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#Map 2: White


is not a colour

I usually



To drive to the western plains is like going to another country.

Road trains with up to three long trailers own the road and balls of cotton fluff blow along yellow dirt edges in their wake. In the middle of the road a newly dead echidna lies on her back, soft belly and pouch exposed, the first of many road kills. Her hands are like my hands, fingers and palm facing upwards baring tender pink fleshy pads.

The process of bringing the body into focus and allowing images to emerge is one of de-authoring myself in order to learn this country. The problem of white skin, sun and belonging in this land.

Inside the metal cage a stand of nine scarred trees, head and limbs amputated at top and bottom leaving only the stump of branches and trunk. A sign invites me to photograph the trees but when I place my camera lens inside the square of metal mesh it stops working and never works again.

The coolabah, boonery and belah have a remarkable life force drawn from the artesian water in the rock far below. Some of their leaves flicker and sparkle against the sun’s bright light, others are coated in misty blue-grey oil against the drying heat. The western rosewood, leopard tree, warrior tree, the silver-leafed desert ironbark, gidgee and mulga all survive in this place.

Six billion trees, 60% of the pre-European tree population, were cleared from these flood plains since white settlement. Dead trees stand in this landscape like skeletons, the bones of this place, bleached silver like the images that I carry with me from this trip, parched, dry, skeletal, waiting.

The dream-state is strange. We are camping here in this place beside the shell middens but it is a bigger camp and during the night two young Aboriginal children come into our tent. Then a big mob of Aboriginal people join us and there is talking and laughing, much happiness at being together in this place. It is only by returning to this dream space that I can get any relief from the abject terror of this night.

Closer to the water’s edge beside the dancing, sparkling light of the river he points out the footprint of the creator in a big flat rock beside the rocky net pattern of fish traps. Part of the foot is silted over but several giant toes, the arch and ball of a giant foot are plainly visible. ‘That footprint’, he says, ‘is a sentence in the Aboriginal story’.

This material is an accompaniment to Water in a Dry Land: Place Learning Through Art and Story.