From Pulpit Rock
This one walked towards us with the bow-legged gait of a horseman and sat astride some rocky protrusion. I knew that walk; Uncle Philip on Dad’s side walked like that. Uncle Phillip managed a horse stud.
My name’s David Evans. I’m named David for my father and his father and his father. I suspect maybe there’s one more David earlier. The name goes back to Brisbane and the 1860s, probably earlier than that, actually. That name and bein’ good with horses is what has been handed down. Not the money and property made down in Brisbane in those early days, which my father and grandfather frittered away with bad business decisions and maybe a partiality to drink.
He looked straight at me then.
I’m not sure what I’m doin’ called up here, which is somewhere I never went, but I know I’m connected with this tale, and I suppose you need to hear my story. I don’t understand it but I need to tell you.
I got done by a brown snake out near the Curry. I’ve been bit twice by brown snakes, the first time because I did not like shoes and wandered where horses go. That first time I was out fencin’ and the brown bit me late one afternoon. A storm was building, and I remember watchin’ lightnin’ flicker over the hills and that was me not looking down when that snake bit me. Brown snakes whistle when hunting, you know, and part of me had heard that whistle but that storm was distractin’ more’n just the food of that snake. They like to hunt when it is buildin’ to a storm. I crawled into my swag and wondered if I’d make mornin’. I did. Ned Seagle found me the next day and I was not too bad, so he loaded me onto my horse and we rode back to camp. He cut my leg open and cleaned it out, not suckin’ the poison out though—too late for that—just scrapin’ and squeezin’ because my leg had blown up a fair bit, then he squeezed in the sulphur powder after the blood was running clean. I was back up fencin’ in two days.
The brown that did for me bit me on the chest. I fell on it, my fool horse spooked and goin’ down and, wham, right on that snake. No whistlin’ involved. I suspect he was asleep but a fool horse whumpin’ the ground and a poor bloody mixed-up fella fallin’ on ya will make you strike quick. Well, I thought, that hurt. This one might kill ya. And it did.
Granddad married a Gilliah woman. Married her. With permission, I guess. She was not full. Not many of them left back around 1910. I think she had a half-caste mother who had a full mother. My grandmother’s dad was a drover, the story goes. He kept the girl who must be my great grandmother in a hut out near Taroom and looked after her pretty well, but there’s also stories of a white wife in Ipswich. We didn’t talk too much about that side of things. Granddad was drinkin’ and gamblin’, and most of what the family had built up in Brisbane he’d lost. He had my dad then. My dad was about six when they left that area. They moved up here because the Federation droughts was done and there was plenty of work for a good horseman, and Dad followed in his dad’s footsteps, which meant he married under the blankets too, a Kalkadoon woman, not full either, maybe not even a quarter but she knew who she was, my mother. Dad was smitten with her and why not? She was a handsome woman. That’s what all Dad’s old-time mates say. I kept their weddin’ photo on my washstand and she was a handsome woman.
Dad died when I was twelve. By the time he married Mum and she’d had my oldest sister, he’d turned himself into a bloody good geologist and the minin’ companies used him a lot. Anyway, when I was twelve, he was out prospectin’ and crashed his car on a bad road. He didn’t have no degree, but he had a real feel for rocks, knew his brecciated sediments from his silver bearers. Used to sing us rock songs puttin’ us to bed, that’s how come I know them terms, can sing them out in my sleep.
We was doin’ all right. There’s good money consultin’ if you’re white and Dad looked white all right.
I’d already gone a bit wild by the time Dad died. I was too dark, not like my brother and sisters, and that cut a different path for me.
Despite losin’ Dad, Mum and me stayed together. I was fightin’ a fair bit then, but Mum had put me in a gym and I learnt to box, so maybe I didn’t do so much fightin’ for the years after Dad died. But anyway.
I didn’t go to school ever, but Dad and Mum taught me. Books and geology from Dad, and bush tucker and stars and birds and lizards and all things natural from Mum. I guess I also got this way of sitting off somewhere by myself and just looking at things from Dad too. I was alone a lot, which I didn’t mind. I used to see the white kids comin’ out of school though, and they thought they was tough and could beat up a small bugger like me, but they learned. No fear, that was me, even before I learnt to fight proper. And when I could box, boy I could box. Quick as a snake I was, and I hit hard. Straight in with a punch to the throat, that was my way. You got no air, you got no ability to call out nigger or abo or boong or anything else. Those kids learned to leave me alone. Nobody much had much time for me.
But I got a coupla’ friends, after I fought this mean bugger called Stan Greely, who was beatin’ up on Bluey Manganee.
Bluey was a dark little kid lived down near the river. He was a tough little bastard, too, but Stan had three mates and for some reason Bluey was alone and Stan and his mates had cornered him, and one of Stan’s mates, can’t remember his name, was holding onto Bluey and letting Stan rip into him with punches when I leaped down on them from up above on the bank. It pissed me off to see three against one. This is when I’m eleven, I think. So I didn’t know how to box but I was wild and I’d hit Stan’s mate with a branch I’d picked up before I leaped down. So that was one down, and Bluey kicked Stan in the balls, and the other one just run off…
After, we was laughing about it and he stuck out his hand and said Bluey Manganee, and I shook and told him my name. And he said I know who you are. Of course, I’d known who he was too. Small town. So we became mates, and with Bluey you got a package deal so it was his cousins and even some nephews, though how a kid aged twelve has nephews I don’t know. Bluey was older than me, we think, anyway, but that still don’t make him old enough to be an uncle. But he is. And I found out that Bluey on that day had just wanted to be alone, and that was why there was no one with him when Stan and his mates found him on his own by the river. And we became best mates on account of him never being alone and wanting to be by himself, and me always by myself and seeing him being beat up. Life’s funny that way.
When I was fifteen, Bluey was taken away. There was rules about being black and where you could be, and so those who was black the government removed. Took them away to the Palm Islands. Disappeared them. As is the government’s way.
Not me. My mum had taught me how to live off the land, how to be invisible. They didn’t get me. They tried but they didn’t.
After a while I took a job on a property out near the Weal. I was a stockman because there wasn’t a horse I couldn’t ride. Don’t know how come. But horses and me, we just clicked.
I’m not sure who you are and why I’m talking to you. Yeah, I can see you there. I suppose we’re mixed up together somehow, but I can’t say how. That’s life all over, isn’t it? You can’t make a lot of sense of it sometimes. I’m a bloody ghost and I still can’t make sense of it, which is bloody funny, isn’t it?
From what I’m told and what I remember my dad and mum sayin’, I come from racist stock. Not surprisin’ in this country, is it? It was funny how I ended up. A victim of it myself. Anyway, I’m sorry. Not for what I’ve done, and not even, I guess, for what others in my family might have done, but just for the crazy stuff-up we made of this place. There, I’ve said it.