The Big Issue : Edition 448
THE BIG ISSUE 26 DEC 2013 – 9 JAN 2014 19 it together. For our people. Then we builded a school, that’s the church school in town. That’s a good school, that one.” The old man muses: “In the station days they were supposed to pay us, but we never saw any money. We got tucker, work clothes. Never saw any money. They say it was paid into the court. We have lawyers now. They take these things to court. After a long time every cattleman got paid some money: $7000 each. There is still money in the court; lawyers say it is locked up. It is not so simple. The court holds $51 million that is our money, locked up there.” The man looks back up the road that leads to town. “You know the pubs in town? My wife used to clean those big buildings. Every day, all the day, on her knees. That’s why she suffers now.” For the first time, for the only time in our conversations, the old man looks sad. The future darkens before him. I know the story of his disabled wife. The old man cares for her. Wearying him, wearing him out. The chains of obligation. No concession for his own advanced years. “My wife was a young girl in them days. She didn’t choose that work; the Protector chose it. When a girl was 16, 17, the Protector sent her into service. A lot of them went to stations. He’d say, you’re going to such-and-such a station. On the stations a girl was alone, no family near, no one could know what happened to her. No one to help her.” The old man falls quiet. “If a whitefella wanted sex he would just take her, any whitefella... you know. Always been like that, whitefellas take blackfella women.” “Are any of the pubs in town owned by blackfellas?” “No. All owned by whitefellas. All full of blackfellas, from the morning to night, drinking all the day.” “Do you drink there?” “No, I don’t like that way. I like to work. I don’t drink. Not now. When I was a young man I drank. My wife was unhappy. She said, ‘Maybe we should go separate ways.’ I didn’t want that...the children, my girls. I wouldn’t leave them. I stopped drinking.” The day is coming to its end. We drive back to town, back to the sweet slow dawdle of the main street. Past the pubs, the places and memories that furnish the old man’s mind. We turn into his street. Well-mannered dogs bark as we drive to the old man’s house. We pull up outside. He dismounts, unaided, from the vehicle’s high cabin. We walk together to the gate. “I bought this place. Double block, you know. Too big for me now, all this garden. Too big for an old bloke. Good place. I like this place.” I take in the house, and the growth that largely hides it: green and abundant. The gardens are well kept – it’s a proud place. As we part, the old man thanks me. “I want you to come back here... I take you, show you everything. That Camp 119. The cattle station. We got our own station now. Good place. Well run, successful. Lots of Aboriginal stockmen again. My nephew runs that station. I’ll take you. I’ll take you to all the places.” A hand wave, a gesture towards all the places, all the places where memory rides fast horses behind half- wild cattle, where life is uncompromising, where the old man is young, then not young. Where he remains hardy, independent. The places where he was a slave, was free, always free in his thoughts. The places and thin forests that passing time does not change. Places where a man who holds his own is good enough. “Come back again, Doc. I’m begging you.” » Dr Howard Goldenberg writes about Indigenous life, asylum seekers, health and the sad hilarity of living. His novel, Carrots and Jaffas, will be published in 2014. Also see howardgoldenberg.com.