Chapter 11-15

Chapter Eleven


- Have to get these raked up or I can't put the car away.

Andrea taps Karolina on the shoulder looking embarassed.

"Karolina can I have a word? The lawn-clippings.” Karolina leans on the rake.

"What's wrong ”

"Oh. Nothing really It's just that I've heard one or two of the neighbours complain a bit."

- This I don't need, thinks Karolina. Andrea and Frank have lived in the street all their lives, buying after their marriage, the house next door to Andrea's parents. When Matilda was a youngster she was a good neighbour Their boys had helped Rory build the now disused boat-ramp at the bottom of the garden. After building the canoe, Rory had taken the boys rowing up-river with Matilda.

Karolina visualises the purple-pink African daisies, the white ones with the pale, purple undersides, the pointy, orange caps of the nasturtiums nodding above saucer-shaped leaves.

"It's the smell of those lawn-clippings. I don't mind, but some of the others - particular you see.” Andrea smiles.

"Oh, I am so sorry. I've started study again. No time to mow the lawns. - What I'm doing here is killing the lawn with lawn-clippings - do you see?”

. "This could bring rats, - fungal diseases.” Andrea's lips are pursed tightly.

"Oh, but there's no need to worry - truly. I'm only doing the middle of the nature-strip. Almost finished."

Matilda turns the corner and takes in Karolina, the rake and the lawn clippings, and is astonished. "Karolina. Permaculture! Mulch. But you need to let it rot down first.”

“I was just telling Andrea how I'm going to plant out African Daisies. It'll look really nice. And, Andrea it will save so much time. - Only another week to go - truly."

"Well. It's just that new neighbours have moved in. - Wouldn't want them to think we had a careless street. - They're Arabs.” Andrea adds significantly.

"Then would you have any objection to African Daisies?” asks Karolina

"No, why would I?” asks Andrea.

"They're from Africa. Place where some Arabs come from," replies Karolina.” And Yugoslavia, where I come from. That's not far from the Middle East.”

"Oh, Karolina. That was a long time ago. - You and your jokes!"

“God, that woman's outrageous.” says Karolina. "And Matilda, before you go another step further, I don’t want to start off this way, but I just have to say you were out of line this afternoon. You lost your cool in my class.”

"What else could I do Mum? - Should I cover for the fact that you never gave me the correct information? I had to say something, so I said Croatia.” Surprisingly, Matilda doesn’t appear fazed by Karolina’s directness. “- Where do you come from, anyway?"

"Matilda. - I come from Yugoslavia. You know that!"

"But Karolina, Yugoslavia means Serbia"

"It was Yugoslavia in my day.” insists Karolina, "so why on earth imply that I tell you nothing.?"

"Because it's true."

"Nonsense! Matilda, would you just pick up those pots and stack them? - Matilda I was very young. Too young to understand whether I came from Croatia, Bosnia, Kosovo - whatever. Yugoslavia was one country in those days."

"Karolina, you were seven! I remember heaps from when I was seven”

"Well, not all children are the same.” Karolina sweeps the soil off the footpath. "You and I are very different."

Matilda stacks the pots and closes the gate. "Mum, your father must have told you. If he was a champion skier, you must have seen local trophies. Besides, seven year- olds have really good memories. Seven's the age languages are picked up easily"

To herself Karolina says - Oh yes. I'd know about languages. Aloud she says, "Matilda, language is a very good point.When a child moves from one language and culture - Matilda, no! The pots go out the back! Look, when a child crosses continents and seas, there's a - cut-off point - a water-shed. Because the transition's so great."

Matilda picks up the pots. "And your father? My Grandfather Andreas? Didn't he pass on anything?"

Karolina pulls the gate shut. "No Matilda. Your grandfather wanted me to be a good Australian. That's the way it was then.”

"But Karolina, he must have been through great traumas in the war. And then afterwards under Tito?” Matilda faces her mother on the path. "All you've ever told me is that he was a school teacher. That his wife died. Your own mother - and you don’t know! - She must have been very young. I know your father worked on the Snowy Hydro-electric scheme - that you weren't with him at first in Australia. You stayed with Uncle Milos and Auntie Eileen, because Grandfather Andreas had to live in the single men's quarters at the Snowy."

Karolina swerves around Matilda. "We'll go round the side-way. I'm going to have a shower in the back laundry. Keep an eye on the oven? Turn it down a bit. - Oh and wash the lettuce.” Karolina's smile is strained. "You never used to be so curious! Matilda, there is truly very little that I remember. - I'm not the creative, imaginative type. You inherited that from your father."

Karolina heads for the shower in the laundry, while Matilda takes the pots and tools to the shed, where the ground slopes to the river. Here the garden is completely wild - a tangle of Black Wattle, Kangaroo Apple and Swamp Paper Bark. A narrow foot- track leads to the jetty. The tree-platform is still in the plum tree, where Matilda used to sit curled up sucking plums and reading ‘The Famous Five’ books, ‘The Magic Pudding’ and ‘Snugglepot and Cuddlepie’ while spying on the adults. It is here that Matilda first learned to love native plants. - Blue Grass Lilies, those spiky, blue heads of the Blue Devils, the Pussy Tails, fluffy as Persian cats and the summer-sky blue of the Tufted Bluebells.

- Funny thing, reflects Matilda - But it was Mum who first sparked my interest in wild-flowers, when she showed me how Trigger-plants self-pollinate. I used to love those rambles in the garden with Karolina. Matilda drops off the pots in the shed. - Only reason Karolina remembers how Trigger-plants work is because of Anna Highland, the girl who showed her the Scribbly Gum. – Strange though, Mum's not the slightest bit interested in native plants.

Matilda wishes Karolina had kept in touch with Anna Highland, Auntie Eileen and Uncle Milos - even if they weren't actually relatives. She fossicks on the shed shelf and drags down Rory's tent - Phoo! Dusty. Karolina's not the only one needing a shower, thinks Matilda, as she hauls out the climbing-gear bag.

- Whoops! The oven. Said I'd turn it down. Matilda drags the equipment to the back veranda, dusts herself down and hurries to the kitchen. - Better give that tent bag a clean. - Must be years, she says to herself - since that tent’s been used - probably back at the Canberra Folk Festival.- Couldn't have been more than six. Matilda had liked the Kids' Village most of all - the face-mask she made out of feathers and found materials. Riding behind the tractor to the Anarchists' Farm with the 44 gallon drums full of food scraps for the veggie paddock. - Covered the whole paddock with compost. The older kids seemed more interested in the naked men and bare-breasted women, but Matilda told them that she went to a Community School and that the human body was natural and nothing to write home about.

- The first time I played the concertina in public. Must've been about ten, I suppose. Matilda turns the heavy tent over and begins to sweep down the other side. - Castlemaine! Squatter's property. - An old Western District Family. Rory had said. The performers were billeted in the servants' quarters. Matilda smiles at the memory. - It had been an unbearably hot day, so they all dragged their beds outside in the cool. - Twelve iron beds under the stars. - Woke up at day-break to the screeching of cockatoos and surrounded by hundreds of curious merinos.

Matilda stops sweeping for a moment. - Was that Castlemaine Festival the first time Rory had sung the Nut brown Maiden song in? - It must have been! Matilda hums to herself as she resumes sweeping.

Horo, my Nut-brown Maiden,

Hi-ri my Nut-brown Maiden.

Ho-ro-o-ro-o maiden.

Oh she's the maid for me


Oh Mary, mild-eyed Mary,

By land or on the sea,

Tho' time and tide may vary,

My heart beats true to thee.

Of course when Rory sang the song to her at night when she couldn't sleep, Rory changed the words to, 'Oh Matty, dark-eyed Matty.' But these were not the correct words. They were just special - for her, Rory's Nut Brown Maiden. The night Rory sang Nut Brown Maiden at Castlemaine, Matilda accompanied him on her concertina and Matilda had joined in, in a high, clear descant. Rory was ecstatic. They performed the song the next night, with Rory on the violin. Some years later, Matilda had asked Rory why he no longer played his violin.

"Oh, Matilda.” he said, “I don't have that kind of song in me any more.” and he had looked very sad.

Matilda turns the tent over smiling. - You could sure fit an army in this tent, she says to herself. Matilda recalls that summer when Liam came down from Darwin for the Port Fairy Folk Festival. And of course there was always a big Irish turn-out at Port Fairy in the Shire of Belfast. - Towns called Killarney, pubs named 'The Caledonian.' Matilda gives the tent a final sweep and heaves it onto the veranda.

Logan's Beach, thinks Matilda. - That was the first time I saw a seal. - On the breakwater side of Lady Bay. Sand soft as caster sugar, the rump of the beach still wet from the tide's retreat, marked like a melaleuca trunk - a network of delicate whips and streaks. Sea bounty strewed the sand with long, fine filigrees - sea-ferns, sea plants - corbelled ochre and plum, soft feather-boas of mermaids. On the rocks were green,. donkey-tail plumes and sea plants resembling the sprouting tips of Norfolk Island Pines. Matilda had crouched down to get a closer look at the russet bracelets of Sea-grapes, shell-caps, porthole shells, with iridescent undersides - Neptune's necklaces, all tipped and trashed from the tide's hoard.

Matilda remembers the Labrador pup chasing gulls over by the tough leather-brown whips and wrappings of giant kelp hummocking on the rocks. She was bending over the tracings and draggings of sea-washed plants and bird-tracks, trying to make out the paddle-prints of gulls,ans the arrow-prints of coots, when she noticed the crow's deep imprint. There it was. The black crow, sipping flesh of the dusky shear-water, who left too late on the great trek North - thousands of miles Northwards to the Arctic Circle. Liam leaned over, comforting her.

"It's a migrant, Matilda - like your father, like your mother,” says Liam giving Matilda a comforting hug. “And like your grand-father Liam too. But you, you're not a migrant. You were born here."

Liam took Matilda by the hand to the end of the boat-ramp past the taps and cleaning-benches, still silver with scales from the morning's catch. They watched the water-heave, rhythmic - like a seal breathing. Matilda and Liam negotiated the slippery, sea-mossed rocks leading from the boat-ramp. Lying prone on a flat, black rock was a fawn-grey creature - a dead dog? No! It's a dead seal! Matilda went closer. The flanks heaved. It's alive! The seal twitched its cat-whiskers. With one flipper it scratched its furry ribs.

"It's playing with us.” said Liam.

"You're too close!” a fisherman on the boat ramp had warned them. "That seal's lazy, - Steals our fish. Raids the lines and nets. Keep back. They bite. It's not a pet. It's a wild animal. Fishermen here'd like to knock 'im off."

The seal looked at Matilda out of its soft, canny eyes and slowly rolled over into the water. Suddenly all was liquid, glistening movement, as slippery-slip, the seal looped the loop, tail and flippers twisting. On its back now, the seal brushed its cheek, scratched its whiskers with one flipper and in slow-motion rolled over, dived deep, surfaced, hurtling around the boat ramp and casually scrambled ashore.

That was when Liam told Matilda the story of the Sealy Woman of Donegal, the shape-shifting woman, who fell in love with a land man, stepped out of her seal-skin, married him and bore seven dark, children, with great, dark eyes, eyes like Matilda’s.

"But one day said Liam the Sealy Woman got lonely for her friends of the sea. She went upstairs to the attic and there she discovered her seal skin hidden away by her husband in his sandal-wood sea chest."

"Like Rory's sandal-wood sea-chest?"

"Yes, I suppose so.” said Liam. "So the Sealy Woman stepped back into her skin and slipped out to sea. But every year,” Liam continued, "that Sealy Woman returns to the break-water and scans the shore for one, brief sight of her children of the land.”

"And did she ever see her children again?” .

"Oh, yes, Matilda, she did.” Liam replied and then he went very quiet. "But not my Sealy Women. Not one of them came back. Neither one of them did I see again.” Liam stopped.

"Go on, Liam.”

"That's it, Matilda.” Liam answered. "End of story.”

"But, you said you knew more than one Sealy Woman. What happened to the other one?"

"Oh, that's just in a manner of speakin,’ Matilda,” Liam had said. “Just a manner of speaking. - Because I'm lonely for the slippin' and the slidin’ of those Sealy Women.” And he hugged Matilda tight against his grey, tweed jacket.



Matilda hears the silence. Karolina has turned the shower off. - The lettuce! She shoves the climbing gear box up beside the tent bag and makes for the kitchen.

Karolina surfaces from the outside shower. “Hah, the tent! You’ve done well Matilda. Rory always shoves it away all higgledy-piggledy. You are a good organiser.”

“That’s your influence, Karolina! I’m not an organiser by nature!.”

“No. You’re an artist and a dreamer like your father. So you don’t blame me for imparting to your artist’s soul a sense of reality?”

“No way! Some of the hippie kids with their earth-mother mums, who I used to cruise round with in the eighties were still living in the sixties. Even when I sort of went off the rails, I had – ” Karolina senses hidden reefs, but asks,

“Support? Corey? Mick?” Matilda pushes on, conscious of Karolina’s hurt.

“Well, yes, but I was going to emphasise the background that you gave me – that saw me through.” Matilda grins. “Guts. Reality. And pickled cucumbers!”

Karolina laughs aloud, “God. Reminds me of you turning this veranda into a shop.”

“A shop?”

“Surely you remember? You made pickled olives and – ”

“Oh, yes! Wash the olives every day. - Change the soaking water for five days! Then, what I used to love was when you got me to put the fresh egg in –“

“Until it floated!”

“Yes! Then the water was salty enough for pickling!”

“No wonder you managed to beg, borrow or steal pickled cucumbers in Kakadu!’

“Yep. Even when we were croc-trapping on the East Alligator River!”

“Croc-trapping!” Fear shadows Karolina’s eyes. “Oh Matilda, I worry about you. The skills of your work are so lethal!”

There is mischief in Matilda’s eyes. With her long, clever fingers, she touches, very lightly, exactly the right spot under Karolina’s ears, standing smiling over her mother. “Tall I may be – like Rory,” she says, “but you’re the one who taught me –”

Karolina laughs again,“Self-defence? Indeed. But pressure-point tactics for crocodiles, no way!” Nevertheless there is an ambivalence in the touch of Matilda – a gentle stroking, that is the touch of love, a slight pressure of the touch of - is it vengeance? Karolina freezes momentarily, then relents. – I am the one who has failed my daughter and this touch – who am I to judge its intent?

With Karolina upstairs, Matilda makes for the kitchen. Her glance falls onto the veranda bookshelf – Wow! The Famous Five. The Magic Pudding! All my childhood books! She sinks to her knees on the sheep-skin rug recalling how Karolina used to read to her at bed-time. Karolina was such a brilliant reader. - How Matilda had so loved the story of Little Ragged Blossom and the gumnut babies, that she used to go hunting for them down by the river. - I remember making a home for the gumnut babies in a box I lined with grass. I told Karolina how worried I was that the villians of the story – who were they? Oh yes, the Big Bad Banksia Men! Must’ve been about seven, because it was the time Rory started taking me away at weekends to folk-festivals. Matilda frowns, with her dark brows, recalling how when she had triumphantly showed Karolina her gumnut babies’ home of safety from the Big Bad Banksia Men, Karolina had snatched away the box.

“Matilda, listen to me!” She looked very serious. “If your father’s going to drag you off to shearing sheds and festivals, there’s some real safety facts, you should know. Keep close to your father. Don’t go with strangers – ”

“Strangers? You mean like the Big Bad Banksia Men?” Matilda’s great, dark eyes grew shiny with the thrill of Karolina’s serious voice. Karolina swooped Matilda up and sat her on the kitchen bench.

“No Matilda – real men. Ordinary men. Young and old. Women too. Matilda you must be sensible. You can trust some people. Others you can’t.. People sometimes hurt and cheat.” Karolina’s gaze into little Matilda’s rock-pool eyes was a fierce love-gaze. So while Matilda was jumping up and down in wool-bales, or dangling her bare toes in the cool waters of a country creek, or whooping round the camping-ground at some folk-festival, she would stop and turn in a circle and see that, yes, Rory’s eyes were on her. Almost always, Rory’s eyes and Karolina’s eyes were on their nut-brown maiden. And if not, then rest assured, Karolina’s pressure-point lessons ensured that little Matilda could take care of herself. - Hey, I’d forgotten that, thinks Matilda, as she rinses the lettuce. Guess you don’t always remember from when you were seven! –

"Mum, You used to tell me about an oak forest - how you used to

walk in a forest of oaks.” Matilda slices a cucumber and starts to chop the tomatoes. "What was it like? - I can’t imagine an oak forest.”

Karolina frowns. - Is she frowning, trying to remember, or is it pain that just for a moment that shadows her face? "Matilda, I'm not sure. - They were only wide, spreading trees with fluttering leaves.”

"And wild-flowers Mum. Were there wild-flowers?”

“How would I know?” Karolina opens the cupboard. "Matilda,wait a bit. We need rice-wine vinegar.” She passes Matilda the bottle and lifts the casserole out of the oven.

“Yum! Your Cabbage Casserole. Mum, what would its proper name be? It is a Yugoslavian dish, isn't it?”

"I don’t really know, Matilda. - Place mat, please.” Karolina puts the casserole on the table. "I've always made it. My father used to like it."

Matilda serves out the casserole. "Karolina, you told me once how you used to have meals under the grape-vines, how you used to sit on the stone wall of the well. - Did you have dinner outside often? Would that be to celebrate feast days? - Would these outside meals be held in summer?” Excited, Matilda puts down her fork. The words tumble out. "Oh, and Karolina - something that’s just come to me. - Were your people Muslim or Christian? Did they tell you stories, stories from your culture – like Rory’s stories?"

"Matilda. Hold it. Hold it right there. What’s got into you lately?” Karolina puts down her knife with a clatter. "I repeat, I came out here when I was very young ... I do not recall."

"Well Dad's got lots of stories,” replies Matilda defensively, "And he came here at the same age as you."

"Now Matilda, comparisons are odious. Your father is the imaginative type. - I'm not. - Your dinner's getting cold.” Karolina reaches for the salad-bowl. "Anyway, your father's stories draw a very long bow."

Matilda passes her plate to Karolina. "A long bow? - What do you mean?"

Karolina looks intently at Matilda. "Matilda, it's not for me to say - for me to tell you how to discriminate.” She hesitates. "But, just listen to your father's stories a bit more critically - yes, critically next time.” She switches on the electric jug. “Now. - Tea? Coffee?”

Matilda looks puzzled. "Karolina, what do you mean? Rory's given me a rich heritage.” She smiles. "I know he's a bit over the top sometimes, but . . .?"

Karolina will not be moved. "Just listen!” is all she will say.



"There. That should do it!” Mick gives the tent bag a heave. Matilda passes the rope over the load and the two of them secure it to the pack-rack. "Would've brought the ute if I'd realized the tent was so big.”

As Karolina stands at the front door waving them off, Matilda notices her father’s land-rover pulling up. – Rory seems to be spending lots of evenings with Karolina lately, thinks Matilda, pleased, as she waves in recognition. Karolina leans against the door-post waiting.

- Matilda simply doesn’t comprehend my relationship with Rory, she muses – why should she? The young don’t understand the old. What would she say if I were to tell her, which heaven forbid - that it is sex that keeps us together? - Is that all there is between us? She’d see that as not tasteful; there’s a romantic idealism about Matilda that borders on the sexless. – She’d see us as primitive –which is not the same in any shape or form as primal – oh no indeed! - ‘Sex is only a biological exercise!’ she’d say. No way! Karolina frowns, wondering why Rory is taking such a long time. – Is it really only sex, though? Surely not, not the juicy slide of that skin on this skin, the Rory Kelly-ness of the lad? Irish; loveable; - bloody hopeless, totally irritating, the eternal child! Karolina smiles in the direction of the land-rover. - No way I could actually live with him! But – we two together, become – lost, overwhelmed in the slow slip of time before time when time is – new; that is the way of it – how I feel. – New! Every time. – No need for talking. None at all.

Rory opens the car door for a breath of cold air. He drops his head onto arms outspread on the steering-wheel, for a moment’s respite. – It’s been a long day and the best is yet to come. Tomorrow morning, after a wonderful night with Karolina, he will go bush – as he does most weekends, to Wilson’s Promontory. He will walk alone on Squeaky Beach. He will gaze long at seal rocks and mist-wreathed seas and the green headlands that most closely resemble the cliffs of Ireland. If the weather is wild enough and only if the upper currents are cutting across the undertow, will he will row in the whipping wind over to the seal rocks. Rory surmises that Matilda would see him and Karolina as a distinctly odd couple – that all they do is spend nights together and they should sort it out one way or another. – But it’s not one way or another! Matilda will come to see that one day, maybe, mixin’ it as I think she does with the boys and the girls. Rory snuggles his head down into his arms. - But where’s the bounce and bravo of her, like when she was a wee colleen? Rory rubs his brow and sinks his head again onto his arms.

- Karolina too. Does she not see that when we make love, ‘tis not merely sex that we are at the doin’ of? - the seas and oceans of us that merge, the creeks of us that flow into the great river of us? - The full, underground river, like Keats’ Alph the Sacred River running into sunless seas? - The sacred river without the sun! There is a glitter and glint in Rory’s dark eyes. – Ah, but the rivers – all of ‘em come from skies of rain; millions o’ years ago, the ancient rains that seeped into hidden bedrock – the kiss o’ rain on dry land, the dark plunge into depths and caves! Rory frowns, gripping the steering wheel hard. – No less sacred for that plunge. It is what is lost and deep that is the well-spring of our … Rory hesitates, pain shadowing his eyes, - our relationship! - That is all I can bloody call it – the wellspring of a relationship – a sorry word! But if Karolina my dearest, would only realise that what flows from our hidden depths – that is our fullness!

Rory starts as the firm hand of Karolina closes over his and immediately the thrill of the flesh is running and flashing in the deep, unspoken seas of them.

"Nearly dark. Drat.” says Mick. "I'd hoped we could have dropped this off in daylight."

"Mick, you've got the tent. You've got the climbing gear - though god knows why you want all this stuff.” says Matilda tartly. She looks at the darkening sky as they head out towards Preston. "Do you realize we are in the Plenty Ranges now?” .

"No, I don't. But, look Matt. I can't give reasons. - There's other people involved. When the time comes -.” He brakes a bit too suddenly behind a tram. "The Plenty Ranges? Named after the Plenty River, are they?”

“Yes. But what do you mean you can’t give reasons? I‘m involved! No-one gives me reasons! My own mother tells me stuff-all about herself! I don’t have the faintest clue where she came from, what her childhood was like. If I could just get some idea why she couldn’t

handle – “

“A dope-smoking, full-on, vengeful, randy fourteen-year old?”

“No Mick! Karolina just closed right off. There was a – a lack – in her, or in me.

“Just as well the guardianship board packed me off to Corey, so that I found you Mat and you met Corey. Kids who are too much for their parents, parents at odds with their kids. Keeps youth refuges in business If I tried to prise my past outta my old man, he’d thump me clear over the Plenty Ranges! But –” Mick changes lanes. “Hard to imagine a valley of plenty around this way now, ay? - Highest youth unemployment’s in this region.” Matilda glances un-seeing across the flats to the east of Plenty Road. She touches Mick’s knee.

"Sorry Mick. I must seem so wimpy compared to the stuff you had to wear growing up. And yet you’ve found – direction, found who you are.”

“The ranges, they’re still here,” says Mick, “even if they’ve lost their name - become just another suburb”

But Matilda is looking beyond the roof-tops to the blue of the Dandenongs. "It's a bit easier,” she says excited, “to see the shape of the natural eco-system, the Yarra Yarra Bio-region from here. You can see the shape of the whole valley.” - But you see it, she tells herself, from the nameless perspective of lost ranges. - Fragments and tatters of the old, lost membership, Gary Snyder calls it. Aloud she says,

"Wouldn't it be fantastic if we could get through to enough people - through the green corridors project. - Re-forest the Plenty Ranges. - De-centralize the cities. Let the whole place be itself again." Mick’s eyes have that quizzical look. Matilda returns the look, her hand still holding his knee.

"Okay. I know. That sort of change would have to be massive. City Gardens, composting loos, shrinking the cities – Changes that have to happen at government level” She corrects herself, unsettled by the fever of the evening sky and by her closeness to Mick. "No; not changes at government level. - Changes to government. Yes, I'm quite clear about this.”

Mick pulls up outside the Refuge and sets about untying the tent. Matilda, despite her protestations to the contrary, does not sound at all clear. "Let's face it, Mick, I've taken on an impossible task. - When it's all said and done, nothing short of - limiting growth; ” Matilda gives a tug to the rope and the tent tumbles to the ground. “- Limiting growth," she continues, aware of the undercurrents between them, but acting cool, casual, taking up one end of the tent, "- Abandoning affluence and profit. Whoops - sorry.” Matilda loses grip on the tent. "God almighty.” she laughs, "Here I am, talking revolution, when I don't - coming across like those Twenty-Twenty people – ” She gives the tent a heave and finds herself in Mick's arms, which, if truth be told, has been where she wanted to be all along.

"Tonight?” Mick says. They flop down on the tent and their kisses are more than warm in the cool, half-light.

Cal opens the door. "The tent. Oh wow!” she says, as if that’s all she notices. "And the climbing gear?”

"Yep. Got that too.” says Mick, reluctantly moving away. Together Mick and Matilda pull out the climbing gear. "Matilda, I really want - “ Mick hesitates. He looks profoundly sad.

Matilda puts a finger against Mick's lips. "Tonight Mick,for sure. Tonight. I want you tonight"

Mick breaks away. "No Matt, there's more. He shoves his hands into the pockets of his jeans. He kicks at the pavement. "Matilda, there's never the right place or the right time for us” he insists. “Who knows how long you'll be in Melbourne? - Six months at the outside? Matt, neither of us are conventional sorts of people. - Oh Bloody Hell!” Mick twists around facing away from Matilda, facing upwards to cold stars above bleak warehouses. "Look, what I mean is that - like you, Matt I don't give a toss about that romantic crap - ties that bind - soul mates. . ."

Mick stops, turns again facing Matilda across what seems like a very great divide. "But - I want a personal life as well as a - a political life. Kids for God's sake! - Don't you ever feel that way, Matt?” Mick hangs his head. The words come out barely above a whisper. "Anyway, soul-mate's a word I'd probably be happy to own where you're concerned. - Or, even ... love.” He looks up briefly, "if the word wasn't so debased.” Mick sits down on the bluestone door-step, burying his head in his hands. "Must sound like some Victorian gent declaring himself.”

Matilda sits down beside him "Time to go inside, and have a bloody, good night of it with me old soul mate. - No. Sorry Mick! I wasn't joking. Oh God. Didn't mean to sound flippant.” says Matilda quickly, seeing the distress in Mick's eyes. “It's just that - Mick, you know who you are. Whereas I, I don't know.” Mick draws breath, attempting to disagree. "No. I don't - Not any more” She clasps Mick's knees in both her hands. "And - you're so - political, dedicated.” Matilda hoists the box of climbing gear up onto her lap. "Mick, I agree with everything you've said - Everything. A personal life. Belonging. Kids - not being conventional, traditional. - whatever."

Matilda stands up. "I need to work something out - here, in Melbourne. I will do this thing.” She half smiles, then looks away, “But I can't give the answer when I don't know the question.” Matilda reaches for Mick's hand, though the climbing-gear box gets in the way, so she settles for hooking a finger around his finger. Their foreheads touch. Minutes pass and still they sit on the kerb, unmoving, each hearing the other’s breathing - slowing down, deepening, that one flame-breath intake, binding them in this hot, slow breath of two becoming one.

"Hot chocolate!” calls Mouse. "You not let it get cold or I have your guts for garters. - Whatever that bloody means.”

Chapter Twelve


Rory slings his bulging, leather brief-case onto the sofa. - A quiet night at home! Corey's invitation, standing in his favourite bowl, jogs his memory. This bowl is a smaller replica of the famous, Danish, stag-antlered man - Cernunnos, the stag King.

. Corey's party' invitation is a lino-print edged with silver, depicting the sun, moon and the sign of – Saturn perhaps? Apart from bush lore and the lore of the Celt, Rory isn’t mythologically literate. - Oh yes. A Mid-winter solstice party. Rory sits down heavily on the sofa, recalling how fifteen years ago, Karolina and her feminist friends,friends had flown on their broom-sticks to Corey's for their Consciousness-raising groups. - Well got to be fair. Forbidden parts of who we are. They do need nourishment and that’s the truth.

Rory turns the card over. – God Corey was a fine woman back in the folk scene days. A hand-written note falls out. My God! Corey's invited Nelson Magnum. Golden opportunity for all sorts of coils downstream to Karolina's. - Lucky to get this apartment, I was, thinks Rory. - even if money was not the price. He leaps up to stand overlooking the river. This block of flats has the lead-light windows typical of dwellings built in the Twenties. The high ceilings are decorated with vaguely Egyptian-style plaster strapping. The carpets glow with snap-dragon designs and autumn leaves. In the cavernous, stair-well when no-one is around, Rory likes to sing. Water songs, because Rory always likes to live near water - has to, if it comes to that.

"Deep Blue Sea, Baby, Deep Blue Sea,

(Rory would sing in the stair-well)

"Deep Blue Sea, Baby, Deep Blue Sea,

Deep Blue Sea, Baby, Deep Blue Sea.

It was Willy what got drownded,

In the Deep blue sea"

(or, the rich tenor voice would intone) -

"Wade in the Water. Wade in the Wa-ter, chillen.

Wade in the Wa-ter. -God's. Gonna. Trouble -

the Wa-a-a-terrr."

Corey's harp? - She'll be playing tonight, The Great Song? Could it be possible that Corey? - Only those who live the story can make up the song . Rory flings his Bush hat onto the hat-stand. -If the Song doesn't work, the whole Festival's for nought. Rory stares up at the ebony-black Pacific-island masks adorning the wall, gazes intensely into their trochus-shell eyes before pouring a whisky. He props on the bar-stool, glancing moodily at his parchment of the three masked, dancing mummers that he had purchased at a Celtic fair in Wangaratta. One of the dancers plays a flute, the second a set of pan pipes, the third a fiddle. - Not surprising when you think of it, he tells himself. - Wangaratta, close to Glenrowan - Kelly Country. Ned Kelly himself would soon be jigging and jogging to the music of these three merry gentlemen in their green capes and britches - their pointy red shoes a-twinkling and a-tapping. Written in gold lettering below the masked dancers are the words,

"I am the wave on the ocean, I am the roar of the sea. I am the stag of seven points.” - The curve of the antlers, Rory recalls, would represent the crescent moon, the feminine. - The great stag, he repeats as if by rote, is the male. Rory goes closer for a clearer look at the tipsy, jiggling dancers in the three masks - the mask of the ram, the mask of the bull and the mask of the stag.

"Who but I,” he reads, "mends the torn thatch of wounds? Who but I knows the secrets of the Stone Door?” - Yes. Secrets.” he repeats ... "Who but I shapes the weapons in a stronghold of glass?” Rory glances again at the river’s flat shine, glowing sinister as steel. "Who but the poet, the singer of praise songs?” That indeed is the task, thinks Rory - for the song man must not forget. "Who keeps the two armies separate?” he whispers. "I, who am the wind of the sea.” - Rory drains the glass.

"No more,” he says aloud to the masked dancers. “- Separate no more. - So,” he shrugs. "The song it is then. And the harp too, if I can talk Corey into it." Rory grins. - If it’s one of those feminist nosh-ups, she can count me out - But, if the dear woman is inviting V.I.P's - it would indeed be remiss of the Festival Director to absent himself.

Rory squints from under his brows at the delicate maze of intertwining knots and spirals of his Book of Kells print in its gilt frame. His eye traces the outline of the quirky creatures, a grimly humorous, mythic raven and two rampant griffins - 'Bring food, relevant to Winter. Bring a song or a poem.'

“Hah! Corey, I'm your man. - And, if you will just play your harp at the Festival, I'll bring foodtoo!” Rory adjusts the shamrock-embroidered strap of his twelve-string guitar. The great eyebrows shoot upwards. “Half a mind to send up the whole show! Bunch of witches! He strums absently and a song emerges . "Could be appropriate, with a little poet's licence” Rory slaps his thigh and laughs aloud. "Fine mid-winter fare. Most symbolic! He heads for the kitchen, just as outside, flying low above the river, a mob of kookaburras starts up for the evening, breaking out full-throttle with their side-clutching laughter,



"Rory! Good to see you outside of work." Louisa calls Rory over to the fire. "Isn't Corey’s stencilling fantastic?

. Louisa is drinking something long, and pale lemon. Rory winces. "Want one?” she asks, mistaking his glance. - Must be cradle-snatching employees at the Arts Ministry, if this youngster's a Community Arts manager. Rory shakes his head, refusing the offered drink.

Paul also from the Ministry grins, knowing Rory's taste in liqour. "Louise was just telling us that she speaks six languages."

"Family languages, or university?” asks Rory having a bet with himself that Louisa's one of these up and coming bureaucrats - multiple degrees, the toe-cutter type, Generation X, fast-tracking herself to the top.

Louisa allows herself a faint smile. "Both. Thought I might as well capitalise on my back-ground."

"Which is?” asks Stavros.

- Ah, Stavros .- Ethnic Affairs, thinks Rory. - Must have a word.

"Born in Czechoslovakia.” Louisa explains. "My parents got out when I was eight. To Austria. Then after four years, to Italy - spent my teen years in France. My father's Russian. Louisa's a handy name.” She smiles again, the same faint smile. "No-one can pick where you've come from.”

"And that's a plus? queries Stavros. "They tried to change my name to Steve at primary school, but my dad wouldn't let them.”

“I spent most of my childhood in Paris,” says Ahmet. “Got a French accent to prove it!”

"So long as you yourself know who you are. Know it for certain.” says Rory more strongly than he had intended. - Shouldn't get involved in these kinds of discussions, he tells himself. - Only serves to light old fuses and he feels a familiar sadness rising in him.

"Of course it's a plus.” counters Louisa..

"But what do you feel inside, Louisa?” Rory asks gently. “A citizen of the world?”

"No. French.” she answers, just to disagree with him. "At least at the moment I feel French, but origins are a bore.” Louisa sips the drink thoughtfully. “That's why I like Australia. You don't need any ties here. Unlike France and the States, Australia has a weak patriotism. - Suits me fine.” she finishes rather too defiantly.

- Making a virtue out of alienation, thinks Rory to himself - And so, ma cherie, you 'ave your way and I have mine. And who's to say which is better?

Rory hastens to greet Karolina and Corey. Karolina is exclaiming over the centre-piece. - Spider flowers, they used to be called, the clawed curve of the crimson, bunched-up florets resembling a curled-up spider. “But these are really large for a Grevillia flower.” says Rory admiring the arching, scarlet stamens, the clusters of florets, glowing redly against the spikes of rich, green leaves.

"Oh, yes,” says Corey, pleased. "This is a new hybrid. "

"Corey, they're beautiful.” Matilda enthuses. "Grevilleas are the easiest native plants to hybridize.” .

"Hybrid Afghan-Chinese on my father's side. Lowland Scots on my mother's.”

"In post-colonial Australia, aren't we all hybrids?” asks Ahmet.

"So long as you don't mention post-modernism,.” Karolina cuts in. The whole university's swimming in post-modernism.”

"Mum,” asks Matilda , did you bring your Cabbage Casserole?"

"Yes. Only this time I've used the correct ingredients.” Karolina gestures. “Thanks to Dzaved, here. Rory, this is Dzaved Emirovic, one of my students. – Oh, and Ahmet Khan – works at the Youth Refuge"

“Not exactly,” replies Ahmet. “I’m in charge of their work-place training project.” They shake hands and Dzaved tells them the real name of the familiar dish. - Who is this guy? says Rory to himself. Name like a middle-eastern Potentate - giving an unpronounceable name to our Cabbage Casserole?

"Lin, take a look at this. A community banner photograph, From one of the Neighbourhood Centres.” says Matilda, “The blue silk is the river of life-long learning. - Bouillon work . Gold braid. - Beautiful ay?”

"Gorgeous” Lin agrees. "The Chinese community's thinking of doing a contemporary dragon. - Not that I'm much involved with the Chinese community. Trouble is, this sort of project risks stereotyping us yet again.” Lin scrutinises the photo and passes it over to Stavros.

"I even cheated on the mid-winter food.” she confides. "Tofu and veg with Black Rice. Black Rice isn't Chinese, but I thought it could symbolise winter. It's dark. It's rare.” She looks quizzically at Maggie over her small, round spectacles. "It isn’t really rice, anyway, but a kind of grass-seed – A delicacy. Sweet and sour - like me!” Maggie frowns. Clearly, she takes these ceremonies seriously. "No, no Mags. I'm not being cynical - This is Oz. Anything can mean anything."

"Some of my students are interested in the refugee banner.” says Karolina. "They don't want to make national flags. No way. - It's nationalism that's driven people away from their homelands."

"Hey, Karolina!” Ahmet is excited. "Why not have a combined community banner? What do you think Maggie? People could simply do a smaller copy of their banner. Then get somebody to join 'em up."

"Hey!” exclaims Lin. "It could lead the parade!"

Matilda disagrees. "And who's going to do the work? We're over budget already.”

"Ahmet, you are a scholar and a gentleman.” Lin grabs the hands of Matilda and Maggie. "This way, my good women. We need to caucus.” She drags them into a corner. "First, the work of joining the miniature banners. Not a problem. A very good friend of your's Maggie, who has a passion for creative embroidery - "

"Bon. You're going to suggest Bonny.” Matilda looks stricken.

"Of course!" says Maggie.

"No. Hang on.” protests Matilda.

"Matilda, hear me out.” .Lin claps a hand over Matilda's mouth.” Here's the plan. We can resource this through the Women's Oral History project - your project, Matilda. "I'm a member of the ethnic women's working party. We co-opt Matilda in an advisory capacity -”

"But I'm not ethnic. I'm first generation -"

"Matilda. I haven't finished, woman.” says Lin. "We co-opt Matt for her links with Irish and Eastern European cultures and - "

"Links.” groans Matilda. "Burdens, more like!"

"Quiet.” growls Lin. "Now Matilda, Bon's not on the working party, but, after I persuade them, they'll coopt Bon as embroiderer. The organizers won't agree to a women-only banner to lead the parade, so - a workable compromise will be arrived at. - Inter-connect the banner project with the women's oral history. Say we authorize you to document the stories of contributing women's groups. - Bingo! You're co-opted onto the Women's Story-telling committee."

"Oh Lin. That's outrageous. Plotting, conniving."

"Rubbish. It's strategy - enterprise. And, yes, I can be a bitch for my friends.”

Maggie takes Matilda by both shoulders, "Matilda. This is a golden opportunity to get you back where you belong. Bon will get to know you. Matt, you should claim your right ."

“ - Well, it would need to be thought through, but - "

"Right. Leave it to me!” says Lin.

"No, Corey. No microwave to ruin the good food!” Rory puts the baking dish in the oven. He wanders outside and sits on a garden bench near the Sheila-na-gig statue, fingering the strings of his guitar. It is a clear, cold night and the stars glitter with surprising radiance. “- Deep mid-winter”, he says to himself “and the Southern Cross commands the sky.”

. - Perhaps all is as it should be, after all? Rory, old-gold Rory remembers the golden boy. - Hair like River red Gum timber . What girl said that? Back at Outpost Inn. The black-berry eyes – purple-brown. - All the girls loved Rory Kelly back in the 60’s. Fortunate I was to get in early on the scene. Rory strikes a chord fondly.

- When I arrived in Melbourne, the New Theatre and the folk-scene clubs – just becoming popular. Right man for the job I was,. Rory Kelly- self-made man in more ways than one. Rory strums until the song comes. Up near the veranda, Corey had set a fire in a forty-four gallon drum and the fuel has crumbled into black logs, furred with white ash glowing like the fire of the Grevillea flower. Rory sits warming his hands. He jumps back as, without warning Dzaved flings a load of branches onto the fire and red fire-pencils spurt up like weapons.

"Hey. Dzaved. Watch it. You nearly barbecued me!"

"Sorry. I am in charge of the fire.” Dzaved packs more branches into the drum and pokes at the fire with a stick. The burning eucalyptus gives its fragrance to the night.

"Cold evening, ay” says Rory, trying to be polite .

"Cold? No. On the contrary, I find it bracing.” says Dzaved.

- Bracing! thinks Rory to himself. Fancies himself as a linguist, does he? What's this fellow doing in Karolina's English class? - Anyway the accent's as thick as custard. - The guy's obviously one of these dedicated fire-watchers. Dzaved stirs at the drum, as if it were a cauldron and a stream of sparks jets up like the tails of rockets against the black sky. - Bloody pyromaniac, Rory says to himself, hunching over the guitar, singing softly. The song for the Festival won't come. He sighs - Better give tonight's performance a run. Rory strikes a chord, turns his back and sings on.

Suddenly, from the shadows - a voice, deep as winter - not a simple descant not even harmonizing, but blending, clashing like iron bones of rain. – Dzaved! The man's got perfect pitch. A real Bass! "Dzaved. Man, come over here. Come! Join in.” The two heads bend close. "The words. Man, you need the words,” Rory scribbles rapidly. - Damn! Hard to see. The lights have all clicked off. Solstice ceremony must be starting. Not much time.

Dzaved throws another load of branches and twigs onto the fire. The wood must be wet. A thick plume of smoke billows upwards Rory starts up in the acrid smoke. The guitar clatters onto the flagstones. He rushes away from the cloying smoke. He stumbles, almost falls, flings himself onto the ground. - The fingers press. Rory, twelve-year old Rory repeats,

"The western islands - County Mayo. I am a child of the western islands. - My mother is an island woman.”

And still the voice. "Say it. Say it again and the fingers pressing. "Never forget who you are."

"Sorry.” Rory plunges back through the smoke . "Lantana.” he explains. - Can't take it - lantana. Allergic.” But Dzaved has disappeared. Somehow Rory finds the back door.

Corey has lit a tall beeswax candle, hand-decorated with wavy black and silver spirals, at the base the sign of Saturn. In the candle-glow the conversation subsides.

"In dark times,” says Corey, "even a small candle brings people together.” There is a murmur, perhaps of embarrassment, since many Australians tend to be uneasy about anything smacking of ceremony.

"In dark times,” Corey continues, "there is confusion - Depression - not only personal, but economic. Political too."

"The food Cal and me bring..”says Mouse. "Good for dark times. Traditional. Corn, beans, chillies.” He grins. "Hot stuff. Too bloody right.”

Cal takes over, "In my country, we put the last cob of corn in the ground. We strip off the leaves. We make a figure. She's called Corn Lady. We hang up the Corn Lady over the front door. In Spring before we sow the seeds, we plant the Corn Lady in the earth.” Cal's face is so animated, thinks Matilda, - intense, her eyes focused. “That Corn Lady. She's like the sun. She goes away, comes back. Brings life - food.”

Matilda makes a decision. - Something she must ask Cal.

Suddenly a cold blast sweeps into the room. Heads turn as Rory enters. The candle sputters. Corey cups the flame in her hand. Mouse continues the story .

“In my country it is this dark time.” He looks down a moment at the table. "Not so much corn now. The people, they don't grow it - Grow coffee for big company. Not enough to eat. Must buy beans from company store. We set up a co-op. Work together. Company send soldiers. Some people killed.”

“Other people go to the mountains - fight back.” Cal smiles.

“- Anyway we're not here to be sad. It's party-time. Good time to go for it, for the new time - like Spring, when the corn jumps up."

- Oh Jesus. Left the guitar outside. Rory edges the back door open and slips outside. - Made an eejit o' meself in front o' that Dzaved fella, he says to himself'. Rory sprints back inside with the guitar. A sudden gust of wind blows the door out of Rory's grip. His guitar twangs discordantly and clatters to the floor.

Corey rescues the candle-flame from extinguishment a second time. "I've paraphrased a few words from the world's oldest book - an ancient Chinese text. My Grandmother used to consult it.” Corey adjusts her glasses, "It says that now is the time of the darkening of the light, the wounding of the bright and harm to the wise. Well. Not many of us would disagree with that."

Rory manages to rest his guitar against a chair with a minimum of noise. Corey looks over the top of her glasses. Rory feels she is looking right at him as she reads "Don't let yourself be swept along. Let many things pass without being duped.”

- Indeed and indeed, do I not do this very thing, says Rory to himself. But It is not meself who is in the driver's seat.

- What's Rory fumble-footing around for? thinks Matilda. She has been looking forward to this evening. - Christians must have to do quite a back-flip to accommodate antipodean feast-days to Australian seasons.

"In the time of the greatest dark, it is important to maintain our inner light - to try not to be all-knowing and if you insist on maintaining your principles,” Corey looks up fleetingly and catches Matilda's eye, “then you will suffer deprivation.”

- Too true, thinks Matilda. - The deprivation of silence when no-one tells me a goddamn thing, when I have this sense of, of desperation almost, since I came back to Melbourne. She finds she is shouting inside her head. - I'm angry, she says to herself, surprised - I'm bloody angry.

"Enough gloom and doom,” Corey signals for Ahmet to switch the lights on. "Yes - Winter into Spring.” The reading finishes up with the 'Turning Point'. - The Turning Point is the cycle of the seasons, the time of Revolution, personal - political.” Corey smiles slightly, “Large guiding lines appear and even the unconcerned come to realize that they too must change over to new ways. These great changes do not come of themselves. They require much thought and decisive action by many committed people.” Corey tucks the paper into her sleeve. "Now - last chance for people to tell us about their dish, then we'll have Rory's song."

- The casserole. Fuckin' hell! Rory twists round urgently and once again the guitar tumbles discordantly to the floor. "Oh Corey. Forgive me. But it's a dish I have in the oven, that'll be burnin' like the very devil if I don't rescue it for the nourishment of one and all.” Rory explains, rushing to the kitchen.

"Now, good friends, one and all, this dish is the king of all foods, the premier criterion of sustenance. It grows within the dark body of the good earth. This great food alone sustained the people of the Gael throughout the Great Hunger.” Rory lifts the lid of his earthenware pot. "I am of course, referring to the potato, the blessing and the curse of Ireland. You will recall the Great Potato Festival that I co-ordinated for the 150th anniversary of The Great Irish Potato Famine”.

There are smiles all round. Rory flourishes the pot-lid. "Ah, yes we celebrated the good ol' pratie, we did indeed. - Step dancin' with the bonny girls in green, twenty-eight varieties o' potatoes to sample - under the canny sponsorship of the Scot of the Golden Arches - “ Rory stops, catching Karolina's steely gaze. "I digress.” Rory raises the Guinness bottle on high. "A toast.” he calls. Rory fills glasses for the toast in the good Guinness, to the potato, and to the barley god. "Now,” says Rory, "purely to supplement Corey's excellent Solstice season, let me just say a few words about the Celtic New Year. Because that's what the winter solstice is - the time when the sun rising at its eastern-most point, strikes the roof-box of the Sacred Mound and illuminates the triple spiral within the depths of the mound."

Rory motions for people to move closer. "Tonight,” he murmurs, “is the time between the times, neither new nor old, neither dark nor light - the time when the mounds open and Faery World breaks through from their eldritch realm.” Someone switches off the lights. Dzaved slips outside to stoke up fire. Rory's brow creases with anxiety

"This is the time, when the distance between the worlds lessens. The Hedge-riders slip through the gap." Rory speaks faster as Dzaved pokes at the fire outside “Some people, Wyse Wives and Cunning Men, Oh, and Bards too, can bridge the realms of middle-earth, where out of Elf-hame comes the Wild Ride - From the place where the trees grow with their roots in the air and where the rivers run backwards"

There is silence in the room, as Rory stares out into the dark garden, at the sparks showering from the drum. “Corey, you do well to emphasize the danger of the Dark Times - the time when the boundary between Wilderness and Civilization, between the Divine Heights and the Animal Depths shatters.” he continues, as the fumes seep under the door. "The fierce Morrigan, goddess of winter shifts her shape, becomes the Black Crow, the Cailleagh” Rory takes a quick breath. Suddenly his face breaks into the familiar smile. "All just a story, of course - the, the Cailleagh ... surname of Kelly - shares the same name as meself, so it's said, so I'm allowed to string you all along, ay?"

Corey searches for matches. People cough a little in the pungency of the smoke. Rory's face changes. In the fumes of the Lantana, he continues as if anaesthetized. His voice deepens. "The Old One, the Horned God comes out of the snow. "

Matilda moves closer to her father. She loves these old stories. - They're scary, magic. Connect you to the earth somehow. Rory averts his gaze from the flare of the fire from Dzaved walking back to the house.

"It is most dangerous and perilous for the front door and the back door of a house to face each other,” says Rory as Dzaved reaches the veranda. "First up all you'll hear is a wailing. It is the voices of the Night Travellers. Next you'll hear the winding of a ghostly horn" Dzaved enters the room. A blustery wind has sprung up; the candle blows out. The fire outside shoots upwards like a straining dragon. Speaking as if by rote, Rory’s voice is toneless, mesmerizing. "The Wild Hunt will ride right through the house,” he whispers, "riding along their dead-straight Faery road.” More people cough in the smoke. "Now is the time of the Master of the Wild Hunt,” says Rory. "Antlered and robed in shadows, accompanied by a great, white dog with red ears, he leads the Dianic company back through the hollow mound to his subterranean Kingdom to be re-united with the ancestors in the inner heart of the land .”

Corey finds the matches. The candle springs to life and in its light Rory sees Nelson Magnum standing puzzled behind Matilda. There is an awkward silence. Rory pulls himself together. "Well folks and there you have it. Hope that didn't scare the tiny-tots! - Mid-winter story-time." Matilda steps forward before Rory can continue.

"Just to lighten things up a bit,” she says hesitantly, "this is the mid-winter dish I brought. "It's a fruit flan. The jelly is dark plum jelly - dark for winter. Everything else is yellow - gold for the sun, for when the sun returns. Trouble is most of the fruits have travelled down from up North - except for the nectarines and orange quarters. Maybe they come from this Bio-region .” She lifts the tea-towel covering the plate. "My excuse is that I've just retuned from up North myself, so I'm allowed a bit of lee-way."

"Matilda, it's gorgeous - like a sun-burst!" says Lin. Rory strikes up the guitar. Dzaved hustles the assembled guests around Rory and the song begins.

"In the deep mid-winter, frosty winds did blow,

And life came down to earth again

. Two thousand years ago.”

Dzaved joins in - a mountain voice, tolling deep, like bells on the wind, like groaning in the earth.

"Snow fell on sno-ow, snow on snow

In the deep mid-winter,

Long ... ago."

On go the lights. There is a murmur of delight, scattered applause. Magnum claps Rory on the back.

"Good man.” Magnum says heartily. "The original words - changed them a bit, didn't you? Can't stay long.” He turns to Corey, "A talented chap, this Rory Kelly.”

"Most certainly. I've known Rory for many years. - Rory, that harmonizing - and Dzaved - what a voice!"

Magnum moves away. "And the story hmmmm. Most illuminating."

Rory smiles. "Thanks. But Cory, you hesitate.

"It's an approach. Most - “ Corey searches for the right word,. "erudite. Reminds me of - Gardener - the Peckinggill Papers, Aleister Crowley."

Rory looks puzzled. "Never heard of 'em - Most of my Celtic knowledge came from family tradition - Liam’s stories.”

"I remember my Scottish grandmother telling of the beautiful woman wearing green velvet and green silk. She would ride in from the Otherworld on her milk-white steed.” Corey pauses.” You heard of her, Rory?”

"Can't say that I have.” replies Rory.

"She rules over the Island of Apples. The holy apples give youth, restoration, prophecy. "She’s also Queen of the Faery Ride. She spirits world-weary souls back to the magical Isle, but her purpose is healing."

"Indeed? - The women's side of things, I guess.” says Rory.

Matilda feels vaguely uncomfortable, recalling Karolina's admonition to listen well to Rory's tales. She has a sudden idea. - A way of checking up on my parents, she admits to herself somewhat unworthily. “Rory, you and Karolina both your birthdays are on the Festival day, first of January. Right?” The words tumble out. "I thought you might be interested in getting both your Birth Charts done for -”

"Birth Charts! Matilda I thought you didn't hold with astrology?”

"I don't really. But it might be fun!” Matilda pulls out a note-book and pencil. "So Rory. Got any idea what time of day you were born? Not a huge problem if you don't. - Liam might know. If not, the place will do, - the village.” Rory's brow wrinkles.

"No, Matilda.” He changes the subject. “Here – your I D card for your new job. Looks a lot like the police ID cards ay? Except that the festival logo is a proper pentangle. Boys in Blues’ logo is a pentangle upside down – bad karma if you’re into astrology! No more astrology! You'll have to think of something else. Must catch Corey. I've got some fast talking to do about Corey’s harp for the Festival.”

“Karolina, that’s enough clearing up. I can do the rest.” insists Corey. “It’s getting late. Matilda’s doing the dishes.”

“Matilda’s still staying with you then, Corey?”

Corey nods. “Don’t be sad Karolina. Things are going fine where Matilda’s concerned.”

“I hope you’re right. You know that I can never thank you enough for - Corey, it’s true. I’ll always feel indebted.” Corey lifts one eyebrow humorously.

“Karolina, pedestals are uncomfortable places.” Karolina acknowledges the implication.

“Okay. Typical mother-guilt! Trouble is Matilda simply doesn’t like me. Thinks the sun shines out of her father’s orifices. Runs to you for advice. Perhaps it’s just personality differences – prolonged adolescence!” Karolina tries to keep her tone light. “Lately her indifference has shifted to anger. She used to be so vibrant, eternally curious. Still is, but not with me.. Now she is utterly determined that I must disclose my childhood. Corey, disclosing my childhood – for very good reasons, is not what I was brought up to do. – Besides I forget a great deal. It would not be healthy for her

to -”

“Wartime stuff?”

Karolina looks away miserably, “Something like that”

She slips outside for a breath of fresh air The fire has dwindled and Rory is in the garden strumming uncertainly on the guitar, changing keys, shifting rhythms. “Rory!” she says curtly. “You take responsibility for – inveigling Matikda back here!”

“For what?” Rory looks up puzzled.

“Rory, you are up to your tricks. I know you! Getting pissed like that tonight! You made an idiot of yourself.”

Rory smiles broadly, “My lovely Karolina. My gorgeous woman and my cherished daughter – both home!”

“Oh Rory, you are so pissed!” Rory drops the guitar and clutches Karolina around the knees.

“Ah but Karolina, dearest woman, you are not completely correct, because even though I am pissed, I am in fact – brilliantly pissed!” Rory squishes a loving kiss across the back of Karolina’s hand, as she ducks under his arm, heading for the car. Tomorrow night my darlin’ and together we will make the night glorious?”

Karolina’s answer is inaudible, but Rory’s eyes glint at the laugh in her voice. Corey is farewelling guests. Matilda is in the kitchen washing up, when Rory's arm encircles her waist. "Matt, sorry my dear girl to be leaving you before. Lots of networking I had to do tonight. - Now, no more astrology nonsense. Didn't think you were a believer." Matilda turns from the sink, her hands wet.

“Fine then.” Rory places a package in Matilda's hands. "A wee present. – a home-coming gift.”

"Rory! The Mississippi video. How on earth did you track it down?”

“For you, darlin' Matty, anything is possible."

The last party-goer has left. Entranced but anxious, since the video was made before Hurricane Katrina roared in to the Louisana delta, Matilda curls up on the sofa, as the panorama unfolds of Mother River’s braided anabranches and the spreading waters of the Mississippi flood-plain.

"The river is a wanderer over its entire flood plain,” a Southern drawl, proclaims to the accompaniment of Erin Copeland music. "Every flood, the river will seek to change course and will always find the best course, as seen following the Australian Dry season, when rivers resume their flow in a straight line, creating what the Aussies call a 'billabong'”. The music shifts to 'Waltzing Matilda'. “The Mississippi valley’s geology substantiates the river’s myriads of course-changes.” Matilda scribbles rapid notes, as the voice-over proclaims, “The river feeds its flood-plain with rich silt, while the flood-plain feeds the river with nutrients from the flats.” The camera zooms in on brown waters barrelling over levees as Matilda sees in her mind the poor of New Orleans trapped in their flooded city, corpses littering flood-ravaged streets, the wheel-chair patients on roof tops, the thirty aged residents trapped in their drowned nursing home, mothers shielding toddlers from river-bloated bodies, the twenty thousand people sweltering in the Superdome amid the overpowering odor of human waste, with no air conditioning, toilets, or water. She recalls the New Orleans mayor protesting over the immediate, presidential provision of $8 billion for the Iraq war, recalling the mayor’s outrage,

“A place where most of your oil is coming through, a place that is so unique that when you mention New Orleans anywhere around the world, everybody's eyes light up - you mean to tell me with thousands more dying every day, that we can't figure out a way to authorize the resources that we need?”

The camera wanders through the graceful, noisy French Quarter, as Matilda sees again the bedraggled flood refugees plucked from rooftops and attics, the thirty thousand evacuees shivering and wet hauled into helicopter baskets, the trucks loading up survivors. - No system she thinks, can sustain itself as a viable entity when the citizenry are the walking wounded.

To the accompaniment of ‘The Moldau', the commentator proclaims, “The Mississippi has been trying for years to shift its course to one of its anabranches. This would be a tragedy for the great Mississippi cities, with New Orleans itself in a bowl between the river - below Lake Ponchertrain’s massive levees rising over the city buildings." Slow, sad New Orleans jazz spills from the soundtrack. "If the river changed course, the loss to commerce would be incalculable. The government has already spent billions keeping the river in its present course. The army is involved in massive-scale, river control and flow-volume research.”

Matilda recalls her internet searches showing ten years of desperate pleas for restoration of the dikes sinking into mud at three feet a year and the drastic, hurricane-generated oil spill on the overbuilt coastline, the entire gulf contaminated with oil, noxious matter and decaying bodies.

"It is only recently that technology has gained the know-how for developing a complex system of lochs and flood-control gates capable of controlling the mighty Mississippi.” boasts the voice-over to a throbbing techno beat. Matilda knows how as hurricane intensity in the Atlantic Basin escalated, with the New Orleans levees continuing to subside, that a host of local newspaper articles had specifically linked the cost of Iraq to the cuts in flood-control dollars.

“They've taken emergency management away from the emergency managers, since the department of homeland security focussed on terrorism" she recalls reading.

The beat fades to the wail of a single saxophone. "With global warming, melting ice-caps and rising sea-levels, we desperately need cutting-edge technology. As the mega-cities expand, it becomes crucial to tame the river. Environmentalists insist however,” urges the commentator, “that the entire coastal system of dismantled barrier islands and over-built, Bayou marshlands, which protected the flood-plains before white settlement, must be restored.”

Corey, returning from the kitchen encounters Matilda, watching the video for the third time. She points helplessly to the screen as the video concludes.

"If we do not learn to understand precisely how and why the river wants to change course, we may lose our great, southern cities. Unable to withstand the choice the river makes, we may find too late, our cities one day inundated – New Orleans fifty years on, may well be Bangladesh, Gdansk, Sydney or Melbourne."

"I needed this video, Corey,” declares Matilda unconvincingly, twisting and untwisting her thick hair in anxious fingers. “I’m wanting funding for a video on the Murray-Darling, you see. Um. What you said tonight, Corey. - about the time of the greatest dark. Important to maintain your inner light. - Corey,” Matilda whispers, trying to brush away tears, “I don't know if I'm up to it.”

"Oh Matilda. You mustn't take this project so seriously!” Corey holds Matilda by her shoulders. "You are your father's daughter. He’s bounced back from some kind of deep stress this evening. And you – “

. "I'm my mother's daughter too! “ Matilda cuts in intensely. "As for Rory”, she manages a wan smile, breaking free from Corey's embrace. “I'm beginning to re-think my wild Irish father. I'm off bed. It's been a long day.”

Chapter Thirteen


Matilda has taken Bonegilla off her mother's hands for the morning. Karolina has a work in progress report deadline. Bonegilla, normally such a well-behaved dog, has been misbehaving.

"Acting clingy," said Karolina, " - like a jealous child. Won't let me get on with studying."

Matilda has been up late planning a submission to the Film Institute. Later on she has a meeting with the women's oral history committee.

"A trial run story-telling group, a pilot for the festival project" Maggie had explained, Faced with the reality of publicly telling her story, Matilda feels jittery. Bonny's presence won't help either.

Matilda stares across to the Kew side of the river, to the silvery crowns of the Black Wattles and the span of the old Pipe Bridge, built a century ago to carry fresh water across from Collingwood to Kew. The water pipe was board-walked and latticed to become a foot-bridge for men in blazers and straw boaters and ladies in white muslin to cheer on the boat-races at picnics. - A hundred candle-lit canoes on the river, three hearty cheers and the plink-plonk of ukuleles back in 1896, when the Boot Trade boys of Clifton Hill, the Textile Factory girls of Collingwood celebrated winning the Eight Hour Day. - Fat, fuckin' chance we've got of an Eight Hour Day now thinks Matilda.

Bonegilla yelps a greeting as Mick approaches bearing coffee and a plate of scones from the Boat-house café.

"Christ, you're down here nearly as much as me lately." says Matilda. Mick puts the coffee and scones on a rock.

"You didn't come to Corey's party." says Matilda flatly.

Mick's voice is strained. "Too much to bloody do." Mick replies awkwardly. He hasn't seen Matilda since the night when they delivered the tent to the refuge. - It was a mistake, thinks Matilda to have stayed with Mick that night. - Not fair of me, not when I'm so unclear. Aloud she says,

"I suppose you've put the tent to good use by now. - Adventure camps for the kids. That sort of thing?"

"Um. In a manner of speaking." Mick ruffles Bonegilla's ears absently and Bonegilla wags his tail gratefully.

"Don't pat him. He's in disgrace," says Matilda. "Chasing ducks." Bonegilla's feathered, German Shepherd tail droops. His ears prick anxiously. They sit staring out at the morning river. The current is slow, a khaki-green brocade, ruched and knobbled with bits of slippery twigs, with black rotting leaves, flotsam that has dropped into the current from the banks, or swept down storm-water drains. - Not at all the normal way a river gains nutrients, free-ranging over flood plains, thinks Matilda, reaching for another scone

"Hey Matt, my breakfast! Jesus! You've scoffed the lot of them." .

"Scones aren't a breakfast food." Matilda answers, unrepentant.

Mick sprints back to the Boat-house Café for more. A troupe of Black Ducks paddles in close to Matilda. - Probably wanted some of those scones. Bonegilla whines and dances on his little, Corgi legs Matilda growls a warning. She doesn't hold with Black Ducks having scones for breakfast. They're an indigenous species. White-flour food makes them dependent, stops them from scrabbling in the mud for yabbies and water-beetles. Mick returns with more scones and coffee. He wolfs down the scones.

Matilda, asks, "When do you have to move out of the Refuge?"

"We've out-stayed our legal limit. Next thing they bring in the sheriff."


"Yes. We're trying to decide whether to make it a media event." Mick falls silent. The morning is too golden, too dozy for dramatics. The river, like an olive-green soup inches its way under the Pipe Bridge. Mick leans back, eyes closed, the sun on his face. "We're bloody flat out." he says without opening his eyes. "I should be getting back."

"To the Refuge."

"No. Um - I mean yes, to what passes for the Refuge." He sits upright, suddenly tense. "Matilda, would you have access to the Festival Program -the events time-table.

"Well, it hasn't been finalised. But yes." Matilda is a little put out.

"Everyone will be notified well in advance."

"Yes I'm sure. But I was wondering if you'd have prior knowledge of, say back of house arrangements." Mick darts a quick glance at Matilda and looks away. "You said you'd help. - Can't explain.".

Matilda twitches impatiently. Her feminist blood is up. She feels like a 19th Century wife. She wants to shout, ' - Mick, you tell me nothing. You want me to make decisions I'm not bloody well ready for. You want me to do bizarre errands for you.' She begins to sing the old, pioneer song - the last verse from Reedy River. Mick winces at the sarcasm.

"Do you think now and then, now and then in the whirl

Of the city while London is new,

Of the hut in the bush and the freckle-faced girl

Who waits by the slip-rails for you?"

Matilda's arms are folded as she grinds out the words. Mick had forgotten that Matilda was once a child-performer with her father, a good one by all accounts.

"Okay. Okay, I get it. But I did say I couldn't divulge - on the train - Sunshine Station. - That was the deal." Mick jumps up, paces to the end of the boat-ramp. " Best you don't know the whole story."

"Don't judge what's best for me." Matilda stares moodily out at the river's dark, knobbled surface, - the pattern of the Pipe Bridge, splitting, breaking into horizontal shards of latticed arches, wobbly and uncertain - like a broken mirror,. The willows snake out, elongated across the brown-green current, disembodied semblances of willows. - Mick doesn't trust me, she says to herself.

"All-right. "I'll show you. But first -" Mick swings into a row-boat. "The river view." On the Fairfield side is a steep gorge, the edge of the ancient, basalt flow that determines the meandering course of the Yarra's lower reaches.

"The what?" Matilda jumps aboard.

"Towards Alphington." They take an oar each. "The river view." is all Matilda can get out of Mick for the time being. They round a curving bend in the river.

Mick manoeuvres in close to the bank. "See anything?"

"Nothing untoward." says Matilda, still feeling hurt. "Wait a minute!" Mick tenses up. "Yes." says Matilda. "It's the place where I heard the peculiar bird-call, that first morning, when I came down to the river. Haven't heard it since, though." Mick smiles slightly.

"We've fixed that." he says. "Anything else? Matilda shakes her head. "Good. Now back to the Boat-house."

"But we've only rowed round one bend!"

"Trust me."

- Oh, fine, thinks Matilda. All the trust has to be on my side.

Matilda follows Mick up the steep path leading up to the road. They walk silently down the suburban street, catching glimpses of river-shine through roofs and trees. The street peters out to a narrow track above a gorge. The track gives out and Mick pushes through bushes above a steep drop.

"Best tie Bonegilla up here says Mick. - Please?" Matilda complies rhluctantly and they push on through dense shrubbery. "Don't break any branches." he warns. These, overgrown parts of the river are not Matilda's favourite places. Supposedly too inaccessible for the river maintenance teams to negotiate, the undergrowth has been left pretty much to its own devices.

This is the domain of feral plants that threaten the ministrations of park management and Friends of the Yarra - sturdy pittosporum bushes, the flowers headily sweet in spring, but whose large, orange berries will sprout up anywhere. Cotoneaster - even worse, but gardeners fancy the red, autumn berries. Matilda can barely see through the veils of Morning Glory, rampaging through the canopy, wrapping crab-apples and privets in a thick blanket, lending a feel of permanent twilight to the slope.

There is a sudden, sharp dip. A rabbit bolts for cover into a maze of Black-berries. - Black-berries and willows might be noxious weeds, thinks Matilda, but, at least they do filter and purify run-off the water from cars and suburban gardeners' pesticides.

"Jesus!" Matilda exclaims as they dive suddenly into a thicket of spiny plum trees.

"Try to be quiet." says Mick before he disappears. - Gone! Not a sign. And he tells me to be quiet. Matilda feels the anger rising again. Suddenly Mick's head re-appears above a ledge. - The climbing gear! Mick is trussed up in the harness. The rope, secured to a sycamore tree is well hidden. "Okay. Your turn."

Matilda buckles herself in and swings out over the edge. - A perfect hide-away, she breathes. She finds herself dangling from an overhang that juts out over the current. The base of the over-hang - narrower than the over-hang itself, recedes backwards, almost cave-like. The lip of the overhang obscures the area from the sight of anyone travelling on the river. The trick for landing in one piece is to flip yourself inwards and clutch the trunk of a convenient plum tree.

Mick slides down beside Matilda. "The tent! Dad's tent!"

"Welcome to the Youth Refuge, Matilda!" Cal pops her head out of the tent. Inside there are more surprises.

"Computers! - A sewing machine! Bloody micro-wave even! But how? Why?"

"Solar, partly. - And we have ways." grins Cal. "But we don't want to use the micro-wave too often. Someone might trace the smell of cooking."

Mick points to the old Printer. "Dot Matrix. We've got an Ink Jet now. The noise you heard was -"

"The bird!" says Matilda. "I thought it was a strange bird." Mouse is busy sorting equipment. With him is a youngster - little more than a girl. Matilda recognizes the thin, pale features, the long, honey-coloured plait.

"Matilda meet Fiona" says Mouse. It is the girl Mick had rescued that first night in Melbourne, in the blue light of the police vehicle. Fiona and Mouse unwrap a large bolt of cloth - dark blue satin, by the looks of it. - So that's why Mick quizzes me about the Festival Time-table. Planning to gate- crash the Banner Parade. So they're already more or less evicted. - But clearly, with Mick's resourcefulness, they could've found a more salubrious place than the river-bank. Matilda has quite a few questions she would like to ask this lot.

Matilda, growing up by the river, remembers the vagrants, homeless people, sometimes desperados on the run, who sought shelter on the river bank. Back in the Thirties Depression, there were whole families living on river-banks, catching a rabbit or two, boiling their billies. From time to time the media made hay about some poor old bloke found ill, or dead in a river hut - lived there for decades sometimes. - 30,000 people homeless in Melbourne now, isn't it? - bound to be a fair number living off the river. Matilda wonders if old Sam still lives on the Banyule flats - I guess Mick's always had access to these hidden places, she tells herself. - Part of his job, I suppose. Matilda

shivers with what she later realises is a premonition.

She peers over the lip of the overhang. At that moment a swirl of water spills down-river. Matilda is used to this kind of thing. - Probably a release from a factory, or else a blocked culvert. There are a few small logs, and the usual plastic bottles. Matilda looks again. She stifles a scream. - A body!

"Mick. Everyone! There's a body down there." They scramble to the ledge.

Mick grabs the climbing-gear. "I'm going down."

"Why not just call the River Police?" says Matilda and stops. "No. I see, you can't. Mick, that climb's too dangerous. You're not an experienced climber. - And how do you know that it's a dead body?"

"Matilda. Use your eyes." says Mick.

"Whoooo! And your nose!" says Fiona. "Any moment, someone could row round the bend and we're bloody done for. We'll have to get the body floating off down the current quick smart. - Then we can phone the police." Matilda darts over to the equipment pile and drags out a tarpaulin.

"Tie some rocks on this and drop it over the body. Then hire a Thames row-boat. They fit four. - You can use the oars to dislodge -"

"Got it!" Mick has already buckled on the climbing gear. "Fiona, you stay here to keep watch."

- Oh God, says Matilda to herself. What have I bought into? Bodies in the river. This is fuckin' awful. And they're treating it as all in a day's work. Matilda scrambles up to the top of the overhang. She tosses the rope-end to Cal. As she gives the thumbs up signal, Matilda notices the tears brimming in Cal's eyes.

The bright blue plastic of the tarpaulin is too easy to recognize. - No-one would bother about it though, thinks Matilda, except for the river clean-up crews. They row in close and swing the boat in between the body and the river-bank. Mick leans out perilously and passes some twine loosely around the feet. The tarpaulin almost slips off. He throws the twine to Matilda in the stern of the boat. "Pass the twine through the eyelets of the tarp." he says. "Then throw it back to me. - Should be secure enough 'till we get out into mid-stream."

"We'll need to tow it." Matilda feels the nausea rising. "If you push, you won't have control over the direction. - Also, it could turn over. It - I mean, the body, could be exposed - visible." Matilda's stomach is churning. - It's all happened so quickly. She feels slightly surreal. Mick passes a pocket-knife to Matilda. Mouse and Cal are making heavy weather of the rowing. They will soon round the bend and the Boat-house will be in full view. Cal sees Matilda's distress.

She clambers to the stern. "Can't handle the rowing. Mind if I take over this end?" Matilda takes the oar gratefully.

"Now!" says Mick. They slash through the twine. The body turns, head-first bumping against the side of the boat. Mick drags in the tarpaulin. Matilda gives the body a massive push with her oar. It tumbles over in the current. After several days in the water, the side of the head where the blow must have fallen is a grim sight, even though the striped beanie is still jammed on tightly. She'd know that beanie anywhere.

"Old Sam!" she says in unison with Cal and Mouse.

"Under the willows. Quick!" says Mick and they row for the shelter of the overhanging branches, as the body gathering momentum mid-stream, floats off round the bend.

"So that's why the leaflets weren't delivered." says Mouse.

"Sam was our Walker." explains Cal.

"Walker? asks Matilda. "Oh, yes I see"

Mick shoots a warning look at Mouse and Cal. "It's O.K" he says briefly. "Sam delivered leaflets for a living. If that's what you call it - whenever the booze didn't get the better of him. You knew him, Matt?"

"Yes. Since I was a kid. He lived rough down the river. Knew how to catch eels, though." Matilda doesn't know whether her tears are for Sam, or for all homeless old fellas who catch eels and tell a good yarn, or for the whole sorry mix-up she finds herself in. "For God's sake Mick. You've got a mobile. Why the fuck don't you ring the police?"

"They can trace mobile calls." Mick replies just as the screams of discovery round the curve of the river tell them there is no need, to phone, no need at all.

Chapter Fourteen


- More than one way to skin a cat, thinks Karolina - Since Khalifa and Zeinhab are interested in art, knowing those two, they'll soon be exchanging views and Bob's your uncle

"For me Australia is a nice and good country." Khalifa is busy drawing a detailed design. "For me, there is no discrimination." She frowns slightly. "Maybe some new people come here. Don't know how to - " Khalifa pauses searching for the word.

"Assimilate?" says Dzaved.

She smiles. "Ah, yes. Fit in. That's what I mean."

Dzaved raises his eyebrows but Karolina casts a warning glance.. Khalifa certainly has style, thinks Karolina. Around her head is wound a nifty little scarf complementing her green, almond-eyes Josephina frequently outshines Khalifa, in the sheer audacity of colour, bright pink, red-stamened flowers against a yellow background, another layer deep green with curved and wavy, lines in red and purple. - Like a tropical sunset.

Matilda has arrived early in the hope of getting her demonstration photographs of completed community banners over with. She is feeling very frazzled after her morning with the Refuge people at the river. She keeps seeing the bloated, wounded body of old Sam, keeps wondering at the paranoia of her friends. - The eviction's really getting to them, she says to herself. She worries about Mick's health. Matilda examines the banner photographs. The enlarged kindergarten banner is vividly colourful.

"An Aboriginal artist helped the children with the design." Matilda explains.

"So each group designs a banner," says Josephina, then they make a smaller banner. Put all the small banners on one big banner ? "

"Exactly." says Matilda. "We will have all the small banners sewn together."

"And the community banner will lead the festival parade" says Karolina.

"In my country," says Marisol, "we had many big demonstrations. Beautiful banners. - Songs to tell government they must stop taking the children."

"These banners", says Karolina, "will be about unity and multiculturalism. - not to protest."

- I wouldn't bet on it, says Matilda to herself, recalling the blue fabric at the refuge's river hideway.

"There will be Australian songs? Ethnic songs?" asks Tranh, who sings in a French choir and plays at World Music events. He looks inquiringly at Matilda.

"For sure.."

"It is strange", says Dzaved carefully, "that in Australia a folk tale has higher status than the National Anthem. I would like to understand this phenomenon," the tone is slightly ironical, "so that I can be a good Australian, when I take the citizenship."

"'Once a jolly swagman,' " Tranh sings, jazzing it up, "'camped by a billabong, under the shade of a coolabah tree.' The man wandering round looking for work -"

"No, looking for sheep to steal." Zeinhab smiles. "My country has wandering peoples. Nomads. Back home, I worked for the United Nations. Many of my people, are nomads."

Marisol breaks in, "We are all nomads to Australia."

"No. Migrants is the correct word," says Khalifa anxiously, looking up from her drawing.

"But all Australians are migrants." Nguyet says, "Except for the Aborigines. "Is this song so popular, because the settlers who came to this country are - have - " She stops, confused.

"The settlers have problems, "says Dzaved, "because they were invaders. - Refugee people have experience of those who call themselves settlers. The squatter riding on the thoroughbred, he is the invader?" Without looking up, Dzaved scribbles absently in his notebook.

Marisol cuts in. " - government and police, the troopers one, two, three. They help the pastoralist people? - In my country, I handed out leaflets on campus. - Along came policemen one, two, three!"

The students laugh and Tranh smiles. "In many countries these things happen." He pauses and still smiling says slowly, "Happens here. To me." The students are silent. Tranh continues. "I was taught - be polite." he says, "With the boss, you smile. Do the job, right?" The class nods. "I work on assembly line, when I first came here. Used to be Social Worker in my homeland. The boss said, when he wanted the assembly line faster, 'Speed 'er up mate.' " Tranh pauses. "You understand, 'Speed 'er up mate.'?" They nod again. "Those times, I didn't understand. I just think he's calling me Aussie word, 'mate', so I smile. Every time he say. 'Speed 'er up mate,' I smile. He starts shouting. I smile, to be polite. Tranh takes a deep breath. Still smiling, he continues, "Next the boss push me hard. I fall on top of the assembly line. - The bolts and screws fall in the machines. I get the sack. - Didn't understand why."

There are murmurs from the class - anger, fellow-feeling.

"Tranh, in this country," Dazed growls, "you don't smile all the time. - Not till multiculturalism becomes more than just a word, ay Karolina?" Dzaved lowers his head still scribbling furiously.

Tranh smiles again, "I feel like to dive into the billabong, like that jolly swagman." The smile is strained. "That swagman committed suicide?" he asks. "Came back as a ghost, right?"

Khalifa glances from under her lashes at Tranh. "This does not happen to me here. I am sorry." She takes a quick breath. "- This is why I can't be in this Action Research, because it is good for me in Australia." Khalifa smiles, "Even to wear the veil. It's not a problem for me."

Dzaved seems to have lost interest. Head down, he scribbles and doodles. If this was a school, instead of a College, thinks Matilda, he would be in trouble for inattention.

"I make all my own clothes. I even have Australian ladies ask me, - 'Khalifa, could you make for me a dress? That nice scarf." Khalifa pats her turban. "So, you see why I can't - "

Zeinhab interrupts, "Khalifa, I will tell you something, so you will understand why you don't have problems. Zeinhab speaks with authority. "My country has been in civil war. Some people call it only a rebellion. - Depends what side you're on. Women of my people don't wear the veil." All eyes are on Zeinhab as she walks to the front of the class. "We are proud women. - Nomad people. Until the desert - grows, sand shifts, takes over, water places dry up. There was fighting. I work for the UN for food, and housing people"

Automatically, Karolina makes way for Zeinhab putting her bag down at the front desk. "Teenage kids do stupid things. Ignorant." says Zeinhab. "I can handle this." She opens her bag. "But on this day, the day of signing the treaty for peace, I decide to wear a veil - to celebrate. "So, these kids pulled at my veil - in the canteen. Students from here . "Zeinhab rubs at her eyes. She is obviously quite distressed. "If I move my beautiful veil will be torn. - They were standing on it - They say to me, 'You are terrorist. What's in your back-pack? Why don't you go back and live with all the other Black people.?' "

"Zeinhab, I am sorry that this happens to you." says Khalifa.

Zeinhab frowns. "Khalifa you don't understand. In my country the people from the south are Black, not my people." Zeinhab bites her lip. Her voice shakes, but the anger is controlled. "The people of the north are White. - In my country, I am called White, do you understand?" Baring her arm, Zeinhab holds it against Khalifa's arm. "We are not so very different. Even my eyes. They are grey." Zeinhab returns to her seat "It is all so very stupid. - My son has grown up thinking he is not Black. Now, in Australia, he is Black. The discrimination in Australia is the discrimination of your skin."

The students murmur in distress. - Why doesn't Dzaved say something? thinks Matilda. His head is bent, as he fiddles and scribbles. He looks up from time to time, but only to stare out into the distance - As if he isn't here, but some other place.

"This is true, what Zeinhab tells you," cuts in Josephina. "My country is next door - to the west It is the same thing in my country also."

"Women of my people don't wear the veil." Zeinhab continues. "Only if there is wind off the desert. This wind, the harmatta brings sand so strong, it is better you cover up against that desert wind. But for men, they must cover up in my culture, especially they should cover the mouth - even when they drink, they should drink under the veil." Zeinhab glances briefly at Karolina. "The feminism of Australia, I think it has some problems that we don't have. We are proud women, women of the Tuareg."

Zeinhab carefully takes a box out of her bag. "Today, for the class, I have this veil. There is no embarrassment whatsoever, as Zeinhab flings the blue robe over her head, quickly, but with grace. - It's as if she was robing for a ritual, Matilda recalls afterwards. More slowly now, Zeinnab swathes the blue cloak across her shoulders, the cloak is a different blue. And now the veil - another blue altogether, a shining, primary blue, harsh and brilliant, the strong, blue veil of the Tuareg. There is an intake of breath.

There are tears in Khalifa's eyes. "I did not think." she says softly.

" - the discrimination of the skin." The neat head is bent, the green eyes lowered. "Zeinhab, this is what I don't want to know," Khalifa almost whispers, " - About myself."

With a rustle of robes, Zeinhab sits down beside Khalifa. There is a quick hug from Zeinhab and Khalifa's soft green is enfolded in the strong blue.

Dzaved bounds out to the front, flourishing a large sheet of paper. "The design." he says, "I have the design!" He looks around, beaming. "Here at the top - Gum leaves. For the Coolabah tree. Here," Dzaved points to the red slash of the mouth, contorted in the grimace, that may once have been a smile. "Here is the truth behind the smile, the good multicultural smile. - Here" Dzaved indicates jagged waves. "The billabong,". Dzaved raises a hand, "If I may finish first, Khalifa. Then I will welcome ideas. "This hand reaches up from the water - you understand?" Dzaved looks around the room enthusiastically. "The hand reaches out. - The mouth is the voice that is silenced. It is the ghost that must be heard. Dzaved gestures without words. His hand circles round the brilliant blue that enfolds, connects, and yet is straining out. The black hand is silhouetted against the blue The veil rises, floating free above the water

"Yes, Dzaved, yes." the students agree. "This can be our banner."

"The billabong, the hand, the veil." Zeinab sums up, "It expresses the feeling, yes."

"The criticism. This is hard for me," Khalifa announces. "But, Karolina, - I think your thesis is not correct. It is too - " Khalifa searches for the word, "I do not mean to be disrespectful," she says as Marisol attempts to comment. "I will explain, It is what we must carry - from our homeland. That is the problem. It is missing from your thesis, Karolina and it is necessary. For me to join the Action Research, - No Marisol, let me explain what the refugee must carry."

"Dzaved, you speak about the voice that is made to be silent." Khalifa stops, struggling for words. I am made silent. she says, "All of us must be silent. - Why we came here. Of this thing we cannot speak." Khalifa lets out a breath that is like a shudder, "The bombs in the playground," she says quickly. "That is what I must be silent about. About how I grew up with these bombs in the playground." Khalifa rushes on, as if by speaking fast she can somehow communicate this dreadful thing. "After the bombs, to see if you are alive still, to see if your school friend who is screaming - Is your friend going to live? Are you too scared to help? - Here, it is not polite to say these things." Khalifa holds up her design. Children are screaming amid black smoke and rubble. The playground is an inferno The sketch is fluid, beautifully drawn. Khalifa has talent. With her fingers she tears carefully at the picture.

"No. Khalifa. Don't" says Karolina, alarmed.

"It's allright," Khalifa walks to Dzaved. She holds the torn piece against Dzaved's design. She places the flames of the bursting bomb under the surface of the water, so that streaks of the flame begin to break through. "We have to be heard." she says and overcome, rushes back to her seat.

"Yes, yes, you are right Khalifa," says Dzaved. There is an awkward silence. As if to fill the silence with words, Dzaved continues, "Since I came to this country, I have always wondered why Australia celebrates failure, why the most significant national day commemorates loss - Gallipoli. Loss and grief. It didn't make sense. Perhaps a nation that buries truth can only celebrate grief?"

- No way, Dzaved, says Matilda to herself. - My Dad says we don't glorify the war. - We mourn the loss. That's healthy, surely?

"In my country," says Dzaved, "some of our people celebrate a great loss of a long time ago. The Field of Blackbirds would not be familiar to you? No? At that time - and even earlier, many people changed their faith - at the point of a sword, you understand? And still today the blame and bitterness descends on those people's ancestors who had nothing to do with this forced choice."

- Aha The 'Black Armband' view of history, says Matilda to herself. - You don't know what you're buying into, man.

"This is not the same as the Australian refusal of apology to Aboriginal people for the massacres, for the stealing of the children," says Dzaved, as if reading Matilda's thoughts. "You can't compare different circumstances." Dzaved still holds the torn paper carefully in place. "But always the one who wins blames the one who loses. The truth is - twisted up. I don't know the right word. But for generations they continue to blame and not to restore." Abruptly Dzaved says, "Karolina, it is now time for you to tell of your story."

- Well! Who's running this outfit ay, Dzaved or Karolina? Matilda asks herself.

"Khalifa, I want to thank you." says Karolina slowly. "Your suggestion - I have to think about this. - I would have to convince my supervisor. It would involve many changes. I am really moved by what you say. There is discrimination in the silence itself, the not listening." Matilda leans forward expectantly.

"I don't want to disappoint you. but I - have very little to say," Karolina tries to ignore the knot in her stomach. "As a child, I guess you put things aside. You are perhaps more resilient. My father taught me to look to the future."

"You have told us this." says Khalifa.

- Oh Christ, thinks Karolina, how completely hollow I must sound to them. "In my day - when I came out to Australia, there was more discrimination about food. Migrants have taught this country a lot about food."

"World music and noodles." says Tranh. "That's what multiculturalism is all about, ay?"

Karolina smiles gratefully. - Yes, food, of course. Make a joke of it. Always the best way. "Yes indeed. - I used to bring my lunch to school wrapped in newspaper. Where I came from, we had nothing else to wrap things in." Karolina pauses, searching her memory. "And, and garlic. Australians hated the smell of garlic in those days. I soon stopped using garlic, I can tell you." Karolina laughs. "I used to plait my hair in two little braids and coil the braids around on top of my head." Karolina raises her eyebrows. "Well, after my first day at school, those braids had a close encounter with a pair of scissors. I felt really liberated" Karolina stops. Her eyes flicker over to Khalifa and their eyes hold a moment.

The students wait for Karolina to continue. She hesitates, ". In those days there were no English language classes whatsoever. The children I went to school with taught me words that I discovered were swear words. Swearing by children wasn't tolerated then, so it was absolutely crucial that I learn not only English, but perfect, Australian English. - Fortunately I was living with an Australian family."

The students look puzzled. Matilda is torn between impatience and fascination. - She had always known of Uncle Andreas and Auntie Eileen of course and of Anna Highland, Auntie Eileen's daughter. But the detail! The garlic sandwiches, the severed plaits. - This simply doesn't compute with the classy, controlled Karolina that Matilda is so familiar with.

Karolina explains her father's job at the Snowy hydro-electric scheme, how he couldn't get suitable accommodation for her. "I stayed with a Czechoslavakian friend of my father's and his Australian wife and seven children in a country town. This was where I started school. I was the only foreigner in the whole school." Karolina smiles faintly. "It was the height of the Cold War and there was no 'Eastern Bloc' to support me". Dzaved guffaws. The other students look puzzled.

"You were the only foreigner and a child as well?" says Josephina. "This must have been very traumatic for you, Karolina.?"

Karolina thinks for a moment. "Traumatic? No. - It was not such a huge problem. I was not unused to - " She hesitates. Dzaved breaks in,

"To trauma?" he asks quickly. "Were there bombs in your playground too, Karolina?" Matilda gasps at the audacity of the man.

Karolina's folder slips from her grasp and spills its contents onto the floor. Awkwardly Karolina bends, bum up to retrieve the papers. Khalifa and Josephina rush to help, giving Karolina an opportunity to regain composure.

"Oh Dzaved, that's currently outside the bounds of my thesis." she says, noticing the hurt in Khalifa's eyes. "But," Karolina finds herself continuing, "I will ask my supervisor."

"About how we carry the experience inside always?" asks Khalifa more confidently now.

"Yes Khalifa. Of course." says Karolina.

But Khalifa is still looking, waiting. "So next time we can continue to share the memories we bring?

"We carry the swag!" Dzaved grins. "The migrants, the settlers carry that swag, ay?" Matilda gathers up the photographs.

"Thanks heaps, everyone! Oh, and when you get your fantastic design finalized, give me a call at the Festival office." Matilda smiles her good-bye. "Then we can really start putting all the pieces together!"

Chapter Fifteen


"So you see Monica, the students expect to tell their home-country experiences. - They see it as essential to the research."

At the other end of the phone, Monica sounds doubtful. "I take your point. You'd have to broadenthe theoretical -"

"But, Monica, these experiences don't just get magically erased, when they disembark at Tullamarine. It's the silence, that's significant, the silence itself"

"You'd be putting the Australian psyche under the microscope. If you were to convert to a Doctorate ,"then perhaps -"

Karolina hears the slap of the fly-wire door. "Sorry, Monica. Rory's here. We're off to Glenrowan."

" Put it in writing Karolina and we'll have a look."

Rory's head appears around the door. He is in high spirits. "Karolina, dear woman, are you ready? Matilda's in the car."

. "Rory, take that - thing off immediately, do you hear?"

Rory looks hurt. "But Karolina, 'tis only a bit of a joke." Rory looks down, mystified at the khaki, flak-jacket, with its multitude of cartridge pockets, and the cartridge belt slung diagonally over his shoulder. Thought I might bag a coupla' ducks on the Campaspe "

"Rory, I didn't agree to come on a duck-shooting expedition." Karolina objects. "You told me this community arts centre has a migrant employment component, that would be useful for my thesis."

"That it will, Karolina, that it will. But it's sorry I am if the armoury offends." Rory sweeps off his bush hat dramatically.

"It's the cartridge belt. That's the bother - For heaven's sake, Rory. This is the suburbs!" Karolina can't help laughing, "You'll have people phoning the police that there's a serial killer on the loose."

Matilda in the back seat of Rory's green Range Rover, looks forward to meeting the Loddon-Campaspe green corridor people. - Tourism and development reps. That's another matter, - But there you have it. .Part of the job to bring them on board.

They pass the Heathcote turn-off. Hume Highway's so boring, even in a good season. Freeways don't give you freedom, thinks Rory. We'll turn off the Highway for Glenrowan. - Terrible shame how these wonderful, old country towns are by-passed these days.-Disastrous for rural economies. Rory grins to himself. - Well this little project is about to turn that problem right around - for Glenrowan at any rate.

"Do you remember Heathcote and Murphy's pub, where we first met" Rory asks Karolina. "Typical gold-rush days country pub, built in the days when there was more money than sense". Murphy's pub, the curved arch of the veranda dripping with cast iron-lace, the intimate, beery gloom of the bar, the make-shift stage. - Banana boxes stage. - Bloody dangerous when you got fired up with a feisty jig. Gave the concept of putting your foot in it a whole new meaning. "Matilda, did you know that I have your mother to thank," says Rory, "for introducing me to the folk-scene in Melbourne?"

"Nonsense. All I did was point you in the direction of Frank Traynor's and the Colonial Inn. - Rory was on his way down from Darwin." Karolina explains. " Singing for his supper. 1965 it was. The folk movement hadn't taken off,"

"That's not exactly accurate. There was the Victorian Folk Club. Anyway, that was the year they brought in the Draft.. A GI. in Darwin sang me some Dylan and Woody Guthrie. - A joint naval exercise was on in the Timor Sea." Rory grins. "It wasn't the Vietnamese that invaded the far north. It was Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger, months ahead of Melbourne."

"'The Streets of San Fransisco' was top of the Pops" says Karolina. "The first hippies flowed down the streets of Melbourne. I was fascinated. Shocked and fascinated." Matilda doesn't reveal her surprise at this disclosure, as Karolina continues. "The freedom and creativity was just exhilarating after the stifling Fifties. It was through Corey at Outpost Inn that I discovered I actually had a mind." Karolina turns back to smile at Matilda. "Young women were wearing army shirts! You should have seen the faces outside the Melbourne Club. Outpost Inn was in between the Reserve Bank and the Melbourne Club - The army shirts were a sign of protest. Rory wasn't into protest. It was the music. Funny thing though, he was thought of as one of Melbourne's first protest singers."

- What a great trip we're having, thinks Matilda. - Haven't seen Karolina so relaxed or forthcoming in ages. Never knew she admired Rory as a muso once upon a time,

- Protest singer? Ah, but the songs spoke to me, says Rory to himself. . Gave me a - focus for what I could never ever say in words of me own .

"And the folks will rise with the sleep still in their eyes

and they'll shake their heads as if they're dreamin'

and like Pharaoh's tribe they'll be buried in the tide,

the hour that the ship comes in"'

sings Rory to himself and he feels very fine indeed in the warm air of Spring.

-Yes, thinks Karolina, Rory became an instant identity, anti-war songs bush music, blues, gospel - more or less the quintessential Australian identity of the era. - Not that it ever went to his head, I'll give him that. - Sad now, because Rory's kind of persona is passe and he doesn't realise it.

"Dylan," says Rory. "Now there was a poet! Joan Baez. Pete Seeger. By Christ, could they craft a song.

" - Gonna lay down my sword n' shield, down by the river-side," sings Rory," down by the river-side, down by the river-side "

And they are off, Matilda and Rory, harmonizing with gusto . - Good for at least the next twenty K's says Karolina to herself and all because we passed the Heathcote turn-off.

-She'd drawn a blank that year at Murphy's pub. - Must've been my father's death that prompted me to try and track them down, she says to herself - Uncle Andreas and Auntie Eileen. Nearest thing to relatives I'll ever have. It wasn't just that first year at the Wild-duck, Karolina tells herself. But the four years of summer holidays at the Whip-stick, west of Heathcote, after her father had found a flat for them both up at the Snowy. Four years of summer holidays at the Wild-duck, the Whipstick Forest and old Mount Ida - The creek-house! that was the very first thing I'd check up on. Karolina thought for a long time that Auntie Eileen's house was typical of Australian houses, that the house was Australian, like Auntie Eileen.

The old house grew out of the bush, the spine of the rusty roof humped like a land-locked whale, the weather-boards silver-grey, the flecks of scabby paint clinging stubbornly like the remnants of last season's Leopard Gum bark. No garden worth mentioning, except for some climbing roses straggling untidily up the veranda, which itself was on the point of collapse. Only the chook-house was fenced with strictest security, the chicken wire embedded in concrete, against the foxes.

On wet, blustery nights, Uncle Andreas lit a mallee-root fire in the lounge-room. They would all sit huddled, in the fitful light of the kerosene lantern, waiting for the room to warm up, while Auntie Eileen told stories of lost souls who wandered the bush, because they had no burial place to call their own.

Best of all Karolina liked the stories of brave Ned Kelly and his gang, who roamed as freely as the Aborigines, - the Kellys, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor.

"Cops never caught those Kelly boys," said Auntie Eileen. "They rode like the wind. People supported 'em. Left out pots o' stew on gate-post for the boys, when they were on the run. They were true democrats, those boys. Joe Byrne, one of Ned's gang spoke perfect Mandarin - a Chinese language. And Kate Kelly, Ned's sister, she'd ride to the boys' hide-out up in the Great Divide, ride like the wind, to warn Ned and the boys that the cops were on their tail."

Every summer Karolina would inspect the creek-house, the dug-out, house that Anna Highland had conceived of, one night after one of her mother's Ned Kelly stories. Every year, Bobby, Anna's elder brother, Karolina and any other Highland children, capable of digging would dig out the creek-house in the soft sandy soil of the dry, creek bed.

The following year, after the summer sun had dried the creek to a trickle, the children would restore the creek-house. In years of heavy, winter rain, , all trace of the creek-house was obliterated. Other times, the log walls might be intact and even part of the bark roof.

"Did I ever tell you about a time I got spooked by cockatoos?" Karolina explains they had played their Kelly gang on the run game. Anna played Ellen Kelly, Ned's Mum and Karolina was brave Kate Kelly. Bobby was Ned and the little ones were gang members. They had criss-crossed a roof-thatch of branches as screeching cockatoos flew overhead, coming to rest in the nearby gum-trees.

Anna looked worried, "We should be getting home,"

"No," said Karolina, who had just discovered an interesting stone, "Kookaburras. Your Mum said we had to go when the kookaburras start up, so as to feed the chooks." "How's about this rock? Reckon we can use it?"

Karolina, in the car turns to Matilda. "Rocks and stone. Always been interested in things of stone, whether it's monuments, or just a rocky outcrop." The car is getting uncomfortably warm. "Do you know anything about the Gorgon?"

Matilda thinks a moment. "Um - Goddess of deep places, Athena's shield had the Gorgon's head on it, I think. Oh yes - and her hair was made of snakes."

"Exactly right. The story of the Gorgon was in one of the school readers in my time. Later story got scrambled up with Saint George. - same thing happened to most of the pre-patriarchal myths. They got distorted, degraded with the dethroning of goddess religions."

"Didn't think you were interested in myths," says Rory.

"Well those celtic tales of yours would scare the socks off anybody.retorts Karolina.

"And I suppose the Gorgon wouldn't, with her hair made of writhing snakes and a look that would turn any man to stone." replies Rory pointedly.

"I rest my case. Rory, that is merely the debased version, after the patriarchy had dealt with women's religions - You see Rory the snakes are creatures of earth. They shed their skins - meaning they change, transform." says Karolina as if speaking to a child. "The stone metaphor was connected to the third aspect of the goddess, the crone, reminding people that we are all mortal. - Medusa, the Gorgon was the original mother goddess"

- Ah yes, I well remember that ring of rocks and the afternoon when Anna heard the cockatoos. Karolina recalls how Anna's face had changed suddenly.

"Got to be getting home. You too Karolina. Put that back." Anna glanced over her shoulder at the cockatoos roosting above, so close you could see their yellow crests, erect like sun-spikes, their granite-grey beaks. "Come on! " pleaded Anna.

"Cowardy-cowardy custard." called Karolina, as Anna gathered up the little ones and ran, dragging them by the hand, to the homestead. Karolina looked at the rock. It was black, quite unlike the round river-pebbles and grey-pink mudstone of the creek .Karolina, intrigued by the pattern of curved spirals, decided that this was her special rock. She became possessed by a sense of urgency. The rock had to be re-buried. That much was clear. She gathered a pile of river-rocks - gold-grey slate, iron-red mudstone and one round, river-worn piece of quartz. Karolina made a circle out of river-rocks.

She dug in the soft sand, with a pointy stick waist-deep; she wanted to dispose of the sand-pile , but the screeching of the cockatoos bothered her. Every time she went to push the sand back out of the way of her stone circle, the cockatoos set up such a crescendo of screeching, wings flapping, sulphur crests lifting, that she settled for smoothing the excess sand into a raised hump within the stone circle. Karolina jumped down into the pit,

"West for sunset on your left, east for sunrise on your right.' she whispered, " as she lifted the rocks, "and due north's before your eyes.'"

Karolina faced Norh-west in the direction of Yugoslavia. Suddenly the cockatoos fell silent. A long shadow fell across Karolina, snaking down the creek bank. The Gorgon!

"Put that back. You put that back." said the Gorgon. Karolina did not dare look up. A hand reached out, took the black stone from Karolina's fingers, gave her back the stone of quartz. Still Karolina did not dare look lest Medusa, with one look from the bleak eyes, would turn her to stone.

"Why did you do this?" asked Medusa. Don't you know not to touch what isn't yours?"

Karolina falls silent a moment. - The rest of the story is mine alone, she says to herself. The dread mother bent down, took Karolina's face in her hands. Trembling, Karolina closed her eyes tight.

"What do you think you're doing?" - It is the voice of Auntie Eileen. "Karolina, look at me." Auntie Eileen gave Karolina's shoulders a shake.

"I was making a home for my mother." said Karolina in a small voice.

The grip on Karolina's shoulders loosened. Auntie Eileen sat down in the sand of the creek bed. Her hands on Karolina's bare feet felt warm.

"Dear child." she said and her voice had gone very soft.

Karolina tells Matilda how, on the very next day, the last day of the holidays, Auntie Eileen had signalled for Karolina to wind down the window of Uncle Andreas' Holden. Taking Karolina's hand in both of her own, Auntie Eileen curled Karolina's fingers around a smooth stone. She took Karolina's other hand in hers and held it against Karolina's heart as Uncle Andreas revved up the engine. "Your mother will always be there, Karolina, "Never forget that."

"After we turned on to the Heathcote Road," Karolina tells Matilda, "I looked at the stone Auntie Eileen had given me. It was a butterfly pupa, embedded in amber, trapped at the point of emergence."

"Oh the amber stone on your desk." says Matilda. "But why did Auntie Eileen make you replace the stone you found? That's a bit of a mystery"

"Matilda, I have no idea," Karolina replies - But everything is a mystery to you those first few years, she says to herself.