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Janice Slater
River shifts. Blurs and is tedious.
This one bore no promises or invitations

RIVER – Re-emerging of the Wallumede
As sound impinges ears to detect
As waves impel bodies to progress
Metal splits wood to fuse
Light incites particles to rive
So love insists
the invisible
to exist.That which flows into and out of existence.
Above and below. Full. Empty. Impermanence and emptiness.Georgie snapped the cityscape at Glebe Island Bridge.
At the mouth of the river climbing iron straddled the skyline. The metropolis cranked itself into an early morning yawn.
Sounds of ships bells.
Georgie stood on her head as a kid. From upside down viewed the world. Structures lost roots then. Hung instead while the earth’s body fell into hers.
When Georgie stood on her head the earth left bits there. Gritty bits that dug into her palms and grew shoots while her feet amassed clouds of changing temperatures.
A sea of ether extended out and beyond her.
Ships bells.
Not all suburban skies wore blue in those times. Grey nurse skies reflected bushfires.
And below skies run rivers.

River shifts. Blurs and is tedious.
This one bore no promises or invitations. Instead held dangerous drifts and cautionary signs.
White moon hung vacantly. Addressed the river. Attended its tides.
Sand banks grew fat. Swollen and riddled was river with mangroves. River swallowed dogs and men. Coughed them up. The luckless ones. River stank at low tide.
And beside rivers run tributaries.
Georgie remembers them.
"We lived in Condie’s house which was built on one side of Tarban Creek.
Condie’s house was a weatherboard with the kitchen, the width of the house downstairs. An old fashioned kitchen with a fuel stove.
Outside the kitchen door was a flight of steps to the bedrooms. Two bedrooms. One for Mumma and Dadda and one for us kids.
At the front of the house were tea tree bushes growing.
The house was facing the bush and the backyard, where the ducks and fowls were kept was on the other bank of the creek. There was a little wooden bridge across it.
One day I was told to watch the baby; Frankie, who was crawling and Frankie crawled down to the bridge and fell into the creek.
It had been raining and the creek was running fast.
I always blamed Dadda for not fixing the railing, which was down on one side.
Poor Mumma had to run around the creek and pull Frankie out of the water.
He was going down for the third time and Mumma always said she had pulled him up by the back of his little fawn jacked and saved him. Only for the good German press studs (called fasteners then) Frankie would have drowned.
He was face down in the water.
Did I get into trouble!" From Valentia Street to Cockatoo Dockyards, the workers caught the tar-blacked and cream topped workboat. Dockworkers sang on the ferry on the way to ‘the island’.
Georgie’s grandfather, Dutchy, got the men singing in the early mornings.
The cranking of iron. The sweat yet to break the worker’s backs. On the docks ‘brawn without brains.’
And soon to the electrician’s trade Georgie’s brother was born.
Georgie remembers the boys and the men.
Christenings of ships.
Pitch –Thick oil – and well turned necks on women of means, gentlemen in double-breasted suites on the docks. Even the ‘donkey’s – the workers – wear them today. Sunday best. Even their kids dressed to the nines watch the beast slipped into the sea. Hull deeper than a whale’s gut.
Say goodbye Georgie says - to champagne and oil spills. Goodbye to the waterside workers.
Shouts across the banks from bloke to bloke - Cooees.
Men throw in hooks, lines and sinkers.
Fall – they do into rivers depths little heavy lead pellets with bloodworms wriggling like bored children.
River runs the harbour. Breeds Balmain bugs.
Port Jackson and Hammerhead sharks go upstream to breed.
Georgie dives at night like Captain Midnight escaping the lash in convict times.
Single torchlight.
Down past the sentinels of lost ballast, sea dragons, horses, and sail-like seaweed. Sails without masts and oars without oarsmen.
River’s Highway gone - along with The Rose Hill Packet and The Lump whose ghost ships steam ahead of The Experiment, Surprise and The Sophia Jane.

Braver than I says Georgie. They who dare to sail at night.
Sunset’s violet and blood plum carmine.
White moon there vacantly overhead.
River low tide, muddy and slime ridden spews up car doors, bottles, syringes.
Holds no promises or invitations. Runs around corners thick with mangroves, serves up sandbars, bloodworms, small mud crabs and blue swimmers.
Men throw lines in looking for whiting, bream and blackfish.
Where can this river take me?
Stale and short on dreams?
Hardly a love affair.
Dredge it. Georgie says.
Keep it low tide.
Black silt on the bottom of Woolwhich Baths and Glades Bay.
Mirror tides across the bridge at White Bay.
Royal jig sunlight crosses river. No tower or Thames.
Or sunken treasure?
Adrift – wet winged one flies over there – just to the left a bit.
And a fallen feather from a currawong.
Georgie’s mother sings again.
"In the bush at the front of our place there lived an old lady called Granny Pigeon. She was black and also an old aborigine lady called Black Lucy.
Lucy used to go down to the ‘toffs’ houses in Hunter’s Hill. She used to call in and ask Mumma for some of our arum lilies to take down so they’d give her food.
She used to ask Mumma.
‘You got another piccaninny Mrs Carter?’
Lucy would laugh ‘Ha Ha Ha Ha’.

She thought it was a real joke.
My mother was always having babies, seeing there were nine of us.
Sometimes in the middle of the night we would hear old Lucy keening. Up and down the creek she’d go.
One of her dogs had died.
She had seven dogs and two goats and they all lived in the humpy together.
Dadda would go out looking for her in the dark".
Torn around the edges
Georgie’s mother’songs. Not surrounded by fog then.
A journey up stream through the mangrove of past and present identity.
On the Ferry ride – a woman steering –– dropping ballast.
And from the bank
an ancient one or two of the Wallumede.
Lucy - the last of the tribe remembers them.
And there’s the bloke who fishes these waters still.
Crouches on the rocks casting seaweed berley.
Limpid clear or mist bound.
Georgie snaps playback.
But the bottle won’t break.
Try again.
Lay them to rest. Stingrays, scorpions, cuttlefish.
River with name of place of eels. Parramatta.
Blur its edges; smudge its smugness behind the hedges on the hill behind the mangroves –

Silent places
and the silenced.
The ones who left – who heard gun shots
and those who remained.
Hopes large and tedious kept the world at bay -
While in the bay the long oars dipped and lifted up under the Iron Cove Bridge –
Went swift on their way to Regatta Day - boys born to rule -
and strong-armed women – the nineteen hundredors who dipped oars back then –
Where river?
To the sea or the source?
Not because we loved you but because we denied you - and
The Wallumede –
Handshake in the rocks
With a single rusting chain
Two young wallabies stayed behind
Bulldoze the past
the rocks remain

© Janice Slater - Australia 2002-08-06

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