BROOKE SINGLETON, BREWARRINA
Twisting. Thrashing. Drowning? No, just trapped. Trapped in a dark void between freedom and death. Thick silt cocoons me, blinding and choking. All means of escape eclipsed by the writhing ball of panicked Perch that engulf me. Their palpable terror, wildly contagious, robs me of my ability to think. I can, however, feel. Toward my tail the dyke, hand laid generations ago, worn smooth by time, reaching up toward the surface. Something tangible to recoil against, while my world is sacked.
Unending generations of my kind, the two-leggers call Birrngi, have passed through this labyrinth. I myself have escaped before, through the narrow bottleneck of locked boulders. Belly inching along groping bushes and reeds, through the race. Scales torn loose, emerging into the breeding weirs, to endure and add to the balance. They have never trapped all. Never taken all. And yet, far too early in the season, the keystone blocks the race. Nets like I have not seen before drag us together, restricting our movement to one small area of our vast Darling. All river life forcibly corralled together. Though somewhat similar in appearance, quite alien to one another. Having always observed invisible boarders and respectful distance, until now.
Slothfully, the silt settles. Panicked thrashing turns into a dance of slow, measured movements. Now I see. The main ponds, managed for thousands of years, have been torn down. The banks, once rich in murrnong yam, destroyed by beasts of a size beyond comprehension. And an invading strain of two-leggers, void of colour and culture, loudly stake their claim. Muffled booms and red, metallic plumes punctuate our days. The disorder of wailing grief, the anthem of our nights. And, in our combined isolation, we are left to descend into a common madness. Robbed of our sovereignty, once proud species are abandoned to falter and wallow.
Desperation is borne of circumstance. Many try to escape, grouped or alone, squeezing through clefts in the stone walls, or rupturing outsider nets. Others endear themselves to our captors, perhaps in hopes of being kept as macabre domestic decorations. All bludgeoned to death, or pocked with lead pellets for their attempts. As my spirit unites with despair, deep within, primal voice stirs. Softly at first, barely audible over my abhorrence, the elder voice slowly strengthens, rupturing the darkness. It speaks of the great spirits who carved these waterways; and of Baiame, creating the system that has become genocides stage. Be still. The powerful message imbues. Be strong. And so, using my maw, I mutiny. I endure in stoic indignation, to rob the antagonists of their delight in torment.
Then, the inevitable, I am touched. First, violent contact. Grasped by a calloused hand, its grip pulsating with my panic and its hatred; firm and terrifying. Ripping me from my place and all I have ever known. Pulling me up and out, plunged into repellent dry air. Then nothing, for I am lost to the Earth.