The Boondall Wetlands 'Blackfellas Whitefellas Wetlands' Project was instituted by Brisbane City Council in 1996. It featured 3 poets, and the work was published online by BCC. Only my own contribution is recorded here. The project had a 'second life' in 2000 when the recorded work was released on audio CD, produced by Kim Downs, and with contextual notes by myself. CD essay and artwork, and my own poetry for the project is featured here.
"people of the wetlands" a collection of poetry by Liz Hall-Downs Produced for the Brisbane City Council's "blackfellas whitefellas wetlands" project, 1996-7 The entire collection of work by the commissioned poets, photographers, botanists, sculptors, website designer and researchers can be viewed on the BCC's website at: <http://brisbane-stories.powerup.com.au> Artist's statement: In this collection, I have attempted to convey a sense of the changing history of the area, through the eyes of a variety of characters from different classes, races and time periods. Most of these characters are fictional constructs; a few draw on the written or verbal accounts of real people. The details of these characters' daily lives are as accurate as I can make them. 1. EUROPEANS 'DISCOVER' THE AREA NOVEMBER 29, 1823 JOHN OXLEY, EXPLORER OXLEY: We dropped anchor in Moreton Bay and there on shore, a mile away, a group of natives waved, and smiled, I thought, in play. Surprised I was to find among them a copper-coloured English-speaker - one Thomas Pamphlet, naked and painted with red and white dyes, the native way. Laughing for joy, this man embraced these tribesmen who had saved him - and I could see from how they danced, that they were, indeed, brothers. This Pamphlet spoke of shipwreck, of long days lost at sea, of comrades dead from thirst who were dispatched into the deep. His other two companions - Parsons and Finnegan by name - had left him there, and to Sydney made their way. Finnegan returned, it seems, within three days, afeared, he said, of Parsons' angry ways, and that, in the event of further hunger, he might descend to murder, or worse ... THOMAS PAMPHLET, CEDAR CUTTER AND CASTAWAY PAMPHLET: The blacks were friendly, teaching us which roots to eat, and how to spear and fish with nets. My newest friend I named 'The Doctor', whom, in charge of ritual nose-piercing and scarring, was an imposing figure. The chief appeared to like us too, and offered to take Finnegan out hunting. They'd been gone nigh-on two weeks when Mr Oxley came a-calling. Though I confess I did feel glad to meet some of my own, I was unsure if I should leave this life of which I'd grown rather, inexplicably, fond. NOVEMBER 30, 1823 OXLEY: Near the south end of the bay, I fired my muskets, in the hope that the man Finnegan might shew himself to me. I spied someone on the opposite point, (1) in rags and paints, holding some kind of staff. He strode out to meet me - like Our Lord at Gallilee - the sandbank rising to meet his feet, and make his passage sweet. It was he who gave the news to us of a great river not far hence, but next day led me a merry dance, up some creek, the wrong way. (2) In this manner, we lost a whole day. Then we sailed, in my whale boat, three miles south, to a shoal inlet with stony land. I saw plenty of grass and fresh water. At sunset we drew up to a pretty point, (3) to camp near the mudflats of Moreton Bay, and a multitude of biting insects made of our flesh their dinner. I named Finnegan's wrong place 'Deception Bay' in honour of the man's ignorance. But my annoyance was no matter! For soon enough, we found the great river. Happy I was to see how wide its span, and how its fertile banks were thick with excellent timber. I thought to myself: 'We could make a town here'. FOOTNOTES: 1. Toorbul Point 2. Yebri Creek 3. Shorncliffe c Liz Hall-Downs, 1996 2. THE CONVICT YEARS A. WILLIAM ROSS - 1832 It's my sixth year here, at Moreton Bay, and almost, awaiting the Governor's pleasure, time to say I've paid in pain. Things got worse under Logan - he kept us naked, lined up for the floggings, sometimes herded like cattle into caves. Now he's brought in the treadmill to keep us weak, made solitary cells for those who dare to weep or speak. Escape is no use. I've seen their returnings, so much afeared that the natives will chase them with clubs and spears. They tell tales of murders and less-than-fine dining on bugs and berries and bracken roots. It must be bad out there, for our thin homaney to taste to them so sweet, to return to the pleasure of a rotten ounce or two of boiled meat, to submit to the lash that skins our backs. Of the thousand here, at any one time there are fifty in the infirmary. If Logan so wishes, he begins at sunrise, straps the poor, thin unfortunates up to the pole, and lashes them till his arm is sore. I've heard it echoing through the trees, that strange agonised sound from sunrise to day's end. For once this fate is not mine. They know I've been here too long. They know I am broken already. c Liz Hall-Downs, 1996 2. THE CONVICT YEARS B. MARY REYNOLDS - 1840 A convict woman at the Eagle Farm 'Female Factory' Sometimes, when my back is near broke I look up at those riverside pines, at the way the hoops encircle the trunks, and their tall tops sway in the wind. I tell myself it's how I should be, swaying this way and that, flexible to the conditions. If I'd known my small crime would come to this, I might have chosen instead to watch Ma's little ones starve. (The judge, he said hunger was no excuse.) This place they call 'The Female Factory' though I venture the city workers live less harshly. We are taken each morning to build that endless road, by the banks (1) of the big, wide river. I'd jump in, if I could, and swim all the way to Brisbane Town - but with these chains, I'd likely drown. They moved us here from the city, so's we wouldn't taint the law-abiding. Forty of us, and I would give the last two joints of my little finger gladly, to live free with the natives who seem so much happier than we. Or even tend the acres of corn to make that vile homaney that keeps us thin. But this road is my destiny, will take my youth (what's left of it), and grind my joints to pain. We lift large rocks and clear thick scrub to make this road between two prisons. Thus I take part in the suffering of others ... My sincerest hope - for when it's over - is to be laid here, serene and still, under this dry earth that soaked my sweat, and all my hopes buried with me. The wheels of the carriages of the rich might echo the song of my bones, then, assist my soul in its flight over ocean, and escape me from Moreton Bay, where the lash and its cruelty held sway. FOOTNOTE: 1. Hamilton Road, now Kingsford Smith Drive c Liz Hall-Downs, 1996 3. A TURRUBUL PERSPECTIVE TO WHITE SETTLEMENT IN THE AREA. A. A (fictional) member of The 'Duke of York' clan The mogwi named York taught us his song with voice and button accordion. We sang his song and soon became The Grand Old Duke of York clan. People forgot our tribal name - but Ooondumbi still whispers the breeze. c Liz Hall-Downs, 1996 3B. DECEMBER 1842 - THE REVEREND K.W.E. SCHMIDT'S MISSIONARY EXPEDITION TO TOORBUL, MORETON BAY DISTRICT. A (fictional) Aboriginal guide on this expedition speaks. This Schmidt complains all the time as if sandflies, mosquitos and jellyfish sting him only. He wants us to carry his things downriver. Why should we help him futher? His people have attacked us, and many have died from poisoned water. We are on our way to the festival in the mountains, the nuts waiting there for our feasting. The Waka Waka and Gubbi Gubbi have sent their messengers to their neighbours - to Koreng Goreng and Badtjala, to Umpie Boang and Yuggera. There will be hundreds of us there, for the first bunya feast in three long years. The lovely nuts await us. And our friends and their mallara wait also to dance (1) and sing with us for joy at the bounty of seasons. This Schmidt, he does not understand, tries to teach us the language of his faraway land. What need have we for his harsh god? Mumbal sends joorum, growls loud in our skies. (2) We have no need for any other. FOOTNOTES: 1. mallara = fully initiated men 2. joorum = rain c Liz Hall-Downs, 1996 3C. 1879 - ST. VINCENTS'S ORPHANAGE HAS BEEN OPERATING FOR TEN YEARS Mary Campbell, an aboriginal girl, speaks. They say my father was a squatter, stole my mother from the camp and did not let her go till I was growing in her belly. Because my skin was paler, they took me from my people, to this place, where hushed nuns and priests, from over the seas, now rule me. I am often thirsty, scrub their floors and drink the water when no-one is looking. I do not know how to find my mother, even if I did, I'd not be able to speak with her. The tongue I brought is gone from me, they will not let me speak. Sometimes, we are taken to the waterhole, but I do not see my people there. Each Sunday, we walk up St Vincent's Road, then back again. Apart from this, there's little fun, except when someone dies. Then we're allowed to watch the horses pass by, pulling the cart with the coffin in it. Sister Francis says if I behave she might let me be the one to toll the chapel bell - once for each year the dead one has lived. But then I'd miss seeing the pretty horses, with their plaited manes and noble faces, and miss the sound of their hooves clacking on the road. They run cows now at Nar-dha, the ducks (1) fly off at the sound of their guns. I would fly too, if I could. But I belong nowhere, am neither white nor black, and would not know which plants out there to eat. Their God is cruel and forces me to learn at their school. I have some little memory of corroboree, and of the sad sound of my poor mothers' wailing on that terrible day when they took me ... FOOTNOTE: (1) Nar-dha = "place of the black duck" c Liz Hall-Downs, 1996 4. OPENING OF THE SANDGATE RAILWAY LINE A. Miss Rebecca Hamilton-Smythe walks on Sandgate Pier, 1882 How things have changed in just two years! Our sweet beach hideaway has been ruined, and now we're overrun with all these horrible workers from town. Before, it was only the ones with carriages who came. Now it's everyone! Poor Father! It was a quiet life he was wanting, and space to contemplate the high points of his brilliant career at the bar. For his retirement, Mother and I had our lives well-planned - dinners with the Hollingworths, perhaps, and elegant picnics and soirees for me to mix with the sons and daughters of all the best families! It's all ruined! Now they've extended the railway! And my dear, deserted Sandgate pier, where I so loved to walk in the afternoons, is now peopled with riff-raff each Sunday! Some of the women don't even wear gloves! And they speak with such coarse intonations! I ask you, just what is the world coming to when such common, ill-bred people are not only allowed to come here, but are brought here by the carriageload! It's really too, too much! Something must be done! Just look at that couple over there! She's just about got her toes in his mouth. Fancy removing your shoes in front of a young man! And those boys over there, staring into the ladies' bathing enclosure! Just what has happened to their father? My Sundays at Sandgate have been quite ruined! I think I will speak to Daddy about it. Maybe, we could move out to the property. c Liz Hall-Downs, 1996 B. Rosie O'Donnell, domestic servant, visits Sandgate Pier with Jimmy Malloy, 1882 Mrs Sanders said I might have Sunday off to go for a picnic or somethin'. That means no launderin' or silver cleanin' today for me! (And it's as well, too, for me 'ands are red raw from all that scrubbin' ...) No, it's Sunday morning'. We've been to Church and now I'm bein' taken by that Jimmy Malloy to Sandgate on the train! Mrs Sanders says I should be careful. She says Jimmy's got no prospects, but I reckon she's wrong. I reckon I could teach 'im to be a gardener, or a butler, even. Then he could leave the factory and come to work with me! Mrs Sanders, she just sighs when I says this and rolls her eyes - you know the way she does. 'All right Rosie, you can go,' she says. 'But you must promise to wear your hat and gloves. And don't take off your stockings and shoes just to paddle! Or let that Jimmy take you on the Lovers' Walk to the banks of Cabbage Tree Creek. A lady must act with decorum.' 'Yes Ma'am,' I says. But of course, now we're here, with the sand and the sea and the pier ... I'm so bloomin' hot! And the water feels cool on me blisters, (these damned shoes!) and Jimmy's sayin' sweet things about me feet - how they're so dainty he can hardly keep from kissin' me ankles! Of course I told him to stop. I seen that rich young lady stopped on the pier, looking down her nose at us in all her lace and finery. Her expression was most disapproving. And I could see her waving to that copper coming up the walk. So I says, 'Careful Jimmy! Stop kissin' me feet! Yer goin' to get us arrested!' Liz Hall-Downs, 1996 5. THE LIVES OF THE EARLY SETTLERS Thomas Dowse, 1884 I bought my land in 1853, and with my relatives cleared the land of paperbarks, she-oaks and mountain ash. We built ourselves a little slab hut with a roof made of bark. Of course, we knew the natives weren't happy. The place was 'Warra' to them, and full of good food. There are eels (1) and waterbirds, and many koalas and kangaroos. Needless to say, we had to buckle on our gunbelts whenever we sought water from their lagoons. We'd been here less than a month when the trouble started. About thirty of the natives surrounded us, and I was struck in the head with a waddy. We retreated back into the hut, four of us, and plotted a route of escape. On the way out to reach our boat, they speared one of my boys in the leg. Still, we managed to row up to Eagle Farm, despite having only one oar. When the news of our skirmish reached Brisbane, fewer came to survey the land than before! But I had to come back, and I've stuck it out. I've had, I must say, a rather good life. Times have changed so much - I'm an old man, now, and we see very little of the Turrubul. There's still an old midden in the Shorncliffe cliff's shadow. I can't say where the people have gone. FOOTNOTE: 1. Warra = river Liz Hall-Downs, 1996 6. THE NUDGEE CANNERY Joe Wilson, a Cannery Worker, 1910 I work long days here at Nudgee cannery, the skin on my hands always sore and red from the spikes and the acid. I do it all, here, after the growers deliver. I peel and slice, pack the pieces into tins, then solder on the lids, each by hand. We still have to peel the scrubbers, but they're too small for anything but crushing and boiling. Then we send the whole mess to the jam factory. It's a job anyhow. I make enough to keep the family. And I can't really complain about the heat - there'd be no fruit to can without it! I used to like pineapple once, when I was a little tyke. Now I can't hardly bring meself to look at the blighters, nohow ... Liz Hall-Downs, 1996 7. BANYO STATION OPENS, 1912 Mrs Murray, Station Mistress, Banyo Station, 1912 Banyo is growing since the train line's been extended. And our employment prospects have grown also. If I must work, I do so like to do it alongside my Jack. It's companionable. Jack takes care of the signals, and pushes closed the gates while the trains rush by. I sit behind the counter and write out tickets. The railways have given us a neat little cottage, so we never have to take more than a few steps to work. In the afternoons, I fill the hurricane lamps, being very careful to 'use only sufficient kerosene to keep the lamps burning to the last train's departure'. (They are so very fussy, these railway officials! Still, waste now, want not ...) At night those lamps are a great leveller. The passengers have to hail the driver, and to be seen they either wave my lamps or burn bits of old newspaper. It doesn't matter what their station - factory workers or professional men - they all have to wave their flames. I could hail the driver for them. But it's so amusing to peer from the ticket office window and see all those funny little flames! Liz Hall-Downs, 1996 8. THE DEPRESSION - INFLUX OF NEW RESIDENTS TO CRIBB ISLAND David Murphy, resident, 1935 It was the Depression that brought me here. It was too hard to survive in Brisbane with no work, so I upped stakes and moved to the backblocks. It's not bad, apart from the sandflies and mozzies, and the damned mud you haveta cross if you wanta go anywhere. Still, like they say, what you lose on the swings you pick up on the roundabout - in this case, good fishin' and crabbin', a nice little slab hut I built meself, and a quiet life, livin' off what's here, just like the blackfellas. Some of me old mates went crook at me for movin' out here - 'on the fringe of society', they called it. They wouldn't know a good life if it slapped 'em in the face! But if there's one thing I can do without, it's puttin' up with city-bred snobs and their posh bloody attitudes! Liz Hall-Downs, 1996 9. 1937 - ARGENTINIAN GYPSIES CAMP AT NUDGEE WATERHOLE The voice of Samuel Ennis, a professional photographer and resident of Nudgee. As a child I remember their camp in town, and the thousands who flocked to have their fortunes told. The talk then was of godlessness and stealing, and I remember my father insisted I lock the henhouse, and sleep nearby with his rifle. Now I hear these new arrivals have caused no end of trouble in Sydney, and the newspaper I work for has begun to campaign against them. Still, I have been much taken with the dark beauty of the women, with the sparkle of their ringed fingers, and their long black plaits, studded with coins. I saw many children in their camp, and I approached them smiling, boiled lollies in my outstretched hand. They took them, but to no avail, for when I began to photograph the camp, a woman grabbed a heavy tent pole and came menacingly towards me. I had to grab my things and run for cover, my tripod held aloft, my legs moving faster than they ever have. Liz Hall-Downs, 1996 10. WORLD WAR II: AUSTRALIAN AND U.S. SERVICEMEN STATIONED AT SANDGATE Chuck Wagner, American Soldier, 1942 It's a nice joint to have landed in, this Sandgate. The place is full of fellas from back home, and Aussie guys on leave. It's hard to believe it's Christmas time, being so far from home and with such tropical weather. I missed Halloween, and Thanksgiving. But I got me a kick out of the local traditions - how they lash those branches of she-oak and eucalypt to the shop awnings for decoration, and the influx of picnickers each Sunday. Not to mention the free concerts in the bandstand, and the pretty young ladies from Brisbane who come to meet soldiers and talk on the pier. I've watched the children on their pony rides, and seen the Punch and Judy. Everything seems so normal, here, as if the war's just some bad dream that I had years ago. I met a girl in town yesterday. Legless, she was, walking funny on artificial limbs. But with a face any man'd be glad to come home to. She said she'd had an accident, back when she was a kid - fell off an industrial turntable at that slimy-lookin' wading pool on the beach. Poor kid! That must've been terrible! I took her out for a drink last night. Usually I offer 'em a pair of silk stockings. But with her, I thought it might be in bad taste - so I gave her chocolates instead. Liz Hall-Downs, 1996 11. CRIBB ISLAND COMMUNITY RELOCATED TO MAKE WAY FOR NEW AIRPORT EXTENSIONS, 1970's Margaret Delaney, resident, 1979 I suppose it had to happen. They've been been talking about moving us out since the war. Still, I did hope it wouldn't happen till long after I'd gone. The government say they'll give us money for our lots, and help us relocate. The land's not worth much, though, and there won't be enough to buy anything else. Some neighbours talked of moving to Dina Island, but I've heard it's a blackfellas burial ground, and I'll be amongst the dead soon enough. Besides, an old lady like me doesn't want to move at this stage of my life! Cribb was a fine place; I've loved living here. Most of us came 'cause we were down on our luck, and stayed. Sometimes cyclones and big tides came up. We just upped stumps and shifted our shacks back aways. There was good fishing here, despite all the old floating tyres from the factory, and small farmers grew grapes and peaches and caulis. That nice fruit man started coming in the fifties, calling "Orange-apple-beans -peas-and-cabbage!" It echoed out like a song. They were good days, then, and the thought of this whole village being flattened by big bulldozers really does turn my stomach. They'll drain the land and pour the concrete, and soon enough there'll be the big planes, taxiing over what was once the place where I was so happy with my Thomas, and where all my kids used to play. There'll be nothing left to show my grandchildren, nothing but what I can remember ... Liz Hall-Downs, 1996 WETLANDS HAIKU 1. brown snake kuralbang see you before you know he's watching black eyes, slide through grass 2. two types of bees kabbai honey sweet kuta make it dark and sour ooondumbi eat, smile! 3. swamp she-oak billai good for fire helps us get kambo, kanyi makes good boomerangs 4. witchetty grub harvest kambo hiding there in bark of the great billai we roast, eat laughing 5. shipworm harvest we pile billai in creek come back next year for kanyi good food, next season 6. osprey bugawan fly high then dive for fish in warra big splash for dinner 7. night-time ceremony when mirrigin bright when the stars shine bright mallara paint skin kutchi, our men paint their skin bando for bural in red and white for bural 8. mangrove swamp ngandakul nyanda there's fish in the swamp yirin and kanyi ikki and crabs and shipworms kalukin show wanna pelican shows us where Liz Hall-Downs, 1996