Running. Gotta keep running. I can hear the baying, the slavering…funny I didn’t know men could do that. They’ve got dogs with ‘em but cattle dogs aint trackers.
Running. Got to get to…can’t say it. Them white demons read minds almost but they won’ read mine. Getting closer. There’s the river. Into the reeds. Under the water. Break off a reed pipe —breathe. Wait.
The Missus said there’d be trouble while she was away. Said the white fullas need women round to keep ‘em civilized. Guess she didn’t mean my kind. Only took a day for the Boss to come sniffin’ round.
Well I’m not havin’ no gubbah gubbah crawling over my body lookin’ to invade. Not after what the Missus said about sin and this marriage thing the preacher talk about. One man, one woman. Sides which it’s the Boss lookin’ to settle his itch. Don’t he know anythin’ about kinship.
Hear their great beasts surging through the water so close. Keep still. Keep still.
I hear Nullaboi’s voice above the clatter and splash of the hard driven animals. What’s he doin’ with ‘em? Tracking me? He’s my promised. Has he sold me on? Yeah, probably for that booze stuff that sends him off his head.
Wish a croc ‘d get ‘em but a croc is more likely to get me if it were this close. Their rampaging is fading away. All that time I spent cleaning the schoolroom and learnin’ to read recipe books cause the Missus said I should learn to cook proper so she didn’ havta. I can read anything, every book and paper in that house and I know words. Rampage. Ravage. Unconscionable. Rape. I can name things proper.
Up river. Follow me songline to the sacred place. Gubbah gubbah don’t know this place. Follow the sultry water into the narrow chasm, scramble over the guardian rocks into the tunnel beneath Little Paaraauw, into the darkness, the welcoming darkness. Nullaboi is not allowed here. This is women’s place.
The great cave drips around me. Above I feel the bones of the ancestors and the birth cries of mothers long past. Safe here. I settle on a ledge with my feet tickling the cool water.
Wait. They’ll give up soon.
I cut my hair with the scissors from the Missus’ mending kit. I strap my breasts. I pull on patched moleskins and a loose shirt I fixed last week. They once were the old man’s, can’t say his name, dead he is. The old man was taken by the scarlet fever. I smoked them clothes to get rid of his spirit though I wasn’ sure that the evil germs in them would go away. I plan to join a droving team. I can ride better than any white bastard cause I listen to my horse and read the earth around. I move tomorrow. Nobody will take notice of a boy slipping through the bush.
I make my way back along the tunnel to the hidden entrance. Sneak a peek out to make sure it’s safe to get away.
So much for sacred women’s business, so much for women’s place. Nullaboi, what have you done? Their camp is not fifty yards away. You must have brought them here. They mightn’t know the entrance but they know the chasm is the only way out. Can I bluff it?
I hear ‘em talk bout what women do here. Hear Nullaboi say it’s a good woman trap. Say women come here to get baby spirits. Say no one here to say anything. Say you can do anything with a woman here. Nobody know. Boss say he have my mother here. He have my mother and she got the baby spirit. Me. I don’ stand a chance. I sink back into the darkness.
The booze makes ‘em sing. Makes em dance. Makes em fight. But they do not move.
In the early dawning as the scrag ends of the Morning Glory roll across the sky I see a lone man standing a top the mighty Paaraatha, opposite me. He’s chanting, standing on one leg, holding a spear and pointing a bone straight at the camp, at Nullaboi. The old man must be in the sacredest part of the men’s place, where no woman can go, where no men can go, only elders and kaditcha men. The old ones told me ta stay away, told me you can see kaditcha when something’s wrong.
Nullaboi drops to the ground, screaming in agony, cringing. The horses break their tethers and take off. The men can’t catch ‘em. A call-up of red belly blacks appear, directed by the dark figure with the pointing bone. Rifles won’t shoot. The men run. The Boss is bit not once, not twice but three times. He’s done for. There’s no one left to take his body home.
I catch a horse down river, bring it back and load the corpse on. The old one on the ridge nods approval. I walk the body back and I dump it at the feet of the Missus who has come back. She nods. She understands the message. She knows who I am. Clothes don’t disguise me. She gives me money and a letter to the preacher who said I was smart. I leave with her blessing. I am a Paaraauwi woman who walks her own way. I got the Boss’s DNA. I will return one day to claim my dreaming.