The Last Australia Day
A Short Story from Central Australia
Yesterday we took a walk at sunset. South, along the nature strip that runs between the road and the railway line. Towards a gap in the timeless procession of rocky caterpillars that stretch from east to west across the desert. Yeperenye, they’re called, by the Arrente people.
The weather was unusually humid. The sky stuffed with gigantic purple clouds bursting with crimson firelight. A raven searched for crickets in the scant grass by the roadside. Ringnecks perched and busied themselves. Ants scurried by our feet in all directions. The last of the day’s activities. We talked about the toll it takes to care for a world so consumed. Our conversation turned playful, then quiet. Content to witness the horizon eclipse the sun.
In a rut beside the tracks, somewhat concealed, we passed a small camp of first-nations people. A woman looked out from her motorised wheelchair. Another shook the sand from a plastic rug. I imagined them getting into bed uneasily. We exchanged no gestures. No nods or waves. Nothing to acknowledge our being in the same place at the same time.
Up ahead, a man rode towards us on a cheap mountain bike. He was African. Forty eight or nine. Wearing baggy pants and a black polo. His red cap said Coles. His face bore a warped expression, as if he were riding on a flat tire and could ill afford to walk.
I thought of my father. His pale, broad hands. My privilege. His grief and sacrifice. His middle-class anger. The migrant community that kept him afloat when he lost both his parents within two years of leaving them behind to move to this country. I felt shame for ever feeling responsible for my own good fortune.
We turned around at the footbridge. Safely intertwined. The last rays of peach light catching on stray wisps of cloud. We squeezed hands, and kissed. A friend passed on their bike, and waved. Dusk fell by the time we were home.
The next day I read again the Uluru Statement from the Heart. And I tried to imagine a more just Australia. How could it be otherwise?