Blackbirding

image

Did you come here for pearls,
having heard of the Bay
where the oyster-shell waters
open up wide to share?

Have you brought your investors
to see what’s for sale
in the town by the jetty
at old Roebuck Bay?

Have your brought your own tender
to hold as you dive,
or some eager companions
who’ll plunge for your dime?

Have you captured the knowledge
from ancient salt shores?
Will you watch from the shoreline
or dive down yourself?

Dive deep for the oysters;
save grit for the pearl.
The luggers are humming
as they promise the world.

Now the waters are swaying
and the history’s deep.
You should have let birds fly
and left pearls in the sea.

* Blackbirding was the term used for the capturing Aboriginal divers to work on pearl luggers in Broome.

Ritual

Why do I walk on tiptoes when I first step into icy blue?
                                 As if my waist
must stay above the lapping line,
                                                  as though
caution will keep me safe in this task
which infants undertake with glee?
The slow preparation,
the gasps as underneath we plunge:
all this is ritual, and we are drawn to it
as ducks to streams –
salt or chlorine always say
Summer, whatever the temperature of air,
however pervasive the shade.
And here bamboo lines the pool, and palm
fronds droop like willows thirsty for drink:
the scene is stamped, Paradise
in shades we are trained to recognise.
Not all is familiar or belongs:
pindan dust falls to blue floor
and outside smudges the bitumen.
My coast is not this coast;
the sun sets for me the other way.
Though strange the air and stranger the days,
all water says, I am home.

The Snake that Wasn’t

First, it prompts barking, then slithers,
Its brown face poking, scaled, from the trees.
Bamboo and rock can’t expose its camouflage,
yet the dog is wiser.
Trapped by barking and pool, the reptile skulks
while, in Sunday daze, we search out “Kimberley snake control”
and keep the dog at bay.
In a flash between leaves, two feet and blue tongue emerge;
foe turns to friend, perhaps,
but dog barks still, unsure if friends
can have blue tongues and scaly feet.
Anti-climax wags its tail in Broome September heat.
Cautious, slowed, the lizard backs
a hesitant retreat.