Graptolites are extinct marine colonial animals that lived in the Palaeozoic oceans between the Middle Cambrian and Carboniferous. They reached their greatest diversity during the Ordovician and are important index fossils for dating Paleozoic rocks. They are usually preserved in dark-coloured mudstones where they appear as shiny pencil-like markings, hence their name, derived from the Greek words graptos meaning ‘written’ and lithos meaning ‘rock’.
– Graptolites, Stephen Hui Geological Museum.
In Poverty Gully, there is a library of stone where Ordovician volumes of mauve, ochre
and dove-grey are shelved with their spines pointing north. Here the Earth laid down
her thoughts in dense slurries carried from the west; in sands and silts and clays that settled
in a great submarine fan. Beneath the surface, graptolites glide like pressed angels between
of slate and shale, a planktonic host hanging in a vast sedimentary vault, clonal colonies
of zooids that lived in bathtub temperatures—before fishes, before gymnosperms,
before winged insects, before warm blood knew the world.
An old race carries no water—only the currents of violence. On a collapsed sign someone
has crossed out the word ‘Poverty’ and painted ‘Abundance’ over it in blue, as if this mass
of mullock heaps were simply a set of encyclopaedias to be re-shelved in alphabetical order.
Both words lie bleaching in the dust. Among the gold diggers were those from Wales,
who mined a stratigraphy named after their own ancestors, Ordovices and Silures—
both tribes subdued by Roman armies. All that burning, panning, cradling, sluicing,
puddling, dredging. Subduing in their turn.
And so one might imagine the Ordovices before defeat, gathering alluvium from streams
to forge the Mold Cape, smelting the ore, hammering it out to the thickness of a beetle’s elytra,
its sheet-gold shoulder-shaped, ribbed and bossed, snug about the torso of its wearer—
just as the thecal cup housed the zooid, one of dozens on the crowded stipe of a graptolite,
connected to its clonal kin by a nerve cord. Each creature seeks to shelter its soft parts,
to mark its place within the geometry of a tribe.
What slender figure was buried in that fluid mantle? When quarry workers broke open
the grave, they divided the gold between themselves and disposed of the skeleton.
Annie Hunter has had a chequered career, having worked as a waitress, farmhand, factory worker, environmental activist, public servant and researcher. Relatively new to poetry writing, she was shortlisted for the New Shoots Poetry Prize 2016 and awarded the ACU Poetry Prize 2018. She lives on Dja Dja Wurrung country, in Castlemaine, Victoria.