Port Pirie

Port Pirie, 1969

I can feel him moving in my belly. I’m pretty sure it’s a him. My mother could have told me for certain. He is strong. I can sense it by the way he kicks. He has spirit and will be a survivor.

Although he’s not due for a couple of months they have put me in hospital. There is talk of complications but the doctors won’t elaborate. I wish they would tell me what’s going on. They have done a lot of tests and are continually taking blood and urine samples. Quite often I’m feverish and on a number of occasions I have had blackouts. There’s more going on in my body than just a baby growing. Of this I’m sure. Something is taking hold of me and will not let go. Before the pregnancy I had begun training to be a nurse so I am familiar with hospitals. It irritates me that they won’t tell me what’s afflicting me. I can understand that they don’t want to alarm me but I have already had to contend with so much in my life. This is something I can deal with. I will take it in my stride, as I have done with everything else. I am not so much afraid for myself as I am for him. I want him to live. I have a really strong feeling that he is destined for greatness, and that it is my responsibility to bring him safely into this world.

When the fever takes hold of me I start having the most vivid dreams. I keep seeing myself as a child. It was when we were still living the traditional way, out in the desert. My parents are there, and my brother. There are just snippets, though, and all very foggy. At the start of the dreams we are all together, and then towards the end a darkness descends and I find myself standing alone. Something happens out there and it is terrible. I just don’t know what it is. My own memory of that time is very vague.

It’s all very upsetting. It hurts so much to think about my family. I wish they were all here now but they were taken from me. This all happened long ago. I guess at the time I was only about six years old. I honestly don’t know exactly when I was born, or where for that matter. I can remember being told that my parents were sick and that I wasn’t allowed to be near them. I thought that just meant not seeing them until they got better, but once they took me away I never saw them again. That was before they taught me English, so maybe I didn’t understand everything properly. My brother was also taken away and I have no idea what became of him. After the separation I recall crying myself to sleep at night for a long time afterwards. I felt so alone.

Most distressing of all is not being able to visualise my family’s faces. The memories I have of those times are only loose pictures in my mind, like photos in an album. In the dreams I am seeing them all over again. Somehow it’s the dreams that are giving those loose pictures more clarity. I can remember roaming the desert. I recall that it was a hard life but somehow we always pulled through. Although I can’t see his face I do see my father laughing. He had such a broad grin. It makes me smile just thinking about the happiness that poured from him. He never seemed to worry. At least, that is my impression. He knew so much about the land and what it had to offer. I recall him showing my brother how to find water and teaching him how to make spears and other tools. He was very proud of his spear- throwing ability and would show off in front of my mother. I know she secretly admired his talents but would never let on. She would often speak secretly to me of his courage but never to his face. There was so much knowledge there. It is a shame it’s all been lost. I’m sure if he’d had the chance he would have taught my brother more of the ways and we could have carried on as we were.

I also have memories of hunting for food with my mother. We would dig for ants and bush vegetables. I cannot recall us ever going hungry, even when my father returned from hunting without a catch. My mother would tell me stories and sing songs about the old ways. I wish I could remember her stories but my memory fails me. It was so long ago and I was so very young. I wish she was here now to help and guide me with bringing my child into this world. I’m sure she would know what to do.

After we were separated from one another they put me in a home. There were a lot of children there just like me. We came from all over the place. It was some consolation that we’d all been through the same thing, being separated from our parents and all. We could at least provide each other a bit of comfort. Most of the time I just kept to myself and tried not to attract attention. The sisters that ran the home were very strict and dealt out harsh punishment if you stepped out of line. I did make some friends there, though, and we still try to stay in contact. At the home they taught us a lot of things, like how to wash and clean, how to keep house. It was as if they were preening us to be dutiful housewives, or perhaps something even more menial. I do have to thank them for teaching me to read and write, though. Without those skills who knows where I would have ended up. They also drilled the Word of God into us. I’m certain my first English words were those from a hymn. When I was young I believed what they told me. I had no point of reference. Now I am starting to see things differently. The old memories are flooding back through my dreams. Perhaps it also has a lot to do with this new responsibility, bringing my own child into the world. It is now no longer only about me but also about him.

This country has changed so much since my childhood. I do know that I came from somewhere in the north of South Australia but very little else. I don’t know the name of our tribe, or even if they still exist. I have been brought up to forget those things. However, I can’t completely forget; it’s a part of me. My dreams reinforce this. Hopefully one day things will be different and I will be able to go back and find out about my heritage. At the very least I will try to instil this in my son, although I’m sure it will be difficult.

A few months ago I married a white man. He decided it was the right thing for us to do after discovering I was pregnant. He is a good man. He is kind and dotes on me, but he doesn’t understand what I’ve been through. This is not surprising. We come from very different worlds. Before I met him I thought I would go it alone. I was going to study hard and find a good job. Until I became pregnant I was a trainee nurse at this very hospital. The training was difficult but I was pleasantly surprised to find that I have a great capacity to learn. It also helped that a couple of the girls from the home were studying with me. One of them is even attending to me now. So there are some positives, I guess. I don’t know that I completely trust the doctors, though. Especially because they don’t seem to want to tell me about my condition. Through my working experience here I know that they do their best for people, so I find it strange that they are not communicating. Maybe they just don’t know. At least I can rely on my friend. She is my eyes and ears, trying to find out what is going on.

Now that I’m having a child I’m afraid that I will need to put my aspirations of becoming a nurse aside, at least for the moment. My main priority is the safety of my baby. I don’t want to lose him as my mother lost me. It’s fortunate that I am married as that will keep the inspectors away. I need to ensure that our relationship survives, as it will affect what happens to my child. I have heard that they still come and take children away for no good reason. It’s best if I continue to live as I have been and keep my secrets to myself. If I keep my head down and use the friends I have, my child will be safe.

He is kicking again. Oh what power he has. I will whisper to him. It usually calms him to hear my voice. I’m certain that it won’t be long before I see his face. And his will be a face I surely will never forget.


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