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  • Writer's pictureDaniel Todd

Each morning I wake to find a single leaf sprouting from the end of each finger. Like the stubby slender stalks of a pagoda tree, my hands move through the world in artless, delicate brushstrokes. This morning, Canberra is fog-bound and we decide to walk up Mt Ainslie.

The still and gentle heaviness is lightly suspended as we make our little Winter’s Journey, a winter’s stroll. Chilly, but free of Schubert’s icy, hot despair, so willingly embraced. I’m reminded of Brigitte Fassbaender’s version – so wonderfully and unapologetically female through such a masculinist romantic prism. Spider webs catch the wan sun that sprinkles the inconsistent suburban footpaths.

Scent of roadside fennel in the mist of urban nature.

A perfect environment for foraging, like the front garden rosemary overspill of home,

Or the roadside ripening cumquat,

The bags of chillies left for neighbours,

and the public olive grove’s neglected branches.

We reach the relaxed fluency of the forest.

A crisp morning mob of grey kangaroos lift their narrow heads at our arrival. We watch each other in the misted stillness, accompanied by crimson rosella duet.

Soon we all move on.

But unlike them, we will soon give up this freedom of movement, when returning to the south for Lockdown 2 – The Sequel. I wonder if it will live up to the original, or ultimately prove a disappointment?

Curtailing freedom of movement puts me in mind of Aboriginal mission life up until the 1960s. Where their legal guardian was a government minister, whose permission was required for any movement, meeting or marriage. Those stifling conditions led to the Cummeragunja Walk-off – the story told by Deborah Cheetham’s opera Pecan Summer. Subject to a persistently absent ‘father’, who did not know you, yet ruled your life utterly with the law’s long, strong arm.

Even to the point of taking your children.

Separated from culture, language and ancestral land,

Like the force of the law that forced the migration and death march of those other indigenes on the Trail of Tears

Cherokee, Muscogee, Seminole, Chickasaw and Choctaw.

Yorta Yorta, Gunditjmara, Ngunnawal, Ngambri and Wirundjeri.

Where valid laws legitimise violence,

and the threat of violence for non-compliance.

The Indian Removal Act 1830 (US)

The Aboriginal Protection Act 1869 (VIC)

The Aborigines Protection Act 1909 (NSW)

The path to the summit is studded with snub-nosed scribbly gums, she-oaks and Kakoda memorials. Separate placards speak of separate histories, white and black.

The bush feels both comforting and strange, as I look out to the blue ridgelines that mark the ancient boundaries of Ngunnawal land. Fremd bin ich eingezogen, fremd zieh’ ich wieder aus. I imagine waiting by a fire to be welcomed to country, respectful of sovereignty and careful not to transgress.

The city below is shrouded.

Parliament is invisible and the Australian-American Winged-Rabbit-On-A-Stick prods the sky.

A mobile phone tower takes the honoured place at the summit, where in China a pagoda would stand.

The worshipping of Gods, old and new.

As we descend, we are greeted by multicultural g’days and friendly smiles.


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