Phoebe Grainer is a Djungan woman from Far North Queensland. 'Each Rock Must Not Be Taken' was published in Issue #39 of The Lifted Brow, and is part of a series of short stories and critical essays she is currently developing as a member of Sweatshop: Western Sydney Literacy Movement. The latest story in Phoebe's series, 'Boragee', appears in Sweatshop Women: Volume 1.
Each rock must not be taken. If it is, it must be placed back in the same place it was. My grandmother walked here, so did her grandmother and the ones before. This is a lesson I was taught by my father when I was a child, when I innocently collected granite rocks from around our home to make a path to the river where we lived at Yoolboonboo. Tall brown trees with leaves the colour of green, greys, shades of burnt oranges and pink surround it. Yoolboonboo is untamed with wild weeds, grass and ant hills. There is dirt and pathways of hooves engraved in the ground. The air at Yoolboonboo reveals how remote it is, it smells of water of the river flowing slowly with small brown fishes, the iron bark and fresh water mangrove trees blowing their scent in the warm breeze and the dust filling the air as it is being walked on. Yoolboonboo continues to be as it has always been, time has never held an important existence here. The earth at Yoolboonboo tells you not to dig it, I know, I have dug it with my own hands, it is hard with thousands of rocks, each possessing its own unique and ancient shape. Some of the rocks look like bark from the bloodwood tree, as you dig deeper the rocks become sharp and pointed, they do not want to be pulled out of the earth. It is earth that grows life that can withstand limited water and a sun that turns my dark brown skin the most beautiful black. Black that allows the night to be quiet and allows the camp fire to be a part of the stars and opens closed ears for stories to be heard. My father told me stories of Miturki, the protector, how no matter where you are, he is always looking after you, always watching. My nine-year-old hands are cemented in the ground where I dug the earth at Yoolboonboo, so are my brothers, sisters, mother and father, my entire family. I left Yoolboonboo not long after I had dug its deep orange earth with my hands, but I always felt it. Yoolboonboo came with me everywhere. Like Miturki, I felt it watching, protecting and waiting to call me back. Sometimes I would see Miturki sitting in the tree and then fly away. I returned to Yoolboonboo, a woman, I craved for the freedom and warm feelings it had given me as a child. The path that I created with the granite rocks has gone and the rocks have been placed back to their homes but it is not the same and there are many rocks that have been moved and taken. On the journey back to Yoolboonboo, iron sheds cover views of Ngarrabullgan, white cement covers the earth and white skin is seen. Yoolboonboo now has fences sectioning each part of it, the gumtrees and ironbark have been cleared away and the ground is left bare. I feel the loss of their weight in the hard ground and I cry Yoolboonboo’s tears. I searched for my hands but they are now a part of the earth, Yoolboonboo has swallowed them, weeds and green patchy wild grass have replaced them. There is much that is foreign to Yoolboonboo, introduced by foreign hands. The path to Yoolboonboo is as I remember, the path passes Ngarrabullgan and the tin iron and glass bottles remain where my grandmother grew and lived. I stopped on the way to Yoolboonboo and I visited the place where my grandmother lived, I imagined her with her mother placing their hands into the earth as I did as a child. My mother showed me a rock. This rock was resting under a black bloodwood tree, my mother told me that on that rock my grand-mother sat and had lunch with her. They ate hamper sandwiches with onion and tomato and sipped on Bushells tea from enamel cups. This rock looks like it had fallen off the rock face of Ngarrabullgan, it is mud red, indented, it does not look comfortable for an old woman to sit on and eat but I want to sit on that rock and I want to eat too. I did not know my grandmother, she passed before I was born but I know her through stories and memories of ones who did. If I touch that rock, I feel my grandmother and her grandmother and grandmother and grandmother and her grandmother and her grandmother and her grandmother and her grandmother and her grandmother and grandmother and her grandmother and her grandmother and her grandmother and her grandmother and grandmother and her grandmother and her grandmother and grandmother and her grandmother and her grandmother and her grandmother and her grandmother and her grandmother and her grandmother and her grandmother and her grandmother and so on. I understand the lesson my father told me as a child, I don’t need to make the path, the path is there, the path has always been there and always will be. ◆