Well 15

Manjanka, 1906
Well 15, Manjanka, 1906

We thought the dry times were over and the land could provide for us again. But the rain has brought with it a new threat. The invaders have come to take our water. They have encroached further into our homelands and have already taken over some of our most reliable waterholes. They have brought with them an enormous number of their own animals. These creatures require great quantities of water and are draining our sources. We still have the soaks but they are under threat as well. They have dug some of them out to get down to the water deep in the bowels of the earth and have built something they call a well around them. Because of this we can no longer readily access the soaks. We have already lost one of our warriors when he fell into one of these holes trying to access the water. He drowned before we could get to him. We would never dig a deep hole, only a shallow one and then, using a hollow reed, we would stick it into the ground and drink our fill. As with all things we only take whatever we need and leave it intact for others to use. There is a fine balance with these water sources and it is far better to let the land run its course than to change it. Without water we are surely doomed.

Over the course of the preceding seasons there was no rain whatsoever. The sky had turned to bone. We had prepared for this eventuality as we always do. It transpires from time to time that the land cannot provide sufficiently for us. Through careful planning we have always found a way to get through difficult periods. We see the signs leading up to this and make ourselves ready for it. We amass food and keep it in storage, but we are still required to tighten our hair strings in order to ensure that our meagre supplies will last. It is not always clear when the dry will come to an end. The spiritual men can give advice but they are also bound by the information that the land supplies. These past seasons of dry were particularly long and harsh. At one stage, and as a last resort, we had even considered going to the invaders for help. Our supplies were severely depleted. This would have meant doing things against our will. We were not prepared to do this and my fathers decided not to have anything to do with them at all. At least not directly. On a number of occasions we did manage to kill one or two of their animals. The risks were great, though, and we were in continual fear of reprisals. Our defences are weak as our warriors no longer have the numbers to fight them effectively. Many seasons ago they stormed our camp and we lost a great many of our womenfolk. Thankfully, we were able to marry into neighbouring tribes and in doing so could keep the family going. It has been a great relief to successfully build our numbers again.

It is a further consolation that the spiritual men have been successful and the dry has come to an end. The sky has opened and water is flowing once again. However, with the returning rains, the invaders have taken the opportunity to ensconce themselves further into our territory. We now find ourselves in a dire predicament. We no longer face solely a struggle with the land. Another dilemma is afflicting us and it has taken on a human form.

At present I am being held captive along with several other men from our family. They have bound us together by the neck so that we cannot run away. We are tied to one of their animals and are being dragged along behind it. Linked like this, we are like a snake made out of men. One of us has already been killed and we fear that more of us will succumb before they have obtained what they seek. They want to know where the water sources are. Once found, they will destroy the soak and dig one of their own holes. This will make it impossible for us to access it in the future. The bindings hurt. They cut into my shoulders and the material, a kind of stone, becomes extremely hot in the sun. It burns into my neck. We do not have the tools to remove them and no longer have weapons to defend ourselves. They have been taken away. All they are feeding us is a kind of meat which is treated in some way and dries our throats. The thirst is terrible. It will not be long before we are forced to succumb and reveal where the water is. If only to ensure our survival.

Before this happened we had been returning to the sacred rockhole. It is the only place where there is always water. In the dry it is our last refuge. The area has always been protected for times such as those we have just experienced. It is there that we put our food in storage. There is also shade. We do not disturb the trees in the area nor cut the wood for our fires. We hollow out shallow holes beneath the trees and wait out the heat of the day there. The rockhole is our lifeline in difficult times and when there is no other source of sustenance. It is not only a sanctuary for us but also for our animal totems. There they wait at the waters, just as we do, for the rains to return. Once they come, as they just have, we then spread out again like the budgerigar across the land. Until then we conserve our energy. The sacred waters must be protected at all costs for man and beast alike.

Now that they have taken us with them we are obliged to find water for them, but we dare not lead them to these sacred waters. Our only hope is that they will be satisfied with what we give them and then leave us in peace. I fear this will not be the case. The invaders never seem to be completely satisfied. I am not alone with this feeling. We all fear that once they have what they want they will kill us all. If only to conceal what they have done. We are like vermin to them. We are only useful for specific things and then thrown away afterwards. In our culture we have a mutual understanding. We don’t own anything; it is for all of us. What we have we share. The land gives us these things. It is a valuable gift. It is not for us to say who should possess them. What is now being done is an extremely dishonourable thing. Even the invaders must understand this. Yet they are driven by something else. A desire to be the sole owner of something. They are blinded by these desires. It takes them over and they can only see what they can gain for themselves. They take and give nothing in return. We would never do that. If we were to live this way we would not survive. We understand the lore: that without fair trade and interaction, all of us will suffer. Not just our own people but everyone, the invaders included. Right now we can do very little to change their attitude. They are bent only on attaining the goal they see directly before their eyes. They don’t understand that what they do in the short term will have devastating effects in the time to come. They don’t see the repercussions of their actions. If they take the water and make it unavailable to all then the water itself will eventually stop flowing. Then we will all have to go without.

Above all I am shocked and distressed at how quickly this is happening. The changes have been too substantial and too rapid. It is beyond comprehension. We are very adaptable. The land has taught us this. Yet this goes far beyond the land alone. I have a responsibility to care for my family. I need to protect my wife and children. I cannot do that from where I am now. My wife is with child at this very moment. I fear for them as I fear for myself. As a child I saw what the invaders are truly capable of. I remember well the day they swept through our camp and slaughtered my mothers, sisters and brothers. All our men lost someone that day. Thankfully I survived that ordeal by hiding myself. My own sons are not yet men. I must return to them and finish their training. They still have some way to go. They will need my knowledge to survive. My family is the one thing above all others that drives me to find a way out of this situation. I am certain I can escape the invaders once again. After all, I have done it before. There are no guarantees, though. We have been secretly communicating in sign language and have begun to formulate a plan. Only the bindings stand in our way. We are staying alert and hoping that an opportunity will arise. I will not let these pale demons send me to the spirit world. It is not a good day to die.


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