Outlines of the Past

(Songs of Sand and Stone)

© Will Moody, 2014

Winner, 2014 John O’Brien Written Bush Poetry Competition, Narrandera NSW.

I spent my youth in Sydney’s bush…to you that may sound strange.
But cities grow and, as you know, suburban sprawl brings change.
The bush and scrub where I would stub my toe and bark my shin
has been defaced by modern taste in tar and tile and tin.
But, even now, the bush somehow defies the constant threat
of urban sprawl and, overall, the game’s an even bet.

There’s still some there if you should care to seek it out yourself.
Forsake the grey well-trodden way and find the sandstone shelf
that lies behind the grey-green blind that looms beyond the street.
Seek out the track that takes you back on bare ancestral feet
to times when there was simpler fare to slake a summer thirst.
The unspoilt streams Baiami* dreamed for those who dwelt here first.

And in that place you’ll see the trace of those who came before:
the silent songs that now belong to those who’ll come no more.
Faint outlines show where long ago they sang the dreamtime song;
the stone-age glyph on shelf and cliff of whale and wobbegong.
With shield and spear they hunted here and kept their tribal way
and carved emu and kangaroo for us to see today.

They gathered here from far and near to hear the legends told
and crouched in fear of lightening spear, as storm and thunder rolled.
For ages vast of aeons past they came to dance and feast;
to stamp and chant with spear aslant, before the dreaming ceased.
From Nature’s store, they gave thanks for the gifts of bush and wave;
and shaped and locked, there in the rock, the bounty that she gave.

And I, a child, became beguiled and craved to understand
this dialect in sandstone pecked out by that ancient hand.
I later learned how history turned a people from their land
and strangers made their mark and stayed to plunder and expand.
And now I grieve a fate that leaves a people dispossessed
while giving me the chance to be born in a land so blessed.

The remnant sign and ghostly line here on the rock still shows.
Five hundred years…a thousand years? Millennia? Who knows?
Baiami* stands where ancient hands made effigy in stone
and for that race, here in this place, his vigil keeps alone.
The rock-bound vibes of vanished tribes are all that now remain.
Barani* now and Cammeraigal* will never come again.

The shelf is small on which I scrawl the outline of my past:
the graphite paint on paper…faint, fleet shadow that I cast.
As time erases fitful phrases, pages turn to dust;
as fashions change our reach and range, the years betray our trust.
But shelf and wall reveal the hallmark of the song sung well…
long shadows cast from ages past, that teach us “Show, don’t tell”.

Notes –
There are Aboriginal rock engravings at many sites throughout the Sydney basin.
Those at what is now called Gumbooya Reserve overlooking the coastline northward from Manly lie within the bushland playground of my youth. Although the site is more than three km from the present day coast, the engravings include the outline of an enormous whale.

*Barani is an Aboriginal word of the Sydney language that means ‘yesterday’.
*The Cammeraigal clan held the lands of the north shore of Port Jackson, centred on Manly Cove.
*Baiami : Sky Father/Creator figure of Dreamtime legends.

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