I listen to their whitefella talking; it is lame-brained. It is empty. Doomed.
"Is he alive?"
"Dunno, mate. Give him a poke."
A boot nudges my ribs. I do not stir. I cannot.
Sun Mother pours her heat upon my bones and I sup as a child at the breast. She feeds me and I rejoice. My face in the dust, flesh upon baked riverbed, both stripped of moisture. The remains of clothing hang as rags on my carcass.
"Seems he's breathing. Maybe there's hope for the buggar yet."
"He's all puckered up, Carl. Ain't of this earth much longer."
"Stick him in the cart."
"What? Look at him. He ain't worth a zack."
"If he carks it, he can feed the dingoes. If he rallies, we can put him to work."
The other whitefella sucks at his teeth. "Fair go. Still think he's bodger."
Cowpoke hands grab my sinewy frame and cast me among hand tools on the wooden bed. I land bluntly, no noise; my eyes stay closed.
"Crikey, he's all stiff. Skin's all hard as old boots too. You sure this is worth the yakka? "
"Can it, Bluey."
"It's like he's dead already."
"I said can it! Or you can walk back. Now get on."
I am thrown again like a dead animal. I land on hard earth, but this time under shelter. Smells like a dunny.
"Where'dya think he's from? Not one of ours."
"One of Valentine's crew maybe? Could even be some wanderer from out in the Woop Woop. Gets lost in the sun, falls where we find him. Who cares? Ours now."
The wooden door rattles shut and a bolt scrapes into place. I am out of Sun Mother's sight but her fire resides in this tiny hut like residue in an oven. Without moving, I soak its embrace.
"What have you got in there boys?"
Another voice. Female. Sounds like a Lady Muck. Many and their menfolk I have met on my walkabout. None of them now remain.
"Miss Archer, ma'am... It's just some crook Abo we found the other side of Macks Hill. Figured we'd see if we can revive him and put him to work. Another pair of hands would be beaut since old Goggles died last week."
"Very well. Fetch him some water."
"And would you mind paying some heed to the group fixing the fences by the water hole? Two of them stared at me without consent when I rode by this morning. I could feel their eyes stripping me. Animals. Twenty lashes to any pair should suffice to deter them."
"We'd be happy as Larry, Miss Archer. Blackfellas need their teaching."
Time slows. Or hastens. I know not which. I am hid within my own body like a sprog in mama's belly. I hear, I smell, I feel. I cannot stir. It is the way of my creation. This will pass. It has before, many times past. Many whitefella stations have tasted the cries of my rebirths. This song has been sung for seasons without number and it will be chorused again. I sense it will be soon.
The door creaks open and bootsteps scuff.
"Tip his head. Don't wanna spill it."
"I ain't touching him no more, Carl. He creeps me out. You take his head and I'll hold the Billy."
A huff. "Cripes, Bluey. You are some dag, you know that? Here ya, then."
My head is lifted and a tin taps on my hard lips. Warm water dribbles down my chin. I do not receive it; my need for it is slight.
"He won't drink it, Carl."
"I can see that but Miss Archer will have us for dud-droppers if we don't do this right."
"Maybe some food? We could get a bit of last night's stew."
"Nah. Just water for now. Best mind we don't feed him up too much or he'll be off quicker than a bride's nightie. Gotta keep these Abos in their place."
He drops my head to hit the earth with a thud.
"Speaking of which, best crack on with this whipping lark, eh boy? You wanna lash?"
The door slams shut.
The world spins its yarn while my awakening dawns. I listen to voices, bird calls, hooves on paths, chopping and striking. I can hear screaming; my bruddas in pain. This chorus is the same on every whitefella station that takes my people. Soon it will cease.
A scrape, a rustle. This time it is in here with me.
Something leaps upon my waiting frame. Tiny, light; stalking feet scamper to crook an eye at my head. He knows me. He has come to watch. He is ngarrang. He is lizard.
He lives among the dust and the stones. He feeds on Sun Mother and glories in her rays. Ngarrang creeps and leaps, he watches and he listens, he learns and he hides. Sometimes he looks dead for many days, before he stirs to hunt and eat again; it is his soul-sleep, his dreamtime rest. This is the way of all ngarrang under Sun Mother's watchful eye.
I too reside in soul-sleep between my hunts.
This ngarrang is my kin. I honour his presence, I tell our song from the Dawning...
...During the first Dreaming, the spirit beings walked the formless waste and breathed life into its essence. They shaped the sod and ushered breath into its fruit. The world became a place of height and depth, of water and desert, of herd and tree.
One Ancient embarked on his walkabout. A great lizard, he stalked the horizon and tasted the air. Sun Mother gave him light to see and heat to work. She shone his path, he carved its destiny. He came upon a great long hill, to find a family of unfinished creatures fused as one. With a song-knife he separated them, forging new shapes, cutting mouths and eyes into their faces; he filled their lungs to gasp and exclaim, taught them to walk; he took fire from the head of the Gang-gang bird and gifted it to his new people for their own heat and light. These first humans gazed upon their fledgling earth and rose to hunt and eat and multiply...
...But one he chose for himself. She was kind and attentive, she was not afraid and she saw his soul; she listened to his songs and she inspired him to dream new ones. He took her for his lizard-wife and she bore him sons and daughters: seed that were human, but the blood of their father wove deep in their flesh... in my flesh...
...Many forebrudda after, and still we bear his essence: skin as scales, eyes of gold, we taste the air and subdue our prey. We look like man but carry the heart of Great Ngarrang. His fabric lies beneath our form, until our bodies' soul-sleeps stir to rebirth, its yawn echoing in our splitting flesh. It is a song that has spun throughout our wandering: the few children of that ancient One, living as man, knowing peace, Ngarrang subdued within until purpose awakens it...
...'Til them Gubbamen came and took us away. They killed our sick, burned our camps, shamed our daughters. They stole the strong, travelled us way south with other blackfella walkers and made us work their farms. These white demons think they're so strong but they know not of Lizard Father's gifts to us, his few children among their slaving prize.
My soul-sleep is ending. Bones release, sinews stretch, my carcass quickens. My strength pervades my being and I stand. Little ngarrang drops to the ground and watches in silence, his head tipping aside in earnest as claws erupt from my hands and my neck bursts awry with a garland of swollen thorns. In the dark, the skin on my throat swells and blooms in black and gold. My mouth of hunger stretches wide across my scaled face. My tongue it flicks, it licks the ether, tastes the dust. I catch scent of them whitefellas and their cockroach females outside. They are a stain on our once-free land.
These human poison call to each other, shouting at my bruddas, striking them upon the back, taking what is ours, destroying what is not theirs. They have done this many times in our land; I have been reborn many times too, each the dawn of another hunt. Another whitefella station will be strewn with corpses and dust, our people free to go home. Just like Valentine and his scum back-a-ways.
Brudda Ngarrang is my name. I avenge my walker-kin, I reclaim our land.