The Pub On The Corner

You’ve got to slow down when you’re driving past the Pub on the Corner. There’s a lot of people that hang around outside and don’t worry about cars when they cross the road. Sometimes you have to stop while someone is standing in the middle of the road yelling at someone else about something that has upset them.

If I get stopped at the lights sometimes someone will recognise me. Occasionally they’ll walk over and get in my car. Which is ok depending on what time of day it is. If it’s in the afternoon it can be difficult to drive because they might start talking at me and when I look like I’m not listening they will turn my head sideways so they can shout directly into my ear.

There is a grassy area opposite the Pub on the Corner. During the day people sleep there. There is also a dry river bed where on Sundays there is a church service when those who are waiting for the bottle-O to open can get a feed after singing some songs and listening to a sermon.

There’s a separate bar for Blackfellas at the Pub on the Corner. It used to have a racist name, and while it got changed a few years ago the sentiment remains the same.

The Pub on the Corner is one of two takeaway outlets in town that are open on Sundays when you can see a lot of taxis at the drive through.

The Pub on the Corner doesn’t require prescriptions, despite medicating many of my friends every day.

The Grandmother

They had played together as kids one summer when everyone had gone to the little community by the lake for men’s business.

As kids they had grown each other up. Their parents, aunts and uncles and the old people would sometimes tell them off, but they could always walk away, regroup and find a way back to whatever they were doing.

Maybe that’s why he and his mates hadn’t liked going to school. Their Whitefella teachers were always trying to boss them. They would make them line up outside the door every morning, would try and get them to sit in the same place every day and didn’t understand when something was boring.

He often got himself into trouble and was sent to the principal. Sometimes he would just walk out and go home instead. When the school humbug officer came to talk to his grandma she would nod her head and say yes, I will talk to him, yes, he needs to go to school — until he eventually left. Then she would turn to him and laugh and joke about how Whitefellas didn’t really understand their own language because they can’t see past the words they want to hear to their real meaning. She would tell him he should go to school, but that he should also choose his own path and not let himself be bossed around by Whitefellas. She used to refer to the school as the cattle yard and thought the school should employ more local people as teachers. She would say all this in her language, not English. She said English made her mouth hurt, which is funny because you don’t really have to move your mouth to talk English.

His grandma would tell him stories of when she was a girl living in the desert, walking from place to place, visiting rock holes, of being excited when her father had killed an emu or of the games she used to play with the other kids. Sometimes she would sing songs and if she was with other women they would sometimes joke and laugh and dance and giggle like little girls. He never understood what was so funny, but it seemed to be mostly about old love affairs, real or imagined, and was sometimes mixed up with Dreaming stories so he couldn’t tell was what.

One time an old man had brought a goanna as a gift to his grandmother as an excuse to approach the camp and speak with her. She had grabbed her nulla nulla and threatened him with it and that poor man, who walks with a limp, had been forced to hop away.

Later he had seen his grandmother reenact the event to the grandmothers club when they were playing cards. He thought it was unfair to make fun of the old man and remembered thinking that sometimes old ladies can be very mean.

But most of the time his grandmother was looking after people, cooking for a big mob of kids, making bush medicine for someone who was sick or sharing the last of her chewing tobacco with some old lady who was visiting.

When he became a man it was his grandmother who had organised everything for him, humbugging his mother to come back from town and then getting his uncle to go and pick her up. But she didn’t stay long, so his grandmother organised one of his other mothers to dance for him.

Sometimes she would go away with the other old ladies on women’s business when the white toyotas from the land council turned up. They would come back after about a week, the Toyotas covered in hand prints and the women humming songs. She would often stay in the humpy for a few days after she returned before moving back to the verandah on the house.

Sometimes the serious men would visit his grandmother. At those times he was sent away from the camp and his grandmother wouldn’t say much that night when he came back.

His grandmother’s one weakness for Whitefella food was Calippo icy poles. The lemon ones. For breakfast. Every morning she would send him to the shop to buy one. If they had run out then he would have to go the other shop. She never got sick of them. She would eat them and drink a cup of tea at the same time.

When his grandmother died it seemed like the whole community had gone to the funeral. It started at about midday and the singing and wailing in the church had gone on for hours. Then they all drove out to the place where her sisters were buried and there was more singing and wailing. The line to lie on the coffin stretched out past all the cars and the sun was going down by the time they filled the hole in with the back hoe.

He had never known his grandmother’s English name until the day she was buried because it was written on a little plaque on her coffin. Even though he had seen plaques like it before, it had made him angry and he had wanted to rip it off. It didn’t seem right that a law woman like his grandmother, someone who had fought the Whitefella pastoralists when they first came into her country and had refused to work for them as a slave, should in death suffer the indignity of being branded with the name they gave her. He vowed never to speak that name and has avoided it ever since. But he often thought about it and couldn’t forget it no matter how hard he tried.

The People In Between

If you drive on the main roads thinking only of where you are going then you probably won’t notice the people in between. They live in communities of a few hundred or in small family groups at outstations.

They’re not always there. Sometimes they go hunting for the day or travel to other in-between places for days or weeks at a time.

To the passing tourist the roads that lead to these places might look like dangerous detours to nowhere, a way to get lost in the expanse and head (literally) off the map.

The Whitefella maps are devoid of detail out here. With few roads and only the occasional hill there is not much of interest to cartographers. They are not aware of the vast network of soakages, the paths the ancestors walk or the great forests of ghost gums that dot the ancient water ways. They don’t mark where the kangaroos gather or the emus run because they do not care about such things. They don’t like to know where the desert raisins, bush tomatoes or wild figs can be found. They do care about abandoned buildings that Whitefellas built. But they don’t care to know about the Blackfella story, only the anthropologists who make their own maps then hide them away in their secret places in town.

Sometimes the Whitefellas give their own names to places as if they never existed before and needed a name. They don’t spend much time in these places before giving them a name, so the names generally don’t have much to do with the place at all. They might name them after a person they knew or about something that happened to them when they were there, like Boggy Hole because they got bogged or Hell’s Kitchen because it was hot and they cooked a feed there. Maybe the Whitefellas thought they could claim a place by giving it their own name, but it usually just demonstrated how little they knew, forever displaying their inability to understand to those who came after them.

It was with sadness that he realised he didn’t know the names of many of these places. His grandfather had tried to teach them to him, but he was too distracted by community life to take the time to learn the stories of far away places, even those of his own country.

It was one of the Whitefella anthropologists that made him feel shamed about it on a bush trip a few years ago. The Toyota was taking a beating travelling along paths that were best taken on foot, but he listened to his grandfather talking to the anthropologist about the country. He knew the place as Wave Cliff, but the anthropologist knew its real name and the names of all the hills and soakages around it. His grandfather talked about how he had walked through the country as a young boy and the anthropologist said that he must know it like the back of his hand.

He had thought a lot about that since. Sometimes he would stare at the tendons on his hand and imagine them as mountain ranges, the veins as rivers flowing between them, unnamed and unknown.

He had tried to learn some of the names for the places, but it was hard to remember them without going there and that didn’t happen much these days. He tried to draw them in the sand to remember. But it was the songs that held the key to remembering them if he couldn’t go there, couldn’t walk from place to place; he had to learn the songs.

His grandfather would sing the songs when they were travelling in the Toyota. He remembered hearing him when he was a little boy, but didn’t know that’s what his grandfather was doing.

He’d always thought it strange that Whitefella maps had north at the top. If it had of been his choice he would have chosen east or west. It’s more important to know where the sun rises or the sun sets. But it’s also important to know where the wind comes from and that was always changing.

If you’re trying to get somewhere it’s important to know how to get to where you are going from where you are. Most printed maps let you do this. But there are lots of different maps. Paper ones with lines on them that force you to place them down on the ground so the top faces north and you have to imagine the vertical parts. Ones you draw in the sand where the distance between places doesn’t matter so much. Other ones for tourists where you draw only the roads they should take so they won’t get lost.

Then there is the map you keep in your head because you know not only the roads and hills and rivers, but individual trees and rocks and boggy places. Because you have been there. Not once or twice, but over time had experiences that link you to the land. A broken down car, a big feed of bush banana or a camping spot. Maps that are experiences.

The best map is no map at all but the confidence to begin your journey without even thinking about how to get there. It’s the simple trust you have in your ability to put one foot in front of the other; that if you keep doing that you will eventually get to where you are going, which might not be where you first thought. It’s like telling someone a story that you know, tailoring it just for them. With these maps there are no in-between places. They are maps that are stories.

If you know the story, if you’ve experienced the wild flow of a dry river after a week of rain, you don’t need to know where it is going. You don’t need a map to tell you how or why to follow it. You know it when it is dry and when it is running water. It isn’t something that can be written down on a piece of paper, because it isn’t something that is always the same.

Maps also don’t tell you what you are doing or why you are doing it. They try to keep you on a road or push you to a place, as if everything in-between doesn’t matter. This leaves you dissatisfied when you get there, already thinking about the next place.

Now everyone has maps on their mobile phones. They can see exactly where they are, represented by a little blue dot. These maps can even be different for two people travelling in the same car, depending on their system preferences or if any of their friends have been there before. Crazy shit.

He imagined the country rolled out before him like a big virtual map he could walk on. It left him feeling cold.

Whitefellas make maps so they can detach themselves from the land, so they can treat it as something to buy and sell. They make a map and move on. Someone else comes along and puts up fences, which will be added to the map later and help Whitefellas work out which square bit of land belongs to which Whitefella. They might make some more fences to sell part of the land to someone else who might do the same later. Eventually the land becomes unrecognisable to anyone who walks on it without a map.

That’s why he didn’t like maps. Whitefellas made maps and then they owned the land.

The Shooter

They found The Shooter broken down on the side of the road next to his car.

‘I been out here all day. No good country for hunting!’, he says.

‘Well at least you got something now!’

‘Yeh, but my car’s buggered. Bastard broke my radiator when I bumped him’, he said pointing at the kangaroo.

They drop him off at his house.

‘His family gonna be happy’.

‘Yeh, that bloke cant shit for shooting!’

The Reporter

“We have to shoot something!”, said The Reporter.
Freelance internet reporter. Short and pale skinned, she wore glasses and a red streak in her shoulder length black hair.
“We’ve driven 500 ks. A dirt road, some spinifex and a nice sunset just aren’t going to cut it.”
The Cameraman, smiled conspiratorially.
“We could get creative?”
“What did you have in mind?”, asked The Report.
“I was thinking I could take my shoes off and go for a little walk through the spinifex.”
“That could work!”

The Reporter composed a tweet:

Footprints! Footprints in the sand! More details in tonight’s Videocast #WTF

The Reporter speaks to camera:

“About five days ago while listening to a radio broadcast, I heard The cameleer speculate about a group of Aboriginal people in the remote Central Australian desert living a traditional lifestyle.
“If you follow me on Twitter you will know that I have been investigating this further and that it has led me to this undisclosed remote location where I can now reveal that it appears their existence is real! I know right!
“Behind me you can see two sets of footprints in the sand. Note they are not shoe prints but footprints! One set is large, perhaps that of a man, and the other much smaller, perhaps that of a small woman or child. They crossed the road not far from here and appear to head north across the plain towards the hills you can see in the distance.
“I can’t reveal much more at this stage, but be assured that I am looking into it further and will keep you updated on my progress.
“This is _____ reporting from the Central Australian desert on the trail of Australia’s lost tribe.”

“Let’s watch it and if it looks good we upload it tonight”, said The Reporter. “Hopefully it gets some interest from the commercial stations and this hasn’t been a complete waste of time and money.”
“Should we camp here?”, asked The Cameraman.
“No, let’s go somewhere a little less out in the open.”
“Good luck with that.”

“You know, Aboriginal people used to light fires when they walked across country”, said The Cameraman. “I think they would carry some sort of fire stick. It was a signal to others that they were travelling through the country.”
“But that doesn’t really fit with the whole spin we’re putting on this story”, said The Reporter. “If they’re avoiding us why would they be lighting fires?”
“Maybe they don’t know about us?”, said The Cameraman.
“But they would have seen cars, roads, dams and fences. They must have decided to avoid civilisation and would have to be careful about being inconspicuous to avoid discovery. It just doesn’t make sense?”
“Maybe it’s someone else?”
“Out here? Not likely.”

“Here you can see I am standing next to a dripping tap at what appears to be a long abandoned Outstation. What’s unusual about a dripping tap? Well, we passed through this Outstation earlier this morning and this tap was not on! And as you can see, the tap is exposed with sand all around it. The nomads must know we are following them now as it looks like they have made an attempt to hide their tracks, sweeping them away with a branch. But a wide search of the area has revealed their footprints leading away from the area and continuing on their journey to the hills in the distance.”

“That’ll do”, said The Reporter. “We cut in the footage of the smoke in the distance as a teaser at the end and upload it.”

The Reporter hooked up the satellite phone and checked her email and Twitter. 167 new messages and 1217 new followers.
“Looks like they’re buying this shit!”, she said showing The Cameraman the computer. “We can probably milk it for a few more days, but we’re going to have to come up with something more compelling to get paid.”
“Hey, do you know how to work the camera?”, asked The Cameraman.
“A little.”
“Good. I’ve got an idea…”

“You just need to keep it out of focus a little bit”, said The Cameraman. “Make it feel like you’re so excited and nervous that you’ve forgotten about the camera and it should be ok.”
“Ok, do you think there are enough coals now?”, said The Reporter. “How much charcoal do we need?”
“It depends, are you still insisting I be full naked?”
“Of course, what would a bushman be doing wearing underpants? And I know how you love to take your clothes off and frolic about in the wilderness.”
“But I’m usually behind the camera! It wouldn’t have to be underpants. We could cut up my shirt and create a covering. The bush people could have come across some clothes somewhere?”, said The Cameraman hopefully.
“No, it needs to be authentic. People will expect them to be wild bush people like in the explorer photos.”
“Ok”, said The Cameraman reluctantly. “What are we going to use for a spear?”
“How ’bout the jack handle?”

The Reporter couldn’t help laughing even though she knew it would piss The Cameraman off.
“Seriously? This had better be worth it!”, said The Cameraman glaring at The Reporter.
“Sorry, but you have to admit this is pretty funny. It’s like you’re giving yourself some strange beauty treatment.”
“Look, I agreed to do this for some reason…”
“It was your idea!”
“Ok, but it’s not fucking funny rubbing charcoal on your member!”, said The Cameraman. “And you’re going to have to do my back.”
“With pleasure”, said The Reporter, trying not to laugh again. “You know, it’s a good thing you’re such a skinny bastard! Although, a fat nomad could add a whole other angle on this thing!”
“Just don’t ever tell anyone about this, ok!”
“Does Facebook count?”

“I reckon I’ll shoot this one handheld. It’ll make it more exciting.”
“Turn on the headlights and let’s roll.”
“How’s my face look? Is there any charcoal on it?”
“No, unfortunately.”

“Today has been an exciting day!”, said The Reporter breathlessly to the camera. “We usually don’t report at night, but tonight we just couldn’t wait. Earlier we shot this footage.”

The Reporter counted out five seconds then continued:

“As you can see, we only got a brief glimpse of the figure and my cameraman, obviously caught up in the excitement, wasn’t able to get a clear shot. But I can confirm that we saw a naked figure standing on the sand dune in the distance. It appears that he saw us and quickly withdrew.

“We’ve had to make camp for the night and now that the nomads are aware we are following them it might be more difficult from now on. But rest assured, we are more motivated than ever to bring this story to you! Stay tuned for our next update.”

“Did you hear that?”, asked The Reporter.
“Hear what?”, replied The Cameraman sleepily.
“It sounded like a helicopter. Do you think…”
“No fucking way. They have no idea where we are.”
“They’ve seen the car! It’s heading towards us.”
The Reporter turned her head and could see the helicopter closing in on them.
“Ok, how are we going to play this?”
“Depends who it is.”
“It’ll be your ex, who else?”
“He can kiss my arse”, said The Reporter closing the flap on her swag.

It was.

“I know you’re awake.”
“What do you want?”
“I dunno, I was just in the area and thought I’d drop by for a cup of tea”, said The Producer sarcastically.
“Help yourself”, said The Reporter.
“Look, we’ve obviously been following your story and while we’re not convinced you’re not making the whole thing up, the story does have some interest. So, we’d like to make you an offer.”
The Reporter lifted the swag cover and glared at The Producer.
“You’d like to make me an offer? If I recall correctly, your last offer was to help carry my things out of your apartment! I’m done with you and you’re ’offers’.”
“Look, this isn’t personal. The Network wants the story, and I imagine you could use the money?”
“What use is money out here? We’re on holidays. Until you arrived we were kicking back and enjoying the serenity.”
“You know, this is just a courtesy. I have a cameraman here, we could file the story ourselves.”
“Ok, fuck off then!”
The Producer looked at The Reporter; The Reporter looked at The Producer. The Producer walked back to the helicopter.

“So he’s looking good, lost some weight…”
“Shut up!”, said The Reporter closing the swag flap.
The Reporter started thinking that maybe that wasn’t the best way to handle the situation. But why did they have to send that prick of all people? At least he didn’t seem as pissed at her as she was at him. Hopefully he doesn’t find out the whole thing’s fabricated and expose her. That would really fuck up her new career just as things were starting to look up.

“I’ve been thinking”, said The Reporter. “As much as I hate it, we’re going to have to give him something. If we don’t then when he doesn’t find anything, you know what his story is going to be…”
“Us”, said The Cameraman.
“Yep, how we ’deceived a nation’.”
“Well, you know what they say, ’Any publicity…’.”
“In this case, I don’t think so”, said The Reporter as she pulled out the sat phone to call the Network.

“Hey! These are real footprints. Do you think…”
“Ok, that’s unexpected. Maybe this wasn’t a wild goose chase after all.”
“We might have a real story after all!”, said The Reporter excitedly.
“Shame you just sold it to the network.”



Traffic Signs

The Council decided to put up some traffic signs in the Community after installing street signs (many misspelt).

The new street signs reminded me of going to traffic school when I was in primary school. I’m not the tallest person, but I was actually taller than some of these signs.

I’m not sure why they decided to install smaller versions of traffic signs. Maybe to train people, ease them into it. It did make it easier for the kids to write on.

[STOP] your drinking!

[Look out for people] they everywhere

[—– HUMP]

[GIVE WAY] to much money to me ok ______ OAO

The Prisoner

Red and dusty edge of the desert city on a hill. A place where young and old men wear beards and rosary beads and women paint canvases in bright psychedelic colours mixed with sand and dog prints. An hours drive to the biggest and most unlikely fresh water lake in the country. Silver fish, pippies and good drinking water. Sometimes. He had only seen the lake full once. But he wanted to talk it up.

He had been 11 when he first visited the lake with his uncle and his friends. They had tied a car bonnet to a cable attached to the back of a troopy and played in the shallow water. They had called it ’car surfing’ and it was much better than sliding down the sand dunes at home. This was one of the stories that he liked to tell to help pass the time. He also told stories about some of the crazy shit his family had done.

His brother had got sick of his wife jealousing him all the time, so he decided to break into the Ti Tree pub one night. He lifted the tiles on the roof and climbed down inside onto the steel frame then kicked out one of the corkboard tiles. All the grog was locked up in the takeaway and he had to smash the lock with the trolley handle until it broke. He grabbed four bottles of Jim Beam, a slab of coke, two tins of corned beef and a loaf of bread.

When the Cops found him and his mates, he was lying under a car down by the rubbish dump. No shirt and full drunk. When he sobered up he was locked up in the back of a Police cage and on his way to Alice Springs.

When he had visited him in gaol he looked happy.

‘I got about $500 saved up! When I get out could be one thousand. Good rest, too!’

All the brothers did that. They didn’t go on holidays, they went to gaol for a holiday.

His other brother used to sniff petrol when he was younger. One time he and a group of other blokes broke into the shop one night. They had a big feed, set up a play station and played games, cooked some food in the microwaves and smashed a whole lot of shit up. The next day when the Shop Manager came in and was cleaning up, he found some polaroid photos that they had taken of themselves. He showed them to the Police then posted them up on the shop wall to shame them. After that, the Shop Manager always left a polaroid camera out on a bench when he locked up for the night.

After those youngfellas broke in to the green shop, the Shop Manager from the blue shop put a microphone next to the safe so that he could listen on his radio at home. When he heard someone inside the shop he would ring the phone. If someone answered he would ask, ‘Who’s this?’ and the silly buggers would tell him.

Another time, this young bloke who used to break into the shop all the time stole the safe. He couldn’t open it in the shop so he put it on a trolley and wheeled it down to the basketball court and smashed it with a sledgehammer. That didn’t work, so he hooked it up behind a car and he and some mates tried to smash it open by driving in circles around some rocks. But they never got it open. Stuff like that got his family locked up.

Half his family were in prison, half outside. A man can feel like he’s a prisoner to his family when he’s on the outside. When he’s in the Big House, his family keeps him sane, keeps him company and he can even feel like less of a prisoner. Play some guitar, kick the footy and have time to think. When he is on the outside his family can drive him crazy and sometimes make him do things that will put him back inside again. Inside felt like a family looking after you, doing time together, being angry at everything while learning to read. Outside is like being stuck in a movie directed by your family but funded by you. In or out he always felt like a prisoner.

The Lawyer

The Legal Aid Lawyer stood up and addressed the Judge directly.

“Your Honour, my client is a ______ man. He has spent most of his life living in remote communities. He finished school when he was 12 and despite enrolling in the few available training programs offered to him he has always struggled to find consistent work.

“He is considered a fully initiated man and is well respected by the elders of his community. He is also a coach of the local football team and has had his artwork exhibited at several international exhibitions.

“I submit to the court that my client was not involved in the incident at all, and is simply a victim of a practice that is becoming increasingly common. One that I’m sure this court is familiar with.

“Your Honour, my client’s brother is the likely perpetrator of this crime and used my client’s name when he was initially detained by the Police. When the warrant was issued in my client’s name after his failure to attend the initial court briefing, my client assumed a mistake had been made and ignored the letter.

“If he is guilty of anything, it is not understanding that despite the error, he was still required to attend to the court to explain it. Furthermore, my client does not speak English as his first language and is not familiar with the type of written language in a formal legal letter from…”

“I’ve heard this argument before”, interrupted the Judge.

“With all due respect, this argument is a common one because it addresses a common problem.”

The Police Prosecutor stood up.

“Your Honour, this argument that the accused is actually a victim of the system instead of a person charged with a crime wears a little thin after a while.”

“I’m inclined to agree, however I’m also aware that the argument is not without merit. Furthermore, it points to a problem that the Police have continually failed to address by implementing a more rigorous identification process. As such, we must let the argument bear out. Perhaps it would assist matters if the accused spoke directly to it himself?”

“As it please your Honour”, said the Prosecutor, sitting down.

The Music Man

The Music Man leans out the window of the Toyota playing music to the camels. A brief stop during the third and final day of travelling from the city to another community. A year of criss-crossing the country; a constant rhythmic journey of broken down beats pumping through the desert ghetto.

Anangu-style, Yapa-style, Yolngu-style…

Free styling life. Don’t save it on the hard drive, play it in the car. Don’t preserve, don’t reserve… Connect and eject. Advance to the next community, collect two thousand dollars.

The Music Man, encouraging kids to think outside the music box.

Tell your story, sing your story, share your story.

It’s not about the glory, Rory. You are deserving, Irving. Peace, Reece. See you next time for the rhyme.

Language, culture, learning; understanding, patience, respect… The Music Man plays.

Yearning, learning, BORING

Caring, sharing, STARING

Moving, grooving, NO ONE THERE

Writing, skiting, FIGHTING

Thinking, blinking, DRINKING

Talking, walking, BALKING

Naming, flaming, SHAMING

Streaming, screaming, DREAMING

From Kintore east to Yuendumu, north to Lajamanu and west to Hall’s Creek, south to Warburton and east to Ceduna… The Music Man bounces between the city and the desert, writing words on whiteboards and connecting the songs across the country.

The Old Man

The Old Man closed his eyes and let his mind wander across the plains until he found a dry creek. He followed it upstream to the point where it met the main river bed. Sifting through the sand, he dug deep until he found the water. Smiling, he left the water exposed and continued north onto the plain, passing several roads and ignoring any fences he came across.

He found them sitting next to their car not far from the place that belonged to fire. He was happy that he had already quenched his thirst and immediately burst into song.