brenda L. croft

photo essay | Poetry




‘Your mouth’ (silver gelatin proof) is the earliest image I have sourced of my grandmother, a proof sheet from the archives of the South Australian Museum in Adelaide in the Cecil J. Hackett Collection. Hackett was a doctor who studied diseases among Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory and my grandmother was one of his subjects. The image of her mouth was taken on 17 May 1934, exactly 30 years before my birth, and the text accompanying the proof-sheet image is: 'Proof number 11-12 Annotated "Bessie Croft Chinese/native H/C”’, with H/C standing for ‘Half-Caste.'

‘My mouth’ (tintype) is my silent shut-mouth scream to my grandmother over the decades. My father was removed from her when he was about four or five years old and did not see her again till May 1974, exactly 40 years after the Hackett image was taken, and shortly after I had turned 10. My family spent 3 weeks with my grandmother, who was dying, and I remember her talking to me in Aboriginal kriol as she took me around the church-run institution where she lived at the time, and where she worked as the laundress. I can still recall her scent and beautiful nature and remember that my father cried when they met again after more than four decades. 


Please click on the thumbnails below to view photos full screen.


Today I walked for my mother

Today I walked for my mother
along the cedar walk
past the shepherd’s cottage
that smells of mould
powdery dust gritty underfoot                
I walked
past the mob of ‘roos grazing
in the cleared field alongside
Bundanon, asleep in the shadows
liquid eyes gazing at me
as long as I keep walking by
a fly or bee buzzes me, oh it’s a fly
dive­‐bombing then away
lantana cleared moonscape
letting light in from the river
breathless on the rise up
and around
chatter of birdsong left and right
and above
crunch of tentative steps across
dead stalks, twigs, leaves of lantana
already new shoots sprung up
bright, evil green, tenacious
in their bed of broken sticks  
wind picks up again, hums and
moans around my eyes and ears
in the unseen distance the thwok-
thwok­‐thwok of a helicopter
forty­‐nine years ago I emerged
after a two­‐day battle
back to front as has always
been my wont
the battle continued for the next
forty-six years
back and forth, love and hate
anger and hurt, sorrow and joy
my grandmother passed at the age
of ninety-one, my mother sixty-
six then, seventy-two when she
went I should have had another
twenty years with her

Today I walked for my mother
at the river, on the lantana
I said a little silent prayer-­
A remembrance
Thanking her for sending me into
battle, even when it scarred us
Wounds healed over, skin papery
thin, she kicked her feet
up in the hospital bed, sat up
straight, eyes shut tight, already
on her journey to somewhere else
And swung her feet back &   
forth, like a small child
Strength in those legs from
another place
Wind picks up, the sound of  
a wombat in the undergrowth
scratch, scratch, scratching his
fur, hidden from me, not quite
Wind picks up as footsteps do

Today I walked for my mother  
At the end her legs had failed her
She did not walk without pain
and breathlessness
Her insides were failing, fighting her
She said to me one night, only
the two of us in her little flat
I’m scared Brenda, I know I said
and that was that
Sitting in the chair beside her bed
in a hospital in her childhood
place, jacarandas were in bloom
a lavender sea across the rooftops
as I looked out from her window
towards where she had grown up
the scent of gardenias rose up    
in the heavy air from the carpark
She had torn the tubes from her
arms, climbed out of bed, walked
around unaided, no support,   
sat on her roommate’s bed, then
wandered out to the nurses station
All the while her eyes closed tight

I think her last words to me were along
the lines of You two should get
married, with a little smile, as
she watched Rhys & I greet
each other with a kiss
then, silence, her world was inner
she had already gone through
whatever door had opened for her
I plucked her eyebrows and chin
hairs, we had cut and coloured
her hair before the drive away
from her flat, for good, no going
back for her

The mournful dirge of cawing
Crows calls me back
Today I walked for my mother