“Like you they suspect idiosyncrasy of witchcraft. Above all, don't get out too easily...” from The Aboriginal Cricketer - Les Murray.
Contact from Rhino. He only writes letters and is the only person I know who quotes Les Murray. His weightlifter hands played classical guitar for fifteen years but refuse emails, so my news is slow. Rhino is at the annual Imparja Cup, a national indigenous cricket tournament in Alice Springs. Rhino has connections in New South Wales cricket and is jealous that Rod Marsh is “here stealing my future stars”. Signed: “as ever Rhino COP”.
We still exchange letters every year.
I once spent time with Rhino cramped into a university four-wheel-drive during a three week trip from Adelaide to Fregon community for the 1981 aboriginal football carnival.
He had folded his bulk amongst the swags and water bottles and, as we clattered and cramped north into the desert, he recited, through owl glasses, the form for twenty-three community teams we would witness playing in the dust over three days.
We slept on dewy cold earth under star carpets, and woke from primordeal crying dreams, each dawn a little further inland, and deeper amongst camp-fires crackling about eagles and giant goannas.
Before cutting into Pitjantjatjara lands from the highway we stopped into a roadhouse. Last pies and iced coffees. Rhino and I had last beers. Immediately below a battered, two gallon pewter mug, a bar-sign read:
“peacekeeper - if you haven’t had the vote for 18 years f..k off”
Fourteen years earlier a Commonwealth of Australia Constitution amendment granted indigenous australians citizenship. Since our trip to the carnival was partly a celebration of that emancipation, Rhino made the obvious enquiry.
“Keeps blackefellers out. Can’t hold their grog and anyone who doesn’t agree can f..k off too” came the considered reply. The dents in the pewter cup clearly showed that non-compliants were methodically dealt with. Our red, gold, and black armbands made us candidates.
The giant cup stayed on it’s wooden slab. We edged out into the gushing heat. In the shade of a Moreton Bay fig, like refugees, we agreed to always stay in touch.
The football carnival was won by home side Fregon per tradition. Fregon timekeepers kept the grand final going over four hours until their side at last hit the lead and the siren blared it’s conclusion over the mayhem of dancing and music. Fregon had won the carnival cup. We had been a hidden yet intrusive part. My Pitjantjatjara language skills advanced a little, and my understanding of indigenous carnivals and the meaning of reconciliation improved slightly.
Rhino doesn’t tell me who won the Imparja Cup, but adds a PS: he’s “off the grog and going to the Caribbean World Cup”. He fancies the home side at 15/1.
Out of my jealous window giant pines tower clear from sub-tropical rainforest canopies weaving negative blue shapes of mystery; cup after cup of peace across an unending horizon.