Hiding Place Preview Section
This is one section of Hiding Place and describes the introduction of the main character, Mick Wilson, to Aboriginal culture.
Garrick is Garrick Edwards, the owner of Tannin Springs Cattle Station, which is on Padana Country. Casey is the Traditional Owner of the Country and the traditional owner of the country and a leader of the Padana Community.
Garrick led the way into the community on Friday morning in the Cruiser, as Mick followed in the Troopie. Despite Garrick referring to the Troopie as ‘old’, it felt to Mick like luxury.
The community was a collection of twenty dilapidated and dirty-looking houses that collectively were in two concentric semi-circles. All faced a cleared area, at one end of which were three tall, white posts. Most houses were Hardie-board with asbestos roofing, and in varying states of disrepair. In front of each house, small fires burnt on the ground, tarpaulins were laid out and many dogs slept on the tarpaulins near the fires, or scrounged for food. At one end of the houses was a power plant and bore, in the middle was a structure that bore the sign ‘Clinic’ and at the other end, a grassed area with a fence that encompassed school buildings. Garrick drove slowly to the second last house on the inner circle, flicking waves at various people he passed.
He stopped, alighted and waited for Mick to join him. Community dogs gathered at a respectable distance, but at the same time, were closely watching them. Most were a yellowy-orange colour, although a couple were black and one was black and white. Many of the yellowy-orange dogs were covered in scabs of various sizes.
“A lot of them get mange,” Garrick explained as if reading Mick’s mind. A dog moved towards them and Garrick called firmly, “Charla, charla,” and waved a hand as he did. The dog retreated rapidly and some of the others moved further away from them.
“It means ‘go away’,” Garrick told Mick, “and it’s a word to remember. Now, let me teach you some protocols about the meeting we’ll have,” and in response to Mick’s look added, “protocols are rules, Mick. The old man’s English name, like I told you, is Casey. But his traditional or skin name is Jumarra. He’s never told me what it means but he’s the TO—traditional owner—of this country.”
Mick now looked very puzzled.
“Here’s a first lesson, Mick.” Garrick leaned on his vehicle. “The other night in Alice Springs, you saw shit that can happen with Aboriginal people in towns. But not all Aboriginal people are like that. This mob is—or at least the older people—could be very different because they still know many of their traditions and values.
“TO is an inherited title that has been passed down for thousands of years, so in the Aboriginal way, Casey is the keeper of the country. That means he has overall authority for what happens on this land, including in this community. As I said, he’s doing his best to keep his culture alive, but his chances fade a little with each passing day.
“So when you meet him—when I introduce you two—thank him for the opportunity to visit his country and if you can remember, call him Jumarra when you say it. The other thing to do is to tell him a bit about yourself, where you’re from, and that you’re working for me. It’s always a good way to start with Aboriginal people; talk about you, where you’re from and connect them to your world through people they know, which
in this case is me.”
Garrick walked towards the house, stopping at a rickety wire fence and an unhinged gate.
“These houses look like they could do with a lot of repairs,” Mick stated, looking around.
“They were built at the start of 2013,” Garrick replied. “One thing the government has never done properly is to teach nomadic people how to live in one place.
“Casey, been Stone.” Garrick called. “You been wake-up, old fella?”
Mick was intrigued by both Garrick’s comment and the pidgin, which he understood.
After nearly a minute, a small, wiry, grey-haired old man shuffled from the house, a big, black jacket drawn around his upper body against the morning wind. He beckoned gently with his whole arm, and Garrick led Mick to two chairs and an upturned milk crate on the veranda. Casey eased into a chair and smiled at Garrick who eased into the other. Mick compressed his huge frame onto the milk crate.
Several dogs had followed and were tackled by one of Casey’s. After vicious snarling and snapping, the invaders fled, and the tackler came back and sat at Casey’s feet.
“It been good you say we come, Jumarra, and thank you.” Garrick spoke quietly.
The old man smiled slightly and nodded.
“So how you been, old man?” Garrick went on. “You been warm way night-time, ay?”
“Need big mob log for night time,” Casey replied. Mick listened very carefully to try to understand the old man. “When been jumina way, been real cold for old man.”
“The old man says he needs wood for a fire at night time,” Garrick translated for Mick. “He says he needs it when it’s really still at night. That word ‘jumina’ directly translated means ‘flat’ but it can mean ‘peaceful’, ‘calm’ or ‘still’, too. So he means, when it’s very still at night, he’s getting very cold.
“I get Harry, or this fella, come Monday and take boys to get log for you,” Garrick added to Casey. “And, old man, this fella here been Mick. He been work for me this day.”
The old man’s dark eyes flicked to Mick’s face and he nodded slightly before looking away. Mick was unsure of what to do. Normally, he’d have stood and extended a hand, but it didn’t feel right. Then he remembered what Garrick had suggested.
“Um . . . thanks . . . for letting me come . . . with . . . um . . . Stone . . . to your place . . . Jumarra.”
The old man looked at Mick again and a smile flickered for a moment before he nodded.
“Tell Casey about you, Mick,” Garrick encouraged softly.
Mick struggled for words and took a long time to speak. “I . . . I come from Adelaide,” he started and was then surprised by what he said. “I was born and lived there all my life … until now. And then … my wife … took off with another man and she … took my kids with her. I tried to find where they’d gone . . . but they’d disappeared. So I decided to look for my kids. I finished up . . . here in Alice Springs . . . and Stone asked me if I wanted a job. So here I am.”
Both men looked at him with soft expressions and Garrick nodded almost imperceptibly.
“Not been good one, when kids get took,” Casey said quietly. Mick felt his eyes begin to brim and he had to look away. “Government mob do that when I been little fella . . . take me from mother and put me in home in Alice with little brother and big mob kids.” He stared steadily into the distance for a while but then looked at Mick and grinned. “But me and little brother, we run away one day . . . just bugger off and come back here.”
“How did you get back here from Alice?” Mick asked thickly.
“Walk night and sleep day till we get here.” He spoke matter-of-factly, as if it were normal to walk two hundred kilometres through the desert. “When we do, we find mother one. That been real good. Then one day after we been back, we been play in bush. Mother, she been watch us. Policemans and welfare mob come in truck. Mother sit on log and make us curl up under big skirt she wear. She pull it right down to ground and we hide good way. She tell us be real jumina: say nothings.”
He looked steadily into the distance again for a while, then chuckled softly and continued.
“Policeman ask mother where us kids been. She say ‘in Alice’. She tell him strong way, ‘you mob take them’. Policeman tell her we been run away and if we come here, she got to tell policemans straight away. She say ‘yuwa’ and when truck go, she take us bush, near Kunnari Tjinnyte.” He pointed over his head towards the range. “We live there long time, till I been ready for lore . . . to be man our way.”
“How old you been when you run away from Alice, Casey?” Garrick asked after silence.
“Little bloke . . . been maybe eight year old. Little brother, him been maybe six.”
Images of his own kids, and the matter-of-fact way Casey spoke, both caused emotion to surge again in Mick, making him look down.
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