(A song cycle in 5 parts)
IYou’d think the fell they monged would be day’s cut, mountain ash & red gum, hard lumber sluiced down the river named Falls, over the falls named Dight, to the shallows or failing that, fell as in hill as in that fell up the Slope from the Flat (foul, miasmatic no-man’s land) as in whence the good wood comes as in where you meet, make terms, name the wood so as to claim & then consider it. But no. Fell is hide. Is hold your breath the carcase-butcher’s skincart comes, is drain the blood to paste the lime to gape the pores & rip the hair out, fuller’s earth the pelt & pickle it in acid salt is all it’s ever been down here – blood in soil, blood and soil, beasts most fell and us besides, by, here at run-off’s end, these ample offal fields (heads we feed to the pigs) for the boiling-down & boning, the slicing & scouring, watch us flush the fell-poak, watch us watch the brown river going so so gorgeous with effluence. Can’t see it in your hands but. It’s there and then it’s not. Not the same river (nor the same then), the stone with standing but on amended grounds and who, in any case (I hear you ask) (and fair enough), is “we”? God, how bored with clemency this land must have been – to dream up European man & method, his last names riving the first, the old names, telling of dead set industry, of long damage, all the dark work to be done in the sun. II Comes the Oriental with his blue teeth, because of gold. Turning white men white as they’ve ever been. Larrikin means you can spit on him. Local means we stick together and they stick together (scum on sap), side by side, sessile, squat in nightsoil. Slope’s best so beneath it we lived, sweating $40 fleece-lined trackies for $1.40 copping cops & cap-questers galore getting the knack – did I mind? my boy, what’s because. Newly alived we were – beleaved, uplooted, and this beautiful nation, this no-joke land of the flee it lift us up give us cow juice & clothes it make loom for us in the high-lies flats. (Did I mind!) III Sydney auction. Surgeon, coroner & special constable for flood duty John Dight sits, saturnine, waits. Happens to be rain’s on his mind, the iterative nature of its speciation and a minore ad maius its divine ontology (the land pre-gridded into pasturable lots, says the auctioneer (“A”)) vide that rain that deliquesced the mortar at many-roomed Durham Bowes, eased up the stone groundsel with soft fingertips (fronting five miles of handy river, says A) and tender bore the edifice entire – post & beam, frame & fixture – and Hannah & the children trapped in the loft! – down Hawkesbury deep unto the drownèd valley – and who’s to say the Great Flood that drowned the world wasn’t accreted by this same gentle, noiseless rain, falling from high, light skies – the kind of rain that makes you want to step outside? Flood, yes, distance too. And the blacks hostile (and no blacks at all, says A); the stableman at Stafford, spear depending from gut to skim the ground (or else they’ve been treatied with, says A, and anyway the Melbourne blacks are famously meek as cabbages). Time to move, thinks Dight. To stop moving. He lifts his hand, our man of many grants, amicus commissariat, at £18.10 – the day’s highest price – and procures Portion 88.
Best not think about it. Value’s value. But think about it: that base mechanic Batman makes a killing (coinage from across the Pacific viz the future – true court of value) scoring 600,000 acres for a grab-bag of trinkets – scissors & flannel jackets (and even annulled, first claims, all know, cut deepest) while I, a “free settler”, only four years hence, am out a hundredfold for a twenty-thousandth part! Enough to make a man. But the river. The future, think about – 15 falling feet of water to put to the wheel. The shallowest crossing to tax the stock, to toll the drays & days. Even, in time, who knows (I know!) a weir, a mill, a candleworks, and (play your cards right) packed all round the proximising bend a full, hardy deck of woolwashers & scourers, gutcleaners, fatboilers, tanners, gluemakers, fellmongers. IV (Mouth’s my own but your tongue twisted all through. I don’t speak for no-one. If you were spirits why steal our women cannot disobey day’s end’s summonses, maybe you knew this. The sealing places, the eeling places. Why kill our dogs were all you’d left us by then. Sickness is staying in one place and we saw you move so we let you come so why come sly it’s true your god, dying again every seven days, was strong – this we understand. We were like you. They broke our mouth into a thousand tongues too. We pitied you, futile & pale, but you were not spirits, but your spirits kept ours dulled & dreamy and who knew they would stop our songs stop the babies in our daughters they were so strong. “You” is heaps easier. Your slow, dim animals with destroying feet. Your animal skins, sorry business all round, with all the animal soaked, sprained out of them. Fell is sly and sour too. You felled our land became ours the moment you came. Denatured the mist river for (your) shame. Where there’s shade do you walk in the sun tells us when it’s time to move on but you came, stayed, the sickness took. Nothing now grows. Would that the Great Water had stayed shut up in the mountain – the looking glass a basin, the tomahawk a bluff – nothing itself with you. Would that we had listened to the stories you told about yourself. Would that you had not transported your fault all this way – athwart borders of blood & ice, the salt tide tracks, the vast sea country, to protect us.)
VRiver remains. City taken its name. Though the East is gone, the keepers of the names. Inspectorate of Nuisances. Headwaters dammed, high catchment for white irony. Welcome to country, whispers the mirror. Thirst & spate telemetrised. Now is the Age of Treatment. District, Borough, Town: stacked we are, & sprawled, set in our stories but there’s scum yet hues our hands. We their issue you ours sited unstable on chemical & carnal swill, every motherloving part of the animal and so be it (& what) – show me pure terra, show me a bloodless plot, your immaculate consents (where we come, my boy, shit’s just meaning you not starving!) All that maul & moil. Tongues & toil. Those ruined meadows, newly enstranged (nothing native remains – how we mocked your weird, weakly beasts & trees you brung how here they are, settled past taking back and where are we and anyway what’s back). Wrong. In dream questions force their own answers. Time is swim-through. Future liquidity. The volcanic plain dreams of life, that loves itself, and kills to grow, quickens to corruption: soil turns to sump, breeds tent city dreaming of rookeries in the upmost stratas where sleep my mother & little brother still, where roost the favoured wogs & muslims, the mong-faced slants & africans, where once I saw a junkie come into the lift, slouched with story, carrying a head of lettuce so green it burst my heart.