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  • Not Quite White in the Head
  • Melissa Lucashenko (bio)

1. Very Small Story

Earthspeaking? You will think of it as a big story, a na- tional story. Native Title. Salinity, Landcare. Turn the rivers backwards, or find that inland sea. It's Burke and Wills, it's the Bushtucker Man, it's drought and flooding rains, but no. Stop. Pause for breath, since people in a hurry cannot feel. You say, It's a big country. I say, There isn't much room for everyone's big stories.

Things change. Down the track a bit now, some migloo might be thinking, Oh, The Land—something bigger than themselves at last. A chance to be Humble. (It's hard to be humble when you're…not.)

Only, we are asking you, pause for breath. The earth is not in any great hurry for your prostrations, fabrications, speculations. Take one day for looking. For one day:

Do not plough.

Do not burn.

Do not plant.

Do not clear.

Pause for breath. Remember Genesis: The Land Is Not Cursed.

I am earthspeaking, talking about this place, my home, and it is, first, a very small story. Tell it softly so that someone might by chance hear you. One valley. A tree with a crooked branch where children swung with children's hands, a soft look of the pasture in the buttery afternoon light. The cold scent of dew on purple-tipped flatgrass, grass that can be stripped and played like a gumleaf if you know how. It is land with a small l. The people? They are off to the side somewhere. They are important, yes, but they aren't the whole story. Nothing is the whole story, by itself. Not the people and not the land either. They need each other. So gather round. This earthspeaking is a small, quiet story in a human mouth, or it is no story at all.

2. Pica

We grew in paradise, lost and found. My family lived on three acres in Brisbane's bushy southern outskirts. Turrble land, but under Jagera care [End Page 23] during the seventies and eighties. We were poor, but nobody thought to say it, and by the time I arrived—child number seven—nobody was going hungry anymore. We had land. What else mattered? Mum's green thumb made anything grow. Magpies flung themselves theatrically into the kitchen, braked as sharply as military aircraft on the backs of empty chairs, and delicately took scraps from our hands. The winter wattle and oodgeroo blossomed along the fenceline each year, and there were blue-speckled yabbies in the dam if you had a string and a piece of soggy gristle. My mother smiles wryly at nature shows on tv, the ones with the baby birds in the nest, screaming for food. I know just how the mother bird feels, she says every time. She means us kids, and before us, herself, growing up with wild oysters, the difference between going on and starvation.

Early part. I climbed the mulberry tree, avoided my brothers, crouched in child burrows amongst gritty lantana stems. Most of all I watched my father use a sharp, longhandled shovel to feed us. He had left the meat works by then, and become an earth scientist in the most literal sense: he gathered and mixed and sold soil to local gardeners, on a scale so tiny it was both heroic and ridiculous.

The rhythm of Dad's shovelling—the brace of the long wooden handle against the pale boomerang of his left leg, the scrape of the blade as it picked up its endless burden, the plumping of black loam into long rows of heavy plastic sacks—that rhythm is the beat and echo of my childhood. It is a slow, deliberate beating, hour upon daily hour of his labouring, and I can still hear it. Every dollar that ever came to us came on that worn shovel blade, and the phrase "the sweat of his brow" has never seemed abstract to me. If anything was less remarked on than the need to sweat in order to live, it was the value of the earth, the essential virtue and...