JENNIFER McRAE, MARRI
Life began as a faecal-coated honkey nut, born from the feathery rear of my Ka-rak creator (red tailed black cockatoo). Expulsed without warning I sailed from high in the sky, bouncing hard into a rut, scratched out by the prehistoric three-pronged toes of that loud Kij-jin broon (swamp hen). Coated with stickiness I nestled out of the wind and into the earth, deliciously dark and warm. Blanketed in a dusting of sandy soil, I am lulled to Bidjar (sleep) until my beckoning.
I can feel her, hear her, that raucous Kij-jin broon comes scratching past her piercing shriek “Kee-ow”, “Kee-ow” echoes across the swamp. The ground stirs beneath her talons, she flick’s up soil behind and into the air. I lie still, in hope she does not upend me. Instead she squirts a healthy deposit atop my secret subterranean crib. Her generous gift soak’s the dark soil as I wait for my first rainstorm.
It comes, hardness to softness with exploding innards, life force shoots me up and out of my darkness. I burst through to the light and my metamorphosised body of fleshy green is greeted by Yar-win (moon) of the southern sky. My first breath is wet, fresh and new, I am alive, I am Marri!
Youngest of many blood woods, a vast empire of colonisers, we expand with haste across unoccupied landscapes our clan can out-grow all other species in even the most deprived soils. The giant old ones are stained with tears of bloody sap trickling down their girths that are as wide as a Bo-dal-lang (pelican’s) outstretched wing. There is much they have seen.
My solitary and disappearing ripe leaf bears the weight of a plump grub, with thanks Kij-jin broon, flicks past with the wriggling body trapped in her red beak. In my first ring of life before I am too tall for her attention, she visits daily to pluck off a feed from me. In time I return the favour to my feathered comrades; safe night-time roost, smorgasbord bug platter and a permanent Galah’s nest within my core.
Inside one cycle of Menang seasons Birak, Bunuru, Djeran, Makuru, Djilba, Kambarang my stalk thickens to the howl of the wintry Maar-woor-dytche (west wind) of thick relentless rain, that is this place, Kinjaarling (Albany). Beside me, my Menang custodians tend daily to kinship and Kalla (land), fireplace beside the black water river trapping bream in the Murdur (fish traps), spearing Kil-ung (freshwater tortoises), Kare-re (crayfish), Warr (kangaroo) and Bal-lard (possum). Green wood smoke pours out of the firepit, drying salted fish bodies to take inland for winter.
I stand ever taller, a silent spectator to Menang engagements, marriages, ceremonies, trade and birthing. Coiling root tendrils bore through and downwards past their placenta’s, sacred gifts betrothed to me, to make me stronger and give them the power to see through the yellow eyes of our creator Karak.
With careful hands Menang carve a long and wide wound from my spine, peeling off a single slab of thick, gnarled skin for the rainproof rooftop of their koornt (home). In years to come this shiny scar will be looked upon with awe, studied, calculated, estimated and used to prove that Menang were here, after all!
With age I am more valuable. I am food for my avian creator’s, who dance and stalk across my branches, with haunting calls, they crack open the woody, globular urn-shaped fruits that dangle upended. Bees coat my delicately fine blossoms, anchored into their bell-like peduncles. Blood-coloured tine that seeps out of my core is glue for Mirr (throwing stick) and wound care. Birr-ba (covered in sores) Menang harvest my pink and white blossoms for tea, treating sickness that come in ever stronger squalls. I am burdened with my gifts of shade, bark, tine, deadfall, blossom’s and honey. I whisper for them to come; do they not hear?
Djan-ga (The dead ones; Europeans) sail up my river in vessels filled with four legged noisy bleaters, who nibble grass at my feet. I feel the land vibrate at the fall of my straight wood Jarrah neighbours, cut into pieces for fence posts, houses and horse carts. They are lost to this place, but I remain, a rubbish wood, too gnarly to tame under the saw. They keep me as shade for the nibblers that graze in ever greater numbers.
Today, I sit on the boundary of a three-acre block, subdivided for dian-ga houses. I wait for my last raging wind of Kinjaarling to befall me, rendering me to my final use, woodchips in the flower garden below. Until then, I will wait for Menang, declaring their arrival when they come with the little ones to fish and fly nets, calling out for those left to hear, the names of their mother’s, father’s and all the old ones.
There is much I have seen.