Chapter 16-20

Chapter Sixteen


Community Arts Centres stir up unpleasant memories for Karolin, She had passed through Glenrowan as a child on the way back from seeing her father at the Snowy. She'd lost her Community Centre job through the wretched woman who'd neglected to post the Migrant Art Exhibit invitations.

"Cost me my job" she tells Matilda. "Of course in hindsight - it forced me to get teaching qualifications. I'd like to get even with the bitch."

Matilda knows better than to respond. - I sure remember the fallout - Mum and Dad arguing about who would look after li'l old me, with Karolina studying.

Karolina appraises the Community Arts Centre building with a critical eye. The place looks blindingly new, bearing signs of hasty preparation for today's opening. Lining the side fence are stacks of corrugated iron roofing. Everlasting Daisies are planted among large, river rocks - Dargan Hill Monarchs, jostling with fringed, Sea Daisies. - Sea Daisies do look good with natives, thinks Matilda.

. "The garden designers've gone a bit over the top with the roses, don't you think?"

Matilda agrees. Straggly roses line the path "Climbers aren't they? Or Standards badly in need of a prune. The plants still have their price-tags on."

"Probably planted the roses in late winter and didn't prune then." says Karolina, " - Ouch !" Karolina jumps, her cheek stabbed by a row of thorns on one of the unkempt bushes. .

"Karolina are you okay?" Gingerly Matilda untangles long cane. "Hey you got quite a slash!"

Karolina doesn't answer. Beads of blood dot her cheek. "Mum, what's wrong?"

. "Those bloody roses. Vicious." she complains, with what would later prove to be prophetical.

Rory who has disappeared into a glassed-in office, pops his head out. "Karolina, you must meet Anthea - woman over there in the black suit. Anthea's Employment and Training Officer for the Migrant Tour Guide Project." Rory's head disappears into the office. He seems to be conversing with a woman inside the office.

Matilda wanders over to the luncheon table. The ochre tablecloth is strewn creatively with Gum leaves. The centre-piece is a model camp-fire, set on a concealed hot-plate with a billy there, boiling. Matilda inspects the equally pretentious finger-food. Miniature Dampers, Kangaroo Rissoles. Rory re-appears.

"Matt. - Green corridors people" Rory jerks his head sideways, "On the Miners' couch in the corner. - Guy in the navy suit - Tourist Department chappie, Romulous Wanderborn. Also influential, Estate agent - Developer, Victor Sojo." Rory swoops out of the office and parks his guitar safely under the table, muttering, "Something I gotta check up on." He disappears into the office.

It is not too difficult to spot the Green corridors people, Michaela in Indian skirt, Nick in patterned waistcoat and pony-tail. Matilda introduces herself and meets Jill from a local Land Care group,

"We're Purposeful Travellers," announces Nick, with a wink. "We usually get in first, before people call us ferals - or nomads. Nomads being purposeful travellers."

"We're in desperate need of videos, movies," says Michaela," especially about he effect on waterways of damming back the headwaters. We've caught some of the locals damming the creek with agricultural plastic for a private swimming pool. Not a thought about the loss of flow downstream. Even with the glaring example of the Murray. The Snowy - high country, icon river, reduced to a trickle, before the push for restoration, thinks Matilda. - And my own grandfather part of the destruction.

"Developers want to make our meandering creek into an artificial lake with introduced native plants from Queensland." Michaela rolls her eyes. "Who's the ferals - us, or people who wreck a Bio-region with plants from three thousand miles away"

"These two blew in to town six years ago," Jill explains, handing Matilda a mug of tea. "We've had green corridors around this district for years. "Organic farms. Also the youth refuge farm's quite a showcase."

Mailda takes the mug gratefully. "Lots of co-operation among farers here, then? Creeks, or farm borders?"

"Farm borders mostly. Three metres each side, usually. Up this way some farms've been running sheep and cattle without a break for well over a hundred years. Ground's so compacted. We put the ripper over the worst paddocks. Black Wattle comes up first, Small, tussocky plants. Then we planted out Grey Box tubes. Native grasses started to return."

"And the sheep?"

"We've diversified. No more mono-culture. Not suited to Australia. Honey from the Grey Box, Yellow Box too. A trial run in Bush Tucker. An arrangement with an Aboriginal Co-op."

Matilda turns to Nick and Michaela "If the Bio-region project hadn't been foisted on us in the first place," Nick is saying. Matilda jumps as if she has been stung. Matilda can't catch Michaela's response, but she does hear Nick's comment quite clearly. "But the best, most viable, living part of the river wouldn't've been put under this pressure."

-Oh Christ! Exactly what I feared all along, thinks Matilda, - No consultation with rural people. Matilda wishes she'd not let herself be persuaded by Rory's enthusiasm. She stands stock still, unsure whether to break in. Rory resurfaces and taps his glass for silence.

"Welcome, one and all. Just a brief interruption to let you know that the official opening of this Centre will take place in thirty minutes. Or so." Rory takes a sip of the Guinness. "There's Guiness on tap. Wine and beer and lots of fascinatin' food." He closes the office door. It seems to Karolina that Rory and two other people are poring over a model . Perhaps it is not to scale. They are deep in confabulation.

The woman in the black suit hurries through the crowd to meet Karolina.

"Anthea Mettleson." she says smiling hugely. "Karolina, I've been dying to meet you. I'm extremely interested in your Action Research! Your husband has told me so much about it." Karolina winces. Second only to disliking the wife label, Karolina dislikes being thought of as the possessor of a husband. Karolina, this is Victor Sojo from the Tourism Board." Anthea pats her impressive bun. "-Victor's the most active member of the Board." Karolina, nods.

"I'm only a visitor here. But Anthea, I'm equally interested in your project. - training Tour Guides, I believe? "

"Oh, your husband told you?" Anthea is pleased. "But it's not true that I developed the curriculum entirely on my own. Victor developed all the maps, - site descriptions. Kelly Country Tourism sponsors the guides' uniforms, their identification badges and Ned Kelly bush hats." Anthea's scarlet fingertips rest a fraction of a second on Victor's sleeve. "The maps and brochures given to the tourists are provided by -

"Kelly Country Tourism?" asks Karolina, glancing sidelong at her daughter.

Victor Sojo excuses himself. "Matilda, Rory's daughter? - Rom!" Sojo calls over his shoulder. He takes Matilda's elbow. "Matilda, this is Romulous Wanderborn from the Tourism Authority. Er, Matilda can we find somewhere quiet?" Sojo steers Matilda out to the front veranda .

- That's some suit, thinks Matilda, as Wanderborn withdraws a large document from his inner pocket. Sojo pulls up deck chairs. Wanderborn smooths out the document on the bamboo table-top.

"We - wanted to give you a private viewing," he says almost with the air of a conspirator. "Site plan. Here - town forest. Nicely obscures the car-parks. Eight hundred cars. - here native shrubbery . Around the lake - wild flower plantings" Matilda tries to appear interestedl. "You'll notice we've restored the old dog-leg, post and rail fences." says Wanderborn in the smooth voice of the seasoned tour-guide. Matilda mystified attempts to interrupt the flow. "Here's the home paddock - stringy-bark cow-shed, wattle and daub house. Tourist Complex surrounded by Cootamundra Wattles and lemon Scented gums."

Matildas interrupts, "You have a problem with the wattles and gums."

"Quite correct, Matilda. "They're not native to the area, but - "

"Nor native to anywhere in the state," says Matilda crisply. "but please, can you begin at the beginning? What site is this?"

Sojo cuts in. "Oh, sorry. I thought - because you were talking to that Land Care woman, she would have told you by now." Sojo can barely contain his contempt. He smooths back his hair. "The site plan for the Ned Kelly Country Tourist Centre. Your father will surely have told you? An eco-tourism project."

"But my position doesn't cover tourism projects." Matilda tries to sound non-committal. "For re-vegetation, you can contact the Department of Agriculture - I'm only involved where there are creeks and rivers." Matilda is getting more than a little fed up with explaining her role.

"But surely Matilda, the local Green Corridor people have been on at you regarding the creek diversion?"

- Creek diversion! Suddenly Matilda recalls Michaela's distress about the artificial lake. She inspects the site plan more thoroughly.

"As you can see, Matilda, this project doesn't impact on the Green Corridors in any way."

"Victor has been meticulous in locating the Ned Kelly Country Tourist Centre three kilometres away from any waterway." asserts Wanderborn. "So of course any fears from Green Corridor members is groundless." Wanderborn holds the plan down with a well-manicured hand.

Matilda takes a quick breath, "This isn't the time or place. My role is advisory and promotional, that's all." She turns and makes off down the path. "Going to check out the town," she calls over her shoulder.

"Anthea, your curriculum?" asks Karolina. "How do you match students up with same language tourists?"

"Oh, it's a simple matter really." Victor could explain this better than I could. The Tourist Office does it, You must meet Romulous Wanderborn from the Tourist Department"

Once again Karolina is irritated. "But surely it's more complicated than that?"

Anthea looks puzzled, "Complicated? Your husband just gave you a brief outline of the project then?"

"Tourists from Eastern Europe, Russia, Africa. As tourists, these people would be a bit thin on the ground?" Now Anthea is confused. Karolina is cross with herself. - Stop trying to score, she tells herself. Just because of the husband stuff. "The curriculum," she says a little more kindly, "- local history, tourists' preferences. I'd be very interested."

"Oh yes, we give the students very thorough coverage of local history." says Anthea. "Take for example the siege of Glenrowan, the Violet Town hold-up. - We give the students a test about that. A tick the box test, because it's easiest for the students. - But it's quite rigorous just the same. Then there's the historical outline the Tour Guides give, That's an oral test. They have to be word-perfect on that one.

- Hardly imaginative, thinks Karolina. Sounds rather like just another of these boring, little short Courses that pass themselves off as training for the unemployed

"Then there's role-plays." says Anthea.

- Role-plays, thinks Karolina. - Well that sounds a wee bit better.

"Yes. The students do role-plays on the most likely tourist questions," replies Anthea eagerly. "Like, for example, 'Why did the Kelly gang make those heavy suits of

armour?' "

"Dead easy" says Karolina, "The armour and the ammunition store were set up because the Kellys, together with the bulk of the people of the Loddon Campaspe were fed up with police injustice, with being ruled from Britain, by the colonial authorities, because they were serious about cutting the painter."

"The painter?" Anthea looks more than puzzled, but Karolina in her enthusiasm doesn't really notice.

"Yes. Cutting the painter. Oh, sorry - cutting the painter was a term they used - maritime, I suppose, meaning cutting loose from the Colony." Karolina is animated, recalling Auntie Eileen's night-time, Ned Kelly stories. "You know - the Republic of the North."

Anthea clearly does not know.

"The Jerilderie Letter?" says Karolina. "The Jerilderie letter proves it, surely - Okay, one day more evidence will surface, don't you think? Minutes of their meetings - the Republic of the North-east? "

"But, Karolina, how do you demonstrate the armour wasn't just to stop the police bullets?" protests Anthea.

"Not a problem" says Karolina, "The boys were expert horsemen. You don't need armour to escape bullets if you've got speed. How would any right-minded person explain why the most skilled horsemen and escape strategists in the whole Colony would burden themselves with armour and stores of heavy artillery if they didn't want to start an armed rebellion?"

"Armed rebellion!" Anthea looks horrified.

Too late Karolina realizes she has been talking to an amateur. Amateur historian, amateur teacher, amateur employment trainer - the kind of opportunists who market Mickey Mouse quickie courses in collaboration with developers and business sharks. She nips her blistering response in the bud, just as Rory appears again at the door of the office, where he has been engaged in intense discussion with a small, fair woman.

"Everybody happy?" asks Rory." - Won't be long good people. We are here today to open the Glenrowan Community Arts Centre, to launch the Ned Kelly Country Tourism Project, the Migrant Education and Employment Training Program and - " Rory tosses back the good Guiness, "and to have a very good time." He refills his glass before disappearing into the office.

"One more thing, Anthea," asks Karolina, "How many hours do you devote to handling discrimination - racist behaviour?" Anthea riffles through her booklet.

"Oh yes. We call this unit, 'Handling Difficult Customers.' Students find it very useful. Here it is. - One and a half hours."

"One and a half - " Karolina is speechless.

Anthea is on the defensive. "Karolina, it is only a thirty- hour course."

"Thirty hours! Thirty hours for a Tourism Officer? But surely?"

"Karolina, they're only volunteers. Work for the Dole - You can't -"

" - Volunteers! Excuse me!" Karolina turns on her heel and heads to the door. Anthea senses something amiss.

"Karolina, perhaps we could have further discussions. - This is only a trial project." Anthea positions herself between Karolina and the door. "If you could see your way to apply your refugee-teaching experience to -" She touches Karolina's arm, "Seriously, though, if you would be interested in extending your research in the direction of migrant employment . . ."

But Karolina has pushed through the crowd and out onto the veranda. Body heat has warmed the corrugated iron roof . She needs fresh air. Unwilling to tangle with any more uncontrolled roses, she goes to the back yard, where the drive is blocked by an ancient and very colourful bus, decorated with peace slogans and emus running at full stretch.

- Probably belongs to those two ferals I saw Matilda with, thinks Karolina.

The concreted back yard is separated from what is little more than an overgrown paddock by a line of peppercorn trees. In front of these is a tottering shed . Karolina picks her way down the path. She settles thankfully on a moss-covered log. The back of the shed holds a surprise.

Up the peppercorn tree scrambles the most rampant climbing rose Karolina has ever seen in the full glory of Spring bloom. The roses are multiple-petalled, the bursting buds plump-breasted as opera singers, crammed inside their green sepal wrappings like crinolines in a case. The full-blown blooms curl and crinkle at their edges - pale pink suffused with just a touch of saffron. - There must be hundreds of roses here, thinks Karolina thankfully breathing in the wild perfume. The climbing rose has hoisted its skirts up through the entire tree, The pungency of the peppercorn tree mingles sharply with the roses.

- This must have been a very old house before the decorators got to it, thinks Karolina. - Probably here at Ned Kelly's last stand. She looks down to the tumble-down back fence. Most of the palings are gone and just beyond the fence is the glint of water. Too small for a dam. Spring-fed perhaps? Her attention is caught by a high, piping noise. - A chick! What a strange little creature! The chick stands on long, wobbly stilt-like legs. Its downy baby feathers are tawny coloured and dotted with dark brown spots. - Like a Christmas pudding on legs, thinks Karolina.

From behind Karolina comes a frantic peeping. - Hey, it's the mother-bird. I don't believe this. The mother bird makes little darting forays toward Karolina, then runs away on her long, yellow legs. - Decoy! She's trying to lead me away from the chick. The mother bird is more interesting than the chick. It is about the size, colouring and shape of a plump sea-gull on stilts. The strong, yellow beak curves above a convex, shovel-shaped excrescence that can only be an extension of the beak, but resembling a welder's mask. Karolina stops in her tracks. - Or ... A Ned Kelly mask! It's a Ned Kelly bird. The bird's peeping escalates, distressed probably. - Won't be long. Just want to get a look at that mask. Karolina moves in closer.

"Mum ! Look out!" Matilda appears beside the Peppercorn Tree. Or at least it sounds like Matilda, but she is completely hidden behind a sheet of corrugated iron. Too late. The bird slashes again. Deep, red arrow-heads mark Karolina's ankle. She lashes out and the bird jabs her arm.

"Mum, get behind me." Matilda pulls Karolina behind the shelter of the corrugated iron. "Backwards." she says calmly. "Down the drive."

Despite the shock, Karolina can't help feeling how ridiculous they both must look. - Like two inept medieval foot-soldiers. She chuckles to herself, as Matilda flings the corrugated iron aside and bends to inspect the damage.

"Mum, you should have known better. It's nesting season. Does it hurt? Masked Plovers can pack a wallop."

"Masked Plover? Well I was close."


"I called it the Ned Kelly Bird."

They are sitting on the steps of the colourful bus. A window winds down and Michaela's head appears.

"You've been attacked? The head disappears and Michaela opens the bus door, flourishing a First Aid kit. "Come inside. We'll get that cleaned up and then you might like a cup of tea." Nick hands round mugs of tea, while Michaela swabs the bites. "They 're swelling up." she says. "You'd better get to a doctor as soon as possible."

"No need to fuss." says Karolina. "I'll just sit here for five minutes and catch my breath." She sips the tea thankfully. Karolina, protesting is propped up on the long, leather side seat. Matilda joins Michaela and Nick at their drop-sided table.

"Nice bit of rescue work you did there." drawls Nick.

"I wish I'd been able to rescue the Green Corridors project before the wheels got set in motion." Matilda answers hesitantly. " It was a top-down decision. "

"Aren't they all?" says Michaela. "I kind of hoped the educational aspect might be of some value."

"Oh, it is. It is," says Nick "especially with the kids. Land Care people - already doing a great job. The Bio-region concept - as an - entity, if that's the right word." He pauses to refill the mugs. "It's just that - "

"Has the Green Corridors idea brought opportunists out of the woodwork?" asks Matilda. "A local tourism big-wig and a developer nabbed me before. I was glad that you'd mentioned a developer wanting to divert a local creek. He showed me the site plans. They looked horrific." Matilda takes a gulp of tea. "Now I feel terrible, because I can see that he's worked out a way to subvert the green corridor proposal."

"Hey. Steady on!" exclaims Michaela. "Sojo and Wanderborn are true-blue White Shoe characters. More shady than a rainforest! If the Green Corridors proposal hadn't been around, they'd have tried to set up their Ned Kelly with Bells and Whistles Eco Tourism project on the banks of the Campaspe itself."

Matilda breathes easier, "It's just that I overheard you comment that it would have been better if the project hadn't been foisted on you in the first place and I thought -"

"You thought you were to blame, whereas you've taken up a shonky proposal and made a real difference possible." says Michaela smiling. "You really must call in to the youth refuge permaculture farm on the way back. . See for yourself. It's linked to a city-based youth refuge with a hands-on work and education approach."

"Of course most country people are far more aware than city people about how crucial the river systems are." says Nick, "- Not like the urban romantics, ay?"

"You won't get an argument from me on that," says Matilda, taking note of the address of the Youth permaculture farm, seeing she'd lost the piece of paper Mick had given her.

"City people don't have the opportunity to see rivers as the carriers of nutrients, as life blood.." says Michaela. "Like the veins of your body. They don't have that need."

"Rivers as destroyers, transformers." continues Nick. They don't realize that either, because, most big cities are at the river-mouth, so even in summer, the river's still there. Not down to just a trickle, or lost in the sand."

Matilda looks round the old bus - at the feathers and bits of driftwood decorating the dashboard.

. "The river is an artist too - shaping its wetlands, carving out its valleys. -destroying to create." Matilda stops, surprised. "Yep. The old is made new again! -Should have recognized this bus earlier! This bus used to belong to some friends of mine. When I was fourteen. - The Gippsland Peace Bus, we used to call it."

"Matilda." says Karolina, " I think I need to get these legs active, before advanced gangrene sets in. I'm going to look over Glenrowan."

"Cool, Mum. I'll come with you." If truth be told, Matilda doesn't feel Karolina should be trotting round on her own with those injuries.

All the men in Glenrowan appear to favour Ned Kelly beards, long, square beards that blow in the wind. Karolina and Matilda have looked through Kate Kelly's Cottage, checked out the Ned Kelly Museum, stared up at the enormous armour-clad statue of Ned Kelly in the main street, scoffed pancakes and billy tea at the Ned Kelly cafe and tapped their toes to the Irish fiddle music belting out from Ned Kelly's Bistro. They feel like guilty children as they enter the gloom of the anamatronics show, 'Ned Kelly's Last Stand'

"Tis better be good ," says Matilda.

Be it on Rory's head for bringing us here." responds Karolina

At the entry annexe, a disembodied head laughs from the grave and the ghostly Glenrowan train roars through. "It's all done with movie cameras." whispers Karolina, remembering how Matilda used to be scared of such tricks.

"Mum, I'm not a child any more." protests Matilda. There is a ringing of bells and a roaring of wheels and the 19th Century Glenrowan train arrives.

Soon they are in the 19th century Bar of the Glenrowan Pub. A frenzied group of anamatronic Irish fiddlers plays in a corner. A baby bellows, unattended in its pram. An anamatronic rat scuttles across the Bar, where Ned Kelly, clad in a distinctly modern oil-skin coat and bush hat, delivers his Glenrowan speech as traitor, Aaron Sherritt skulks off to betray the Kellys. Outside the pub, imitation rain spurts from the roof. The troopers arrive and Ned Kelly in his plough-share armour falls to the ground. There is a whoosh of flames, acrid smoke billows forth and amid shrieks of fear, the Glenrowan pub burns to the ground.

Next is Ned's famous last words at the hanging. Matilda starts in surprise when Ned Kelly's two booted feet plummet through the ceiling trap-door and the severed head sings wildly a comic song of retribution. Karolina is ropeable.

"What about the court transcript that proves Ned didn't kill the troopers?" she demands. "They've taken the completely wrong slant she announces to a group of uncomprehending, Japanese tourists.

Afterwards, back in the Ned Kelly Café Karolina complains, "They've turned an important Republican tradition into a childish folk-tale!"

Matilda didn't know that her mother felt so strongly about Ned Kelly. - So Mum and Rory had Ned Kelly in common, she says to herself.

"I used to wonder why you didn't revert to your maiden name after you and Dad broke up."

"Well, I suppose the name Kelly did have its appeal. The first Australian story I heard. -it spoke to me somehow. The boys hounded, always on the run. But in control, just the same. Put it this way Matilda. "The Kelly's took a stand. They knew who they were."

Karolina stands up a little gingerly.

- So Mother dear, thinks Matilda, before chiding herself for the unworthy thought - you married a Kelly. And just who have you been taking a stand for all these years?

Karolina almost stumbles as she ducks under the straggling branches of the roses planted along the Community centre pathway. - Dodgy lot of roses,. - Almost like a poor relation to that feral climber out the back. Karolina lingers allowing Matilda to enter the centre ahead of her. Something is troubling Karolina about the roses. When she enters, Rory has started on the second verse of 'Galway Bay.' - Oh no, says Karolina to herself, - Not 'Galway Bay'!

"Oh the strangers came and tried to teach us their way," sings Rory.He pauses reflecting. "The Strangers." Oh yes. That would be the British in Ireland. Or, then again, the words could be referring to any - any - vested interest, let us say, or elite - ruling class, some might call 'em, any O-pressor if you like." Rory puts the guitar down. "They try to teach us their way," (Rory gestures dramatically ) "as the song tells us." He takes up the guitar again, "But we must not conform to the ways of strangers." he mutters darkly, "But keep our own cultures. - Develop naturally, organically, Irish-Australian, Greek- Australian, Somali-Australian. - And. And so forth."

The office door opens and the two occupants emerge - a man and the short, fair woman. It appears to Matilda that Karolina seems drawn to the woman and yet repelled . Rory picks up the guitar again.

"Sorry." he says, "Lost point." He sweeps his fingers across the strings, crooning slowly, too slowly, hamming it up. "They scorned us for bein' what we are." Rory strums dramatically. "What we truly, truly." Rory's hand falls still on the strings. "The Boy in the Canoe," he says swinging the guitar on its shamrock embroidered band, shoving it behind his back, the better to reach over and pour himself another Guiness. "The Boy in the Canoe!" he repeats, "Dipping the paddle in the bright waters of Galway Bay!" Matilda darts anxious eyes from her mother to her father, to the fair-haired woman, to Karolina's flared nostrils, to the hard glitter in Karolina's eyes.

"A toast!" continues Rory, "to the Community Arts Centre. You may inspect the model for the second stage in the office." Rory indicates the man at his side. "Tom Tranterer, the Shire President will then address you." Rory waits for the glasses to be filled. He raises his glass. "To the Community Arts Centre!" he calls, swaying just a little. "And to who we truly are!"

"Who we truly are!" Karolina plants herself foursquare before the fair-haired woman,. "And who are you. Truly? Albertine?" There is venom in Karolina's voice. Tom Tranterer looks alarmed. Matilda stands rooted to the spot. She knows the ice of Karolina's anger.

"Shall I tell you, Albertine?" says Karolina, "About the rose you plant wherever you go? That sweet, Albertine rose. That's its name. Pretty, pink, standard rose-bush." Karolina's voice is low, vibrant. It does not carry very far. The crowd is passing in to the office. Heads turn at the intensity in Karolina's voice.

"This time, Albertine, "intones Karolina, "something has gone horribly wrong. Those pretty, pink, standard Albertine Roses have got out of hand - straggling all over the place outside. Almost you might think - like that wild, out of control rose out the back where it can't be seen." Karolina points, her hand shaking. "Because that rose, Albertine, is the real Albertine Rose - Albertine the climber!" At the back window, necks crane, attempting to get a glimpse of the huge plant draping the peppercorn tree.

Albertine attempts to reply. Karolina raises her hand for silence. "No Albertine, I will finish. - Albertine, you have been very remiss. You have inadvertently planted the wrong rose along the footpath. It looks similar to your trademark. But it is not a well-behaved Albertine standard. - Is this rose who you 'Truly Are' perhaps?" Karolina smiles. - Here it comes, thinks Matilda wanting to run. "Yes, this rose - the rose bordering your path - appropriately named however. You speak French, Albertine, I recall?" Karolina's voice is silky as she plays with the words.

"This rose, Albertine, was named by Napoleon's Josephine - 'Souvenir de la Mal Maison.'. Yes, Albertine, you blush. Shall I translate? Hardly necessary, is it?" The small, red, thorn scars on Karolina's cheek are barely noticeable, so luminous are her

eyes. " - Souvenir of the Brothel. - Trophy to pin on yourself and wear with pride, don't you think?"

Albertine, flummoxed, attempts an explanation to the Shire President, who has hustled her over to the door. Michaela stifles a laugh.

Rory, queroulous, asks, "Mal Maison? - Means bad house, somethin' like that?" But nobody is listening and Karolina stomps outside, triumph in her eyes.

Chapter Seventeen


Rory in the back seat of the car is completely out of it, curled up, slumbering like a baby. Matilda insists that with the bites from the Ned Kelly bird, her mother is in no state to drive. She keeps an eye open for a doctor's sign. The car rattles over a cattle-grid. Rory suddenly comes alive.

"A misunderstanding. Apologize. Need sleep - work it out. Menace of a woman. He sits upright abruptly. "Possibilities are limitless! For you Karolina. You too Matty. - Loddon-Campaspe. It's Kelly country.!" Rory sinks back against the head-rest. "Bad impression. Not the way of it though."

"There's a 24 hour clinic just after you come off the highway." Matilda glances at Karolina's swelling ankle. "You hold out till then Mum?"

Despite the sharp tingling in her leg, Karolina feels very self-satisfied. "I certainly socked it to that dame. You remember Albertine, Matilda?"

- I surely do, thinks Matilda, calculating that there just might be time to call in at the local youth-refuge farm.

" Matilda, I built that Centre not Albertine - from a suburban, Neighbourhood House."

Matilda only half listening has got caught up in a convoy of trucks. Karolina readily tells stories from the recent past. But the distant past. That's another matter altogether. - Pity there won't be time to call in to the youth refuge farm.

"I organised the first Art Exhibition. Albertine waltzes in. Plants all those stupid roses. Then ... " Karolina pauses dramatically.

"Sabotage." says Matilda, having heard the story many times before. Karolina looks surprised.

"But today was pleasure. Pure pleasure." Karolina's mouth curves in a wide and wicked grin. "Blooming Albertine. The bud has burst - Pruned." Karolina smirks.

- That rosy, peaches and cream face. The startled, baby-blue eyes now fading into rosy, sunset clouds, gone, all gone to wisps and fluff of sunset

Matilda always has a different slant. "But Mum, There's no real evidence that Rory had an actual business arrangement with Albertine. Or with Anthea's tour guides. Or with that Kelly Country Eco-tours business."

"There you go Matilda, defending your father."

"All we actually know is that he opened the Centre. Got pissed. Bloody-well sang Galway Bay - yet again. And that there was some sort of stuff-up in the office." Matilda changes lanes for the trucks to pass. "We don't even know if Albertine was substantially involved at all., or involved with Rory" The last of the trucks passes. .

"Oh, come off it, Matilda." Karolina jerks herself upright, sending a sharp stab of pain up her leg. "The whole bloody building reeks of Albertine." Karolina carefully shifts her leg. - Must be infected, she tells herself, imagining tall, solid Rory and tiny, perfect Albertine fucking away, a-jig, a-jig, a-jig, . She grins hugely. "- Mal Maison misfit!" She chortles, "I fucking hate fucking blondes!" .

The sun rolls along the hill-tops on the Melbourne side of the Great Divide, gilding bronze gum-tips, sending snake-shadows creeping across the highway verges and fading the hills to olive velvet against a sky turned suddenly scarlet. Another jab in Karolina's leg. She settles into the pain and a long-lost sensation seeps up from her solar-plexus. Karolina breathes in the eucalyptus-evening. - Something from the Whip-stick Forest re-members itself. "- Getting feverish", she murmurs. "Matilda, did you ever feel that the land sometimes reaches out -" Karolina stops a little embarrassed, then plunges on. After all, Matilda's always rabbiting on about these sorts of things. "Mm, the land I think it is Matilda. It, well - sort of grabs you by the ankles."

"Sure do."

Karolina's hand gives Matilda's elbow a squeeze. Matilda reaches out in response.

"Ouch! That Ned Kelly bird bit me on the arm too."

Matilda slows down. She pulls over beside the red, clinic light in a small, shopping strip behind the university, with a pharmacy, Milk Bar and the local police station. Only a few years ago an outer-suburban community hospital had stood on the site. Until the government closed the hospital, selling the land to developers. A roadside hoarding advertizes 'University Grange.' Matilda's anger mounts, thinking of her father's dubious dealings with Glenrowan's eco-tourism project. - How could he? she asks herself. Rory stirs in the back seat.

"I'd die for a coffee." Rory stumbles into the Milk Bar plodding back with four coffees. "One each and two for me." He heads for a nearby bus shelter and sits down heavily. "I've got some explaining to do," he says .

"Just tell me if you've got any business arrangements with those Ned Kelly tours characters and the tour-guide woman." Matilda avoids eye contact with her father. "And Albertine as well, while you're about it."

Rory slumps on the bench, his head in his hands. "A risky business. It was always a risky business." he replies. "Open to misinterpretation. - By you and Karolina, I mean."

"Rory, how could you let yourself be . . .?"

"Hang on. I admit to supping with the devil. But the spoon was extra long. Matilda, daughter, I knew what I was doin'." Rory carefully puts the coffee cup beside him on the seat. " Albertine. - Nobody more surprised than I was. All my dealings have been with Tranterer, the Shire President and only with Tranterer. I was so worried how Karolina would react that I imbibed a little more of the good Guiness than I should

and -"

"A little!"

"Yes, well . But as for the Kelly Country tour people - And the tour-guide training." says Rory thinking carefully. "Discussions, - but not in any way did I have a business agreement, nor would I. - But I did have me own plans."

"Rory, this sounds like double-speak."

"But Matilda, forget those eejits. Matilda, there are opportunities, marvellous opportunities, for you, for Karolina." At that moment Karolina hobbles out from the clinic.

"Matilda, Doctor wants to know the proper name of that bird."

"Masked Lapwing."

"That's not what you said up at - "

"It was called Masked Plover until recently, but it's been re-classified." Matilda opens the wrong door for Karolina, mistaking the next-door police-station for the clinic-entrance. She swears under her breath.

"Rory, you can't just go about making plans for Karolina's career. Mine either, such as it is. I can't believe that you'd attempt to line us up with that lot."

Rory shakes his head, "Matty, you say you can't believe I would line you up with those shonky characters. But your voice says you do believe just that." He glances up at Matilda from under the expressive brows and in his eyes is the hurt and the pain he sometimes reveals when no-one is looking.

Rory falls silent as two men arrive at the bus shelter. The taller man has a slab of beer balanced on his shoulder. Each of the two rip open a can.

"Hey you!" says the smaller of the two. "Move your fuckin' coffee,"

"Sure. Not a problem." replies Rory, spilling a little of the coffee as he shifts over. Matilda stares at the shorter man. There is something familiar about the small mouth, and the little tuft of hair sticking up over the shaven forehead.

"Shit man! Whaddya think you're doin'? You spilt coffee just where I was gonna sit." Rory brushes the seat. "Fuckin' wogs!" continues the smaller man.

"Bloody stupid wogs." says the taller man. "Don't know fuckin' nuthin' about how to keep clean ."

Rory stands up "C'mon Matt. Let's go back to the car."

"Think you're too bloody good to sit here, ay?" The smaller man faces up to Rory. "Fuckin' Arabs, Islanders, Abos. All the bloody same."

"Rory, look out!" says Matilda. "He's got a knife!"

It is long and deadly, this dagger, brass-hafted, the blade of twisted steel. Rory spins sideways, deflecting the blow. The blade slits through Rory's sleeve from elbow to wrist. The thick cuff mitigates the momentum. Nevertheless it is more than a surface wound, the jagged slash from wrist to finger-tip. Matilda assesses the distance to the police-ststion.

Thankfully, at that moment the bus arrives. The men push past Rory and board the bus.

"Rory, call the cops. Your mobile!" Matilda leaps aboard the bus, scrabbling for change in her pocket, taking her time. "Hold it right there!" she says to the bus driver, flashing her ID card. "Plain Clothes." she says. "Special Branch." Rory, taking the cue from Matilda, holds up his own ID card for all the passengers to see.

"Special Branch.;" His hand holding the card is slippery with blood. Out of the corner of his eye Rory sees the police car pull up alongside

"Constable, I want you to arrest these two for assault. Racial vilification as well,

- That one." Matilda indicates the narrow-eyed man with the blonde tuft on the shaven head, "- wanted by City Patrol for attempted rape and robbery back in July. A worker from the Youth Employment Project has the details. I was a witness."

"Well done Matilda." Rory squeezes Matilda's shoulder with his unbandaged hand.

"Oh that's okay. Are you sure you're fit to drive, though?"

"No problem at all. We've all had a shock. - And Matilda darlin' it's tired you look." Matilda slips thankfully into the front seat beside her father.

"I'm cold." she complains. Rory wriggles out of his black leather jacket.

"Here dear daughter. Put this over your shoulders."

Matilda wraps herself in the jacket. She slips her arms into the sleeves. Her eyelids close and she feels herself drifting. Enveloped in the comforting leather smell, Matilda is once more Rory's nut-brown maiden - returning almost to that source, as her head droops on to her father's shoulder. Her arm hangs loose in the long sleeve. She bolts awake when her fingers find the cut, the beautiful, black leather flapping lifelessly like a dead crow.

"I'll just pick up a few things, before I drive you both home." By that remark, Matilda knows that Rory means to stay the night with Karolina. - Hasn't got a hope in hell, says Matilda to herself. But she has an idea.

"Dad, I'll give you a hand," she says taking the keys.

It was too easy really. Rory's sea-chest is easily located. The original of the Boy in the Canoe photograph. A small box of papers. Some coral beads. - And I don't even feel guilty. Matilda tells herself, stuffing the booty in her bag just as Rory reaches the front door.

Chapter Eighteen


"Matilda, - your writing! You sure do have a way with words." says Bonny .

Ah, yes. . - But it's in my River Book that you'll get the heart of me. This is Matilda's second session with the women's oral history group. They are on Corey's front veranda, where the wisteria has just come into bloom .

"Your story's like a fairy-tale," says Bonny, "Communes in Brisbane. Blue Mountains Folk Festivals. Alternative School. Singing in shearing sheds. How old were you when you first sang in public?"

"Ten." Matilda answers, thinking to herself, - God, Bon's a worse romantic than Maggie. Worse even than my Dad. Bonegilla is sprawled on the front doormat, stretched out at ease in a pool of yellow "An urgent call from the refuge. Mick wants you to get hold of a van immediately."

"Oh Christ, they're being evicted!" Matilda jumps up. "Where the hell will I find a van?"

"Evicted, you say" Bonny stacks her papers. "What're you waiting for?"

"Oh Bon. Your kombi. Thanks!" Matilda sprints to the drive.

"Bon, you'd be best parking at the end of the lane. I'll give you the all-clear from the back window." Matilda jumps at the touch of a wet muzzle on her arm. "Bonegilla! Shit, we can't leave him in the van. He's got a bark to wake the dead."

Bonny scrabbles in the glove-box. "Here's a rope."

"Great!" Matilda loops the rope around Bonegilla's collar. A large removal van is parked just out of view of the refuge. On the tail board sits a man in a blue denim cap and jacket, peeling a large banana.

"Nice little doggie." he says. Bonegilla stands, front paws on the tail-gate, feathery tail wagging, all his attention focused on the man's tuna sandwiches. "I've got a job on in twenty minutes. And I'm not lookin' forward to it. - Sheriff's office. - Know what that means?"

"Not sure."

"Eviction, that's what." Bonegilla's ears prick as the man unwraps his sandwiches. "Not a pleasant job. They're goin' to clear out a youth refuge. Repossess stuff from homeless kids. Nice sort of world, isn't it?" Bonegilla whines urgently and licks the man's hand. "Hungry are you doggie?" The man breaks off a piece of the sandwich and Bonegilla wolfs it down.

"Bonegilla! Sorry, he's not usually this bad-mannered. Best let you get on with your lunch."

The seriousness of the situation hits Matilda when she sees the refuge walls denuded of their posters and chairs stacked at the open windows. The whole place bears the air of all soon to be vacated premises. Boxes, stacked in three rows, are labelled respectively 'River', 'Corey' and 'Ahmet'. Mouse sits on the window ledge lowering boxes on ropes into the ute.

"You didn't park out the front!' says Mick by way of greeting.

"Credit me with some intelligence and hullo to you too." replies Matilda. "Bonny's got her kombi at the end of the lane".

"Bonny!" Mick looks dubious.

"She's okay. Don't worry." Mouse waves the ute off and signals for Bonny to move up alongside the window.

"Mick, the removalist out the front says the sheriff'll be here in twenty minutes."

"Jesus!." Mouse scrambles down to the lane and Ahmet supervises the lashing of ropes to the fridge.

"Ahmet, that's bloody hopeless. Let me." Matilda trusses up the fridge. Fortunately the refuge has the wide windows of past eras, as well as a still serviceable pulley. It is a relatively simple matter to swing the gear down to the kombi.

Suddenly there is a loud banging at the front door.

"Jesus the Sheriff!" Matilda shoots down to the front door with Bonegilla. "Sool'em boy!"she whispers. Bonegilla undergoes an immediate metamorphosis. The hairs bristle on the back of his neck. He emits a deep, German Shepherd growl. He snarls and bares his teeth. The snarls interchange with barking fit to wake the dead. It is nothing short of astonishing that from such an innocent-looking little dog should arise such a menacing tumult of sound. The banging ceases and the men retreat.

"Must be a Rotweiler." Matilda overhears, as they depart for reinforcements.

Matilda leaves Bonegilla at the door and sprints back upstairs. "Your jacket Mick

Can I ? . . ."

"Anything Matilda, anything!" Mick kisses her on both cheeks. She zips Bonegilla up snugly in the jacket and slides down the rope in time to see the kombi disappear in the direction of the river. Bonegilla's nose,then his two ears wriggle out of the collar of the jacket. He squirms to be released. Matilda jumps as a young copper at the end of the lane smiles indulgently.

"Keeping your doggie safe?" he says. "Good idea. There's a vicious Rotweiler back there in the warehouse and you can't be too careful."

"Thanks Officer." replies Matilda as she strolls off to find the railway station.

Matilda has taken to grabbing breakfast on the run, before her early-morning row. Corey's home seems to have become the de-facto Y E H P headquarters. Mick, Mouse and Cal have been staying in the old Red Rattler train carriage . Zack is living on the back veranda. Breakfasts have tended to resemble the ramshackle, refuge breakfasts.

"Matilda! Jeez, I must be up early." Lin sits at the kitchen table absorbed in a novel. "Steamed buns- Chinese yeast buns for brekkie? The genuine article!"

"Thanks. What're you reading?"

Lin winks. "'The Romantic Tale of Matilda and Lesbian Love and the Tragedy of Lin.' Lin takes Matilda's hand. "Wanna' read it? Or better still. Participate in the real McCoy?"

"Lin. You're impossible." laughs Matilda Even the backyard is alive with early activity. Mouse and Ahmet are laying out a timber frame on the only patch of lawn in Corey's garden. Fiona is wrapping a pole with he bolt of blue satin she had seen at the overhang. Lin slides one arm gently round Matilda's shoulder, whispering,

"Looks suspiciously like a protest banner to me, knowing that lot, while poor me hasn't got a hope in hades with the Chinese community banner. When it comes to banners, our lot are all flagged out! I've said before that the OZ flag is too British. Too Noble."

"Gotta go to Karolina's class tomorrow. To finalise where the students want their design placed on the join, community banner." She makes a mock-comic face.

Lin turns Matilda around, sliding her hands behind Matilda's neck. "No, look - This country needs a relevant flag, Busy me can't whip up the troops to even get our banner started. Fact is Matilda dear woman, the Oz flag's got too much bloody blue - all sky. Not enough Land."

Matilda is not so sure. "The Southern Cross was the Eureka Rebellion flag, though. It was blue." But Lin insists.

"The current flag doesn't fit this land. -Doesn't recognize the original people. - No, really. Matilda, with your banner-job hat on," Lin curves her hands around Matilda's unruly curls, "can't you exercise a little influence? I mean,. Australia's so dry, so ancient. The flag should recognize that."

"No. No influence!

Anyway, since I was in Darwin and the Gulf Country, the blue of the oceans, - the Wet Season. Lots of blue in the Northern Rivers - ." Matilda shrugs Lin off, embarrassed. Mick is around somewhere.

Lin gestures dramatically at Fiona's handiwork, "The Eureka flag. That's it! They're making the Eureka flag!"

Mick emerges from the red rattler with an armful of scaffolding.

"Matilda, thanks heaps for the rescue last week. "Did you get to see the youth refuge farm onthe way back from Glenrowan?"

"No. We ran out of time. Ran into some of your mates up there though. They live in a bus. - Never knew you had an agricultural string to your bow."

"Well not me personally. You're the one who wants to save the planet, Matt. Us lot only want to change it."

"Same thing isn't it?" - Is Mick being contentious, because I didn't visit the youth farms, or - no it's because of Lin. Oh shit!

Mick shifts the load on his shoulder. "No. Not at all actually. You need a strategy."

"But I do have that, surely."

"You've got part of it, the natural world. But production - agriculture, work, city-life. What - who the hell produces! There's your sustainability."

Matilda sits down suddenly on the outdoor bench. "So I'm the problem. Too green I suppose!"

Mick jumps at the intensity of Matilda's response. The scaffolding on his shoulder wavers, then tumbles to the ground. Mick squats down to retrieve the load. "No, Matt, not at all. You do what you do and - "

"And I'm useful to you?"

"No Matt, No. I don't look at it that way. We're a team."

"But you don't tell me."

Mick, still squatting, looks up distressed. "No - not what I'm not free to, - Look Matt, it all comes down to experience. - You've spent most of your adult life in the bush."

Mick's rejoinder strikes a raw nerve, "You sound like my mother!"

Mick pushes the poles together with a clatter, as if trying to re-establish some order to his thoughts, "To me, Matilda, you're at home whenever you're in the bush. - Down at the river here, I've seen you." Mick sits down on the edge of the outdoor table, his feet on the bench.

"Mick, lots of environmentalists are political. They draw up alternative work plans for old-growth forest loggers. They go to mining company Board meetings as well as sitting in front of bull-dozers. "

Mick interrupts. "Matilda, I'm a city person, a worker. - Never happy without a hammer in my hand - bosses, cops, making a living . -That's my life. - The cities. That's where the changes gotta be made. - Whole systems changes. Fair wages and hours. Free Unions. Then you can have your composting toilets and grey water recycling!" Mick swings round, his feet either side of Matilda, smiling - eyes serious. He leans over, holding Matilda's shoulders. "You Matt. You're the other side of the equation."

"Equation! - Other side? We talk a different language, Mick. But we both want the same thing." Matilda looks away. "Mick, I guess I don't actually want to know all the inner workings of your activities, but," Matilda looks directly into Mick's eyes, "But don't see me as the other side of your equation!"

Mick's fingers tighten on Matilda's shoulders. "I don't. I truly don't Matt." He grins briefly. "You're the wild-side though." Matilda's wide eyebrows lift. "The City or the Bush!"

"Pardon? - Oh. I see. - Henry and Banjo, huh?"

Matilda touches Mick's cheek briefly. "The City and the Bush, ay? - Gotta go."

Chapter Nineteen


"Are you sure you won't have a little of my Potato Bread?" Monica over lunch, had certainly given Karolina the run-around over the definition of a refugee.

Monica shook her head. "Karolina, I do take your point, but I'm not sure the examiners will. - Well just a little." Perhaps if you were to deconstruct the experience of Nomads and compare that with refuhees.

Karolina, referring to her notes, focuses the hose on the newly planted bed of African Daisies and Nasturtium, her mind on her notes.

'Nomads travel apparently without purpose,' she reads, 'but actually they follow nature's bounty, such as water for live-stock in the Sahara, or Bogong Moths or other sources of seasonal food on the Australian High Plains. Nomads travel light, unburdened by possessions or clutter.'

- That's me, - Or it was once. Still could do it! No-one would guess today that I know the ways of the Nomad, better than Rory, better than Matilda. Karolina gives the Nasturtiums a final squirt. This is what Karolina calls the civilized part of the garden. The plantings are part of Karolina's Christmas party plan. She holds the hose carefully and glances down at the notes. "Bullshit!" she says alou.

'Nomads can not in any significant way be compared with Displaced Persons.'

'- Displaced Persons!' Even today the word has the power of a rocket. Karolina loses her grip on the hose and it twists in her hand like a crazed serpent. Her feet are wet. The note-book is dripping. Karolina regains control of the hose. She flaps the note-book to and fro, shaking off the water. - Now then Karolina, don't be losing your grip, she chides herself, smiling at her own humour. She flips the page over.

'For Nomads the sense of place is at once absolute and yet fluid.' - She recalls Monica's words..

"All definitions are fluid and constantly re-positioning according to the perspective of the subject. It would be interesting Karolina, to deconstruct 'Refugee' as symbol and icon of the 'fin de siecle' " - Crickey, thinks Karolina to herself, Monica's French is just appalling. But Monica had more to say. "You must read Bertollucci's 'Nomads of the Present' for his analysis of late 20th. Century social activists' lack of connectedness to community."

" - Nomads! I'll show 'em." Immediately Monica had departed Karolina started work on the current soggy note-book.

Karolina sets the hose in a stake and flops down on the garden bench with a bottle of mineral water. - Have to leave for work in half an hour, because Matilda is coming today to display the partly-completed Community Banner.

'In certain cases, (such as the Aboriginal peoples of Australia)' Karolina reads, Nomads' connection with the land is so intense, that as they move through their territory, they actually create the land. If they neglect, or are not able and all creatures.' Zeinhab! thinks Karolina. Her cosmology hasn't collapsed. Karolina pours herself a long glass of mineral water. - But not everybody's as strong as Zeinhab. Rosie Braedotti? - What was it she said? Karolina leafs back through her wet note-book , 'People from settled societies need to leave home, at least in thought, so as to be jolted out of their settler self, their everyday ego , so as to live the uncertainty of the Nomad.'

"For how long though?" she asks aloud, "For how bloody long?" Karolina is surprised at the hoarseness of her voice. She takes a long swallow from her glass and refills it immediately. "Bit of light relief." she mutters, pulling a book from the stack. - Personality Types ay? Quickly Karolina pencils in her responses to the questionnaire and consults the relevant page.

'You are a realist, a survivor, conscientious, with a pragmatic approach to life,' she reads.' You have little time for romantics or dreamers.' - Load o' crap, she says to herself. Pragmatists have their dreams. Why else did I marry Rory - bear a child like Matilda? She tosses the book aside and takes up another. 'Athena, the Goddess.' Karolina allows herself a faint smile. - Time to score a point for feminine cosmology. If Rory should ever happen to show the faintest interest in a Great Mother, instead of some cosmic stag creature, Karolina will have to eat her - her thesis, that's what!

'Athena, Companion of Warriors,' Karolina reads, 'Goddess of the Intellect.' - Ye. Karolina reads swiftly. She knows all this stuff. 'What was Athena to do?' she reads, 'At her birth, Athena, daughter of Zeus sprang fully armed out of her father's head. Perhaps our 20th. Century jousting with Patriarchy has its origins in Athena's unnatural birth and the swallowing of Athena's mother, Metis by Zeus - Metis who the Greeks demoted into the dangerous and vicious Medusa, she who turns men to stone? Interestingly Athena bears upon her shield, the image of Medusa, the Gorgon.'

Without looking, Karolina reaches for the mineral water and takes a deep pull straight from the bottle. She reads on rapidly. 'Medusa's original name would appear to be 'Metis' or 'Mother'. Metis is thought to be one of the names of the All-Mother Goddess in her most powerful aspect of the Crone and even more significantly, the Goddess as Eternal Other.' Karolina, excited turns the page rapidly tearing the wet paper. 'This is not the Goddess as all-loving Mother,but rather the transcendent and utterly 'Other' manifestation of the Unknowable Mother.'

- Unknowable! Karolina's breath comes in fast, shallow puffs. Her eyes close. Her whole face crumples. She drains the last of the mineral water hurls the bottle at the recycling bin, and misses knocking the hose right off its stake. The hose, like a living creature, leaps and swings wildly, arcing a gush of spray across books and table, spurting a hard and vicious jet straight into Karolina's face.

Karolina groans from her gut. "Oh Jesus!" She wrenches the tap closed. . "Oh Jesus!" Karolina looks at her watch and brushes the water from her dress. "Gotta go to work." She stands up helplessly. "No. Rory. Have to ring." Karolina reaches for her Mobile. She brushes the wet hair out of her eyes, speaking to Rory's Answering Machine.

"Rory? I'm ringing about the paving you offered to help out with." Karolina takes a deep breath, surprised at the hoarseness of her voice. "Come over tonight if you can. I'll give you a bite to eat. The pavers are stacked down the end of the civilized sector of the garden." Karolina looks down ruefully at her sodden dress and manages a ragged grin. "This is Athena signing off."

Chapter Twenty


Dzaved hovers outside Karolina's office, a sheaf of sketches in hand. He notices that the head of Department holds the student newspaper. Dzaved pauses indecisively, before deciding to return to class.

Matilda spreads out the completed banner-pieces. The students crowd around. "As you can see, some of the pieces are painted. Others embroidered. You can decide where on the community banner you would like your design to go." Matilda sits down and idly leafs through a copy of the local paper on Karolina's desk.

'Teacher's Breakthrough Research Project!' is the heading. 'Local teacher, Karolina Kelly is transforming public opinion about refugees.' 'Teacher-researcher, Karolina Kelly of Inner North College says refugees should speak out about their experiences - 'telling it like it is' as refugees. Ms. Kelly has developed a unique method of self-directed inquiry, whereby participants themselves take control of their own research..'

Matilda reads with increasing disquiet. - This is written as if Karolina bloody-well invented Action Research..

'Ms Kelly says the system involves a constant cycle of action, thinking, and then action again. Ms. Kelly believes that migrants and refugees should speak outs so that their experiences are included in the Australian story. Karolina Kelly asserts that this 'speaking out' will bring about a significant shift in public opinion.'

Matilda scans through the rest of the article. - No. Not a single credit to all those who have worked with Action Research. Matilda feels a great sadness and below the sadness is fizzing and sputtering the anger spark, ready for ignition

Karolina could have credited me! thinks Matilda, realizing all at once that both of her parents' careers have benefited immeasurably from her freely-given support and the advice. - And where does that leave me? she asks herself, folding the paper fiercely, almost tearing it.

"Matilda, may I have a word?" Dzaved sits himself down beside

Matilda. "It's your mother. I - we are worried about her. The Head of Department has some kind of - a vendetta, but I do not have the words, so perhaps I exaggerate."

"Dzaved, my mother can take care of herself." replies Matilda sharply.

"It is not just Karolina's position here - at the College." persists Dzaved. "This telling of the story. - One is not always prepared for this and yet there is a time when there is no other way."

"Dzaved, my mother is very strong. She knows how to look after herself." Matilda insists, tears in her voice.

Matilda surveys her mother with new eyes distressed by the temerity of her conclusions. - Gotta be fair. Matilda's always thought of herself as generous, not ambitious. So why do the claws of envy scrabble in her gut? - It's the job, she decides. Working inside. Nine to five. She must leave. Get back to the bush - soon.

Matilda is possessed with a terrible urgency. She drags out her River Book and begins to draw. - Wandering means searching, searching for nourishment, truth. Matilda sketches in the river waters, dark, murky, way down there where no light penetrates. Unaccountably - she recalls Grandfather Liam's story of the Sealy woman, separated from her lost children of the land by her passion for freedom, for her true element. - It's all about shifting, she tells herself. Shifting location, - shifting perspectives.

Matilda is lost to the class-room goings-on. She slips on her platypus skin and dives deep into the dim waters, sight obscured in the floating flotsam, - leaf-tatters, rock-flecks all drifting, sinking to the slushy bottom, where you can't get a foot-hold. You just sink and drift like the platypus, turning over this, scrabbling through that, while all the while your true home is disappearing - uninhabitable.

The students seem to have decided on the Banner-design placement. Matilda snaps her River Book shut as Khalifa and Zeinhab approach the back table to check out their preferred position.

"So long as it is somewhere on the margins." calls Dzaved, "That's where we reffos belong." Matilda finds Dzaved's use of the term faintly contrived.

"Now the pieces can be sewed together." asserts Zeinhab.

"And every piece pricked with blood." says Khalifa proudly. - She's not joking, thinks Matilda, but most of the good people who view this banner will just think she was just acting the over-dramatic Ethnic.

The students are working in group with Karolina encouraging, advising. - She does this kind of thing well, thinks Matilda, despite herself. - Time to go. Matilda begins to pile together the banner pieces as Zeinhab asks if it's okay for her six year old son to eat in class.

"Sure. So long as he's quiet." replies Karolina. "A well-fed child is quiet and a hungry child isn't."

- But a hungry child has a right to more than crumbs, says Matilda to herself. She notes down the students' decision and begins to wrap the banner pieces in their protective bag, preparing to leave, as Zeinhab and Karolina hold a brief whispered conversation.

"Oh Zeinhab that's just awful." says Karolina. She holds the little boy's shoulder briefly, her fingers gentle, looking closely into the child's bruised face. She comes to a decision.

"My supervisor has agreed to the inclusion of your experiences before coming to Australia. I think it is time for me to keep my promise to tell a little of my own experiences." Karolina's voice fails and she speaks so softly that Matilda at the back table can barely hear.

"It was cold on the road." Karolina's voice is quiet, very matter-of-fact. "I - don't remember much about my home town - , that sort of thing," she says as if apologizing "I - we, because of the war that is we were forced to leave home. I was very young. About three, I guess. My parents were needed somehow." Dzaved looks up sharply, goes to speak and thinks the better of it. "I learned to be resourceful, accommodating to different languages, to hardships. - searching for food, for instance." Karolina stops again. "Dandelion leaves, Dock-weed. Any crops. Searching for shelter too."

Matilda is riveted She re-opens her River Book beats a tattoo on the page, bites her lip, half-rises as if to go. She blocks in the river-mud, the slow swirl and tumble of river-silt and the platypus searching, feeling its way in the murk.

"You learned to find shelter in ditches - from the bombs. Butnight shelter. " Karolina half-smiles, "Quite a problem. For a child it was - frightening. Terrifying actually."

"And your parents?" asks Khalifa.

Karolina swallows. "My parents were both with me at first." She pauses, a long time. "Later only my father. - My parents were forced to do some kind of - war work. - After the war, my father went to search for my mother. Or perhaps he went to fight. - Some sort of civil war." She stops again, "I'm sorry, I have only a child's view of all of this. Anyway, I was left with lots of different people. In a way it stood me in good stead. I learned several languages. - These places were a cross between an orphanage and a -" Karolina's voice wavers. "And a Displaced Person's camp. - By the time my father came back for me, my mother was dead." There is a murmur from the class - distress, sympathy.

Matilda crushes the pastel to pieces in her hand. She looks at Karolina from head to toe. She looks away. Memories, incidents that she doesn't care to recall, insinuate themselves into her brain. - Who is this person standing before her? This person who has denied Matilda her origins all these years? - A mother unmothered. No kind of mother this. Matilda feels the race and surge of anger, hot and bright as flame. Its dance of danger plays around her. - Leaving home at fourteen. By Christ I was right. - I made my own way and I will continue.

Karolina glances for a moment across to Matilda. Matilda meets Karolina's eyes with a stony gaze. Karolina looks puzzled, hurt perhaps.

"I suppose I was very - street- wise - able to adapt to any circumstances." She raises a taut smile. "Anything to get a feed. By the time I was five, I knew how to survive, even - " Karolina breaks off. Conscious of Zeinhab's son in the room, she writes on the white-board, 'to cheat and steal' and swiftly rubs it out. Karolina shrugs her shoulders. "It was just as well for me that when my father was working at the Snowy, that there was only single men's accommodation there; that he had to find a home for me with his Czech friend. The Czech friend's wife taught me how to live,- how to be - civilized. When I arrived in Australia, I was pretty wild."

"This is exactly the problem that I have with my kids!" Khalifa bursts out.

Karolina forges on as if no-one at all is there, is listening. "It was only after my father died, that I was going through his papers - "

His papers! Matilda leans forward expectantly. - So here it is, the key - to country, to heritage. However Matilda's longings are not to be answered, as Karolina's next words confirm.

"Among my father's papers was a photograph. It was a group photograph taken beside a well. A small black and white photograph."

- So thinks Matilda - the photograp Jackie saw in 1986 at the Peace Festival. It exists. The photo exists! Karolina never showed me, never told me of it. Matilda scribbles rapidly - the platypus twisting, flipping over, all fluid movement, rushing towards the surface.

"In the photograph," says Karolina her voice muffled, hesitant, "there are children - three boys, two babies and six girls - four of them about three or four years old. My father is in the photograph, standing at the back with three other men. They seem to be singing, playing musical instruments. The women, two older and three younger, are beside a table listening to the music." Karolina brushes the hair out of her eyes, smooths the folds of her dress. - She looks quite - dishevelled, thinks Matilda to herself, hair in disarray and dark streaks on her dress.

"So you are in that photograph Karolina?" asks Marisol eagerly, " And your mother? For me too the photos of the disappeared are precious."

For a long time Karolina doesn't answer, but stares out into some unknown, fading distance. "No." she replies. "No. - Or at least I don't really know." She falls silent again. "Precious. Yes, they would be. If I only knew. - But I don't, I don't know which child is me. I don't know which woman is my mother." Karolina shakes her head slowly from side to side. - In her mind there is a wall, a wall of rock and stone. And this photograph. It speaks from beyond the wall, carrying stories of music - of love and joy, but the stories are in some strange, lost language and like one blind, Karolina cannot discern what she knows must be there.

Karolina sits on the edge of the table struggling for control.

"I learned the value of silence well before I came to Australia," she continues "This habit of silence was re-inforced by my father. 'Don't tell them any more than you must,' he'd say to me. 'To them we're all Balts, Reffos.' He was proud of the fact that I learned English so quickly, that I was so - adaptable." Karolina smiles but the smile is sad. "As so many of you here keep saying, when you get off the plane at Tullamarine, you can't just cut your memories out of your - " Karolina searches for the word "out of your soul - without losing the soul of who you are. That's the biggest mistake that Australia makes. They do it with the Aborigines. They do it with migrants. It's the culture of forgetting."

"So you became Australian very quickly, Karolina?" says Nguyet.

"No. I assimilated. There's a difference,." replies Karolina. "I was so successful, that by 1954 I, of all the girls in my school, was chosen to present the bouquet to Queen Elizabeth, when she visited the Snowy. Later, the Queen Mother came out for the Olympic Games in Melbourne. I had a friend for a time - from Yugoslavia, from a neighbouring republic. You understand - Yugoslavia was made up of a number of federated republics in those days. Well I tried not to mix with her too much. She didn't suit my image. She used to wear long dowdy dresses with a funny pinafore. Her hair was in two plaits wound into two little buns just above her ears and she wore thick, red stockings. I tried to explain to Sonja that the reason I had been chosen to curtsy to the Queen was because I looked right."

Karolina recalls the dress of apple green organdie with puffed sleeves, the wide cherry-red sash, the frill at the yoke and four inches above the hem, the white ankle-socks, the matching cherry-red, patent-leather shoes with the thin cross-straps, fastened at each ankle with a shiny red cherry-bob bead,.

"I was the one who dropped the most perfect curtsy and who was able to say with a near-perfect Oxford accent, "Welcome to the Snowy Mountains, Your Royal Highness."

Dzaved throws back his head and guffaws, "And you a Republican!"

"Oh I always was a Republican. Ned Kelly was my favourite Australian. And don't forget I came from a land of Republics!"

- Ah yes, but which one of those Republics did you come from? asks Matilda under her breath. - You've admitted to having your father's papers. Matilda is increasingly agitated. She sketches in swirls, wavering and clashing, the up-swimming platypus, near to breaking the surface.

There is a peremptory knock. Grae Grantling bustles in with the current student newspaper.

" Won't take up your time." Jabbing at the paper, he mutters to Karolina, assuming that migrant students don't understand football slang, "You will be hearing more of this, Karolina. You lift your game! This er, student newspaper. The work of this class I take it? The cartoon here, - when did you send it in to the editorial office?" Grantling holds the paper away from his nose, as if it gives off a bad smell.

No-one speaks. The students' faces are impassive. Zeinhab takes a risk,

"The answer to your question would be in the editor's office, perhaps?"

"Yes, yes." Grantling replies, aware that Zeinhab has his measure.

"One thing I can be certain about," says Dzaved, "is that we have complied with - regulations. I have an Arts-engineering qualification in my own country." Dzaved fishes in his brief-case and triumphantly hands over a sketch. Karolina's hand flies to her mouth.

"As you can see the date is well before the beginning of the Action Research project."

"So it appears." says Grantling doubtfully.

"If I may. - Mr. Grayling." says Dzaved at his most charming. "This cartoon is my work alone. It was done as you can see before our teacher pointed out that such action is forbidden."

"No, No. Certaintly not forbidden. - This is after all a democracy," counters Grantling discomfited.

"Oh certainly. As you point out - a democracy. But you will forgive me. As refugees, we are familiar to - (forgive my poor English!), familiar with accommodating to the forbidden, to negotiating, - maybe subverting the forbidden. These are our cultural experiences." Grantling looks puzzled as Dzaved continues smoothly. "May I suggest an accommodation? Perhaps I could do the graphics for a most positive race relations edition of the student newspaper - accompanied by our report on the Action Research! You have seen the new edition of the local paper?" Dzaved hands the newspaper to the Head of Department.

"No. No. I must confess I hadn't seen this." says Grantling." , his smile is now distinctly less frosty. "Fine. Fine, then. You do that."

Dzaved's smile is not quite ironic.

"It is for this accommodation and negotiation that we have all escaped war, and oppression."

But by this time the Department Head is gone.

Everyone is smiling and trying desperately not to laugh in case Grantling is still around.

"Tell us about the Olympic Games in 1956 Karolina. Did you go? Were there rallies over Land Rights - anything like that?" asks athlete Marisol, who had avidly followed the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

"Oh no, Marisol. Nothing like that. Australia in the Fifties was very different. There was no awareness regarding prejudice. It was a very - insular place, - self-satisfied, inward-looking."

Karolina hears again the crowd's roar - the Melbourne Cricket Ground, 1956. She remembers the school children singing to the Queen Mother at the close of the Games,

'Will ye no come back again,

Will ye no come back again?

Better loved ye canna' be.

Will ye no come back again?

(and then to the tune of Waltzing Matilda)

Come to Australia, back to Australia,

Come to Australia, the land of the free,

With the slip-rails down and the billy boiling merrily.

Wide-open arms will be waiting for you.'

"And that," says Karolina, "was before they even dreamt of Disneyland."

- Oh Christ! thinks Matilda. Nearly fifty years ago and we're still doing all that stupid stuff, but this time with bells and whistles.

Karolina goes on to tell the students of how in her ignorance, she had cheered for Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union, (because Yugoslavia was part of the Soviet Bloc) "and for Australia too of course." She remembers rising to her feet with Sonja as Zatopec burst through the tape, remembers her father pulling her down,

"Don't cheer." he ordered. "Don't cheer any other countries. Only cheer Australia. Do not cheer Yugoslavia."

Then, not long after the Olympics Sonja and her family went away - back to Yugoslavia. Sonja said her father and mother were worried about their relatives. Her father would not discuss it.

"It is not safe." was all he would say.

Karolina flicks her eyes around the class-room. - Yes. The students understand this thing that I may not speak of.

Matilda raises her head. - The platypus bursts to the surface.

"So where did she actually go?" loudly asks Matilda from the back of the room, "Your friend Sonja, to which of theYugoslavian Republics did she go?" Matilda's voice is truculent, harsh. There is tension in the air. Only Dzaved has an inkling as to what is going on.

Karolina's eyes snap open - full alert. They drain of all expression. - Shut Down, that's what it seems like, thinks Dzaved. - Total Shut Down. He notices that her hands are trembling. She locks eyes with Matilda. She turns on a tight smile.

"Matilda, as you know, I was brought up to believe that I was born in Yugoslavia and that is quite enough for me."

The platypus skims the surface. Against the current the webbed feet paddle fast, the flat tail its magnificent rudder. On its back feet the spur, the poison spur. No-one has yet

discovered the purpose of that spur. There is no thought on Matilda's part. All is purely instinctive. The scissors slash. They hack at the embroidered pieces - hard to cut, those. They snip through the painted pieces like a knife through butter. She sweeps the torn and jagged pieces into her bag. On her way out Matilda drops a ragged remnant on to her mother's desk,

"Nothing ever did fit." she hisses, "so why the fuck go on pretending?