Chapter 31-35

Chapter Thirty-one


"But Matilda you should honour your dream." Matilda and Marcia sit comfortably on Marcia's back veranda trying to escape the heat of the night. Matilda twists her hair up and clips it in place with a heavy hair-slide. The upswept copper curls escape like the disarray of a tired pioneer woman. It is late and she must catch an early morning bus. She will head bush for Christmas - up Jindivick way - alone.

"Marcia you sound just like Mum. Keel over before my time with a heart-attack?"

"Yes your dream." continues Marcia passing Rory's letter back to Matilda. "You've been building your dream all along. Setting the past straight."

"I honestly thought I had some connection to land. Nothing from my mother, so I felt secure through my dad. - Now I find that my Celtic heritage. Rory's heritage; what I used to love about that heritage - it's tainted. Calling me his nut-brown maiden. "I was taken in. Stone circles, spirals carved on rocks. There is bitterness in Matilda's voice. "The faery people living beneath the earth, the mortals who went into the mist to live with the old folk!"

Lowanna's head appears in the light at the kitchen door. "Sounds like those 1950's history books. 'The Aborigines disappearing like mists into the mountains.' - historian-speak for massacres."

"What do you mean 1950's?" says Marcia, irritated. "What about 1999 and the Yorta Yorta claim? 'The tides of history have washed away any claim' - What about that ay?"

" 'Washed away.' Reminds me of your mother Matilda - and the creek-bank house." says Lowanna. "What's this about being taken in though?"

"Read it". Matilda passes Rory's letter to Lowanna.

Lowanna's face is expressionless. "It's not clear. He doesn't come right out and. . . "My father never does."

"Okay, but you need evidence Matilda. I got experience in these things."

"Mum does a lottta tracking down. Kids the government took from their parents. Tracing ancestors," Marcia explains. "but what do you mean by tainted? Matilda I know you're upset right now. But I wanna know. . . " Marcia half-rises in the chair. " - Matilda, you got a problem that you might be half-caste? Matilda I never thought that you ... And I'm telling you now, if - "

"Oh Marcia, no. Of course not. It's, it's - " Matilda distressed, runs her fingers through her hair. "It's the search, having to search yet again. You don't know my grandfather, Rory's father. It's not the search exactly either, so much as . . ."

Lowanna cuts in swiftly, "The journey. Journey's different from a search. It's personal. Another culture to confront."

Matilda glances gratefully at Lowanna. "Yes. A whole new people. Relations. Even a grandmother! - probably still alive. Could even be the young woman in Rory's photo, the woman beside the canoe."

"A black woman?" says Marcia and there is still an edge to her voice.

"Oh Marcia. That's not the issue. It's ... look, everything's turned upside down - yet again."

Lowanna is still at the door. "It's ancestor grief." she says softly.


"Don't forget my mother married a white man - your mum's Uncle Milos. The friend of your Bosnian grandfather."

"If he was Bosnian".

"Sure. But the point I'm making Matilda. Most of us Koories got to face ancestor grief. That's what I call it. Lots o' white people came here to Australia like your mum - escaping war, famine, injustice. They were taught to keep quiet about that grief. Then knowing or not knowing, they or their ancestors imposed the same dispossession on us lot."

" So. More grief." Marcia gets up quickly and stands, arms folded.

Matilda collapses into the chair. "Lowanna, my grandfather came here, and to the Pacific as an opportunist - and worse by the looks of it."

Hughie's head appears behind Lowanna, peering into the shadows on the veranda where Matilda is sitting, looking meaningfully at Marcia, then at Lowanna. "So you're the song-man's daughter. Stick around girl. He needs you." Hughie disappears back into the kitchen.

"Now you listen to me." says Marcia sitting down beside Matilda. "My mother's right. I'm jumping to conclusions. You're jumping to conclusions. My mum's grand-mother, my great-grandmother - she got tied up to the cattle-pens, gang-raped at thirteen. Then she gets thrown off the reserve because she's had a so-called half-caste baby. The story goes back over 200 years. Story's the same all the way back. But the truth. That's what's important. Your father says he was born in Ireland. You don't know yet. Most Aboriginal people. They have to reconcile all the cultures in their personal back-grounds. No. Listen! My mum's a Koorie woman - Northern New South Wales. Her father - a Murry from Queensland somewhere - taken from his parents too - when he was four. He never located 'em ... My dad's Czechoslovakian. If my mum hadn't married Milos, who wasn't actually my real father, all us kids. - We could've been taken away too by the Welfare. That's what reconciliation involves. It's hard. It's personal. So you just get your shit together Matilda!"

Matilda angry, in tears now faces Marcia. "I've had enough." Matilda is shouting now. "Why should I try to understand Liam, the rotten link in the family chain? Why should I try to understand Rory's lies - all those embroidered stories?"

"Matilda!" Lowanna is still standing in the pool of light at the kitchen door. "It is only yourself that you need to understand right now. You say Liam's the broken link. Are you going to perpetuate that? Will you become an ancestor who broke the link? And Matilda," Lowanna's voice is soft, but there is a command about it. "Matilda, how dare you think you are only doing this for yourself?" Matilda has to strain to hear the final words above the slam of the fly-wire door. "Whole bloody country's gotta face that ancestor grief."

Chapter Thirty-two


Careful now old son! Rory brakes at the Queen's Parade traffic lights. Tattered flags of bush-fire haze straggle across the highway. Matilda's letter and Lowanna's gum-leaves are in his pocket

- Everything I've stood for in danger. No question about it. Rory turns from Queen's Parade into Heidelberg Road, the road ancestor Patrick O'Brien would've taken to his bark-hut school back in 1853 ... Rory glances in the rear-view mirror. - Patrick's a connection. Connections, not masks. You can be anything behind a mask and don't I know it. Careful, that second pint o' the good Guiness could be the undoing o' me. Rory eases into the left lane, the Merri Creek bridge, recalling just in time - Booze Buses. Christ, Christmas week. Sure enough the police, blue lights flashing in the smoke, are waving down the motorists.

Rory flicks off the head-lights and swings in to the cover of the paper-barks, where the Merri joins the Yarra. Across the road is the Boatshed Café. The car crunches on gravel. - Easy does it. - Christ! Rory hits the hand-brake just in time, the front tyres poised on the edge of the gorge. - Don't want to step out into the abyss just yet. Rory swings the car swings back and sideways. - I'll rest up here 'til the traffic gets heavier. With a bit o' luck I'll be able to back out without the boys in blue noticin'.

The paper-barks still wear in their lower branches the sad tatters of plastic remnants of the last flood. - long time ago that. Sunset this evening is a tropical peach red, outshining the street lights - projecting snaking, shadow-curtains onto the path from the paper-bark branches. Uneasily Rory recalls the a cyclist drowning nearby a few years ago. Rory frowns. The meeting with Matilda at the Boatshed Café! Give it thirty minutes. Then back down to the Fairfield turn-off.

Rory finds a spot in the curve of a fallen branch. He closes his eyes. - River Red Gum. - Who was that girl back in the Outpost Inn days? Hair the colour of red-gum timber. He smiles, recalling the pot-belly stove, the straw ceiling, the Oregon beams of Outpost Inn. . - All the girls loved Rory Kelly back in the 60's. So trusting they were, those flower-children; 'twas the fashion to trust - a kind of naive desperation. Peace, love, dope and sex. Boys with poems in their pockets, reading Thoreau,, starting up community food-gardens, the candle-makers, the free newspapers. - 'Outposted Magazine' for that matter. - the intense questioning. That young teacher who read Rousseau and - Freire was it? Had her pupils returning excess packaging to the local supermarket. A red-head like meself if I recall.

The sky softens to a troubled crimson. The shadows of the paper-barks deepen . - Never got into the political stuff meself, he reflects, but by God, after the Moratorium marches, it was 'park your placard at the door - standing room only' at Outpost and the Commune too. Margret Roadknight, Danny Spooner, Hans Georg . - Who was the little guy with the droopy moustache? Played double bass like it was comin' from his soul. Died of an

O D - a poet if ever there was one. Marg Roadknight singing,' Didn't it rai-ai-ai-ai-ai-n my chillen, did'n it rai-ai-ai-ai-ai-n?' And Rory Kelly - me myself, 'The Old Order's rapidly ageing. - Get outta' the New one if you can't lend a hand . . .'

- And the times they changed, yes, Just look at us now. - Last gasp o' the age o' the romantics, that's all it was. -'I'm a Rambler, I'm a Gambler,' yes that I am, 'The Wild Colonial Boy', oh yes. The deep voice, the 12 string guitar. Then the harmonica. Bit o' Dylan - 'The Hour When the Ship Comes In', yes.

"Oh the sands will roll out a carpet all of gold

For your weary toes to be a-touchin'

Like the howlin' of the wind when the hurricane


The hour that the ship comes in."

- Well my ship's come in now. Hope to Christ Matilda accepts my explanation, The note she left taped onto the computer was ambiguous indeed. - Could even read into it that she's about to go bush again. Rory pulls at the peeling bark on the old log. - The Great Song. Could go any which-way. Matty's crucial. The Song-man's daughter. Rory shreds the bark to pieces in his fingers. He pats the bunch of gum-leaves in his top pocket. - But by the grace o' the Koori Blessing Woman and the luck o' the Irish, fortune will smile on me.

Rory twirls the bunch of gum-leaves in his fingers - I did it in the 60's and I'll do it now. - Fortunate I was then to get in on the scene in the 60's . Dead easy it was to adopt the boy from the bush persona - wise in the ways o' the land - camp-fire tucker, bush carpentry. All those city kids longing for belonging. Rory grins ruefully up into the Red Gum branches.. It was partly an era of posers anyway. Weekend hippies. Compared to that lot I came across like the real McCoy - tall tanned Territorian - touch o' the brogue from me dad, Lawson , Banjo Patterson, Bush yarns. People longing for something to be part of and didn't I well know that? Burl Ives' visit, Bush Music Club, Pete Seeger, the Reedy River performance. Songs o' the sea and peace before it all went wrong. Rory's mouth tightens. - Course if the old man hadn't insisted I study Law at Cooktown University. - What a joke. My mind was never the probing kind. Rory's eyes flicker glancing towards a kookaburra in the paper-bark above as it begins its sunset run-up, a series of low careless chuckles like laughter lost in a blanket., like the gentle chuckle of Territorian kookaburras. Rory finds the raucous din of the southern kookaburras unsettling. - Songs o' the sea and peace, he repeats to himself. I don't forget. Nothing do I forget. - Those other songs - the silenced songs soon to be given voice. - No more singing of the songs. That's what he said. Rory's hand covers his mouth.

'If you tell it will be worse. You don't know what you're getting in to.'

The young kookaburra peers quizzically down, button eyes twinkling behind the little gangster-mask, crew-cut feathers erect, wing-feathers fluffed, speckled-brown - the blue chevrons flashing bright in sunset light. With horror Rory sees that the kookaburra has a live snake grasped firmly in its scimitar beak. The kookaburra thwacks the snake against the Red-gum trunk alarmingly close to Rory's head. The snake writhes, sunset-shine glinting on its polished coils. It twists horizontal - ramrod straight, looping its tail in the kookaburra's wings, squeezing tight. Its body convulses captured in the kookaburra's long, grey beak. The snake quivers again and the kookaburra, as if losing interest, flings it down right at Rory's feet. The snake twitches, then suddenly rises erect. Rory, lightning-fast lifts his feet onto the log, hunched over, hands clasping knees, watching the snake's black-granite eyes, without moving.

Rory' bones ache, but still he sits hunched over, as he hears the long-ago voice - if voice it is, 'You bear the stories. ' She said that. Rory holds the memory, breathing it in. Gingerly he leans back, brushing against the bush behind him. He starts back - Lantana! The pungent smell of childhood. Lantana strangling the forests, lantana, danger-weed, tumbling, scrambling purple and gold through the wetlands, choking out pandanus and paperbark. . And all the while the fingers pressing.

- If you tell it will be worse.

Suddenly the kookaburra seems to fall out of the tree above. Not a fall but more like a plummeting swoop. - God! Rory recoils. - It's got the snake again! All at once the creek gully is alive with kookaburras, five, six, seven, eight of them; one by one, they are dropping the snake, belting its broken body against the rocks, picking it up again and yet again. By now the snake's sleek skin is dull, dusty, the glistening eyes filmed over. Still the kookaburras are swooping and dropping the flayed and mangled body of the snake, until Rory collapses into the lantanas, the pungent lantanas of childhood, at his feet the broken snake and all around the gorge, the insane laughter of the kookaburras.

Rory scrambles to his feet. - Must go and meet Matilda! He runs up the slope, wild blackberries tearing at his legs. He bursts out of the paper-barks and straight onto the road. The Christmas traffic is moving fast. A car from the city-side swerves, mounts the median-strip, horn blaring, Rory doesn't see the motor-bike speeding to pass. Rory is thrown into the air. The children's play equipment at the edge of the park collapses like so much broken barley-sugar as Rory crunches through the P V C piping from top to bottom.

Rory lies motionless amid the shattered piping, his head spinning. A ragged, bleeding gash runs from forehead to jaw-line. He crawls free of the wrecked playground, hauls himself upright holding with all his strength onto the Boat-shed park fence, trying to control the trembling of his legs and half limps, half staggers down the steps to the river - Make meself presentable. Meeting Matilda here. Seem to've lost track o' time. Painfully Rory drops to his knees, floats his handkerchief in the water and bathes his face. He wrings out the blood-soaked handkerchief, hoping the river-water's not too polluted and sits for a while head in hands, beside the current getting his bearings, then heads up to the Boat-shed Café.

Rory sits on the café veranda facing the river below, red-wrinkled in the sunset-light - sliding to the bay like melted toffee. Two coffees he's ordered. Rory downs the first at a gulp, breathes a little easier, finds himself longing for the glory-days and further back - those days of songs. In his head he hears the strains,

'Wade in de wa-a-ter, wade in de wa-a-ater chillen,

Wade in de wa-a-ter. God's gonna. Trouble - de


- Up Echuca way, wasn't it? Four blokes and two girls. The bass near as deep as the mighty Murray - a bit ominous like the cascade powering down Torrumbarry spillway, 'Wa-a-de in de waater chillen', the soprano, a ripple from melting snows up Kosziusco way, the slow flow of the tenor, the mezzo - rolling seawards through Lake Alexandrina close by Hindmarsh Island, sacred island of the Ngarrandjerri women '- God's gonna trouble de wa-a-a-a-ter' - the final gift, the surge of gold-brown waters melting into the Southern Ocean.

- The songs. The stories - all confused, bloody confused. Rory drinks deep from the second coffee. - There was heart in it then though - hope. Matilda caught some of it; - the intuition that once was mine. Rory winces at the sudden jab of pain and squares his shoulders.

"Put a brave face on it, man." he says aloud. " - Acting the person they wanted. Territorian-Irish. Then the performance took over. Coasting. No need to think. And the gear's in neutral now." Rory studies Matilda's note anxiously. It was inevitable that Matilda would ask one day. It is belonging that generates love and not the other way round; she knows that. And that is why I played my part. Rory takes out his wallet, fans the credit cards in his hand, places them on the table one at a time, saying,

"Here! My father's prohibition. Here! The fight to hold on to heartland." Rory lays down the second card. "Right up 'til I was 15, I held on. Indeed I did. And the real issue. . ." Rory's hand hovers, holding the card, - Liam said this thing, 'It will surface in you my son. The mound will open and the Dark God ride out and claim his due.'"

Another card follows rapidly "- Karolina - the end of the affair. Gone. Matilda too". Rory thumps down the card. "Kookaburra takes the snake. And now? - The lantana covers the rain-forest." Rory sweeps the cards into his wallet as Matilda sits down beside him. She looks very nervous.

Matilda smiles a small half-smile, "Time to let in the light then." Rory starts up. "Matilda! I thought you'd be gone by now. Gone bush that is. . . ."

"I - I changed my mind - for the time being that is." Matilda tries to not make it sound like a threat. "Time to let in the light ." she repeats. "Rory, I heard you. There is a lot at stake here, for both - for all of us." Matilda is aware of her anger, hard and bright. She possesses the anger, tries to keep her voice from rising. This hard anger must be contained - like fire in the earth, the back-burning fire that encircles the wild fire. "I want the facts Rory," she says reasonably, but her gaze is direct. Rory remains standing, feeling as if he is on trial before his own daughter.

"Dad.. Facts! Chronological order. I have a right to know."

Rory's eyes hold with his daughter's. The fear lends strength. "You have a right to know what you already know. And no more! - You got my letter?" Matilda nods. "Then that's it." says Rory with finality. "Your grandfather's Irish - from Donegal. Your grandmother's from Mayo. West coast Irish the both of 'em. Some sort of Gypsy-Spanish connection on your grand-mother's side.". Rory shrugs and the pain sears his shoulder. "The black Irish ." Rory feels the rising anger - a match to his daughter's, "Sealy-woman if you like." He says as if he really doesn't give a toss. "But she was Irish." he concludes firmly. "As for that other stuff in the sea-chest. Merely memorabilia. A few trips to Ambon and Timor with Liam, when I was a little tacker." Rory smiles easily. "Your origins are Irish all the way."

Matilda looks dangerous. There is a hard glitter in the plum-brown eyes. "Rory, there's more. '- Acting the person they wanted you to be.' I heard you Rory. Just now I heard you - That photo, the Boy in the Canoe. The woman in the shallows. Rory that woman is my grandmother!" Matilda finds herself talking faster and faster. "She must be. No Rory. I saw the look on your face. The other day at Southbank. That photo is a photo of . . ." Matilda takes out the folder. She unwraps the blue scarf. "There! This photograph was taken in the Pacific Islands. Groote Eylandt, Thursday Island, - some island in the Pacific that is -perhaps an Australian possession - maybe Papua-New Guinea." Matilda takes a deep, angry breath, "But don't you dare try to tell me that this is fucking Galway Bay!"

Matilda stands, facing down her father. She points to the photograph. "That boy, the boy in the canoe - that's you, without a doubt. I've had the photograph enlarged. And Rory, in the enlargement, the woman - " Matilda points to the snapshot. "That woman in the shallows, one arm holding you steady - Rory. Who is she?" Rory leans on the table, his palms taking his weight. In the blackberry eyes there is just a hint of tears, but his voice is of steel.

"Matilda I will not be drawn in this way. You go too far. This information

It is a shock to me for - for reasons other than what you conclude.

But I will not be drawn." Rory shifts his weight, making his hands into two fists leaning on the table. "Matilda I am not free." Rory's mouth is tight, his eyes utterly focused. Matilda has never seen her father like this. She recalls her mother's stricken face on the pillows and she realizes with a shock that both of her parents' childhoods have more in common than she had imagined. She feels more than ever the burden of all the untold truths, including her own and aches with the knowing that the keeping and the telling of secrets will always tear apart the parents as well as the children.

Rory's knuckles are white on the table. "Matilda you have read my letter. In it I have told you that I was indeed in the islands during the war. That I was born in Ireland of Irish parents."

"Rory, how can you expect me to believe any more of your tales? Matilda's finger jabs the small snapshot. The canoe's an outrigger, for heaven's sake! The people are islanders - Pacific Islanders"

"I have told you in my letter that I was in the islands." Rory repeats. Matilda interrupts.

"Rory are you trying to tell me that you - your parents - that you came to Australia and then went back to Ireland? I would be more prepared to give that story some credibility if you hadn't touted your famous photograph as a snapshot taken at Galway Bay."

"You have seen that the canoe is indeed an outrigger." Rory continues very slowly, as if Matilda hadn't interjected. He stares out over Matilda's head at the red-ribbon ripples of the sunset-slashed current, as if sorting something out. There are some things of which I may not speak." Rory's gaze moves down-river, his eyes dark, veiled. He turns and looks desperately into his daughter's eyes.

Matilda searches her father's face. Her voice is very gentle. "Okay Rory. I'm listening." Rory sits down abruptly.

"The canoes are coming in to the Island of Nauru."

"Nauru!" .

"My ... my birth-mother was Irish - a singer. In 1941 your Grandfather Liam was delivering building materials for the phosphate works on Nauru - food supplies for the Australian management" Rory smiles, the faint ghost of a smile. "Grog too I imagine. - Phosphate was seen to be the magic answer to all the woes of Australian farmers. No long after the war all that was left of Nauru was a narrow coastal strip with a great hole in the centre where the phosphate used to be." Rory smiles grimly. "I should know. I lived there more or less continuously in my childhood." His cheek twitches. "It was my home."

"Your home!" says Matilda, "but what about Ireland?"

"Ireland!" Rory swallows the last of the coffee. He grimaces, perhaps at the bitterness of the coffee.

"My parents left Ireland when I was but a babe."

"Rory are you claiming that you spent your childhood in Nauru as well as Australia?"

"No". Rory leans his elbows on the table. "Matilda, we were, that is the population of Nauru - or I should say, most of the population of Nauru, were captured by the Japanese and sent to the island of Truk."

Matilda blinks. "Captured? Oh Rory! And the brochure?"

"I found the brochure about the beautiful wreck in some tourist rack. The 'Beautiful Wreck is the remains of the Japanese fleet torpedoed off the island of Truk, I saw it happen," Rory grimaces slightly. "Never told anyone that before."

"You were captured! Alone? But where was Liam? - And, and your mother?"

"Liam's wife - your grandmother," says Rory in a curiously removed tone, "she lived with me in Darwin, but this time she joined Liam on the boat with me as well. I was one . We lived on Nauru for a time. My mother had been asked to sing to the Australian troops stationed in the Pacific islands. Liam was engaged in short cargo-runs to outlying islands when the Japanese invaded."

Matilda cuts in., "And you - a one year old child were on the island - on Nauru without either of your parents?

Rory shakes his head. "No, Liam was in port at the time - or so he told me. I got separated from the departing Australians, that is the Australians from the Australian continent, because Nauru at that time was an Australian protectorate." says Rory firmly, as if this fact is of some importance to him. "I was sent to Truk along with all the other Nauruans." It does not escape Matilda's attention that Rory has included himself in the category of native Nauruans." Rory pauses, speaking uncomfortably. "So you see Matilda why I kept that tourist brochure about Truk. The main island is beautiful. Went back there when I was ten or eleven. A high volcanic island in the middle of a very blue lagoon. The lagoon itself is enclosed by scores and scores of low coral islands. - That's where I learned to row a canoe. - Build 'em too." Rory gestures in the direction of the row-boats moored below at the boat ramp, barely visible now on the darkening current. "The western islands of Truk were the islands of the boat-builders you see."

"And masks?" says Matilda, "The masks on your lounge-room wall and the office, they're from -"

"From Moen, yes."

"From Moen. The tapuana," says Matilda quickly, "The only masks in all of Micronesia."

"You have done your homework!" Now that Rory has begun to speak of his childhood, he seems to have forgotten the purpose of the conversation - which was to make things right with Matilda. Matilda's rejoinder reminds him

"But Rory," Matilda lapses into suspicion, "In your hand-written notes, you gave the name of the capital - tthe place where the combined Japanese fleets' headquarters was - as Dublin ! "

"Yes Dublon. It's spelt with an 'O'

"And your mother?" says Matilda trying to sound without artifice.

"Matilda. I've told you. Or at least I've told you all that Liam told me. "You saw The Irish Times?' Surely that's evidence enough?"

"No. I missed that."

"Time I got my possessions back." Rory reaches across and takes up the newspaper. "Here. The back pages. Death Notices." Matilda reads silently, 'Bridget Kelly B. 1918. Co. Mayo, Rep. of Ireland. D. 1942. Somewhere in the Pacific, R. I. P. Wife of Liam. Mother of Rory.'

" Oh yes. Yes I see." she says re-reading the notice. Matilda opens the poem reading it through carefully this time.

'So since your heart is set on her sweet green fields

and you would leave me here

yet go quickly, heed not my words,

although it be the voice of your friend,

you are captured by the voice of your own land.

Who am I to hinder love?

why should I blame you for your weariness?

If but Christ would give me back the years

and the strength of my youth

and darken the white hair on my head, I would go with


The wide seas that must be crossed, terrify me

but go my son. May your ship cut swiftly through the


and do not quite forget.'

"This is from your mother?" she asks. Rory nods. "Liam gave it to you? What could she have meant - 'being captured by the voice of your own land'?" Matilda's suspicions are not quite allayed.

"Matilda I can only surmise - It's all that I have of her." Matilda falls silent. "She was on tour singing." Rory shakes his head impatiently. "Or, she could have left him for all I know. Possibly she was captured. Off to sing in the outer islands and never came back. The - poem. It's beautiful, isn't it? Like a - a premonition."

Matilda nods. "And Liam?"

"Liam caught the plane to Darwin. I was in the village at the time in the care of a woman - a girl I suppose. Fifteen she was - something like that; she - cared for me." Rory's voice is dry.

Matilda is silent, trying to absorb all of this. She doesn't know how to respond. "Rory this is awful - shocking. You mean Liam didn't see you 'til after the war - not 'til you were five or six?" Rory interrupts in the same dry expressionless voice.

"Five or six! Liam didn't see me until 1952 - when I was twelve." Rory folds his arms tight against his chest and looks away. "That's about it. End of story."

- Oh no, thinks Matilda. It's not all. Not by a long shot. "What language did you speak Rory, when Liam came to get you?" Rory swallows, not expecting the conversation to take this turn.

"Not English," he says unwillingly. "At least very little. - Some dialects of the Truk islands, Nauruan and, yes - Japanese - quite fluent actually for a child."

Rory's voice is toneless. Matilda tries to keep her own voice on an even keel. "So, let me get this clear Rory. - You were a captive on this island - Truk and then after the war, it wasn't until what - 1952? that Liam even bothered to . . ."


"Oh Rory." Matilda's voice wavers. "You told nobody? Why didn't?"

"Matilda it was not possible. - Even now ... But to go to Australia was worse." Rory stops. - Damn! Hadn't meant to say that, he says to himself, seeing the lift of Matilda's brows. - Tell just one bit o' the story and the rest comes rushin' out. "You see Matilda I - I didn't want to leave, to leave the people." He tries again. "I didn't know Liam . Australia was very - strange to me. Liam had me coached - in English that is, for twelve months." Rory stands turning his face away, staring at the molten sunset current. "I had a tutor. And then Liam himself. He taught me - when he was back in Darwin."

"Back in Darwin?"

"Back from his trading runs. He would tutor me - nightly, in things I needed to, to catch up on. Australian History. Customs. Manners. And then there was the Irish History. Music, culture, stories. - He said he was civilising me and I suppose he was." Rory laughs a thin, dry sort of laugh

"And then?"

"When he judged me ready I was sent to boarding school. And Matilda I was so very successful. You more or less know the rest. Two years' Law - Brisbane uni., work on Liam's boats, cattle-stations, playing for the Vietnam War conscripts at Canungra Army Camp. My first gig - entertaining the troops the same way my mother - that is my Irish mother did." Rory laughs humourlessly. "By then the folk music craze was sweeping into Australia. So what with doin' bush gigs and a bit of itinerant work, I was well placed for my first Community Arts job, because of course I was more Irish than the Irish - more Australian than the Australians. But Matilda. You know all of this."

"Yes." Matilda responds, "I knew but I didn't understand . So then came the Whitlam era - the community music projects set up under the Australian Assistance Plan?"

"The A A P, yes. The Bush Culture Road Train in far north Queensland. Got that job on me own account, er in the main that is. I decided to go to Melbourne. Frank Traynor's, The Commune, Outpost Inn. And o'course I had a head-start on the Flower-power children, bein' half a generation older than the Baby-boomers."

- Yes, thinks Matilda. - But Rory, you were Liam's creation. She is surprised when Rory says.

"All along I knew I was only playing Liam's game."

"But Rory, why wouldn't Liam let you reveal your childhood on Truk and Nauru. He wouldn't allow that if I understand correctly."

"Now Matilda I didn't say that."

"But surely that's the implication."

"Yes, I would concede that." says Rory. "But Matilda. I don't know why." Rory's head is throbbing. His right shoulder is aching. He does not want the conversation to go any further, but he must concentrate, keep the focus on Liam, away from those - other things, yes. "Matilda I guess Liam thought the story of his leaving without us could be seen as abandoning -." Rory glances sideways at Matilda. "That is, might make him seem irresponsible."

"Cruel you mean So he forbade you outright?"

"Absolutely. There were two occasions, one I thought I'd completely forgotten until recently; the other -" "Yes. Go on."

"Well Matilda, I wasn't completely honest when I went for that first Community Arts position. The applicants had to be Australian citizens or British subjects. - You have to remember it was the early 60's. These things were considered important then. I was born in the south, in the Republic of Ireland. Liam as you know, comes from Donegal. But he was born in Belfast, so he has a British passport. Liam went guarantor for me."

"But surely!"

"No. It mattered a lot at the time. I've made a few enemies getting this position - and in the past too."

"But Rory, if that's the only hold Liam's got over you . . ."

"It's enough." Again Matilda has her suspicions, but Rory continues. "Back in July at Corey's party. And again tonight," Rory leans back supporting his aching shoulder against the veranda post, "At the party Corey had some lantana burning on her barbecue. Tonight, I fell into a bush of the blasted stuff by the Merri Creek. Sounds silly, but it reminded me of a time when Liam took me out into the buffalo country south of Darwin - one time mining country."

"Uranium mining?"

"Perhaps. The land was completely clapped out - mullock heaps, eroded gullies, foreign plants - cactus, albizzia, lantana. I was fifteen or so. Starting to act up." Rory jumps at the final sundown cacophony of sundown kookaburras. - How in heaven's name, says Rory to himself - could I convey to Matilda the desperation of it all? "Anyway I told Liam I wanted to work on the copra and phosphate boats." Rory fumbles with the words. "Wanted to see my - wanted to find - catch up, that is see how people were."

"On Nauru? Oh I see. You missed them!"

"Yes Anyway, this particular day he pushed me out of the car - just pushed me out. It was the Dry Season. I had no water." A muscle twitches in Rory's neck. He stands unmoving, still leaning against the veranda post. "Liam got out ... Took me by the shoulders. He - pushed me down into the lantana." Rory pauses. "Matilda you know how lantana grows wild - out of control, takes over . . ."

"Yes, yes. It's a noxious weed right through the Top End."

"Well he held me down in the lantana - and he said, 'You must never go there. That part of your life is buried.' Then he just drove off - left me there hundreds of miles from anywhere. Now you and I Matilda, are quite capable of living off the land, but up there in the dry season." Rory shivers. "This was degraded country. You must drink a litre for every hour's exposure ... "

"Yes of course I know that."

"Well next morning, when he returned for me - "

"Next morning!"

"Yes. He thought he had me crushed. But I found some birds' eggs, some tubers. You could do that too Matilda?"

"Yes Rory. Yes of course." The two smile and momentarily they are one in their skills.

"So I wasn't crushed. I had a survival plan. Since that day I have always had a survival plan." There is a hard look in Rory's eyes. He searches the trees as the kookaburra-laughter fades to sleepy chuckles, but to Rory there is no comfort in the sound. "At Corey's party - and again this evening. The lantana. It reminded me . ."

Matilda interrupts. "But surely now, after all these years. Rory I can understand your distress, but - "

"No Matilda. Don't you see, if it came out now - "

"Rory - a youthful mistake. Anyway your current job's coming to an end."

"No Matilda, Liam's control will never come to an end." Rory leans heavily against the veranda railing. "Look Matilda. I know I ruined everything at Glenrowan. I was overanxious. -I had no significant connection with those tourism characters. Didn't know Albertine was there. Anyway she's married to the Shire President fellow. But. No." Rory holds up a hand for silence. "Matilda I set you up, nevertheless." Rory stops and tries again. "But Matilda I need . . .still have - I still have hopes that one day there can be a way - a way that we could - re-unite - if not in the traditional way Matilda, but in some way as a, as a family." Rory looks beseechingly at Matilda. In the light flaring above him on the veranda-post, hundreds of tiny insects circle furiously, so that the light is fractured, alive with the flickering insects.

Matilda stands up scraping the chair noisily. "Rory, I'm horrified that you had such a dreadful childhood. I - care about that. I can't begin to understand these things you've been through." Matilda spreads her hands urgently. "But Rory I don't care, Karolina doesn't care, about your fake reputation. Or to be honest about your idea of family." Matilda stops, shocked by the ravaged face of her father in the flare of the lamp. - Oh Christ! Rory's had nobody. The thought strikes her with such force that she sits down again at a loss as Rory continues.

"Matilda I had to do it - Glenrowan - all the distortions. Matilda my whole life story is a fake yes, but I was sworn to it. I did all - everything I could to give you a happy, a secure childhood." Rory looks down urgently at his daughter. "The songs. The songs as I saw it were central Matilda. You see, in 1945 - when the U.S navy arrived on Truk a third of the people had died." Rory laughs a dry, almost silent laugh, the hunter-kookaburra that laugh sounds like. His smile is twisted. "It- it wasn't all bad. We supported each other. We had our song . And - and I had a Japanese friend. A wireless operator. He didn't like war."

- Oh Jesus! thinks Matilda looking with distress at her father's eyes glittering in the too bright lamp light. - There's a crazy side to my father. She begins to be a little frightened. Rory smiles again, the twisted smile. "When the U S liberated us, we sang the 'Star Spangled Banner,' stole a boat, went out to meet them. Told them we were Australian citizens. On the U S boat we saw trousers, beer in tins. They gave us chocolate, ham, turkey. On the ship going back to Nauru, we practised the songs." Rory shakes his head slowly. "There was sadness because so many had died. They gave us clothes. I got a white sailor-suit. It was too big for me." Rory smiles widely, but there is pain in the smile. Matilda remains seated, hearing her father out.

"You see Matilda we had to arrive properly!" says Rory with a vehemence that surprises her. "So on the ship we rehearsed - as gift - the song, all the old and young - how we made soup from leaves, how people were shot down in the shallows." Matilda winces as Rory continues, not noticing, caught up in the telling. "We had to tell the Nauruans who stayed you see." Rory has become very animated. "Our story was in our song - our history. We were so excited we didn't waste time sleeping. We sang that song on the water as we came ashore at Nauru. And then again later, when the Australians arrived, we were all yelling - hooray! Hooray!" Rory sways slightly on his feet. - Is he tired, or is he moving to remembered music? Matilda isn't sure.

"Yes." Rory continues, "So the Australian mine manager came and signed for the phosphate. There was crying and laughing - 'Where is? Where is? Being home was a great joy." says Rory his eyes strained in the draining glow above. "The people brought baskets and baskets - mangoes and breadfruit for the great concert!" Rory sways again and steadies himself. We were dressed in our proper Nauruan costumes and we sang the great song. So you see Matilda, that is why I brought you up with song and story despite all Liam's threats. It was ... my only ... my only - "

As Matilda looks upon her father, she sees with a shock the purple bruise swelling rapidly on his forehead. "Rory! What's happened? You're hurt!" Matilda pulls her father down on to the seat beside her.

"Accident." he breathes. "Motor-bike. Hit me. Not-serious. And Matilda, I will say no more."

"Rory. God! I'll get some help. The café."

"Matilda. Don't fuss. And no more questions."

"But Rory you're in no condition - "

"That's all! I have rights too." Rory takes a deep breath. "Come on daughter. I'll drop you off."

Matilda slips out of the car. She turns, waving Rory down and taps on the window. Rory lets down the car window. "Rory. You and Karolina." Matilda's eyes are anxious. "You've got to talk. You must!" Matilda touches with her fingers her father's cheek. "And and - thanks Dad."

The car lurches off. At the next corner Rory pulls up. - What to do? I need to sleep. Rory leans over to the back seat and hauls the guitar over. - But first ... He opens the guitar case and plucks thoughtfully at the strings.

Chapter Thirty-three


Christmas eve after a day of blinding heat. Flopped on the banana lounge Matilda is glad of the river's metallic flash. Willows and gums shade the path to the jetty, creating an illusion of coolness. The back veranda is wide high and shady, treetop level. Karolina has set up a fan. Matilda twists her hair into a loose knot to ease the heat of the long hair on her neck.

"So that's why I decided to only go away for a few days instead of. ."

Karolina reaches for the jug of ice-water. "Yes I have to admit I thought the wanderlust was about to - "

"Karolina, 'wanderlust' dignifies what I was tempted to do, I swear!" Matilda shifts position to take advantage of the fan's cool air. "This time it was purely flight."

"So it's Rory now? Matilda you worry too much about both of us."

Matilda is surprised at Karolina's willingness to continue the conversation . With the sensitivity of children of separated parents, Matilda is normally scrupulous about playing the go-between.

"Well Matilda I must say I'm glad you stayed." Karolina glances warmly at her daughter. "And I'm glad you broke that code of yours this time." Karolina holds up the jug questioning.,

"No thanks. Not right now."

"I can't believe it." Karolina cradles the glass, cooling her hands,. "Rory was twelve you said when Liam returned? "

"Yes. To Nauru. Australia rips the shit out. Next they dump asylum-seekers there."

"And his mother?"

"No trace. So it looks like Rory's had no-one really."

- It just doesn't make sense, Karolina tells herself. - That rebel streak, how he ever retained it. She replaces the jug, setting the ice-cubes jingling. "What hold could Liam still have?"

"It doesn't make sense to me either." says Matilda. "I simply can't see how a youthful untruth to secure a job could hang over him now. Nor why Rory should still need to conform to - to Liam's ready-made personality."

"Script you mean," says Karolina, "but from what you're saying Matilda, Rory seems to think that money, no - a high-flying sort of job would attract us back together."

"Oh God Karolina, I could have got it wrong."

"No Matilda you've done right. For Rory's health, if nothing else. Drink? "

"Thanks. It's as hot. as Darwin before the Wet - only there's no rain coming."

"Matilda, I keep telling you it's much cooler on the jetty."

"Mum, I'm fine here! But Rory's never been interested in money as such."

"Or, else," Karolina refills Matilda's glass and disappears into the kitchen, "or else Rory counted on the Glenrowan job to unite us all. But that isn't logical with Albertine hovering round."

"No Albertine's married - to that Shire President character, Tranterer I think his name was."

"Ho.Ho! That a fact? Well that puts a different spin on things - but only slightly."

"There's got to be more." Matilda appears at the kitchen door. "The way Rory was so determined to take me off bush when I was a child. All those folk festivals . . ."

"Hah! That was a bone of contention, I - "

"Mum, I know! But he was so vehement about how he had succeeded in exposing me to nature, unspoiled life, music."

"Matilda allow the man some innate qualities."

"No Karolina, just let me pursue this train of thought." Matilda returns to the veranda, removing disgruntled Bonegilla from his favourite cushion.

"Matilda, from what you've told me the whole island was virtually a concentration camp!"

Perhaps life in a virtual concentration camp is no bad thing for a child who knows no better. - But, thinks Matilda to herself, - Rory was so animated about learning to make masks and build canoes.

Karolina returns with a fresh jug of ice-water. "And then there was the way he called his mother - " Karolina's eyes flash a warning.

"Matilda I don't think it would be fair to discuss that." Karolina puts the jug down with another rattle of ice. "Matilda, your pursuit of truth has brought such - freedom to me." Her eyes soften. She tucks a strand of hair behind Matilda's ear and Matilda feels a small joy light up inside her. "As far as your father's concerned, "the buried truths and - hurts are at least as - complex as my own." Karolina touches Matilda's cheek. "I know Rory hasn't got a heart problem, but don't you think it might be a good idea if the Hound of Heaven were to leave the chase for a while?"

There is a long silence until Matilda blurts out, "Oh yes. Rory does indeed have a heart problem. And you and Rory both do need to talk. And I need to butt out because it's your story not mine. Because Karolina, Rory loves you. - There. I've said it!"

"Oh Matilda, Rory's regard for me. There's not a depth. It is very immature

- like a, a ..."

"Exactly! And it's time for that love to either find its feet or grow and move on!" says Matilda as Dzaved, smiling a Christmas smile and bearing a cardboard box of wine and presents shoulders open the side gate.

Chapter Thirty-four


"What do you think?" Rory focussed on, almost obsessed with the music. Lowanna's invitation notwithstanding, it is after all the family's Christmas.

"Can't say Rory." Hughie's eagerness to participate in the Festival has seemingly evaporated. "I'm from up North. Not my country here. - Didn't realise the ceremony was on Invasion Day."

"Hughie, Elders will be at the Opening Ceremony Very great concession. Opening speech by the mayor, - a speech of respect and recognition to the Aboriginal community, but not a performance as I'd hoped - understandably. Federal government's track-record on Aboriginal health - terminating ATSIC, the Land Rights debacle." Rory puts down his guitar. "Refusal to say 'Sorry' to the stolen generation."

Hughie hands Rory a cold beer. "I know I offered to help out mate, but I can't promise at this stage. Lowanna and all the crew'll be back from church soon. See what she has to say."

"Sure." Rory continues strumming as he speaks. "Hughie, if you'd just listen to this arrangement ... not right yet but - " Rory glances up from the strings.

"You're playing in E minor there mate," says Hughie. Rory nods, seeing that the musician in Hughie is getting the better of him. "Hold it there. You changed to A minor. That'd be where you'd want the didg to come in?"

. Nope. I was thinking that the didg could start first." Rory strums again, changes rhythm, then fades on another key change. "And then," Rory murmurs, "didgeridoo - quite loud but rising to . . .?"

"Hang on Rory. If you're gonna change key, you'd need two didgeridoos, one for E minor and - " "Hughie, one player could do it - swap instruments." Hughie disappears into the next room and returns with two didgeridoos.

"Give us a chord mate." Rory obliges. Hughie starts up - a long smooth drone, holding the second didg between his legs. Then he switches instruments, changes rhythm with the change of pitch. He stops abruptly. "I'll hafta trim off a coupla' centimetres - get it down an augmented third ay?" Hughie darts outside and returns with a coping saw and tape-measure as Lowanna. Marcia and Marcia's two young cousins, Janna and Toby and their parents, Bill and Pearlie arrive. Lowanna introduces Rory to Bill and Pearlie and the children as Marcia puts the kettle on. The children wear red head-bands. Thirteen-year old Janna carries in from the lounge-room a mulga wood coolamon filled with dry moss and paper-bark.

"This is the gubba song man." says Hughie. He's been down by the treaty site." Bill and Pearlie leave Janna to position the coolamon under theChristmas tree.

"You been down the Merri near the foot-bridge?" asks Bill suspiciously.

Pearlie says something in Language - something like, "the Tanderrum place"

"Nah! No-one knows the whereabouts of that place." Marcia interjects. "None of our business any rate - not our country here. But who'd want to know about a place like that? - It's not relevant." Nonetheless Rory is now the centre of attention.

"Tanderrum," explains Bill, "is the ritual exchange of gifts for temporary access to land. - Which is all that the Kulin Nation would have believed they were providing to John Batman's'party - temporary access, because of course to Aboriginal people the land's sacred - cant be bought or sold."

"Not that the founding fathers of Melbourne would be aware of that." Pearlie continues ironic lift to her mouth negating the quiet voice.

"That gashed forehead, - what happened?" asks Lowanna .

Rory shrugs embarrassed. "Oh it seems trivial, but I got quite a scare. Down there at the Merri, I was stuck in the middle of a mob o' kookaburras - surrounded virtually - ten or fifteen of 'em killing a snake. Terrified I was - ran across the road. A motor-bike. I went to the river. to clean up - get meself together." And then the whole story all spills out. "Had a - a confusing talk with my daughter. "Told her most of - of my story. Story of my life as it were. She knew nothing. She's very - intuitive, Matilda. I told her more than - ."

Rory's head sinks into his hands. "Lowanna I believe you may understand - you in particular." Rory rests the guitar sideways across his knees. But he can't find words to frame the thought. "There is a - core, something that you hold dearer than life. It is your source, your bedrock. Matilda - my daughter, she ... she, she broke through almost - you people know about these things." Rory looks intensely from one face to another. "There is something I - I should pass on to her. Can't - can't do it. Old habits die hard." He swings the guitar down onto the floor with a ragged jangle. "I'm imposing on your Christmas. Sorry. Must go." He pushes back the chair. "Those kookaburras! Gave me a fright."

"No wait." Tentatively Lowanna touches the bruise on Rory's forehead. It is a healing touch. Rory casts a troubled look around the table, his eyes holding a memory as if from deep waters, a responsibility of such moment - beyond question - you are simply born to it. "Sounds ridiculous I know, but the truth is that I simply don't know what to do about anything - the family, the Festival."

Marcia raises her eyebrows., "Whew!" She glances from Bill to Pearl, to her mother. "Kookaburras! It's going ahead then."

Rory feels he has lost the drift of the conversation. "What? The music?"

"Yes Rory, the music." says Lowanna. "Definitely the music."

. The cut on Rory's brow is a jagged red streak surrounded by a swollen, purple bruise. "Funny thing about the music," he says slowly, "but for the life of me I don't know where the music's comin' from for the Great Song - should be worried as hell about it."

Lowanna cuts in. "No Rory, it's O K." Lownna's grasp on Rory's shoulder is firm. "You just concentrate on that music." Rory finds himself unable to look away.

"I don't seem to have any control." says Rory miserably. It sort of wells up and then it's gone."

"Doesn't matter." Lowanna gives Rory's shoulder a small shake. "Let it come." She disengages, saying almost inaudibly, "Finish the music. Then you'll know."

Gratefully Rory takes the steaming mug of tea from Marcia as Bill and Pearlie return to supervising the children's arrangement of gum-leaves around the coolamon. Rory swallows the sweet tea, feeling a measure of equilibrium return. "Thought you'd been to church?" he says, still puzzled by the coolamon, the red head-bands and what appears to be the ochred face of young Toby.

"Yep." There is an edge to Marcia's voice. "Aborigines got Christianized." She sits down again at the kitchen table. Young Toby slips onto her lap, wriggling out his jacket. Rory sees that Toby has indeed been body-painted. Rory moves the tea-pot aside making more room for Hughie to saw the end off his didgeridoo.

"E minor she is!" Hughie begins sanding down the end of the didg.

"Yeah, we got Christianized," Marcia repeats. "And now Christianity's got Aboriginalized."

Janna shrugs, "You got a problem with that, hey?" Her eyes flash.

"Janna!" Lowanna cuts in swiftly, "You're outta line. It's Christmas, remember. And Hughie, not at the table. You're getting saw-dust in the tea!" Lowanna refills the tea mugs. "Drink up Rory. You look terrible. - It's like this Rory," Lowanna explains above the drone of Hughie trying out the docked didgeridoo, "- Aboriginal religion got taken away from us. Instead they gave us the Bible at the end of a gun. The new religion was imposed - so," Lowanna grins slightly, searching for the right word, "we um, re-worked. . ."

Hughie breaks in. "You transposed the Jesus religion into Aboriginal key." He laughs brandishing the didgeridoo. "More than one way of keeping culture alive ay? Me I still got the old ways - Don't need that Jesus stuff." Hughie winks. "But Lowanna, don't get me wrong, your mob's done a bloody good job of that transposing!"

Rory falls silent, clutching the guitar - his mind racing. - Yes. Yes indeed. Transposed. That's what I did. Of course! Rory begins playing softly, that old, forgotten melody. He stops suddenly. "C'mon Hughie. The back veranda. We'll try out that didg!" After the music has played itself out, Hughie and Rory and Lowanna talk far into the night.

Chapter Thirty-five


Karolina and Dzaved are embracing fondly in the lounge.

Matilda in the kitchen allows a decent interval to elapse. She pauses at the door. "Sherry?" she asks awkwardly.

"Matilda, you are staying the night?" says Karolina in a tone that forbids refusal.

"Sure thing." Matilda drains her glass. "Um, good-night then."

Dzaved raises his glass. "Good-night Matilda!"

Matilda wakes late despite the heat. Dzaved has prepared an enormous breakfast.

"Matilda Christmas greetings!" Dzaved takes the plate of pancakes from her hands giving Matilda a friendly hug that gives Matilda the option of withdrawing.

- So, thinks Matilda, Dzaved is establishing himself as a clan member. - Okay by me. Never was one for nuclear families anyway.

Dzaved retires to the lounge-room with a lap-top. From time to time he calls to Karolina. Their discussion is animated.

"Sorry Matilda. Yet another submission! One that could be our passport to freedom." She smiles. "You know how bad news can be a catalyst? Dzaved the video? Okay let's roll." Dzaved grins and starts the video.

"Is multi-culturalism merely a veneer covering deep divisions in Australian society?" says the announcer. The camera zooms back suddenly revealing the facade of Inner North College. "Are students who are refugees being given a fair go?" Next comes a visual of the offending cannibal cartoon,

"Mum. That's you!" Matilda leans forward. Then comes Dzaved's role-reversal cartoon. - So far so good, thinks Matilda. The students have all graduated. But no. A reporter holds up the College paper in one hand, the local newspaper in the other. Karolina's Head of Department, Grae Grantling appears on screen in damage-control mode, then lastly, Lillian - academically earnest, insisting,

"Yes. We would of course expect our Master's students to deconstruct all discourses, including those of refugees. And indeed to have the freedom to do so." Dzaved and Karolina hoot with laughter, so that Matilda all but misses the final words.

"Is this an institutional cover-up demonstrating dereliction of responsibility, even racism towards refugee students? Karolina Kelly's ground-breaking research, incorporating the participatory research of the students themselves documents many instances of discrimination and prejudice in Australia against refugees. Karolina Kelly - herself a one-time refugee believes we are letting down our refugees." Karolina appears on screen with the students grouped around their Festival banner; then appears the Education Minister declining to comment. "The ethnic communities' peak organization," continues the announcer, "has demanded freedom for refugees to research without harassment."

Matilda is confused. "It would be funny if it wasn't so serious. Mum this could cost you your job."

"They wouldn't dare in the face of all the publicity." Karolina helps herself to another pancake. "Positive publicity for our venture. Matilda this is our passport to freedom. Perhaps even back to Bosnia - for a while." she adds, seeing the alarm on Matilda's face. "Check the place out. See if there's any relatives still there. After all I can always sell the house." Matilda finds it hard to conceal her distress. "But not for some time yet, Matilda. First we have to earn a surplus."

"A surplus! Who?" Matilda's breakfast is completely untouched.

"Dzaved and me. Oh and Lin too most likely."

"Lin!" Matilda tries to keep her voice steady. "What exactly are you planning to do?" she asks, hoping she comes across as the polite, mildly interested daughter.

"We're putting in a tender to the employment ministry."

"What? What for?"

"Oh for the time being it's to be for refugees - an education and training project. I do the research. Dzaved does the Arts/Cinema training."

"And music." Dzaved touches Karolina's arm. "Don't forget the music."

"But. But surely that's an overcrowded field? No jobs there."

"Not at all. You forget my background's in community arts. Dzaved was noteworthy, famous even in his - ," Karolina corrects herself, " - in our homeland. Lin of course has all the contacts. Rory's Glenrowan venture gave me the idea - and to be fair, we'll certainly be discussing it fully with him. There could be a Glenrowan connextion." Karolina only faintly emphasizes the words. "Perhaps the family enterprise wasn't a bad idea after all." Karolina reaches for the honey. "Who knows, we might even move into the tour-guide industry at Glenrowan."

"What, with Albertine!" says Matilda catching on too late to her mother's irony.

Karolina is about to open Dzaved's gift when the side-gate clicks and Rory arrives, also bearing gifts.

"Rory - your forehead! What on earth have you done to yourself?" exclaims Karolina.

"Slight accident. Nothing much." Rory's injured shoulder is aching. He is relieved to deposit the box on the kitchen table. Dzaved busies himself with uncorking bottles, opening cupboards with easy familiarity, as Rory begins slicing up the water-melon.

- Well, thinks Matilda, - these two are circling each other like two old man seals. Funny thing really, because I suspect they both actually like each other. Rory goes out to his car, returning with his guitar and a sheaf of music and he and Dzaved retire to the lounge, poring over the score. Rory plays briefly then stops, beats a tatoo on the table. He and Dzaved hum together, break off disagreeing, start up again.

"Okay you've got it."

"But Rory I need more practice! With harp AND didgeridoo?" Dzaved looks extremely doubtful. "I've never sung with a didgeridoo in my whole life!"

"Jesus Dzaved, you've got a voice like a didgeridoo yourself. What more do you want?"

Karolina stands stock still in the kitchen. The wrapping paper has fallen to the floor. White tissue-paper is screwed up on the table. Karolina clasps the picture to her breast. It is the photograph of Karolina's mother - an enlargement of Dzaved's Bosnian original, with the friends and relatives faded out. Dzaved has made the frame himself. Karolina holds the photograph out to the light. It has been enlarged to A4 size. The woman in the photograph has the same lift to the chin, the same ironic, curving half-smile that Rory knows so well.

"It's my mother." The tears wetting Karolina's cheeks are a shock to Rory. "My mother! Dzaved, this is just perfect!" Karolina holds the photo out at arm's length. She hugs it again and rushes into the lounge-room.

"Matilda, Rory. This is my mother!" Karolina encircles Dzaved's head and shoulders from behind and soon the two are sitting together on the couch conversing in - Bosnian? Is that what you call it? Rory doesn't know. It is a long time since he has felt so alone. He turns to leave. Matilda acts swiftly.

"While we're on the subject of photos. - Somewhere here. Rory, I've got it. Your photo. Here." Matilda tumbles the contents of her blue scarf out onto the table.

"Yes. Thanks Matilda. I - I'll just be off then."

"Rory. Wait. This is it. Here. The wrapping paper. I did it myself. The marbling. Blue for the Pacific. It's marbled." she repeats, not daring to look as Rory unties the gift. "I - I combed crossways for the waves. And and I flicked white on so as to - Rory are you allright?" Rory who has been standing quite still, looking down, slack-jawed, suddenly strides out onto the veranda.

Matilda follows her father. The back veranda, facing west, is still in the shade. Matilda finds Rory at the far end of the veranda holding up the enlarged photograph to the light. "I - I didn't like to risk getting a higher magnification." she says tentatively. "I didn't get it framed because I didn't know . . ." Matilda waits uncertainly at some distance from her father.

Rory leans out over the balustrade, out towards the sun, drawing deep shuddering breaths over and over. And still he holds the photograph out, trying to catch the light. Matilda falls silent, hovering anxiously, not knowing whether to stay or to go, as the shuddering quietens to tears and when the tears stop, Rory says simply,

"So you know."

Matilda nods, "Yes."

Rory rubs his face with his sleeve. With eyes still fastened on the photograph, he asks, "The old canoe, the two-seater that I built for you. Is it still watertight do you know?"

"I think so."

Rory wraps the photograph in Matilda's blue scarf and tucks it down his shirt-front. He grasps Matilda's hand and drags her down to the boat-ramp.

"One way to find out." he says hauling the boat into the river and vaulting aboard. "Let's row."

Matilda isn't used to sitting idle in a boat like those 19th. Century ladies all frills and flounces. She is bowled over by her father's skill with a boat. He seems to have an intuitive feel for the water, for the presence of underwater rocks and snags, hidden sand-banks, places where currents run unaccountably faster. And the river today, despite the long absence of rain in the catchments, is running fast and treacherous, with the tides out and the river rushing in to fill its lower reaches.

Rory is silent as he rows and Matilda has no desire to speak. Rory rows effortlessly upstream, his gaze turned inwards and yet alert to the current. When he does at last speak, the deep voice seems to Matilda to flow with the water.

"Matilda, I do not need to tell you this, because it is my own story. It is not even your heritage." Rory slopes the oars and angles the boat for a moment to avoid some under-water obstruction. "But I feel I must tell you because of who you are in your own right." He looks away down-river, his voice measured. " - There is a story I was sworn not to divulge and there is a story that I, Rory, would not tell. - Matilda you have a passion to know, even though you too have your own secrets."

Matilda begins to speak, but Rory raises his eyebrows for silence. "Matilda my reputation and my career are founded upon what I am not. And of late the - contradictions upon which my life has been built - must be built, have eroded even the trust of my own daughter. As for Karolina . . ." Rory's eyes darken, "that regard was largely lost many years ago. Now that you know, I speak not to defend myself, but merely to maintain the truth."

"Rory." Matilda cuts in, her face flushed, "I must say before you go on, that I - I told Karolina about the war, about Liam, but not ... not the, the core of your story. I'm sorry. I was so worried about you and Karolina - you must talk - Karolina's war-time experiences. Please Rory. You have more in common than ..."

"Matilda, I have always known enough to understand. It is that unspoken commonality that holds us together."

"And Rory - I think you should see a doctor - that bruise. The Festival's next week. But, but Rory I said nothing about your heritage."

"Let me continue Matilda." says Rory "Liam bound me to his story - stole my truth. Liam pulled the strings and - I performed. Oh yes. I became a skilled performer." Suddenly Matilda realizes that Rory's slight brogue is not assumed, not at all, because - of course! It was Liam who had taught twelve-year old Rory to speak English. Rory glances sideways at Matilda. "And I have to admit a certain pride in what you might call well-crafted subterfuge. - Politicians, celebrities do this daily, do they not? - Create a public persona. The shame intrudes when the performer does not sufficiently hide his essence. Or - and Matilda this is worst of all,when your performance becomes so skilled that you begin to forget who you truly are."

"The masks of Moen!" says Matilda as Rory pulls into the shadow of the willows to avoid a wobbly flotilla of High School kids. - And the Ned Kelly Bird too, she says to herself. Hiding behind the mask. The young people are clowning around standing up in the boats. The two standing up begin splashing the other boat with their oars. Matilda hopes they are able to swim.

"You begin to see it all as just a game," Matilda's heart jumps at the intensity in her father's voice, "a game about whose story will predominate," Rory continues softly, "both externally - and within your heart. Externally you play by the rules. But ultimately, like all games, it's about power." Rory rests on the oars in the shadows, leaning over to clear bottles and packages from the current. "The West, the modern west has no connecting story," He parts the willow curtains and pulls out into the current. "And this country too - it has no Great Song."

With a shock Matilda realizes that Rory is speaking as an outsider. She is reminded of her fourteen-year old self railing against the complexities of a family crisis beyond her comprehension that hot Gippsland night, when she had walked out on the cow-shed Christmas play.

"So are you saying Rory" says Matilda, her mind in turmoil, "that you kept that essence alive - passed it on to me in the only possible way that you . . ."

"Yes! You see that do you Matilda?" Rory swings out into mid-stream. Matilda, overcome is only able to nod. Rory's eyes are sad. "Yes. A broken song, the shadow of a song even - can be handed on, transposed." Rory's eyes meet Matilda's. Anything to keep the song alive! - As a youngster in Darwin, I was acutely aware of the - distortion that was wreaked upon me. And - before that, my childhood on Truk Island taught me a great deal about masks."

Rory pulls harder against the fast-flowing current. "She told me - that is, I was told how truth can be preserved. The coconut has a smooth green skin. A fibrous husk." Rory's eyes glow as if retelling a childhood fable. "The nut has a hard woody covering, and Matilda, there is a thick, white flesh. A hollow centre filled with sweet milk and then the kernel - the seed of life. Matilda, the coconut is a traveller - water-borne across seas and oceans. Washed up even on alien shores, the life still sprouts forth." Rory frowns. "Later, when the Australians came, the Australian phosphate company - they ripped out the whole centre of the island - a great hole. Only the edges were left. The heart was gone"

"Rory, I want to make this clear. I haven't shown Karolina the enlarged photograph. I haven't told the, the secret part of your - But Rory I did tell her about Nauru, about Truk , about how Liam didn't come back until you were twelve. I did say how Liam had silenced you. Karolina said, we'd better not take things any further, that you had your rights." Matilda reaches out towards her father. "Oh Rory, I'm sorry. I was, still am really worried. . ."

"Matilda, be careful. You know better than to move suddenly." Rory steadies the boat. "Matilda, it's allright. Karolina understands the necessity of silence."

"Silence, yes. But Rory if you would only talk to Karolina. No Rory truly. Since the heart attack, things have changed. You must - "

"Matilda I am only too painfully aware, that Karolina is re-discovering her ethnic origins. That can only be healthy for her." Matilda observing the pain in her father's face, wishes he would reduce the terrible speed of his rowing. "Matilda, as you must know I am struggling with longings that we could once again be ... " Rory's face contorts as he dismisses the thought, but the oars jerk and slap against the current with greater intensity. "So - necessity, yes necessity." says Rory forcing the words out, "Of necessity, you don the mask of the fraud, the joker."

"But Rory, you just said yourself, that it's healthy to re-discover ..." Rory rows so powerfully now that Matilda is not a little frightened.

"Healthy? - Yes. If those origins have been lost." Rory cuts in swiftly. "Matilda, you have I believe understood what the stakes are? - The story? The song?" Rory's voice is harsh. Matilda holds grimly onto the side of the boat as it slices through the water.

"Yes Yes, Rory, I - I think I do." Matilda is barely able to speak, "You have a story - a story of land. You are - bound to that. It - makes demands on you. It's special - sacred. But behind the mask also, there is - the story within the story." Rory is looking intently at her, "and within that story," she says quietly, "within that story, there is - love."

Rory slows the boat with a shuddering of the oars. "Yes, love. And loss. So my only power is - was," Rory lifts the oars, " to withhold the story - but all the while re-weaving my own truth into the fabric of the lie. But now ... Now I am beginning to see things differently."

"Differently?" Matilda glances at the blue scarf, the scarf wrapping the photograph in Rory's shirt-front. "Because, because now you've seen her?"

"Because I've seen her. Yes." Rory nods. "It was Liam who told me of my Irish mother." Rory taps his chest. "Until I was twelve I knew no other mother than my - my Island mother." Rory pronounces the words softly, as if for the first time out loud. He ships the oars a moment and they both can hear the river-noises - ducks, purposeful - foraging in the reeds, the whirring of cicadas in the heat, the spirals and eddies of water.

Rory turns the boat. Matilda looks down into the current flowing fast on the homeward run. She looks at her father rowing cleanly with the current - one of Matilda's earliest and most favourite memories this, of Rory on the homeward run to Fairfield - and yet my father who I thought I knew is a stranger to me, says Matilda to herself feeling the force of the water stir the timbers of the boat - But the spirit of him that spoke to me all those years ago here at this river was true spirit all along.