A ship under sail: a sighting: a sandy beach
offers its point to the neighbour island, offers
a watering place. A safe station, on the way
to the redoubtable mainland on the horizon
across the bay; the ship at anchor, meetings,
entry to the island’s forest, its game, its people.
A fair prospect, needing a name: Amity?
A place apart, a site for quarantine.
Nearby, at Dunwich, shall be stalled and provisioned
society’s refuse, leprous, drunken, delinquent.
As for the natives – supervision, a mission,
rations; benefits of civilisation – religion,
decency in dress, training for some kind of service.
And noone should have to hear their benighted gibberish.
Mysteriously, the Noonuccal persevere.
Years of rules, prayer, lessons, labour – still
the children trap bandicoot, go crabbing, bring down birds
like the old folk time out of mind; the fishers of dugong
harvest the tides, scavenge timber cast up
in the mangroves – later, a crumbling slope of sand.
The bay swallows boats and kiosks, scours the shoreline.
Amity’s heart beats on. After the War
the ferry’s back to wake the bush retreat
of loners, misfits, missioners, handymen
and their women, making do, running the post,
the bakery, the new hall, the holiday cabins.
Imrovising a community. Myora they call
the mission – but the blacks reach back to the real name –
and dads tell their kids the indigenous creation,
the discipline of kinship with snake and curlew.
Language wears away but the names go on
and stories nest in the people. In city offices
there are children who’ve run from Bunyip in the dark,
who know a great love clothed the silky oak.
Whose mission names hardly fit. Like young Kath.
After the freedom buses, the referendum,
after the first indigenous seisin of land,
after the years as maid, stenographer,
after the poems critics called “naïve”,
“uneducated” – wisdom they’d no ears for –
the girl named for paperbark crosses the bay,
returns to kin and country. Claims her name.