There was a tree you climbed,
height-thrill and warm bark against
your skin. You don’t know what kind of tree
it was. Today, waiting for your mother in the city,
she’s running late and it’s pouring rain,
(did she slip, is she okay?) a sudden violent
outburst—it never used to rain like this in Melbourne
did it? A heavy, humid gush that sucks brollies
inside out. See her in the distance, both smaller
and more certain than you remember.
You booked an Indigenous walking tour
for her birthday. The guide shows
possum pelts and baskets,
photographs and stats: of sheep-heavy
ships, within years there were
six million, mouths to the ground,
munching food sources, hoofed animals
galloping, an empire built on enthusiasm
and brutality. The group clucks concern—if only
they had known better, done better,
listened more, blundered less. Outside
in the rain-fresh air by Birrarung (river of mists),
the guide pulls a leaf with white spots,
people think it’s bird shit or cobwebs
but they’re lerps, from tree lice, sticky sweet
sugar you can eat. Mothers would teach their children
where honey was secreted in a flower,
which leaves to chew on and which to leave alone.
Remember your primary school
project, how proud you were to talk about
orchards planted here by your ancestors, diligent
German immigrants, long-faced and genteel,
settlers who formed a community and
called it Waldau—‘a clearing in the forest’.
How much is missing from your inherited memory?
Apples and pears were razed in favour of
suburban dwelling well before you entered
the family line. Stories passed down your
father’s side but your Mum’s a quieter song
(fragments: Dundee dirt floors, a ship,
a death at war). That photo in the yard, you as a
squint-eyed toddler, chubby and scowling on your
mother’s lap, siblings clustered close, her
face a soft surprise (How did I end up here?)
The tree’s not in the picture, a detail
half-remembered, a kind of drifting
amnesia easy to dismiss. Your life has not (yet)
depended on the knowledge of a tree.
Emilie Collyer lives in West Footscray, on Wurundjeri country, where she writes plays, poetry and prose. Her writing has appeared most recently in Australian Poetry Anthology, Cordite, Overland, and The Lifted Brow. Recent award-winning plays include Dream Home and The Good Girl which premiered in New York in 2016.