Chapter 26-30

Chapter Twenty-six


Absently Matilda strokes Lin's head. Lin is weeping on Matilda's shoulder. Rory has just departed, head bowed, shoulders slumped. They are sitting on the decking of the foot-bridge linking Flinders Street Station with Southbank's restaurants. The contemporary, single-span bridge with its web of steel pylons slung from arch to decking links the 19th Century station's Italianate towers and copper domes to the bicycle paths and blue stone edifices of modern Melbourne's river-side playground. Everything in the bridge's architecture is off-centre. It doesn't cut straight across the river. Its metal balustrades are at an angle to the perpendicular. The decking humps up-hill to the centre of the curving arch and the triangular supporting struts face the current like compass legs . The over-all effect is of fragility, temporariness. You know that you are on a trembling foot-bridge. You are all too aware of the brown current below.

Lin's weeping is drowned by the screeching of sea-gulls. A man is feeding them potato chips. They wheel and squawk. Twenty then fifty or more gulls compete in a blur of snapping beaks. Matilda still stroking Lin's head is overwhelmed in the flurry of wings. She can't forget Karolina's pale face. Nor can she put aside Rory's dissemblance, now that she has the evidence.

- Didn't think he took me seriously when I showed him the photograph. - Six year old Rory from nowhere. "I know your secret Rory. About the boy in the canoe." Rory dumbfounded, wanted to sort it out then and there. "No way. - Not in front of my friends." Matilda had said. "This evening at the Boat-shed. - Chapter and verse. You give me back my life!" Matilda turned her back on her father. "Just go Rory!"

I can't take Lin's tears, thinks Matilda, but she rustles up enough fellow-feeling to ask, "Lin what's wrong?" Lin explains that she had decided to look in on the exhibition. She was standing thoughtfully in front of a Fredrick McCubbin painting together with a group of Japanese tourists.

"A gallery official said. 'Would you rejoin your group madam,' I told him they weren't my group. Somehow things escalated. A voice came from the crowd - soft, but clear enough, 'Asians out!' I got upset. Took out my Uni card, my Commonwealth Bank card and my driver's licence. I marched right up and down that line of Lost Child viewers

and - "

"So it was the 'Lost Child' painting?"

"Yes. Anyway I marched up and down that line and I shouted, 'I am an Australian citizen. I have a right to be here.' People started arguing. And then Matilda, I really lost the plot and I sat right down in front of the painting of the lost child and I said, 'This is who I am. This is who I am.' "

Matilda chokes back her own answering tears as her friends arrive. Marcia looking like a land-locked turtle, is weighed down by a heavy rucksack - quite inappropriate for a ferry-trip down the Yarra's lower reaches on a hot summer day. Besides she might get taken for a terrorist. Matilda dismisses the thought.

Cal and Mick sprint up the gang-plank and immediately engage the captain in animated conversation. Marcia with an air of intense concentration, plods to the stern and stares purposefully into the yellow-brown water foaming out from the wake. Lin s hunched over moodily, is sitting amidships, similarly unapproachable. The boat passes the totem figures bulking in the water, at the Turning Basin. She hears from the Bridge the captain explaining to Cal and Mick how these River Cruiser don't feel the slap of the incoming tide until they reach the docks.

"You see Mick, the tidal impact is minimized by the unnatural shape of the river-mouth."


- Mick is all ears, thinks Matilda. "Yes. The river mouth has been tampered with as it were. Hundred 'n sixty years ago" replies the captain. "The river was dredged and enlarged to make way for the docks. And it's still constantly dredged these days to clear out the silt from upstream."

The captain interrupts the conversation to announce morning tea over the P. A. system. "The river today runs at a fraction of its natural flow and that is because of the dams and reservoirs upstream holding back the waters." The cruiser reaches the wide basin of the Port of Melbourne and the docklands area. A massive container ship is being unloaded at Swanston Dock. Several vessels are laid to, close to the wharves awaiting entry. "Ninety seconds is the average turn-around time for unloading, compared to two whole days' work by ten men in pre-mechanized days." The captain nods towards a clutch of tug-boats like purposeful beetles nudging at the stern of the container ship.

- I don't for the life of me know why Cal and Mick see fit to ask the captain of a tourist cruiser all these questions, thinks Matilda crossly as the captain continues.

"Of course there is nothing much that is natural about a port river - any port river. - Most unnatural of all perhaps is that the river is sliced off completely from its original historic entrance to the bay," The captain warms to the attention of Cal and Mick, "Nowadays people think that the Yarra and the Maribyrnong were always two separate rivers, whereas the Maribyrnong used to flow into the Yarra."

That a fact!" Cal is full of admiration.

"Yes indeed. They sliced out a hunk and created Goode Island." The captain shoves back his impeccable, white peaked cap. "The city fathers thought the island was an ideal place for a chemical-storage site. - It's only blown its top once." .

- Only once! As if that wasn't enough, thinks Matilda, recalling the exploding flames flung from Goode Island's chimney-stacks and the noxious, black smoke that had blanketed the city. Matilda feels the powerful pull of the out-going tide as the captain swings the cruiser round for the run back to Southbank. The P. A. crackles into life with the captain giving a potted history of the Port of Melbourne. Matilda doesn't really want to hear how the docks are giving way to theme-parks and yuppie high-rises. She only half-listens to the captain's value-neutral account and is not surprised to hear that the historic workers' cottages are selling like hot cakes.

Matilda stares into the water imagining the Yarra. before Batman's 'Enterprize' sneaked up-river to drop anchor below the rapids, tries to reconstruct in her mind the Kulin peoples' vast system of wet-lands teeming with pelicans, turtles and egrets busy in the reed-beds, magpie-geese and black ducks wheeling overhead, black swans, ibis and cormorants afloat on clear waters and an abundance of eels and fish in the seas and billabongs.

Marcia, straightens up, gazing intently into the river. Matildas is aghast as from her back-pack. Marcia takes a large, round stone, holds it in cupped hands a moment, then casts it

into the water. - Christ, she'll be taken for a terrorist, thinks Matilda moving to intervene. Something holds her back, as Marcia stares at the outline of the waning moon, curving like a thin, gum-leaf - just tipping the casino-tower. She casts the next stone, singing to herself, facing the white moon-fragment as it rises over the city. The vessel veers in the wake of a large pleasure-boa. Marcia swearing under her breath leans out perilously. Methodically she continues casting the stones, which fall with a faint 'plonk' into the current until her bag is empty.

Matilda has to admit that the captain knows what he's talking about as far as tides and currents are concerned, though his history is a the usual, tourist spiel and he doesn't mention the stuff-up over the correct Aboriginal name for the Yarra. Now Mick is probing about precisely how far up-river the salt-water of the tides is likely to go, disagreeing knowledgeably on the respective heights of neap and full-moon tides. - Why don't Mick and Cal ask me thinks Matilda. I could put them in touch with all the experts you could point a stick at. The lower reaches of the Yarra had never interested Matilda. - Take care of the headwaters and the middle course and then . ... . The docklands building project has put paid to any hope of a healthy river-mouth. Cal and Mick are taking far more than a passing interest in the river's lower reaches. -

Well, she says to herself, since everyone's being so anti-social, I might as well do some sleuthing of my own.

Matilda takes the folder out of her back-pack and angles the photograph to the sun. - To think that Rory's favourite photo had been sitting on his wall all these years and all it took for the photograph to speak its truth was to have it enlarged!

The little boy - five or six years old, very tanned - quite dark actually, but the distinctive eyebrows, the wide, full mouth and the thick cloud of curly hair - yes, definitely Rory - know that lop-sided grin anywhere. But the enlargement shows people - lots of people, standing in the shallows smiling - or maybe singing with the people in the boats?. Many boats. Looks like palm trees. The people could be - Aborigines, or Pacific Islanders even. - Definitely not Galway Bay. Shed Number 24 shadows the photograph - , the original sailing-ship port before the river bend was straightened and the rock wall eliminated. -In Rory's photo there's a woman standing at the water's edge Eighteen or nineteen at most. Maybe she's just emerged from the surf - Aboriginal - Islander, or could be Indonesian? She's holding her arms out to Rory. Liam's not there. Matilda pauses for the cruiser to pass under another bridge. - Strange that this woman didn't show up better in the original photo. Her form is shadowed by the corner of what can only be a large square sail and by the canoe's prow, riding high in the water and behind the stern, angling outwards - an outline of spars and struts. An outrigger!

Matilda stares up distractedly at the masts and spars of the 'Polly Woodside', the restored clipper-ship moored up ahead. - An outrigger canoe! All those Pacific War posters. Makes sense now. Matilda fingers the coral necklace she had taken from Rory's sea-chest along with the photograph and papers. She jumps as a pollution-control boat passes them, siren blaring and realizes with a shock that the young woman in the photograph, holding out her arms to Rory could possibly be her grandmother. - Rory might not be Irish at all! Not on his mother's side. She slips off the coral necklace holding it in the hollow of her hand like a talisman.

Matilda takes Rory's tattered copy of 'The Irish Times' of 1943 out of a plastic wallet and examines the handwritten Irish poem, scanning it rapidly. - Rory's usual Celtic stuff. With the building of the huge casino, the old 'Turning Point' in the river, the 'Pond' of 1841, had been reconstructed at the site of the rapids' demolished rock wall

- the rapids that had given the Yarra River its misconstrued name. Matilda scrutinises the handwritten page written in Rory's familiar scrawl.

'The men built the base on an airstrip and the women and children were sent to a near-by island. One man swam across the lagoon to his wife and was beaten. There was no rice- only gruel. One Japanese wireless operator who didn't like war was friendly to the people. A third of the people died.'

Matilda re-reads the paragraph. - Are these notes merely an account of Rory's obsession with the Pacific War - or, given the evidence of the photograph, are these notes her father's own recollections?

'There were savage beatings. One hundred and fifty people were once shot down on the cliff's edge. The U.S arrived in October.' Again Matilda pauses as the ferry moves under Queen's Bridge. - Nearly there! Matilda tries to decipher the abbreviated words as if Rory had scribbled very rapidly from some speech perhaps - or from memory? Matilda squints, still in the shadow of the bridge.

'By October, when the U.S. arrived,' she reads, 'only 759 out of 1,200 had survived.' Matilda mouths the words as she reads, 'On-board ship we rehearsed the songs - our songs as our gift, so as to arrive properly.' - What does that mean? Matilda frowns. - Ah yes! She breathes the words,. 'We were so excited. We practised all night because our history is in our song. We didn't waste time sleeping. We saw trousers, beer in tins. Cakes. Oh what joy! We got clothes. Jungle Greens for the men. White sailors' outfits for the women and children. How we laughed. I got a commander's uniform. They laughed and saluted me. We took the collaborators back home too, so that our police chief could investigate according to Australian law.'

Australian law? Matilda is again confused. She glances up at the phallic bulk of the Casino giving the finger to low-slung clouds. -A gambler must always appear in control, Matilda recalls, must never reveal the turmoil inside, but must face life's game with the mask intact. Well Rory's been gambling with my life and now it's me who'll be calling his bluff.

Then there's Karolina. Does she know this? Always felt there was something off-centre about Rory. But I didn't want to know. After all he gave me such a good childhood, so I never really levelled with Karolina. Matilda catches her breath as the boat cuts across the current, preparing to dock. - To speak out now would endanger Karolina's recovery and yet Karolina's blamed herself all these years. Matilda shivers despite the heat, as the cruiser ploughs through the casino's shadow.


She reads on quickly, 'When we first heard the American planes we were very frightened, but they only bombed the Japanese fleet and the airstrip and - and' Matilda confused again, stops reading - what's this? 'the airstrip and - parts of - Dublin.' Oh this is nonsense, she thinks to herself, but she reads on rapidly. 'When we saw the U.S, boats, we waved and called out, "We're Australian citizens!" Then we all sang 'The Star spangled Banner' to let them know se weren't the enemy !" '

With a sudden jolt the cruiser swings against the jetty. The crew slip mooring-ropes over the bollards. Matilda shoves the papers in her bag. Cal is flipping through her clip-board notes, studiously noting down - what? Certainly not the captain's simplified information. All her attention is focused on the vessel's instrument console, the computerized charts and flashing green lights. Matilda suspects that Cal has all the while been copying this data onto the grids and graphs on her clip-board.

Matilda feels a sudden flash of anger as she catches up with Cal at the head of the gang-plank. "Why didn't you ask me to help out?" she asks, thinking, - I don't even belong in my own generation among my own friends! They have their own secrets. Even they keep me out. The hot wind whips her hair into her face and she stumbles.

"But Matilda, you're more into the botanical - as against the mathematical side of science!" smiles Cal swivelling one hip sideways against Matilda's hip. "The botanical. The cosmological, the sacred feminine side of nature -That's your strength!" Matilda had thought - after that afternoon with Cal at the Overhang, that Cal had understood. But she can't - never can it seems, get Cal's measure. Is she having me on? I don't know. Matilda twists her flying hair into a rough, ropy twist and ties it into a tight knot - hair tied with hair.

Mick smiles "C'mon guys! Food first. Then the Gallery awaits the sacred masculine!"

Mick is being competitive, Matilda thinks as - to escape the heat they bound up Southbank's bluestone steps. "Women more in touch with nature, huh?" says Mick to Cal. "Sacred signs and all that! Lin's story of her friend up north. - Big deal!" Mick jams on his battered sun-hat. "So what, that when you were in Broome Lin - Maccassar-Aboriginal wasn't she?"

"No, says Lin, "Irish-Macassar-Japanese-Aboriginal. A Policy Officer with local government. And a Law Woman an island off the Kimberley coast - island's disappeared. Mined out. Her father was a diver on a pearling lugger."

"So?" Marcia breaks in. "What's the problem? All Aboriginal people have to come to terms with being so-called mixed race. That's how reconciliation started. - within our own families. My mum's Aboriginal-Irish. My dad's Czech."

"Paint your face. Is that what the Law Woman said?" Mick turns, walking backwards as he talks, facing Lin and Marcia. "As I understood it she was talking about tribal markings, right?"

"Yes, of course, but -"

"I think the idea is to lose your everyday self. Let the land speak." Lin looks inquiringly at Marcia.

"No good asking me about Kimberley law. Paint your face with the clays and ochres of the earth. Let the land speak, yeah. Sounds fair enough." Clearly Marcia doesn't want to be drawn any further on the matter.

Mick, (is he being mischievous?) falls back in step with Matilda and lowering his voice, "You know Matt when you were talking about that platypus you saw? - When I caught the little gecko?"

- No. Matilda decides, he's serious and embarrassed, so he's acting mischievous.

Mick rushes on. "For most of my life it's been well, a struggle to - survive I suppose - dysfunctional family. Lots of predators. The biggest predator of all was my dad." Mick's eyes are shaded by the brim of the sun-hat. Matilda can't read his mood and she is in no frame of mind to comfort anyone.

The cruiser below is taking on a fresh load of passengers. It is only then that Matilda realizes what luxurious vessel she is - sparkling new obviously - the 'Port Phillip Queen', - capable of cruising the bay as well as a long way upstream. Matilda glances up at the Casino. _Taller than any tree would've been in pre-settlement days. - But the City today. - It's still shell-beds, possum nests, river clay, re-worked tree-trunks, peregrine roosts, creek-sand. Matilda comforts herself with the thought that the City is till a house of stories that reach down to bed-rock. Whole city's wrapped in stories. Yes.

"I - we, the kids and my mum that is," Mick continues, "we spent a lot of time hiding - on the run. Off to friends, women's refuges, cheap, bed-sits - like geckoes hide under rocks. Only come out when it's safe. Couldn't take it." Mick stops to jam the hat even further onto his forehead.

- I can't handle this, says Matilda to herself. . He ignores me on the boat-trip. Now he's asking for support

"You know how I was a complete petrol-head by the time I was twelve?" says Mick staring down at the riverside joggers "And then how I got into the dope and booze? - driving like a maniac - pinching my first car at thirteen." Mick looks up briefly from under the hat. "A loser, that's what I was, if I hadn't met Corey." Mick clutches at the sun-hat in a sudden hot wind gust that sends the crowds watching the buskers scurrying for shelter. "Bush-fire weather by the looks of it. But the thing is, Matt I don't seem to have, what is it, - the inner resources that you have."

- Inner resources! thinks Matilda . - Then neither of us knows each other!

"Matt, I've been putting everything I've got into this - this action we're involved in." Mick takes off the sun-hat and wipes his brow. "Things been pretty tense lately. I just don't feel I've got anything left - inside that is and I've been trying to keep out of your way lately - to give you the time to sort things out, which doesn't make sense to me, but - " Mick speaks faster, urgently. "Matilda you said a while back that you needed time, that you didn't know something about yourself - something important. But Matt; time's running out - only a coupla' weeks 'til the Festival."

"Mick, not now. Please."

Mick shrugs, barely hiding the pain in his voice. "Okay. Thanks for listening anyway."

At the Art Gallery court-yard they sit down on the bluestone wall of the gallery pool to finish their falafels. The wall is hot from the searing sun. Matilda trails one hand in the water of the gallery pool, but the water too is unpleasantly warm. Her hair is escaping from the knot and uncomfortably flicking in her face.

Mick shoves the hat onto the back of his head. "Oh, by the way, you haven't forgotten about fixing the program so that the refuge act is on first, have you?" Mick grins briefly. "Anyway those geckoes are smart, quick. . Masters of camouflage. Fool 'em. Drop your tail and run. Hard though - lost tail if you're a gecko. It's actually the biggest part of yourself. Bits of lost childhood ay Matt?"

- My God, says Matilda to herself. - Where am I in all of this? First Lin and now Mick. I always thought Mick was reliable, really steady and responsible. Just then Lin flops down nearby on a cast-iron bench, shoulders tense, eyes moist with unshed tears. Lin too seems to have gone to pieces. Lin - Passionate. Strong. Funny. Unbelievable to see her so shattered. Matilda's eyes have an odd glitter - brown, shiny like the hot, summer river. "Talk about leaving aside your every-day self," she says angrily to no-one in particular, "but no-one ever bloody gave me an everyday self!" She turns away, her mouth set.

"Oh Matilda, I'm sorry. I've been thoughtless," says Mick. "What's wrong?" But Matilda shakes off the encircling arms.

"I'm okay," she protests, but the arms will not go away. Matilda's mouth trembles. "No. I'm not okay. - It's Rory. Some truths I've uncovered." Her voice wobbles then steadies. "Everyday self. What's that?" she says bitterly. "Trouble is the most important bits weren't ever - " Matilda laughs shakily. "Origins," she says in a small and toneless voice. "Never had any as it turns out." Matilda looks up into the anxious eyes of Mick and Lin.

"The Irish side of my family," she says. "I loved it. The music. Rory's stories. I was always uncertain about my mum's back-ground. But Rory. I thought I could count on my Irish side - the enchanted child singing in shearing sheds around camp-fires." Matilda shakes her head as if in the grip of a bad dream. "Well the spell's broken. It's all a lie." She stops suddenly realizing that Cal and Marcia have come up behind them. Matilda turns to them. "Look I'm sorry. I'm rabbiting on when I don't have any real - Well I do have almost, conclusive evidence, but it's not confirmed yet and it's all so -" Matilda takes a deep breath, "so completely confusing. - Anyway, we're supposed to be enjoying ourselves. "No." She raises a warning hand. "No, no. Sorry." Matilda finds herself saying, "Forget it. Just leave me alone for a bit, while you go and get some drinks. - Anything will do." Matilda rustles up an almost credible smile, hooking the flying strands of hair behind her ears. She sits down alone on the wall of the moat.

Quickly Matilda pulls out the folder and again leafs through its contents until she finds the place in Rory's scribbled words, 'Australian citizens. We're all Australian citizens.' - What on earth does it mean? Matilda puts aside the Irish Times and the Celtic poems - familiar territory that, and smooths out some printed sheets. These pages appear to have been torn from a tourist brochure. Again there is no heading and no title and the article begins in mid-sentence.

' the most striking feature of the island is 'The Beautiful Wreck', draped in seaweeds and marine growth and bearing a whole convoy of war-planes and patrol-boats. In that same harbour are over 60 vessels and 250 planes. The island provides entry for large ships and was an excellent anchorage for the entire Japanese fleet and staff.'

Matilda looks up suddenly, but because of the heat, her friends are still caught in a long queue for drinks.

'Operation Hailstone' destroyed that fleet in 1944, as well as hundreds of planes" she reads. 'Today these sunken vessels constitute the largest man-made reef in the world. Popular with scuba-divers is the Fujikawa Maru, shawled in marine growth, and still carrying its deadly cargo of guns, warplanes and patrol-boats.' The blazing North wind makes reading difficult. Matilda dashes water from the pool onto her face and over her head,

'There are 15 islands in all,' she reads, 'rising from an azure-blue lagoon, which is enclosed by a necklace of low coral islands. The western islands are renowned for canoe-building. The population today is Spanish, Islander and Japanese.' Matilda takes a long pull from her water-bottle.

'The main island is famous for making the only masks in all of the islands. The masks are worn at dances and are displayed on the gables of the men's houses. These masks' Matilda reads, holding firmly onto the paper, hair blowing into her eyes, 'had magical powers. The masks hid the warriors' true identity and were clearly tied to the people's reverence for magical powers. The masks enabled the islanders to hide their inner feelings, because knowledge of such feelings was thought to make the person vulnerable.'

Matilda takes a deep breath, - Yes vulnerable, she says to herself. - Trouble is I don't know if I can rustle up what it takes to get to the bottom of all this. She puts the paper away and trails her hands like two gentle fishes in the water of the moat. - Less than two weeks to the Festival. Matilda frowns as the song comes out - a few sad lines from the old Henry Lawson poem -

Past worryin' and carin'

Past worry and despairin'

Yes I have gone past caring.'

Matilda's voice tapers off and she stands up, flicking a silver trail of water onto the dark stone. "Time to explore the lost child." she says into the wind and soon she is swallowed up behind the Water Window.

The Melbourne Art Gallery stands foursquare - a bluestone box, flanked by two bulky, wombat-like red-gum animals with bared, grinning teeth and surreal sculptures of steel and bronze beside the heat-shimmering moat. Typically Melbourne, the gallery seems to be sending itself up, making a mockery of the very concept of an art gallery, a place of stone and water. The moat ripples up to the water-window - reviled by some for its tackiness, revered by others for its resemblance to the water windows of the 1950's fish and chip shops. Today, a week before Christmas, the water-window is festooned with heavy red and gold garlands. At each opening of the automatic doors, the wind's breath roars in from the north.

Looking back over her shoulder as she enters, Matilda notices that the sky is palled with a thick, red-grey haze - bush-fire smoke on the furnace-wind sapping all energy. Matilda is thankful for the cool of the air-conditioning. - I've had to go through all this over Karolina, thinks Matilda, closing her eyes against the grit blowing indoors on the win, her hair all awry, springing up and snaking down every which-way. - And now I've got to repeat the whole fucking process with Rory. In the cool interior of the treasure-box that is the state gallery, Matilda is drowning in the world behind the water-window.

Now they are in the Heidelberg School exhibition. Heidelberg - called Warringal 150 years ago. Matilda wonders if the white people got the Aboriginal name right that time. She finds she has new and odd sense of distance, when the words, 'white people' cross her mind. No wonder the 'Heidelberg School' artists rejoiced in the sparkle of sunlight on tree-trunks in that place by the pristine river. Were there any people of the Kulin still there when the Heidelberg School artists 'discovered' those massive, ragged River Red Gums? Matilda catches Marcia's eye and Marcia rolls her eyes,

"Too bloody heroic for me, those Streetons." she mutters, "like chocolate boxes."

But the lost child paintings are of a different order entirely. At least that is Matilda's belief. She feels vaguely responsible, hoping the others will share her liking. Suddenly they are standing in front of Mc.Cubbin's 'Lost in the Bush' -A group of men in cloth caps block the view. Weird! They stand lit starkly like a black and white photograph from the 30's Depression times. Are they real? Matilda wonders; they remind her of the workers in socialist-realist paintings. She hears the workers mutter 'Grief and glory' and then they repeat over and over,' Lost Child, Lost Child.' Matilda's heart lurches. She regains equilibrium as Cal and Lin turn questioning, waiting.

"Well," Matilda hears herself saying, "McCubbin often painted this theme, the lost child. It's more than just stories of children lost in the bush. The lost child figures heaps and heaps of times in Australian art, in stories and, movies. 'Picnic at Hanging Rock's one example. The media gets obsessed with stories of lost children." Matilda realizes she sounds like an art critic, but she presses on, possessed by the moment and the void within, the void of the great hole in old Melbourne town, the drownings in the deep pool of the stump-hole lake, the duplicity of John Batman's exchange of blankets and mirrors to the peoples of the Kulin and the death by drowning of Batman's only son - falling from the rapids of the mis-named Yarra River, the water turned to salt, when they blew up the rapids. Matilda shoves aside her escaping hair "The immigrant people, the invaders felt uncomfortable being here in Australia - couldn't cope with the unfamiliarity of the place, talked about the vastness, the silence - seemed to separate out the original people, same way they shifted all they didn't kill away from their own home-country." - Home country - what's that? thinks Matilda, barely able to continue. Her hair flops completely down, a tightly curling curtain, all-but obscuring the troubled eyes.

"Perhaps unconsciously," she says hesitantly, "the artists pictured a crucual issue for non-indigenous people, for all immigrants to this country." Matilda spreads her hands helplessly towards the confused and exhausted children cowering in the immensity of alien forests. "It's a question of belonging to this land." She stops for a long, silent moment. "I mean that is the question, - belonging. We don't. - Lost in the bush; " Matilda stumbles over the words. "We're all lost you see."

Chapter Twenty-seven


Matilda's fingers tremble on the keys. She works quickly, automatically, bringing up the Site Plan. She must talk to Corey before meeting her father at the river. She clicks over to the folder on Bio Region and Story-telling stalls, the back-stage site-plans, the program for the Great Concert itself. She scrolls through to the Performances data-base. - If she hadn't promised Mick ... Matilda frowns. - Rory hasn't allocated time to the Great Song. - Probably still hasn't got his act together. - The Great Concert, Spirit of the Nation! Matilda sets her jaw thinking of Rory's grand performance. She flicks a strand of hair back from her eyes. - O K Rory can't blame me if I give Mick's performance a good 20 minutes' time straight after the Great Song. She saves the changes.

The screen wobbles, flashes a warning, a rapid and unreadable Data Form - NAZDAQ REPORT? Cabinet Files? - No! It's going down. Fortunately the screen returns to the program. Matilda breathes again and brings up the Yarra-Yarra Bio Region map. Amazing how beautiful a map can look hand-drawn by a creative cartographer, or a computer graphics artist - the green of the Yarra Valley shading to the ochre and red of the Great Dividing Range and the snowy mountain-tops, Mount. Baw Baw, furthest rampart of the Kulin peoples, Mount Buffalo of the massive granite tors - the territory Matilda had thought of as her home-place, embraced in the arms of the blue Dandenongs - the curves of the Shannassy, Little Yarra, Moonee Ponds Creek, the Plenty, Diamond Creek, Mullum Mullum, the Darebin, the Merri, the Maribyrnong - all the creeks and rivers of the Yarra River system. Not that it matters so much anyway - now that the government's going to put management of the Green Corridors up for Tender. As the program fades, she feels in her gut the fragmenting and fading as if nothing is real any more, not even herself.

Matilda fishes in her bag for Rory's sea-chest papers, scanning the hand-written notes again. - Is it truth or fiction - notes from some conference perhaps? Matilda's lips move as she silently reads the Celtic verse.

'so since your heart is set on her sweet green fields,

and you would leave me here,

go quickly, heed not my words,

although it be the voice of your friend,

you are captured by the voice of your own land.

Who am I to hinder love?

Why should I blame you for your weariness?

If but Christ would give me back the years,

and the strength of my youth,

and darken the white hairs on my head, I would go with you.

The wide seas that must be crossed, terrify me:

but go, my son, may your ship cut swiftly

through the waves, and do not quite forget.'

Matilda stops reading mid verse. - Too close to the bone right now. All that Irish exile stuff. Beautiful, but the information leads nowhere. An urge like fire under a blanket of earth strains in Matilda's solar-plexus. She wants to run. The Exile and the Wanderer are astir within; '- May your ship cut swiftly through the waves.' -Oh yes, she breathes. - Maybe it's time to wander the roads again?

Chapter Twenty-eight


"He's been acting a lie Corey don't you see? It seems indisputable that my father spent some, maybe a great deal of his early years in the Pacific." Matilda bursts into the fernery where Corey is sorting herbs. "In fact," Matilda continues emphatically, "my father may not have even been born in Ireland at all but somewhere in the Pacific. What do you think?" But Corey seems intent on bundling the bunches of herbs as Matilda pours out the story of Rory's duplicity. "Don't you see?"

All Corey says is "Somewhere in the Pacific."

"I've always tried to keep Rory and Karolina . ." Matilda's voice trails off, "I've always wanted to prevent them from . . ."


"Well I thought that if I let well alone . . ."

"So you want them back together again?" Corey pulls apart a clump of sage.

"No. Well I mean they never actually split up, so -."

"And that gives you?"

"Well some sort of - security I guess. But that's their decision." Matilda yanks at a bunch of sage. Her hair tumbles out of its top-knot with the effort.

"No Matilda. Not like that. You're damaging the roots."

Matilda puts the bunch down and straddes the garden bench, her eyes intense.. "This, this - Rory's cover-up, - it could influence - ."

"Influence? Our past always influences our present. Whatever we hide of our past has an effect - perhaps stronger than the truth. But sometimes it might be the only way."

"But Corey."

"Matilda there are always unforseen consequences." Corey's voice has a slight edge to it. "Karolina's health, do you mean? I hardly think any revelations of Rory's would be crucial . - A Migrant English teacher who knows the absolute centrality of secrets. A strong woman who held on to her own secret 'til it nearly killed her? " Corey knocks a clump of herbs free from their terracotta pot. "Matilda you'll have to do better than that." Corey's level gaze is uncompromising.

Matilda picks up a ball of twine, twisting it inexpertly around a bunch of rosemary. She lowers her gaze. "Okay Corey. My - big secret. You know it. I've never told you, but - you've guessed. That's what could blow everything out of the water"

"So, you've answered your own question." Corey turning her back marches to the herb bed. She winces, leaning momentarily on the shovel.

Matilda draws Corey's attention to the supposed Galway photograph. "Corey, this is serious dishonesty. He's let me down. He's let Karolina down. Rory wasn't even at Galway Bay as a seven-year old. - Perhaps never!" She advances down the path with the enlarged photograph. Corey casts a cursory glance at the photograph and returns to digging up the herbs.

"Corey, please. There is a way - and the words tumble out. "Corey. Could you speak to my father. - He listens to you. - Look, if I insist on the truth from Rory, I'd be obligated. By rights I should - "


"Well yes. But if you talked to him, perhaps I wouldn't have to tell him or Karolina." Matilda walks across the herb bed, unaware of the crushed fragrance under her feet and faces Corey, pleading.

With some difficulty Corey lifts a heavy shovelful of herbs to the table. "Matilda. I've always supported you and your family, but I've never acted as go-between." Corey's hand goes to the small of her back pressing hard. "It's painful - digging."

"Oh Corey. Let me." Matilda suddenly recalls that Corey is some years older than her father. "What's wrong?"

"Oh, nothing heroic," says Corey. "I call it old war wounds - which is true. It sounds less boring to the young than bloody arthritis." Corey lowers herself down onto the bench.

"Corey, you rescued me when I was fourteen. You've always been my support-person." Matilda wills to herself the persuasiveness of her father. "Corey, I need you now. Truly. I - I'm thinking of ditching this job. There - there's a job possibility - Lake Eyre. The whole Cooper's Creek Basin. I've been up that way before when I was sixteen - Roxby Downs uranium mine blockade. The arterial basin's one of the world's greatest underground water systems." Matilda's face is flushed." Dry creeks - thousands of kilometres

- from Queensland to South Australia. It goes right up the braided river system in Queensland and Northern Territory - the intertwining system of Wet Season creeks that look like braids - plaits. I've seen it from the air. In the Wet Season, Cooper's Creek, the creek that's completely dry for most of the year. In flood, the Cooper has a greater volume than the Nile!"

Corey holds up her hands for silence. "Matilda, you decide. I supported you when you were fourteen. - Ever since you broke your concertina. Came and stayed at my place. But you're nearly thirty now."

"Corey that's not fair. I've always been independent. Been all over Australia since I was seventeen. And, and lately I've single-mindedly tried to find my real origins." Matilda clasps the edge of the garden chair, her knuckles white. "but now I feel completely - completely lost." Corey continues methodically knocking the herb clumps against the side of the garden table. "This - this job vacancy at Lake Eyre," says Matilda. "It's quite important - not like some of my other short-term positions" Corey swiftly ties up the last bunch of herbs and stomps back to the herb patch. Matilda calls after her. "A proper career. Karolina would approve. Non-indigenous Australians don't understand Dry-creek eco-systems!"

"Then go there Matilda."

Matilda in a panic, streaks down the path after Corey, shattering clay pots, trampling on chives and basil, scattering shards of pottery. "But, but Corey. You've always been my role-model, a true mentor to me."

Corey leans all her weight on the spade, frowning, blinking - a hint of tears in her eyes. "Matilda, you are an adult. It's time for you to change from seeing me as role-model to simply being my friend. You have been all over Australia searching," Corey continues, her voice almost shaking, "and that was - honourable at the time." Painfully Corey lifts the shovelful of herbs. "A Dry-creek system. That might be just the thing for you! Because this time Matilda you need to ask yourself if your departure is a continuation of that search, or merely an escape. Do you really intend to insist on your father's disclosure while you perpetuate the cover-ups? This is not worthy of you, Matilda. You came back. Especially you came back from Darwin. You fought. You risked. I can't and I won't help you."

Chapter Twenty-nine


"Steady now! The load's a bit wobbly." Hughie is backing his red, Bedford truck down the Co-op drive. The load of gum leaves is lashed together loosely on the truck's open tray. "Somebody oughta cut back those overhanging branches, Can't see ... Christ! That was close!" Hughie jams on the brake. "That bloke just darted across the drive. - Didn't even look." Rory steps aside as the wavering truck-load of gum leaves screeches to a halt.

Marcia grins. "That's the feller who's going to kick off the Festival. The feller with the song - you know?" Lowanna swings down from the truck ahead of her daughter. "Ah - my friend Karolina's husband. So that's him."

"Yep. Matilda's dad." Marcia slides down from the truck. "Director of the whole Festival."

Hughie switches off the ignition. "Who gives a shit? Meself I don't give a flying fuck if he's the bloody Director General in Chief! But the song! Now that's important, ay girl? - Hey gubba!" Grinning, Hughie leans out of the truck window.

Rory's knees are still trembling. He feels all the uncertainties and tensions of the last days arise in a flood.

"Roy, is it?" says Hughie.

"No, Rory."

"Oh Rory. Right. You're the song-man? Need a didj mate? You'll be needin' a didj for your ceremony - the whadd'ya call it the Great Song?" Hughie begins unloading the gum-leaves into a heap by the back shed.

"Uncle Hughie's fantastic on the didj!" says Marcia. "Real deadly!"

"But I thought the Koories weren't officially participating and I don't want to infringe on any - "

"Then what're ya doin' here ay?" asks Hughie.

"Well I just thought . . ."

"Nuthin official about this feller." says Hughie heaving the last of the load onto the heap. He strolls over to the truck and starts up the motor.

Lowanna tosses Rory a small bunch of gum-leaves. "Nice to meet you." Lowanna's gum-leaves are thin and crescent shaped, the olive-green of rivers in sunlight "Take this Rory. A gift. Keep it in your pocket 'til the Festival. Don't forget." Lowanna smiles. The anthracite eyes hold Rory. His unease escalates. He wants to look away. Lowanna drops her gaze. She takes the gum-leaves from Rory's hand and tucks them into his top pocket. "Two nights from now. At the Co-op. Hughie'll kick the song on for you. Christmas eve. You can practice then." It is a command not a request.

"Gotta go." says Marcia and the truck lurches off in a cloud of smoke.

Chapter Thirty


Matilda lets herself into the Festival-site office at the side door in the lane-way. Matilda doesn't much like using it at night, but she reasons that so close to the Festival, the place is bound to be crawling with security guards. She notices that the lane has been graffitied - quite artistically, as it happens, with Twenty Twenty slogans. She pulls off the note she had left for Rory on his computer screen and rapidly re-writes it. Rory has left a letter on her desk - a response perhaps to her own note. She sticky-tapes her reply onto the screen and pockets Rory's letter without reading it. She scoops up her belongings. - Just in case the wander-lust gets the better of me over the Christmas break, she tells herself, pushing the red security-button and closing the door gently behind her.

Less than a fortnight to go 'til the Festival. In the distance the city is alive with the noises of pre-Christmas festivities. Matilda shivers despite the heat. There is no sea-breeze whatsoever. Masses of flowering shrubs and potted trees are already luxuriantly in place around the great stage in readiness for the Festival, but the heat has not been kind and the foliage droops a little in the incessant hot wind.

Arc lights illuminate the stage and its surrounds. A small van pulls up quietly beside the site sheds. Rory had said that they were going to work day and night, Matilda recalls - but surely that was not until after Christmas? But here they are, workers in steel-helmets and overalls driving - what's it called? A bob-cat? Matilda isn't sure of the name of the big yellow machine. One worker jumps into the cabin of an on-site truck. Another clips on a safety-harness and swings down into the shaft of the methane-gas vent. - Obie and Marcia had warned of the hazards of methane vents last July. The man in the vent calls to the bob-cat driver, directing him from the depths of the pit, as the steel bucket bites and swallows earth. Then in the nick of time the man vaults out into the open air, out of the clasp of the machine's teeth.

There is a deafening clatter from below in the shaft. - Must be another worker down there as well? A pneumatic drill drowns out all the Christmas noises from the city. Thankfully the racket stops. The worker climbs out, then drags up the drill from the shaft. Curious, Matilda peers down into the steel - clad vent, then backs off hurriedly as the bob-cat plummets forward and a rain of rock and soil tumbles from the steel scoop and into the tray of the truck. The truck careers off with its load and yet another dusty figure in overalls and a steel helmet clambers out of the shaft. A familiar cream ute pulls up. As the ute's door opens, the figure turns to survey the site. - Mick! Matilda draws a sharp inward breath and flattens herself against the wall. - Yes. It is Mick. Matilda calls after him, but the moment is lost. The door slams and the ute takes off. A swirl of leaflets flurries up in the wake of the departing van.

Matilda jumps - frozen in the light of the security guard's torch. She flips open her I. D. card. "No. It's okay. My father said they were going to work day and night. Something about the methane vent." The security guard relaxes and lowers the torch.

"Oh yes. Sorry. Rory Kelly's daughter? Incredible man, your father. A true-blue Aussie. Fair dinkum. Buggered if I know where he gets his drive from, ay? - You must be real proud of him."

"Oh. Yes." Matilda pockets the I. D.

"Hey. One more thing.' - Oh no! Matilda turns. "Just wanted to wish you luck for the Festival." The guard smiles. "You must be getting excited!"

Matilda laughs unnaturally. "Excited? Oh no. Actually I've gone beyond excitement." In the light of the torch Matilda notices one of the leaflets. She picks it up. A red and yellow leaflet. In black print are the words.

A BIO-REGIONAL REPUBLIC? Matilda studies the fine print


' We Need a Vision for the Human and the Non-human World.

Aboriginal Land Right as ownership & sovereignty.

Simplified Life-styles.

Positive Vision Inspires Commitment to Needs of Place & All Life forms.

Live within the limits of Home Place - Regional Self-sufficiency -

Socially inter-dependent, not individualistic, expansionist production.

Bio-Regional Self Government.

Small Government' at Federal level, ie. Secretariat Status,

Enlarged Conservation Reserves, (with surrounding buffer zones.)

Inter-regional Trade in ecological surpluses only.'

- Strange, thinks Matilda - that these leaflets should fall from the back of Mick's ute. Surely Mick hasn't been appropriating her Bio-regional ideas? Like those political groups who ride on the coat-tails of other groups' campaigns for their own ends. Matilda thinks back to that day at the river when Mick first spoke of the gecko, his knowledge of tides at the river-mouth. Perhaps Mick's connection with the rural youth refuge farms? Might that be an influence? - Is this leaflet another of Mick's projects?

With a shudder, Matilda recalls the body of old Sam in the river. - Never found the culprit either. - Old Sam, the 'walker' who delivered leaflets for Mick's projects. Matilda recalls Mouse saying so and recalls Mick's warning glance. - What does it all mean? It's hardly possible that Mick and the refuges have genuinely gone green. Matilda wheels her bike out into the street. - What's happening to me? With a shock of recognition, Matilda realizes that she is envious of Mick. - He's got no family worth thinking about, but he's got his life together. - No! It's just that he doesn't tell me. Matilda reminds herself once again that she had agreed to Mick's conditions. "None of 'em tell me what the fuck they're up to!" she says angrily. She is about to pocket the leaflet, but on an impulse she holds it up in the light of a street lamp the better to read the fine-print at the bottom. There is a name and a Post Office Box number. Twenty Twenty! Matilda shoves the leaflet in her pocket. A notice of betrayal. No other way of looking at it. - TwentyTwenty! - This I do not need. Matilda jumps on the bicycle and hair flying, coasts rapidly down Separation Street hill. She is glad of the wind in her face.