Maroochy Adams sat in the shade of towering eucalypt trees covered with hanging vines reaching toward her from tallest branches of the trees. There was a profusion of ferns and tall grasses scattered beneath the trees and to her left a slowly moving red bellied black snake headed for the lake to search for frogs hidden among reeds covering the small bay. Maroochy cared little for the snake as there was a sort of bond between her and the plentiful wildlife inhabiting this secluded portion of the lake stretching for about a kilometre in length. It was her favourite place to which she retreated whenever she had little to do at home.
Her eyes were focused on the black swans lazily swimming over from the other side. She always gave the cry of the black swan whenever she came to the lake and they would come to her to converse. She was named after them as Maroochy means black swan in the Kabi language.
She was known in the white world as Maroo and she hated that shortening of her name. She tried to remember when that corruption of her name commenced and then remembered her husband Greg had started it. In the white Australian way, he considered that shortening of her name as an endearing term and because she loved him, she tolerated it for his sake. Greg was a white Australian she’d known him from the time she was a child and he spoke her language fluently. Her parents camped with others of her tribe on the banks of the river that ran beside the Adams property. Greg and his siblings had interacted with the tribe over the years, and they’d swum in the river and hunted together from childhood. The tribe had adopted them. Over the years the tribe’s numbers had diminished as tribal either moved to the big cities or further inland away from the press of population increase.
Well, the Adams thought it was their property for authorities had granted that stretch of land to the Adams family when whites colonized this part of the country. The tribe had no comprehension of laws that had given Adams’ ancestors rights over the property markers laid down. As far as the tribe was concerned these whites were guests on their ancestral property and they were quite happy with the status quo. There were plenty of kangaroos around and other bush tucker as the Adams family used only the minimum of this large property for agricultural purposes and retained most of the property as bushland, so wildlife still thrived. The expanding townships were still far removed from this pristine bushland, so developers were not clamouring to turn this property into a concrete and sealed road jungle.
Maroochy watched as the black swans circled on the lake. She knew they’d be watching the snake, so she turned to the reeds and saw the snake emerge with a green frog in its mouth. The snake paused long enough to see the frog settled into its throat and begin the muscle rhythmic push toward the stomach. Then slowly retreated into the tall grasses beneath the eucalypts. Maroochy watched it retreat then turned calling to the swans. They swam ashore with their babies and waddled up to her as she sat. She did a mental inventory. One less baby, the eels must have attacked one she thought sorrowfully. She studied the sky to gauge the time. It would be an hour at least before Greg arrived home from work so she had enough time to enjoy her environment.
Her mind went back to that time when Greg told her in the Kabi language his father was sending him on to boarding school as he’d completed his education at the local country school and his father insisted each of his children should further their education. As year after year went by without any contact Maroochy shrugged it off. Her people went walkabout whenever they wished and returned when they wished so why not this adopted white boy. She’d finished school with some of the other tribal kids and they either worked on the Adams property or fended for themselves in the way their people had done over the millennia. She was happy. Then one day Greg appeared at the camp and was welcomed back by the elders sitting with them to report on his adventures since leaving the property. He’d finished his high school and decided not to attend agricultural college but learn a trade so worked and studied until he had his certification. Then he’d returned home to help out while his brother did the agricultural college course with the plan of taking some of the load of his parents who were beginning to feel the need of someone younger at the helm of the property. As she was now a young woman it was not appropriate for her to approach him as she’d done in childhood at the river or in the Adams home, but she thrilled as she caught him looking her way and smiling often. He understood the culture.
She remembered the evening that changed her life. The night Greg had returned there was a corrobboree, and it was not uncommon for the elder Adams to attend because of the traditional association of the tribe and the Adams family. After the ceremony elder Adams sat with the tribal council and the women gathered at the far edges strained to try and hear what was being said. There were arguments as Maroochy observed the old white man talking. Finally, the head of the tribe spoke, and arguments were silenced. Next day some of the tribe gathered their belongings and began walkabout sullenly.
Word seeped through the camp women that the problem was in connection with a proposal by Adams for his son to marry Maroochy. Gifts had been exchanged and the tribal leaders had approved the proposal. Next night Greg was bought into the camp and the tribe watched as the marriage was consummated. This was their ancient way of confirming the marriage. The dispute had been over the closeness of age between the pair and the fact that this was not a marriage between Maroochy and a member of a neighbouring related tribe. Some had left to show their disapproval. But Maroochy was happy to be united with her childhood friend and that was the first time he’d whispered his term of endearment Maroo. She hated the corruption of her name but loved her new husband.
As she sat contemplating in this ideal setting, she remembered the sad day Greg and Maroochy left the farm. The younger brother had returned to take up management of the farm and take some of the load of his parents. The whole family had worked together on the farm aided by the Kabi people, but the elder Adams wanted to leave management to the younger generation and just concentrate on the work of the farm. Greg had taken her to the coast where demands for his trade specialty were needed and their home backed onto this lake reserve with its protected bushland. She’d missed the river and her tribe but loved her husband and was grateful he’d chosen to settle in this spot where she could maintain her connection with nature as much as possible. But strong as her love was for her husband Greg there were times when it was difficult for her to choose to stay rather than return to the tribe. Today was one of those days. She wanted out. Greg had provided well, and they had everything to make life easy for her in the home, but it was not enough. This was the white man’s world, and it had no respect for nature or the environment.
Her trained ear detected sounds of the approach of a person. Greg was always trying to sneak up on her to surprise her, but he should be at work now, so she quickly turned to confront the intruder. But it was Greg and she beamed with pleasure as she saw her husband approach. He looked disappointed she’d heard him in spite of his attempt at aboriginal skill of soundless approach. Now that he was caught out, he ran to join her.
“Maroo I have some news that I think will make you happy. I know you’ve been unhappy since we left the farm to relocate here for my work though you’ve been very kind to give it a try. I don’t like to see you unhappy, so I’ve been doing some checking. The Government has advertised a position in the north country. It is in the homeland of northern aboriginal tribes and the government wants people with my trade skills to locate and service maintenance needs there. I was wondering if you’d be interested in us relocating north. The downside is they won’t have all the comforts you have here and it’s a crocodile infested area we’re not used to living in.”
Maroochy lay down and put her head on his lap looking into his eyes to search out whether he’d be happy to do that. She’d be far removed from her Kabi people and their language would be different, but she supposed it would be possible for her to learn. Would they accept her? They’d probably accept her husband as he would be there to be of use to them even though there would be that racial barrier between them. But what would she do if she were shunned not being part of them?
She turned her head toward the lake and saw the swans entering the water. They’d been quite content to rest with her but now that Greg was here, they’d decided it was time to forage for food in the lake again. Were they sending her a silent message in their decision to depart? She turned to look into Greg’s eyes again.
“How long do we have to stay there Greg?”
“Well, the contract would be for two years but its renewable if we want to stay.”
Maroochy smiled. It would be quite a change for Greg to be the odd person out with his white skin among a sea of brown people. Maybe he’d get to understand her feelings living in this area though she knew he and his family had no racial prejudices so wouldn’t understand why she felt the way she did in this society.
“Greg the aboriginal tribes there may not accept me as a Kabi. We are territorial. However, I don’t know that for sure so why not give it a try if you really want to do this. If you’re trying to make me happy and don’t have your heart in the move, then I don’t want to go but if you really want to take the job, I’ll be there to support you.”
Greg looked at his wife fondly. “I love you Maroo and would do anything to please you. I’m happy to give this a try as I thought we would both enjoy the challenge but will leave the decision to you.”
Maroochy nodded. “OK apply and see if you get the job and I’ll be happy to go with you. I’m glad you love me, but can I ask you to do something for me? Please don’t call me Maroo. I know it’s the way of your people to show affection, but my name is Maroochy and I’m named after the black swans our people love.” She looked into his eyes pleadingly.
Greg looked startled and sad. “Oh, I’m so sorry! Why didn’t you tell me that long ago as I just wanted to give you that name to show my affection.”
She reached up to touch his face lovingly then got to her feet. “Come on, let’s go home. I’ve cooked your favourite food for the evening meal.”
© Copyright 2021 Ian Grice, “ianscyberspace.” All rights reserved
The above picture is from my personal library.