Emu Fields, 1957
My family and I had been travelling for more than one cycle of seasons, since before the dingo pups were born. We had set out from Bonyboninnya and headed towards where the sun sets. At the time I did not agree with my fellow tribesmen regarding living off the invaders food and drink. I could see that they were giving up their traditional ways too easily and I didn’t want to be a part of that. The decision to leave my totem home came when my tribesmen had speared and killed a bullock. I could understand the temptation to do this as the meat from a cow could nourish the entire tribe for a few days. Because the invaders had brought in their own animals our usual food sources were depleted, or had been forced away. Although it was an act of desperation I could not condone it. I also feared reprisals from the stockmen. In the past some of our men had been taken away to answer for what they had done. Many of them had never returned. I feared for the safety of myself and my family and was certain that we would find good hunting if we moved to other lands. So I decided to head further out into the desert and away from the influence of the invaders.
Upon arriving at Tepata I saw hunting fires towards the setting sun. Not knowing who these people were and not wanting to take the risk that they were hostile, I decided to follow the water lines towards the soak at Ooldea. I was hoping to find some of my relatives there.
Ooldea was also the place where I had met and married my wife. In the past it had offered sanctuary. I hoped we could at least replenish our water and maybe get some food there before continuing our journey.
At some point we passed through a strange area. There were no signs of life, no ground animals and no birds. There was an odd silence which was unfamiliar to me. Before entering the area my wife had been able to find some honey ants and that had kept us going, along with the goanna I had speared a few days before. I continued to search for water. Unfortunately, the soak I had expected to find had been disguised by the shifting sands. As a boy my father had taught me all the names and positions of the rockholes and soaks. I also have them carved into my spears. For some reason the landscape I knew here as a young man had changed beyond recognition. It distressed me that my knowledge in this area was now of no use.
We then came to a place where the trees were no longer pointing towards the sky but were bent to the ground. They lay flattened, as if a giant wind had swept them over in its path. The earth under our feet was also odd. It was almost as if the sand itself had been ground to the fineness of ochre. It was black and slightly oily. There was also a peculiar smell, not unlike the odour of a dead kangaroo. It hung in the air. Even the stiff breeze that was blowing at the time could not diminish it. It was so strong that it bit into my nostrils when I inhaled. I found some rabbits and they were very easy to kill. They were crawling around aimlessly, unable to find their burrows. They seemed to have been struck blind. After some thought we decided against eating them. It was better that we go hungry than risk suffering from the same thing which ailed the rabbits. The sun began to set and we decided to camp for the night. We dared not move further in the darkness for fear of what else we would encounter.
During the night my familiar, Pidgin, appeared before me. He was silent but his very presence signalled that some form of danger was approaching. I wish now that I had heeded his warning and been more attentive.
The following morning we continued on through the trees and came upon a large clearing. At its centre was a raised mound in the form of a low, flat-topped hill. This hill was unfamiliar to me and I was sure it hadn’t previously been there. I feared for the safety of my wife, daughter and son and so left them by the trees and ventured out into the open alone. I climbed the steep sides of the hill and stood on top. It was taller than the height of one man. To my surprise I found myself on the edge of a perfectly circular rockhole. It was as wide as twenty men laid out head to toe. It was full of water and very deep. This was extremely odd. The only water I had known of in this part of the desert was beneath the ground. The soaks were hard to find and often you would have to dig very deep. There had been substantial rain over the past season but usually the desert sands quickly absorbed it. I took a closer look at the edge of the lake. It was solid and shone in the sun. It was also very smooth and had the appearance of the invaders’ drink containers. They called them bottles and I knew that the material they were made from was called glass. I took a long drink of the water but it didn’t taste so good, so I decided not to let my wife and children drink it.
At that moment I heard a noise in the distance. Coming out of the trees in the opposite direction from which we had arrived was a small group of figures draped entirely in white. Even their heads were covered and they wore something on their faces. I was very much afraid and thought they were bad spirits. Nevertheless, I prepare to defend myself with my spear. Then one of them called out to me. He was talking to me in the invaders’ language and from what I could understand it seemed he wanted me to go with them. With some hesitation I went to them, and on closer inspection I realised they were men and not of the spirit world at all. I had the feeling that they were as surprised to see me as I was to see them. I made them understand that I was not alone. They followed me and together we went to get my family.
They put us in one of their machines and transported us to their village. I had seen their machines before but had never been in one. We were all crammed together in the back of this apparatus. When it took off it felt as if I was being launch through the air and down a steep hill. I felt my stomach rise to my throat. I was petrified, as were my wife and children. They all began crying. It took all my courage to maintain my own composure and show that I was strong for them. The fear inside me was so great I felt I would die. I had never travelled at such a high speed. It was if we flew through the air like an eagle.
Before long we were all violently ill, my wife and son in particular. Thankfully, because of this, the men stopped the machine. They let us get out and gave us time to recover. I saw the fear in my daughter’s eyes but also the desire to escape. For the first time I realised how much we had in common. She is blessed with my fortitude. Wordlessly I made her understand that now was not the time to escape. My wife and son were too sick. Before very long the men wanted us to continue. They forced us back into the machine even though we made it clear we did not want to go. This sequence of events repeated itself several times until we reached our destination. By this time we were all very weak. I was greatly relieved as neither I nor my family had any intention of spending one moment longer in their contraption.
At the village the men separated us. They washed me with water. We never use water to wash. It is too precious a commodity. We only use smoke. They also scrubbed me with a foaming substance. It tasted terrible and stung my eyes. I found it all very humiliating. They washed me many times, five in all, until my skin was raw. Each time they passed a machine over me that clicked loudly. They only stopped washing me when the clicking ceased.
My wife in particular was very afraid. She is not permitted to bathe with strangers. The penalties for doing this are severe. She told me that she saw another woman like her while they were bathing her. The men assured me that this was not so. They told me that in fact she had seen her own reflection in a thing called a mirror. Later I tried explaining this to her but she was not convinced. I didn’t completely understand it myself. The only time I have seen my reflection is in a pool of water, and to my knowledge water does not adhere to walls. Eventually, because of her stern protests, they decided to respect her wishes and she was not washed as I was.
I was further concerned for her once they had told me that we had interfered with a white man’s ceremony. In my culture a women is not allowed to see the business of men and if she does the punishment can be death. However, they convinced me that she would not be punished and we would be safe as long as we never again travelled through that area.
After a few days they took us in their terrible machines to another village of theirs called Yalata. It took a great deal of time to reach there. However our ordeal was not over. The first thing they did was shoot my dogs. I cannot begin to explain the rage I felt when they did this. After that they prevented us from leaving. On one occasion they inserted some very small spears in me and took away some of my blood.
One or two seasons passed and I longed to see my homeland again. A sadness completely took over me. Still they would not let us go. Gradually I became very ill. Things grew on my skin and I began to lose my sight. I now fear that I do not have much time left in this world. I miss my wife and children. They no longer let me see them. I hope that the time will soon come when at the very least my spirit can go home. I no longer wish to be a prisoner of the invader.