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  • Larissa Behrendt (bio)


I like the morning best of all. The fire is burning. The world seems new. Even the earth and the sky have slept.

Garibooli awoke to the prophetic laughter of the kukughagha, who always announced the dawn. Already there was movement in the camp. She lay in the lean-to, warm under the bundar skins. She watched the lithe figure of her mother poking at the coals in an attempt to excite the flames, her father and the other men gathering in preparation for a visit to a nearby settlement. In the distance she could hear her aunt's hacking cough. As the camp bustled with its early morning business, Garibooli thought of the festive atmosphere of the night before. There were visitors who had crept onto the property, unbeknownst to the gubbas who controlled what happened on the land.

"The white man acts as though he is the only one on the land and as if it is his ancestors who inhabit the landscape," her baina would mutter, his eyes deep and thoughtful, focused on something distant. Although her parents had wandered freely all over the land when they were children, the family now lived permanently in a small section of Dungalear, confined to an enclosed space. In return, they were given the terror of God, schooling in a tin-roofed hut, clothing they now felt immodest without, and a new language which gave them new names. Garibooli had been given the name Elizabeth by the Reverend's wife, who wrote the new names into a book—making them official in dark-blue-ink letters.

When Garibooli would ask why they weren't allowed to speak their language, her mother ran out of answers. All Garibooli knew was that it had to be that way because the gubbas said so. The hard thwack of a large wooden ruler across her knuckles, administered by the school mistress whose face knotted with rage at the sound of words that were not the ones that white people would use, reinforced Garibooli's understanding of the way the world worked. The Reverend's wife had tried to explain to her that she was named after an English queen. But she loved the feel of her real name as it [End Page 45] [Begin Page 47] rolled off her tongue, preferring the way that her lips made a ripple, like on the river, to pronounce the third syllable: Ga-ri-boo-li. "Elizabeth" sounded scratchy and high-pitched, like a bird squawk. She would whisper her real name to herself, over and over again, faster and faster. Garibooli. Garibooli. Garibooli.

Her brother had been given the name Sonny. Garibooli thought of the word "sunny" the first time she heard it, so began to call him "Euroke," which was the name for the sun in the language they were forbidden to use. He, in return, called her "Booli," because he knew she liked her real name best.

Yesterday morning the camp had been bustling with soft excitement over the arrival of old Kooradgie. The men hovered expectantly, and the women had been especially diligent in preparing the food. Larger bundar had been killed. There were fewer now with the farmers and the fences. Her father and the other men had been gone several days to bring them back.

Kooradgie hobbled with a stick and had an eye missing, the lid in a permanent wink. Garibooli had known him all of her life, almost twelve years, and she now looked forward to the sporadic visits from the hunched-over, strangely shaped man. His skin was marked with deep spots, and he might have scared her had he not been so kind. In the afternoon, he had sung to the children and told a story about the biggibilla man:

Long ago, food was scarce and the people were hungry. Even when people had shared what they had managed to catch and find, they were still hungry. Everyone was getting thinner and thinner, except one old man. So one night, after they had shared some small fish that had been all the food that they could find, the other men...