Turtle Camp

Phillip Hall

 

for my Yanyuwa friends

and two-way learning

 

On classroom walls we paste

this learning, monitoring

life cycles and health,

in advertisement of eco-calling:

 

we sit under mango trees, interviewing

family – Yanyuwa bardibardi

an li-Anthawirriyarra Sea Rangers – Maabayny

is Sea Turtle Dreaming, pursued

in the tracks of a turtle’s hauled flight,

and a glaring crystal luminescence

is gasped as air humid and heavy with salt:

 

each night we will sing

this turtle and hatchling tide – measuring,

tagging, collecting – in a surge

of sustainably flowing law:

 

the bardibardi conspire,

and recruit me to collect more kids, to press

reengagement’s claim

where self-sabotage grinds

the canvas of those already beaten

low:

 

camp morning and the chick chacks

flicker from bardibardi to me, while high

on worth I audition the ‘what ifs’

of environmental and medical risks

before the Bing Bong bus to the sea:

 

a mine’s bullying ‘no entry’ soon disturbs

a sickness site

and iron ore dust suffocates

containment lines

and we are silenced:

 

we bend round past this port

for a dirt track where the Sea Rangers wait

like popeyes

to ferry us to Carpentaria’s heart:

 

and soon we’re motoring along

the glass calm waters of the Gulf, dodging

reefs and sand bars with dolphins shooting

through our wake:

 

Yanyuwa rangers nostalgically

point to ancient Macassan camps and to the sailing

of dugout canoes while bardibardi whisper

into winds: us all forgotten

lil-bit, millad mob who come behind …

 

on arrival we hoot

up the beach and pitch

our swags under stands of casuarinas

and I again give my eco-spiel about rubbish

plastic ingestion:

 

waiting for a night’s

science monitoring, I high-wire walk

my team-building initiatives and sports

over a wet tropical paradise that has teeth –

reigning in exuberance to maintain

us whole:

 

when the tide turns

we fish off a rocky point, casting

for bait before the jerk

of coral trout and parrot fish; knifing

oyster off the rocks; the kids know law, cooking

our feast in a ground oven where it is killed:

 

and later, from out of the night’s churn

and frothing sea-foam, a pregnant

hauled awkwardness back-handing

dry weight in a nest of sand

and thick clear mucus – a soft-shelled

leathery hoard:

 

with our field work complete the last turtle turns

and the bardibardi chant, swaying

to the animal’s rhythm

as the kids take small dancing steps, their hands raised

waist high, palms upward, urging

the laboring turtle on –

bawuji barra …

wingkayarra wingkayarra kayikaji ka-wingkala barra …

yuwu wakara nyinku na-alanji wurrbi …

 

  

 

Glossary

Bardibardi: is Indigenous language (Yanyuwa/Garrawa) in the Gulf region of northern Australia for respectfully referring to older women.

Millad: is Kriol in the Gulf region of northern Australia for the first person plural pronoun: we, us, our.

Yanyuwa: one of four surviving Indigenous language groups in the Northern Territory’s Gulf of Carpentaria.

 

Bawuji barra …

Wingkayarra wingkayarra kayikaji ka-wingkala barra …

Yuwu wakara nyinku na-alanji wurrbi …

 

You have finished now …

Go, go, go quickly now …

Yes, you have found it – your true home …

 

(Thanks to John Bradley, Singing Saltwater Country: Journey to the Songlines of Carpentaria, Allen & Unwin, 2010).

 

Phillip Hall lives in Melbourne’s Sunshine (western suburbs) where he works as a poet and reviewer for such publications as Cordite and Plumwood Mountain. He is a very passionate member of the Western Bulldogs Football Club. He also continues, through his writing, to honour First Nations in the Northern Territory’s Gulf of Carpentaria where he has family and friends.

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