Allira began to cry. The men ordered her again to leave her son alone. The time had come for a mother to let her son go. She had performed her duties as required and now the son had to find his own way forward. It was time for his initiation and teaching.
“Her night has been long and dark but a glorious dawn awaits her. We are but a stone’s throw from the annals of history my dear Philibert. Charles de Brosses foresaw it. Jean-Jacques Rousseau knows it. King Louis XV expects it. The Great Southern Land. Terra Australis Incognito. New Ile-de-France I will call it.”
“That is a family of thirteen over there. You see the big bulky one? That’s Tibrogargan, the father,” Nyakul said.
“Yes I see the big one, Uncle Nyakul.”
“The other big one is Beerwah, the mother. The rest are sons and daughters.”
The two ghosts paddled but had forgotten their previous tribal knowledge of the sea and got caught in the big sea pull. After a long time paddling hard, they finally reached Minjerribah to be reunited with Pamplet, the third ghost.
“Do you remember what Uncle once said to us? That Mairrwarrh has a memory,” Bunji remarked.
“She carries murmurs from the past. That she is scarified by every stroke of a child’s paddle…”
“By every passage of our canoes…”
“And now she will remember the big bird that swam here.”
His thoughts were dashed at the sublime sight before him. The boy in the clouds raised the cone triumphantly and delivered the hopes of the crowd. There were bunya nuts in the cone and all was well. A loud cheer erupted from the crowd while Dural poked and knocked a number of pine cones to the ground. The crowd quickly jumped back as cones bigger than human heads bombarded the ground.
Kulan’s smoke signal was eventually received and canoes were dispatched to bring the Turrbal party to Yarun. Upon arrival, they were greeted by four Joondaburrie warriors who instructed them to wait on the shore. After the sun had made good progress across the sky, the chief of the Joondaburrie tribe arrived. Burnum’s flabby gut and wrinkled skin defied the “mighty warrior” meaning of his name. His awkward hobble revealed an old injury to his left leg.
But Bunji also felt his apprehension rise. Did he not have a recent dream where the water dragon was searching high and low for his missing bottlebrush? He knew the dream related to his brother for that lizard was Jarrah’s totemic identity. But he hadn’t understood the bottlebrush reference back then.
For the first time on this journey, he felt a thrill. He looked up and realised why. A totem was depicted there. When fear gets too much, they lapse into a trance like state. In resolving conflicts, they find alternative strategies to fighting. Their instincts are heightened and can often detect danger when others cannot. The turrwans arrived at his side and looked with surprise at the depiction on the tree trunk. Was the boy mistaken? Was this really his totemic identity?
“Lieutenant Cook aptly chose to name the place where our troubles started, Cape Tribulation. After rounding a prominent headland that our Commander named Cape York after the Duke of York, we faced quite a quandary. We needed to find a way to get to the Indian Ocean but a barrier of shoals and reef blocked us. This barrier evidently prevented the Dutch from reaching the eastern coast of New Holland from Carpentaria.”
“The Admiralty have actually proposed one of their own recently promoted Lieutenants as Commander for this expedition,” Mark interjected.
“A new boy?” Viscount Hillsborough asked. “Who?”
“His name is Lieutenant James Cook.”
“I’ve never heard of him.”
“Exactly! Nobody in London has,” Lucius urged. “We need to reinstate Dalrymple and you Lord Hillsborough can formally request it from the Sea Lord…”
“That evening, I wondered whether we had saddled the wrong horse. The butcher may indeed have taken the stone hatchet but why did so many natives object to his “arrest”? What was really going on between the butcher and Tubourai that we didn’t know about? Have we intervened in an old dispute? And what do we really know of Tubourai and Tomio?”
He turned his head towards one of his esteemed senior officers. What was that he’d just said? “God Himself does not want us to proceed further. Was this indeed a sign from Him? Was this divine protection from above? If so, how could he ignore such caution?
“Commander, your orders?”
Geography is a science of facts. One cannot speculate from an armchair without the risk of making mistakes which are often corrected only at the expense of the sailors.
However, the violent scene in front of him could only be a divine warning against proceeding further west. Perhaps it was even a sign to drop the futile search for the continent altogether? Could he afford to ignore God?
The greenery below him was surreal with a lush carpet of trees laid tightly on huge rolling hills. Bare patches here and there revealed flourishing green plains with myriads of colourful birds flying below him. It dawned on him that he could neither see any smoke nor smell the vapours up here. Turning back, he made his way back into the forest. The pungent smell returned but now appeared to carry a potent vengeance.
The invitation was clearly communicated. Yet the strangers remained at the edge, singing the kippa song and surveying the rocks below them…
It was during the eight verse when Akama realised what was wrong and gave urgent instructions to a couple of young men. They ran towards their arsenal on the closest tree. Grabbing a couple of vines, they climbed the rocky slope. At the top, they hurriedly tied the vines to a nearby rock and led the messengers to abseil down the face.
“It’s Kupidabin! If we put Bunji through this great ceremony but choose to send Jarrah next year to a smaller one at Nudgee, Woolloongabba or Nindur-ngineddo, then Jarrah will never be as capable in life as Bunji will be. All our neighbouring tribes will treat Jarrah accordingly. He will never be as respected as Bunji if he graduates from a local ring,” Akama explained.
“But in my dream, something bad happens to Jarrah…” Allira protested.
“One of our pumps was broken so we manned the three remaining ones to pump out the bilge water at the bottom. When I took the reading of the depth of water, it appeared that the water was gaining on the pumps. She was taking in more water than the pumps could lift.
HMB Endeavour was sinking.”
Wattle flowered prolifically. When the air warmed up, goannas were seen in abundance in shallow burrows. Kangaroos and wallabies moulted in time for the warmer weather. The jacaranda trees blossomed and the sweet fragrance of star jasmine filled the air. The first rain fell and possum footprints could be seen on the ground. Bee numbers increased and the jellyfish turned up on the shore. Flying foxes were seen heralding the start of the knock ’em down rains.
“A land with allegedly an abundance of excellent timber. Do you know how many trees it took to build HMS Victory? Would you care to hazard a guess?”
“I don’t know. Forty?” Viscount Hillsborough offered.
“Six thousand. Six thousand trees for one ship. If the French discover this land, how long will it be before they build a fleet of 100-gun ships to rival HMS Victory?”
“I remember this smell. Jiemba and I crossed Mairrwarrh when his mob visited last year. It’s from Binbilla.”
“Yes, I got it from there. But what is it?”
“The forest smell. The smell on the ground.”
“It’s a fig. How can you not tell?” she sighed.
“The Nunukul men left the ghosts and returned to Minjerribah (Straddie). The next morning, the ghosts found a two-person bark canoe on the beach. They climbed in and paddled to Minjerribah whilst the other remained on Moorgumpin (Moreton Island). The Nunukul received the pair with much joy, fed them roasted fish by the fire and led them to the huts to sleep in.”