Photo by JENNY FRASER
Life in Mindingu
It was the June July season here in Mindingu the days are always hot and dry. This time of the year, the dry wind blows more frequently throughout the community. The howling winds carry all those dark reddish brown dust through the community, sometimes in small wind pools the winds swirl and spin onto those freshly scented laundry. Washings are always affected during this time of the year, sometimes the dust settles heavily on the fresh washing leaving evidence of red tinges, as if someone had sprinkled heaps of salty plum powder over the washing. I don’t know why people in Mindingu still want to buy white towels, sheets and clothes when they know the color of the earth will consume the fabric. June July in Mindingu is also known as tourist season. From all over Australia and around the world, tourist flock like birds in Mindingu. Some come to escape their cold winter weather down south, others join families and friends on their own pilgrimage, some come in group tours. Japanese, German, Koleh, Swedish, American. You name it, they all want wanna been there done that. Everyone who comes to Mindingu always experience that Australian untouched beauty, rich in culture, rich in history and settlement. They also come to hear those painful stories, brutal massacres of those who once lived long ago in Mindingu. Most of all everyone who comes to Mindingu experience that spectacular sunset view. It is such a magical moment to capture Mindingu’s sunset. As the sun sets off with time, it ends its duty with a landscape of splendid colors. Like a master painter stroking its brush, the sun displays its fine work of art, captivating its audience. Beautifully and skillfully combining an array of colors and hues. Turning the sky into colors of oranges, pinks, tinges of red and shades of black. The sun’s invisible brush, its fine detail, its signature touch, its portraits so breathtaking. Saving its best work for last. All across the beach you can see the gazes on the tourists’ face, captivated, drawn by the horizon, watching as the sun melts its colors, sinking, slowly into the ocean, bringing light to another place’s night. One time an American tourist talking on the public phone where the old Island Industries Board shop used to be, reckon to the person on the other end of the line, Mindingu was better than Disneyland. Mind you his family, wife and four children all standing around the telephone booth in the hot sun barefoot. I don’t know where their Toyota land cruiser was because brother and his mob must of footfalconed from the camping grounds. That’s the thing when tourists come to Mindingu they all footfalcon barefoot. Maybe they can’t walk like that where they come from.
Today was a beautiful Thursday morning here in Mindingu. The sun was shining beautifully as it was slowly heating up the place. Bab Knox was sitting on his favorite green plastic chair outside the small verandah of his two bedroom single men’s duplex. Leaning slightly on the dark blue painted wooden rails Bab Knox was enjoying his morning ritual of strong black tea with two heaped teaspoon of white sugar. Steaming from his big white enamel cup, Bab Knox was enjoying the fresh and cool morning of a brand new day. Slowly sipping on his hot cup of tea Bab Knox entertained himself watching the local school children passing by. He watched as they talked, laughed, some listening to headphones, others on bikes and silver scooters. Every now and then local community members going past for work would beep their horns and give a wave at Bab Knox. Those who knew him well enough would yell out his name as they waved. Strolling down on the opposite path of the foot path, Bab Knox noticed a young, tall, medium built boy wearing long black baggy pants, huge white T-shirt, three times his size, a black snap back cap with thick white lettering that said NY. His thick long curly hair was pulled back under the cap in a hair band. Casually walking down those uneven brown pavements, hands in his pocket, head down, as if he staring at his black old worn frayed low cut converse like shoes. He looked like one of those guy from a rap music video clip.
“Kapu bathaynga kazi, aiya,” said Bab Knox.
“Morning my boy, aye boy one, you there,” said Bab Knox.
Slowly lifting his head the young man looked around to where voice was coming from. Only to see an old man sitting on the verandah of his sky blue duplex, his head slightly raised over the dark blue painted wooden rails, he lifted one hand in a kind gesture so the young boy could see.
“Excuse boy can you move my sprinkler over there for me, if you don’t mind,” said Bab Knox.
Without any hesitation the young boy walked towards the entrance of the silver gate. Taking his hands out of his pocket, he slowly lifted the latch of the silver government styled fence and entered into the old man’s yard. Without any word the young man waited on the old man to direct him where to put the sprinkler.
“Can put the sprinkler near to the fence next to the walk way, I want to try and stop them sand from flying into my house when the winds come,” said Bab Knox.
Hands gently clasping the metal orange triangle base sprinkler with four forked like metal prongs shooting from the orange base. The young boy shifted the sprinkler near to the entrance of the gate. Before placing the sprinkler down on the thick green grass he looked at the old man’s gesture for approval. With a small and gentle flick of his hand Bab Knox gave the approval.
“My boy can you come over here,” said Bab Knox.
Slowly the young boy made his way to the verandah where the old man was sitting.
“Have a seat over here,” said Bab Knox.
“It’s okay I’ll just sit on steps,” said the young man.
Quietly but slowly the young man lowered himself onto the grey hard cement of the duplex.
“You want some tea my boy?” said Bab Knox.
“No not really, it’s alright, thank you,” said the young man.
Lowering his head the young man stared at the stairs as he sat there silently waiting for another prompting from the old man.
“Ngi Ngunu Kazi?” said Bab Knox.
“Who are your parents son,” said Bab Knox.
“My mum is Dianne and my dad’s Splinter,” said the young boy.
“You mean Dianne, Jane’s daughter and Splinter Ara?” said Bab Knox.
“Yeah that’s them,” said the young man.
“You really look like your father, that hair of yours proper like him and that face, especially that nose, that’s a real Ara nose,” said Bab Knox.
“Look at me my boy what’s your name?” said Bab Knox.
“Hedge Ara,” said the young man.
“Aye! look out, what kind of name is that? Who did your mother name you after, is that your nickname name or proper name?” said Bab Knox.
“It’s my real name, she named me after the movie actor Heath Ledger. My mum’s favorite actor,” said Hedge.
Hedge did not want to stare or look into the old man’s face, but felt comfortable being in the old man’s presence. Bab Knox was a real Island man. His big old hands with thick long fingers, told many hard working stories, his broad shoulders and arms spoke of those many hunting trips out in the sea. He was tall, his dark smooth skin matched his white soft hair. The long lines across his forehead reflected the age and wisdom of his life. Bab Knox had a small pot belly, across his chest in the middle of his breasts laid three hard bump like scarification marks. Marks only achieved coming into manhood, through initiation ceremonies, marks reflecting the descendants of head hunters. His eyes spoke with kindness and humor. But knowing all Island man there erupts discipline, correction and straightening of the young bamboo that can change those calmness in his eyes.
“I see you every night walking this street with two girls. Who are those girls? One of them proper loud always wanna do them funny dance, like sticking her bum out,” said Bab Knox.
“That’s Jojo and Beyonce,” said Hedge.
“Is Jojo Peddy’s daughter? Who’s Beyonce parents?” said Bab Knox.
“Yeah Jojo is Peddy’s daughter and Beyonce’s is really Brain, Brain Hatu son’s,” said Hedge.
“What you mean to say he changed from man to women? I say what’s going on. That boy when he was a little would always be down at the beach fishing with his father. He used to go everywhere with his dad. His father better get his act together and stop drowning himself in shooting up in that bucket, stupid man, does he realize that his son wearing them cut jeans like woman. He should be taking him out hunting for turtle and dugong or get him to play rugby league. Not walk around here late at night dancing sticking his bum out,” said Bab Knox.
Hedge could not help himself but quietly laughed to himself from the old man’s remarks.
“Why are you following them boy?” said Bab Knox.
“Well we get bored at home and there is really nothing to do. Jojo’s mum and dad fights all the time. Beyonce’s dad too busy smoking dope and he’s never really home,” said Hedge.
“Where’s your mum?” said Bab Knox.
“Well she’s always at the pink house gamble school,” said Hedge.
“What’s wrong with Dianne? Do you have any other brothers or sisters?” said Bab Knox.
“Yeah two small brothers in primary school, they are at home right now,” said Hedge.
“Now how come you and your brothers not at school today?” said Bab Knox.
Hedge became silent for a moment and put his head down. He sat quietly. His strong jaw line tight and broad nose flaring, it was as if Bab Knox had upset or offended him for asking that question. He leaned forward and rested his arms on his legs and closed his fist as if he was ready to strike someone.
“We can’t go to school, there’s no food in the house, mum’s not at home too,” said Hedge.
“How old are you son?” said Bab Knox.
“Sixteen in November?” said Hedge.
Bab Knox and Hedge turned their view towards the fence as they heard the door slam shut of a black Toyota land cruiser tray back. The man from the Toyota made his way to Bab Knox’s fence.
“Morning! Come in my boy,” said Bab Knox.
Through the gate, the man walked up Bab Knox’s walkway. He was tall in height, he had a good built, his shoulders seemed broad under the black shirt he was wearing, he had those piercing dark black eyes, his hair had been shaved down to one centimeter. He had that strong jaw line and broad nose. His legs were strong and full of muscle. He looked like a guy who was a real hard worker. He seemed like a serious kind of guy.
“Good morning old man. Just come to let you know we got a female dugong last night. The boys will come by later and drop your share. I’ll get Sherrie to put some dugong stew, rice, cassava and domboy aside to for you. For lunch and dinner,” he said. The piercing dark eyes were checking out Hedge, he was staring every detail of Hedge’s being.
Hedge felt awkward sitting on the veranda, he had just only met Bab Knox and now there was another guy he did not know was only talking to Bab Knox. Hedge was trying to figure out a way how he was going to excuse himself. With a quick glance, Hedge caught the piercing eyes meeting his lightly brown eyes. Quietly and discreetly without Hedge knowing Bab Knox were making hand symbols to the man expressing that Hedge had no food at his house.
“You really got your mother’s eyes but the Ara’s strong jaw line and big nose is really in you,” said the man. Without hesitation Hedge slowly lifted his head as his lightly brown eyes fused into the dark piercing eyes of the man.