Turning swiftly off the blacktop to the whine of decelerating gears, my tyres flick pebbles along roadside rubble. I’ve stopped to watch The Ghan roll into Alice: I’m tuned to this shining foundry snake humming its electric travel song, weaving through blue- grey saltbush, tracking in time’s wake of dreaming stories — overland signals of dots’n dashes — the swaying caravans of Afghan cameleers. A puff of dust hangs languid in warm air rising slowly, joining waves of silver heat. Blood-red quartzite is sparkling in the ranges, these ridged, folded monolithic rocks — ancient sentinels to living, dancing coolabahs. Squinting out the lunchtime sun I dangle my legs over the tray of my ute eat hot salty chips, share with tiny flies like sticky currants. Iced coffee flows silky down my throat the day’s sweat echoing its milky stream underneath my shirt. I lift one hand towards the train, pull on an imaginary handle (the way kids ask of passing truckers) grin like a child as the driver blasts back — I see you. The cooling inky shadow of an eagle passes overhead seeking thermals, seeking tell-tale oxide smears — the sweet stink of roadkill — sustenance for waiting eaglets beyond the shimmering camber. Things are — as they are. Skinks are rustling in crispy wheaten grasses. I am grounded by this country — centred in The Centre.
* For me, this poem is an example of the ways in which a sense of place can give us peace and help to keep us grounded: in this instance I gain comfort through my connection with Alice Springs (Alice to many locals). The Traditional Owners and custodians of Alice Springs (Mparntwe) are the Arrernte language group. Whilst the pioneering cameleers are collectively referred to as Afghan they were culturally and linguistically different, coming from India, Pakistan, Turkey and Afghanistan.
Lorraine Gibson is a Scottish-Australian anthropologist, painter and writer. Her work is upcoming in Mensicus, the anthology Poetry for the Planet and published in Live Encounters, WordCity, Oceania, TAJA, Australian Aboriginal Studies (AIATSIS), The Australian Museum’s Explore Magazine and others. Her book, We Don’t Do Dots: Aboriginal Art and Culture in Wilcannia, New South Wales is published in the UK by Sean Kingston Publishing.