youth Refuge kids needed temporary space. You know how Corey -"

"Collects strays.” Matilda finishes Lin's sentence. "I sure do. We both do."

They smile. "Strays, yes. Well this stray appreciated your support in Port Hedland, Matilda. But now.” Lin raises one eyebrow, perhaps humorously. "I’m an Australian citizen. Got my Australian qualifications! I'm working at the Migrant Resource Centre."

"That's great." - Qualifications. So Lin's one up on me. At least that's how Mum would see it. The accent's lightened considerably too, thinks Matilda. - "Is your centre involved in the Millennium Festival?” she asks, not knowing where to take up the conversations of ten years ago..

Lin shrugs. "Sort of. I'm pretty sceptical myself, but somebody got a group going for the Banner Project. The detention centre people don't want to know; had enough hardships, but others - ”

“Like you?” Matilda asks.

"Perhaps. I’ve landed on my feet. First you, dear woman. Chinese community in Broome. Then Corey. Then the Migrant Resource Centre.” She grins, “The boss is hassling me about the banner project, but I hate flag things! Unlike your good self, I’m no artist!”

- Why all this polite conversation, Matilda wonders. - Why doesn't Lin just tell me where Corey's set up a bed for me? Okay for the intensity of the past - surely just because of Lin’s situation – newly released asylum-seeker. Maybe I forgot my role. Community liaison got pretty blurred in the crisis hothouse of the detention centre.

"Mustn't talk too long. You're probably still tired from your travels,” says Lin as if reading Matilda's thoughts. “Heater’s behind you, if you're feeling the Melbourne weather.” "This facilitator position with the Women's Oral History Project - “ Lin wriggles herself more comfortably into the doona, "Are you interested in taking it on, Matilda? Seeing you more or less set it up."

"Have to wait and see what the Steering Committee decides.”

Matilda feeling the effects of the journey from Darwin and today’s family overload wishes Lin would point her in the direction of a warm bed. Nevertheless Lin does switch on the radiator. "So you were saying Lin that the Migrant Resource Centre's going to be in the Banner Project?"

"That's right.” Lin's long fingers rake briefly through her spiky hair.

" - It's to be a ceremonial banner only. Is that correct?"

Matilda nods, "I think that's the idea, but . ."

Lin grins. "The OZ flag's a hot issue at our centre.” She frowns suddenly. "You know Matt, the Australian flag. It's not enough - doesn't do this land justice. It’s too utterly British!"

"Whooo! Tell that to the Returned Services League. Even my Dad at times. Though he'd like to delete those left hand corner criss- crosses."

Lin scrutinises Matilda closely, with the careful gaze of the long absent friend, the gaze that takes every single detail into account. – Shit, Lin still doesn’t miss a trick, thinks Matilda.

“In the nicest possible way, Matilda, I perceive that you look older – capable, mature, with just a hint of um, that mysterious, drifty uncertainty I recall with so much – ” She hesitates. “But I must not infringe -. Oh wow, yes.” Lin leans across to plant a tender kiss on Matilda’s forehead. “I never got to thank you enough for helping this li’l ol’ Tienmen kid survive the Kimberley. Never had the language before, or the nerve, to thank you properly!” She laughs. “Good times a-comin’ hey?”

Matilda returns the smile. “And now that I can speaka de lingo, hey? There’ll be no stopping us. The southern states are cool, ay!”

Matilda feels the warmth of the radiator touching her skin. "I heard somewhere that a Great Billabong once curved right round this whole region. There were wet-lands teeming with bird life."

Lin brings her knees up to her chin, looking sceptical. "Maybe. But the billabong sounds like wishful thinking to me. - White civilization wishing for the return of wilderness - forgetting the ‘wilderness' people they kept on destroying. All the while clinging like barnacles to the coast-line and cities."

“But,” Matilda is hurt. "I've been all over Australia. Surely you don't think that I -”

"Look I don't want to labour the point, Matt, but the romantic dream crosses cultures. In China, there is the sage in the bamboo grove, writing poems and meditating.” Lin twitches impatiently. "But meanwhile, who grows the rice that keeps him alive?"

Matilda is quick to respond, “I do know that sages in the Borneo forests write submissions to logging companies and sit in front of bulldozers!" She has shaken off her tiredness. She had forgotten how challenging were Lin's conversations. - She looks like a flower, wrapped in that doona thinks Matilda. - A spiky flower, nonetheless. - Prickly. A cactus flower, perhaps?

"But I do know,” Matilda changes the subject to more familiar territory, "that the Yarra here round Melbourne isn't an old, wandering river - a river in its later stages heading to the delta."

Lin, wondering about the meanderings of the conversation, responds,

"But, - those bends?"

"The bends are there because the river skirts around a rock wall - the folds of an ancient lava flow.” Matilda clasps her knees with her arms. “The river joined the Maribyrnong. She used to flow through the land where Port Phillip Bay is today. Entered the Bay at the Heads. That's why the Bay is self-contained, why it has such a tricky, narrow entrance at the Heads. - Site of an ancient water-fall."

Lin smiles. "Self-contained? And tricky to negotiate the narrow entrance? - So the Bay is a virgin! "

- She's laughing at me, thinks Matilda. - I don't get this woman. "No, The rock wall just gets in the way, that's all.” Matilda unzips her back-pack, “Some barriers are natural. - Some are made by circumstances.” She grins, "Guess we need some sages in Red Gum forests here, huh?” Matilda grimaces - "Yowtch, my shoulder !"

"Here, let me.” Matilda finds herself under Lin's practised hands, hands soothing away the aches and confusion of the last two days, finds herself slipping through landscapes of peace, moving across boundaries, teetering on borders.

Lin stops for a moment, hands at rest on Matilda's shoulders, eyes searching Matida's face. “ - You might like some more?” Lin's voice is barely above a whisper.

Matilda opens her eyes. “- More?"

"My bed's warm. Nice and warm for a Darwin woman."

Sleepy Matilda. - She had forgotten or wasn't conscious until that moment that Lin was naked. She raises a tousled head. "I would, if it's okay with you, very much like to,” - Matilda emphasizes the word, "to sleep in your bed, but not - "

Lin nods. "Fine. You're welcome.” She spreads the doona over Matilda. "As for the rest, I can wait.” And the two tumble into dreamland, crossing borders where boundaries shift and even rock walls can dissolve.




"Good morning River Woman."

Matilda opens one eye. She slides further under the bed-clothes. “ - God - Melbourne mornings!” She shivers.

Lin disagrees. "Oh, it's not so bad. - You know there's a drought on? No- don't get up." Lin reaches for her glasses. "I have to be at work early.” She pulls the doona up to Matilda's chin. "Have to go to the Environment Farm first to discuss unemployment program."

"Great! I'll go with you. I told my Dad I'd make a decision on a job related to the Festival. Gotta discuss it with my Environment Farm friends.”

"So what's the problem?” Lin asks, propping herself up on the pillow and transferring a stack of folders to her lap, from the nearby desk.

. "Well, according to my Dad, the Ministry for Environment and Industry are establishing ‘Green Corridors' that will eventually link all the river systems across the state and . . ."

Lin shuffles through some papers in one of the folders. "Sounds like an interesting, if not somewhat improbable proposal,” she says with a sceptical lift of her eyebrows, "though I can't help wondering which publicly owned service they'd sell off to pay for it - not that there's much left." She leans out and picks up her shoulder bag. "Sorry - I'm listening. I just need to sort out a few papers before I leap out of bed. What would your job be Matt?”

"Servicing state wide Task Forces set up for each Bio-Region.” Matilda replies. “The Task Forces will have the authority for environment impact investigation and public education. Longer term, they’ll coordinate state-wide land restoration. A big ask - re-vegetation with indigenous plants and native fauna - "

"To say nothing of indigenous People. Does Aboriginal land come into the equation?” .

"No. No consideration whatsoever about Aboriginal rights.” Matilda shifts on to one elbow, "Also, I don't think for one moment that they're serious about land purchase. - Imagine the outrage from land-owners, given the paranoia over Native Title, whereas this scheme actually could impact in freehold. Only through voluntary sale, though. -Land owners will be requested to set aside thirty extra metres of river bank for re-vegetation. Towns and cities are exempt.” Impatiently Matilda hitches the doona up to her ears. "And as for land restoration - forget that too. They've already spent billions, - inappropriately - on the promised de-salination of the Murray-Darling, so -"

"So you don't believe in the project, but you're still thinking of going for the job?” says Lin transferring papers from one folder to another.

"Yes. Because I have a feeling that the Bio- Region concept could catch people's imaginations,” replies Matilda, not sure if Lin is simply amused by her intensity. "You see, through this project, people could begin to understand the Land as a living community - that we human creatures depend on the Bio-region’s health.” Matilda moves over to make room for the stack of folders Lin is still sorting. "But it's the humans that have to stop stuffing it up,"

Lin puts the folders into her shoulder-bag and clicks it shut. She snuggles down under the bedclothes. "And your job would involve?” she asks, and now there is real interest in her voice.

"Contacting specialist advisors,” Matilda answers. “- putting the Task Forces in touch with flora and fauna restoration experts - public education programs. That's the one area that could be worthwhile in the whole project.”

"Hmm. No easy task, Matilda, seeing you don't have any faith in the scheme’s viability.” Again Matilda isn’t sure how to react. Lin pulls the doona up under both their chins. She grins, turning to Matilda.

"Five more minutes in bed with the goddess who descended from the heights,” she murmurs. Lin is lightly tracing the outline of Matilda’s wide, silky brows, when there is a knock at the door and Bonny and Maggie burst in. - Not again! Matilda groans.

"Sorry, yet again - truly.” Maggie is obviously taken aback. "Look, we're in a rush. - Otherwise we wouldn't infringe. - Corey said you might be here. Maggie thrusts a piece of paper at Matilda. “ - Nomination forms for the Women's Oral History Committee.” Maggie makes a wry face. "It must look like we make a habit of bursting into bedrooms.” She shrugs helplessly. "It's just that before the printing goes ahead, we need nominations.”

Matilda hoists herself on one elbow, tries vainly to smooth back the wildness of her dishevelled hair and scans the form.

"The pace of life sure seems to have intensified since I've been away.” she says with an embarrassed half-smile, "But thanks Maggie for thinking of me for the Committee.” Matilda signs the form, all too aware of Lin lying beside her, and hoping that Lin won't laugh.

Matilda checks the form. She hooks the tousled hair behind her ears. "Maggie, this is Lin, an old friend from Broome.” says Matilda with a slight cough. "And Lin, this is Maggie - also an old and dear friend.”

Bonny cuts Matilda short. "Look. Like Maggie says. We're in a hurry.” She frowns. "And we don't make a habit of intruding into people's bedrooms - straight or - whatever it is you might yourself.” Bonny almost snatches the form from Matilda as she hustles Maggie out the door.

Lin, completely mystified struggles belatedly into her red satin dressing-gown. "What was that parting shot about?”

Matilda's shoulders heave. She rolls about in bed, possessed by visitations of laughter. "She, she - Bonny. Oh Lin, last night she thought I was heterosexual. - But now, she - Oh, it's so embarrassing.” Matilda gasps. She claps a palm to her brow. “No, actually, it's hilarious, because, of course. Now, you see she thinks I'm a lesbian !"

Lin's eyes flicker and are still. “ - Well, aren't you?” she says in a carefully level voice.

Matilda's laughter stops suddenly. "Oh, God! Look Lin. I'll explain later. But I'm not heterosexual.”

Lin smiles again. “I thought so.”

"No. Wait. I'm not a lesbian. "

“So you're Bi.?"

"No. - Look I hate these labels. . . "

Lin's eyes flicker again. "Then you're going against your own position, Matilda. - Equality and diversity. Isn't that what this new job's about?”

Matilda tries to restrain the tension in her voice. Her cough dissipates into the inappropriate, helpless giggle that signals, 'Danger. Wrong Way. Go Back'. She changes tack. "Labels are mostly libels anyway, so . . .”

"No Matilda. You're making light of it. Okay, so labels are stereotypes.” Lin pushes her feet into embroidered, red satin slippers. "Do you really want to sweep all these uncomfortable differences away?” Lin asks. “Abolish labels and with one wave of the wand, we'll all be the same.” Vigorously Lin knots her red, silk dressing gown cord. "What kind of sameness would you suggest? By whose bench-mark would we all be the same?, - No more Chinese Australians? No more lesbian Australians? So let’s all just pass as being the boring same as the boring monoculture ay?” Matilda attempts to reply, but Lin hasn't finished. "Don't label people by class, or wealth - or power. No, listen. Throw out the labels when we all achieve equality. But until that day ...”

Matilda, near naked under the doona feels an intense impulse to leap up, to gesture dramatically, to shout, 'Lin, this is me You're talking about me!' but instead she twists herself upright, doona-wrapped, vulnerable - on the edge of the bed.

"Hang on, Lin,” she replies, “Of course I believe in diversity, in the right to be who you are, to express that difference. And to have it recognized. In Australia that is essential.” She tries to insist, but her voice betrays her. "Accepting - no celebrating class and ethnic difference is really important here. But,” Matilda's voice is hoarse - almost a whisper, "where sexuality is concerned - No I mean to say, where sexual preference is concerned . . ."

Matilda breaks off helplessly. She never knows how to explain in the face of a dissenting response. - So now I'm going to fall back on holding myself responsible, she thinks miserably and finds herself saying, "Well the fact is you see, that I just don't often ... I mean - Look Lin,” she pleads, "we're getting a bit intense for this hour of the morning - yes?”

"Yes. - But we are. - Intense I mean, and likely to become more so.” Lin slings a towel over her shoulder and pauses, one hand on the door knob. "Okay. So you don't often. - Message received. Let's adjourn - but NOT conclude this topic for a more appropriately tense time.” Lin flicks the light switch on and off rapidly. “Chairman Mao say single spark ignite a prairie fire; and . . .” she flicks the switch again, “ - was it Mae West say, 'C'mon baby, light my fire.’ ?” Lin exits with a flourish of the red satin bathrobe.

Oh god! Matilda elbows on knees, stares out at the fog. - Stuff politics of difference. - If I can't explain myself to myself, how on earth can I . . .?” Matilda sinks back onto the mattress. “- Five more minutes.” She slides back into the still-warm bed.