Chapter 36-40

Chapter Thirty-six


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Now. I must speak right now."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Oh Matilda I could have given you - "

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

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

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

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

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

"So what did Liam do?"

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

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

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

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

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

"Matilda we can shift onto the back veranda."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter Thirty-seven


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

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

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

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

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

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


"Street tree, melaleuca, paper-bark,

Koories wrapped their babies in your soft skin,

Street tree - survivor, the women ask you,

How did you handle the violations?

Travesty of a tree - hunched and cowering

FOR SALE - the signs plaster empty shops

and I am lost in forgotten places,

the countries of the Disappeared -

street tree stripped to remnants

last week's newspapers -

The Siege of Sarajevo.








Melaleuca, pounded by mortars of the wind

your sinews stretched, limbs unwilling spread,

contorted in resistance,

the clenching and the closing of knee over thigh,

forced entry of the predator down centuries

parades your kin down lines of wires.

And women who knew that one woman, however brave -

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

with hands signing documents down Ages of women,

who with streaming eyes and strong hearts,

resisted the ravaging, bore babies in bunkers,

sang lullabies of faith and loss. And shouted

to the weakling sun demanding light

and fire.


But paper-bark, in tatters

Provokes attention. Better not to struggle.

The ragged remnants ripped completely off -

They droop and twitch - the limp flags

urgent, brush wounded branches, melaleuca

and your skin opens to restorations of rain

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

the struggle of the sisters."

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

"Summer morning a-squabble with starlings

At Fairfield station, shrill dissonance,

wrap-around sound -

rains down from date-palm.

Date-palm soars upward.

Bract builds on bract

to petticoats of faded fronds

to deep green crinoline,

to new-green shock-top,

to tangerine spurt of date-bearing stalks.

Date-palm of many summers,

whole clusters of communes

housed within this roof of fronds.

Full moon tonight's in Sagittarius,

a ripe old age this many-summers moon.

Summer solstice and the Joker Moon!

Noon-day sun and Date-palm evicts ashrams of

Indian mynas,

Scuttling down skirts of fronds.

Sudden shock of Summery protest

In tatters of branches.

Wings a-flap, showers of sparrows

snatch sweetness at Date-palm crown.

Within are Wattle-birds

gobbling orange fruits,

erratic experts at unexpected flights -

they claim title to heart of palm,

celebrating ripeness.


Full moon - golden-round date-fruit moon,

takes it slow 'n easy,

flood-lights Date-palm,

gilds Date-fruits - moon-icing shimmer

on cobbled lozenges of Date-palm trunk.

Night-train decants weary travellers.

"Look Look. Possums climbing!"

But nobody sees the moon-light climb,

the silhouettes of possums purpose-full.

Pink possum hands clutch golden dates.

The shout breaks the feast

The watcher bereft,

Stands in a hail of date-fruits -

Jaffas down the aisle.

Up-dated at possum Movies!

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

And the Joker -

Is on me."

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

Chapter Thirty-eight


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"A divorce!" Rory stops as if slapped.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Software! Gotta get!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Wade in de wa-a-ter chillen,

Wade in de wa-a-ter!

God's gonna - trouble

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Fine!" Everything happened right on cue."

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Piece o' cake!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter Thirty-nine


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

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

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

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

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

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

"Who are they?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

"They bloody soon will."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Supplies ...?"

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

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

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

"Dzaved, what's happened?"

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

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

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

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

Matilda sighs, "Oh. Thank Christ."

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

"Collapsed? - he's unconscious?"

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

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

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

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

"Mick? You know what to do?"

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

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

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

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

"Dzaved, I'm not going anywhere." calls Matilda. She'd feel foolish, comical even, if it weren't for the urgency of the situation. Dzaved reaches the roof. He nods.

"Not too bad here. - Just a minute." Dzaved rips open the battery-pack with his teeth. The electric drill buzzes. "That's better!" Dzaved fishes in the bag. He slings a rope ladder up to Karolina. " The other side of the roof!" Ahmet looks blank. Then he cottons on. Agonising minutes pass as Ahmet rows round the submerged house. The rope ladder tightens. "Got it!" Dzaved clambers up the rope ladder. Matilda follows.

"Rory first!" insists Karolina. Dzaved unrolls the sling from his back. Out come clamps and clips. Matilda attaches the ropes. Together they roll Rory into the improvised sling, Karolina, straining, holding him steady.

"Okay Mick. Let 'er down!" - Matilda's mouth makes an 'O' of surprise. The banner! Rory is enfolded in the community banner!

Chapter Forty


Rory peers through the slit of his half-opened eyes. - A world - a water-world, it seems. A vast wetland and it's me that's floating upon it. A flotilla of black boats silently rowing, rowing in comradeship. It's a river of tears, he decides. - two hundred years of tears. - Family! 'Tis true family. Must be, since here he is rocking smooth and safe, on a river running backwards.

Rory jumps. Mouse in the other boat, has turned up the volume on Fiona's radio.

" - Whole region's flooded", says the announcer, "Some worrying signs State-wide. Rivers behaving unpredictably, breaking their banks - pre-figured by unaccountable ground-water activity. The Yarra - from Dock-lands to Swanston Street has currently all but disappeared. The public are urged to remain calm - keep tuned in to regular State Emergency announcements. - "We go now to our reporter on-site at Fairfield." Above the rush of water, a woman's voice.

"Collingwood and Fairfield are awash. The river appears to have changed course. Low-lying ground as far as Fairfield is experiencing tidal flooding. The C B D and the Casino are floating in a sea of mud." The radio crackles.

"Shit. Not working." Mouse tries another station, hoisting the radio onto his shoulder. The radio comes to life again, then fades.

"Members of parliament cross the floor!" shouts Mouse. . "An immediate election! - Ouch!" Mouse yells as the radio, close to his ear, bursts forth again.

"We now cross to the Stock Exchange, where incomprehensible activity has resulted in a sharp drop in the financial markets, mosly in mining, logging and the futures markets. - A computer virus . . ." The radio cuts out briefly. "What appears most extraordinary of all is the shifting - four decimal points to the left, on all Stock Exchange records. Investors are assured . . ."

"Here. Give it to me.," calls Dzaved reaching across from boat to boat. Dzaved takes out screw drivers and tools and sets to work.

"How's Rory?" asks Matilda.

"No better, no worse." replies Karolina. "He's talking. Can't make it out. Islander language perhaps - or could be just ramblings."

"Shit Mum! It could be concussion!"

"Concussion!" Dzaved drops the screw-driver. "Why didn't I think? - That bruise on the forehead! All sorts of dangerous things crashing through the current. - We don't know what he might have gone through to get down to Karolina's house."

Dzaved bends over. He looks carefully into Rory's eyes. "I think he's okay, but he's in shock. We'll have to look out for a comfortable, dry place to rest for the night.

Mick calls out. "Matilda, any idea where we are?"

"We've been following what was the river's course. - Should be somewhere near Warrandyte." Matilda scans the sky - hears the whirring of wings, those kookaburras again - swooping down for their sunset laugh-in ... Dzaved has the radio going again,

"All old-growth logging to cease. All mining contracts in National Parks cancelled." says the fruity voice of the announcer, "A radical overhaul of employment and public transport, including returning privatized gas, telecommunications and electricity to public ownership. Bio-regional Councils to re-establish Green Corridors "

Dzaved switches the radio off. "Just some list of politicians' promises. - Do you really want ...?"

"Hang on Dzaved." says Mick. "Could we have that again?"

"This is the list to date of the radically amended Cabinet documents pre-figuring legislative changes." says the announcer. " - Oddly, the government is denying that these are in fact Cabinet Documents and claims that original Cabinet Documents have been tampered with and then leaked onto the Internet."

"Oh, Wow!" says Cal, fishing under the tarpaulin for the lap-top.

"Free Child-care and free public education are to be restored," continues the broadcaster. "while, contrary to previous government policy , health and age care services will be expanded."

"See," says Dzaved, "A list of promises, because there's a crisis." He goes to turn off the broadcast again, but this time Karolina restrains him.

"A Bill of Rights and a popularly-elected president." continues the announcer. The boats stop, gathering in a circle, as they strain to hear. "Most extra-ordinary of all for a conservative government, the Cabinet Document asserts that all legislation diminishing Aboriginal Sovereignty be revoked." There is a long silence, then the announcer continues, "We apologize for this break in transmission, but several land-lines are down due to the unprecedented levels of flooding. Injuries and loss of life are as yet unknown, but the deaths and flooding in bayside suburbs may account for wide-spread rioting there. In rural areas the Bio-regional Councils have averted what has been described as near civil break-down. They have stepped in and restored order. It appears that many people are demanding radical solutions to this crisis, seeing it as signifying the advent of environmental collapse."

"My God! What do you make of that?" calls Corey from the boat behind. Matilda glares forbiddingly at Mick, who is about to respond.

"I have my suspicions, but right now I don't want to know." she replies darkly, "All I want to do is to get Rory bedded down for the night somewhere clean and dry." Red-gold sunset streaks the flood-waters, and the light is fading fast. The kookaburra-laughter is subdued - lacks its usual sundown confidence. There is an edge to it - close to madness almost, echoing across the flooded land. A cluster of buildings looms ahead. "Warrandyte", says Matilda, greatly relieved

From the replenishment of sleep in the comfort of a real bed, Matilda jolts upright, summoned by the urgency of kookaburra laughter. "Rory? He's gone! - Must've recovered." Matilda snuggles down again. - No. Better check. Matilda twists the old, cerise scarf, - now decidedly the worse for wear, around her dishevelled hair. She puts on the kettle and strolls out into the early morning. - Better check the boats. Tied up tightly, the boats are riding as high as ever. "Matty!" Matilda jumps at the familiar voice. Rory's tousled head, rising from sleep, appears over the side of the boat. He looks a little embarrassed.

"It was the boat, Matilda, the comfort of a good boat on the current." Rory ducks his head and reaches back under the blanket, "Found this little feller here all alone."

"Oh Bonegilla, I'd forgotten all about you! So Karolina did save you!" Bonegilla scuttles out bouncing at Matilda's knees, feathered tail waving "Come on you two, breakfast!"

Rory peers back at sleeping Karolina. - She of all people fast asleep on a swaying boat after a night of waters merging, slipping and tumbling to new-found deeps. Best let Karolina sleep in peace a wee bit longer.

"Food's not going to last much longer." Mick, rowing beside Matilda, speaks quietly. "We'll have to overland the boats or hide 'em well, before we cross the ranges. Get to the youth-farm by land. On the radio just then. - The Loddon-Campaspe region's flooded as well." Matilda nods, glancing up under her eyebrows,

"Might head up to Baw Baw first," Matilda says, "recuperate. Learn a few skills." She stops rowing, looks seriously at Mick from her dark eyes.

"It's going to be hard, Mick. - Harder then some of this lot will ever know. - Wait!" Matilda raises her hand for silence. She waves for all the boats to halt, signals for quiet. A mob of kangaroos is drinking at the water's edge ahead.

Silently Matilda vaults out of the boat. It all happens very quickly. She falls on all fours in the grass. Fiona gasps in alarm, but she is too late.

"Matilda, don't!" A young kangaroo falls. Before the event even, Fiona sees the red gout of blood flowering at its throat, the dagger as it slits the carcass.

"Come and look everybody - how it's done. Pretty quick, if you know how." Expertly, Matilda wields the brass-hafted dagger. Fiona hasn't seen that dagger since her attacker had wielded it last July.

"Oh Christ!" Fiona's face drains of colour. "Matilda, I thought you were a vegetarian!"

Matilda releases the kangaroo, sheathing the dagger. "Meat. If you're hungry for meat, that's how you do it." She hands the tomahawk to Fiona. "Firewood Fi. We need a fire ." Matilda scrutinizes the river-flats. "Over there - just above the water-line - Warragul Greens, a nice big patch. We'll need them - Tastes like spinach. We'll need to go off the path. Get some bush tucker. - Myrnong, Warragul Greens. Tubers, bush nuts and grubs. Away from the mainstream. There'll be disease. Mainstream's too cultivated - carries the most danger."

The group of boats has been rowing cross-country to save having to negotiate the river's meandering course, but it's been hard work. Three extra boats have caught up with them. Two Land Rovers loaded with washed-out farmers have agreed to meet up with the party at Baw Baw.

"That's it." ays Mick . "No more joiners till we get ourselves established." On a rise ahead is a cluster of corrugated-iron sheds, a farm-house and a sheep-dip, half under water. Ringing the slip-rails is a stand of Silky-oaks in full orange-gold flower. Ibis and cranes poke about in a water-logged hollow. A little further down the slope is a sprawling, country pub, flooded to veranda-floor level. The farm yard is alive with the din of hammers, and chain-saws. A Silky Oak topples, falling half into the river in a flurry of russet flowers. Four vessels are moored at a make-shift jetty, one a large motorized launch, loaded with building materials. A luxurious cruiser seems to be the team's residence.

Matilda motions caution. The workers hoist a large sign up to the pub roof. A woman, incongruous in a black suit is poring over what appears to be a site-plan.

Rory draws in his breath sharply. "By Christ I'll deal with him once and for all!" With the roof-sign in place all becomes clear. 'Yarra Valley Wet-land Eco Tours!' announces the sign. The boss turns. Matilda would recognize that tweed waistcoat anywhere. - Liam! A shot-gun cracks. A line of bullets rips across the water. Bonegilla springs to the edge of the boat, barking in an earsplitting fury.

"Quickly. Row! - Row like hell!" shouts Rory. "If he recognizes us we're no match for those blasted cabin-cruisers!" With the morning river-mist rolling down from the Great Divide, the row-boats, riding low on the current are soon out of sight.

Fiona, still distressed, has commandeered one of the supply boats with Mouse.

"Have to keep an eye on those two," says Matilda quietly to Lin.

" - Ah, yes, the course of true love - so divisive it can be!"

"Lin! I'm serious!" Matilda tousles Lin's hair.

"Time for a song." Cal gives Rory the nod.

"Wade in the water, Wade in de water chillen." they sing, falling about laughing, "God's gonna - Trouble - The wa-a-a-a-aa-ter!"

"No, please!" begs Mouse, "No more water-troubling!"

Lin's boat knocks up against the stern. "Hey Lin. Go easy!" says Matilda.

"Matilda, what's with this going off the path - away from the mainstream? - Meander in, meander out of the Taoist Way, huh?"

Matilda nods, "Celtic spirals, Aboriginal Song-lines - all that jazz?" Lin's eyebrows lift.

"The path that can't be followed - goin'everywhere and nowhere?"

Matilda catches Lin's mood. "For sure. Off the map is where we need to go."

Lin winces faintly, "Into the wild?" Matilda reaches across, pulls Lin's hand over against her lips. Her eyes glint,

"No worries, Lin," Matilda kisses Lin's hand with a strong kiss. "Off the path is coming home actually."

Matilda watches Mick, beside her in the boat - urgently, before the mobile cuts out - contacting the Youth Refuge farms. - Organizing the troops, no doubt, she thinks to herself somewhat bitterly. Matilda has assigned Mouse and Fiona to collecting Melaleuca twigs and Fire-weed in the supply-boat. "Sun-screen. Mozzie repellent. Disinfectant. Lots of uses." she explains.

"Mouse, he's pure gold." says Cal. "Always been totally faithful to -"

"To 20/20. - Don't tell me!" Matilda cuts in. "But faithful to the kind of revolution us lot are up to our necks in. - I don't think so."

"Whereas you are, Matilda?" Quickly - ashamed of the lapse, Matilda reaches for Cal's hand.

"Sorry. Cal, I'm sorry! We're all new to this!"

From the hill's shoulders a half-fledged rain-bow struggles to get air-borne in the mist. Rory watches Matilda up ahead, prow-goddess on a wide, little row-boat, not rowing, but guiding, watching - leaning out over the current, pointing, waving her hands occasionally, like water-lilies that drift in billabongs, turning to talk, but mostly still, though moving with the river's motion - calm mostly, the turbulence contained. - The ancestors are with us, the true ancestors, he whispers to himself. Up ahead Rory can just make out another stranded convoy of vehicles. - Cities are de-populating for sure!

Matilda leaning from the prow, doesn't hear Mick.

"I said, do you think Rory will go back to the islands - Karolina go off to Bosnia?"

"All I know is it's time to move clear out of the mainstream. - till everything shakes down. - We'll work it out once we get to Baw Baw" Matilda calls out, so that Karolina in the boat alongside rolls her eyes, surprised at Matilda's vehemence. Mick looks confused.

"Baw Baw's the top end." Matilda explains. "It's the furthest north of Yarra Yarra. Up Jindivick way. Neerim South. Jackson's Track - you know, the special place - place lots of Victorian Koories used to live back in the thirties."


- He's out of his depth, thinks Matilda. "Oh Mick. Baw Baw's the top-end of - of our Bio-region don't you see!" - There! That should make it clear to the dear man. - Matilda turns round and grasps Mick by the shoulders. Suddenly she kisses him on the mouth. "We'll have to see what the river decides."

"What's so special about this Baw Baw destination?" Karolina asks with some asperity. "The seat of the New World Order?"

Matilda grins, "Oh Karolina, Bio-regions don't have seats. It's not about Order. Look at the way she's spreading out. It just flows - through water-shed, through nervous system and food-chains . . ."

Cal interrupting, takes up the words, "The regions are everywhere and no-where. We are all illegals. We are natives and we are restless." Matilda's smile widens. She cuts in on Cal.

"We have no country. We live in the country. We are off the Inter-State ."

"Max Cafard's Manifesto, huh?" Laughing, Micks chimes in with Cal,

"The Region is against the Regime - any Regime."

Matilda ships the oars. She throws her arm round Mick's shoulder. - What have I got myself into? she wonders in a comfortable sort of way.

"Matilda. Cut it out!" Cal smiles, "I can't row with you getting in the way." Matilda gazes long into Cal's river-deep eyes. She throws her head back, laughing - long, soft chortles - like the kookaburra at sun-birth, knowing - a little crazy even; her shoulders shake with the laughing. She unties the stores canoe and leaps over to row alone. Rory laughs, vaulting also into an unoccupied boat.

Rory catches up, rowing strongly. - A fresh start - washed river-clean, he thinks to himself. - Matilda's right. Best we steer clear o' towns and roads. Whole team present and correct. That Dzaved. - True-blue. Rory glances with affection at Karolina and Dzaved. He smiles. - Meself - always was one for transposing ... - As for Matilda, the whole crew's with her and no mistake.

The vessel is so whisper-quiet that no-one notices until it is almost upon them. At the last moment, the fog-horn blares. "Shit that was close!" All of the boats rock sickeningly in the cruiser's wake. With a blaring of horns and a clanging of bells the ferry comes to a halt mid-current.

"Hey, Gubba!" Hughie, captain's cap at a rakish angle, leans casually from the bridge. "You done good, mate! No time to stop and yarn." Hughie jangles the bell vigorously.

Marcia and Lowanna wave, "It's all happening ay?"

"Lowanna. Hang on!" Matilda calls, "The banner. It held Rory's weight. He was stranded on a roof. What did you join the pieces with?" Marcia cups her hands, calling, "Possum-skin cloaks. Mum makes possum-skin cloaks. Kangaroo hide. It's the best! See you up at Baw Baw!"

Rory and Dzaved pull ahead strongly. Rory begins his river-hum, slow and golden in the water-world morning. Dzaved joins in, resounding, rich and warm across the water. The river-hum spreads to the whole flotilla, a sweetness of water-borne harmony. Matilda frowns a worried frown, speeds up alongside. "Rory, I know you're the greatest rower, canoe-builder - fantastic in a boat . . ." Rory smiling, pretends not to hear. "Rory, we nearly lost you. - Rory," Matilda urges, "Slow down! Let me ... Rory, I know the ways of rivers! You are a salt-water man!" Rory's hand reaches out from boat to boat. The Great Song has been given. So it is time for the daughter. Matilda's hand it is now, that reaches across the current. The fingers stretch almost touching, the song-man and the song-man's daughter. Karolina looks up quickly, but perhaps she doesn't hear, for she looks away, as if indeed she does not hear. "Her name, Rory, I know her name. Your - heart-mother, her name."

Their eyes hold. Matilda nods. She pulls at the scarf, throws it into the scuppers and her hair springs out, a torrent, a burnished, living stream, whipping upwards, uncontrolled and free. The two hands clasp. Canoes on water, on rivers and oceans.


The boat of the song-man's daughter leaps away, Rory's alongside, the water unfurling from the oars, the widening wake of each arrowing cleanly out, further and further, as Matilda skims ahead and herself expanding with that spreading wave.