Recently, I was searching for a piece of writing to use in my teaching and discovered scraps of research, jotted notes of thoughts and ideas, and of course plenty of unfinished work. This piece I found started me on a journey that culminated in a short story, but it is also a snapshot of the many nights I’ve stood in my garden reflecting on how lucky I am to live in Mordialloc, pondering on the lessons I’ve learned. How different life is from what I imagined when I came to live here 31 years ago …
The woman walks along the sand from Mordialloc towards Beaumaris, within a few metres of open-air campsites once used by the Boon wurrung. Sandalled feet avoid large clusters of shells, remnants of the rich cultural life of over 2000 generations of indigenous people living here prior to Australia’s colonisation from a distant continent.
The stretch of beach as far as the eye can see is deserted, shielded from the noise of traffic and trappings of civilisation. When the pale yellow glow of the dawn lights up the sky and kisses the water, or the vivid sunset explodes in rainbow profusion, she feels connected to the timeless concept of the Aboriginal Dreaming, aches for what has been lost.
How did the Boon wurrung live as they walked these shores? What did they think when the first explorers built houses, altered the direction of the creeks and inland rivers; claimed land for fishing, cattle, sheep and market gardens?
She tries to picture the land as it once was, stretching inland from the cobalt blue sea. Imagines acres of tussocky grass, sword-sedge and lilies shaded by mast-like Blackwood trees, River Red gums and Swamp Paperbacks. Bandicoots, echidnas and wombats snuffle beneath shiny boobialla, tea-trees and wattles. Blue Wrens, Rainbow Lorikeets, and the Spotted Pardalote flit in colourful abundance from Sweet Bursaria, to White Correa and Showy Bossiaea.
There was joy and sharing of indigenous corroborees on the shores of Mordialloc Creek, as clans of the Eastern Kulin Nation: the Boon wurrung, Woi wurrung and Daung wurrung gathered from Westernport, Mt. Baw Baw, the Goulburn River and all places in between.
Did the tribal elders debate the effects and threat of white settlement? What guidance did they give to combat the confusion, ignorance, anger and grief of their clan? Did they consider any positive effects from the clash of cultures, or did they see through the baubles and sub standard rations of the empire builders? Did they appeal for protection to their moiety totems, the Wedge-tail Eagle Bunjil and the Australian Raven Waang, or were they as divided in their approach to the white man as the newcomers were to the Aborigines?
The woman’s house, one of many in Albert Street Mordialloc is built on an Aboriginal graveyard. Not a place the Boon wurrung chose, but rather a graveyard chosen for them. Death did not bestow equality or a place in the community cemetery; yet regardless of the colour of flesh, bleached bones and cremation returns all bodies to the Earth.
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust...
Thoughts of the impermanence of mankind creep unbidden into the woman’s consciousness as she stands in her garden to watch dusk descend. The glow of moonlight and twinkling of stars helps her see more clearly, to feel a connection with the land; to reflect that in the process of the European occupation, much of the natural heritage has been disguised or destroyed.
The air is redolent with the smells of this coastal community — tangy salt, fish, and seaweed, but it is now home to a diverse society with a multitude of pasts. She breathes the eucalyptus scent of the quintessential Australian gum tree, mixed with the perfume of a riot of introduced red and white roses, tumbling over the fence. She considers a constantly changing landscape as waves of immigrants create a multicultural cosmopolitan society. A city bound train thunders past; the roar of traffic from the Nepean Highway momentarily smothers the hum of night insects, and she is aware of the persistent whine of a distant car burglar alarm.
A silvery moon, enormous in the inky sky shines high above ragged clouds and she thinks of the graves. The brilliance of the moon’s all seeing, all knowing eye illuminates the garden like a carnival; bars of light filter through dark-leaved fruit trees; evening dew glistens on the grass like teardrops. The shadow of an owl swoops past; a dog barks in the distance. Nesting doves coo mournfully.
How many people have stood where she is now and stared at the millions of miles of twinkling sky? How many more will stand here?
She ponders on the 430 plant species prior to European occupation and how more than half are now extinct. Many native land animals have disappeared and only a few, such as possums and skinks survive in the urban environment, often cursed as pests. Marine communities devastated by over-harvesting and pollution, struggle to survive, especially the shellfish so loved by the Boon wurrung.
The sounds of the night are accompanied by a cool breeze caressing her skin. Stars fade, darkness descends like a soft velvet cape and she pictures the Aboriginal Flag flapping proudly in the wind in Attenborough Park. It is comforting that in many places consultation and consideration have replaced confrontation and conflict. She hopes recorded history will acknowledge contributions and mistakes; that Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities reconciled will have mutual understanding, that environmental awareness will halt destruction.
The moon smiles assurance, tomorrow is another day; another opportunity to embrace life and live in harmony with this beautiful land.