Ali Cobby Eckermann

The door slams. Someone’s here. I’ll just lie here and wait. Maybe it’s Audrey. I know a Nana shouldn’t have her favourites, but she is mine. Reminds me so much of myself when I was her age. But I never had the courage she has for her passions.

Jeffro enters my bedroom. “How are you, Mum?” he asks.

“Get me a cuppa tea,” I say as I begin the uncomfortable struggle out of bed. These winter mornings are getting worse! I hate the arthritis! Don’t reckon I deserve it, really. Never had a cigarette or a sip of grog in my life. Not like all the young fellas today.

I hear the whistle of the kettle while I slowly dress. I can see Jeffro at the table checking through the mail. “Bloody cheeky bastard,” I mutter to myself. “Probably looking for my cheque.” I can’t seem to remember when payday is any more. Can’t even remember what day it is for that matter. I take my cuppa and sit down on the lounge. It’s only early – Yamba is on the TV.

We both look up. A car has pulled into the driveway. I count the number of doors that slam shut: one, two, three. My grannies scramble through the door, and onto my lap. It’s always a race with these kids. All talking and fighting at once. My cuppa gets spilled over and I growl at them. But they don’t care. They must know I don’t mean it. I sneak them a dollar coin each. Cheap price to pay for some peace and quiet. They run out the back to play with the dogs.

Jeffro and Thelma are unloading some shopping. Saucepans begin to rattle in the kitchen. Someone’s hungry. Good job. I’m hungry too. Haven’t had a decent feed of kuka for a couple of days. Hope the bread’s fresh, too. I can hear laughing in the kitchen. Why don’t they tell me what is going on? I walk into the kitchen.

Nyuntu palya?” Thelma asks too loudly. Does she think I’m getting deaf? There’s nothing wrong with my hearing – I’ve been ignoring people most of my life!

“Uwa, playa.”

The grannies run through the house and out the front door. Shop must be open.

I’m eating. Audrey sits down beside me.

“Morning Nana,” she says as she hugs me. Must have smelt the meat cooking. “Whole mob will be round soon,” she whispers and shares her beautiful smile.

“She’s a good one, this one,” I think to myself. I smile back. I pass the bones under the table to tjutju. She’s old now, never leaves my side.

I hear more cars arrive in the driveway. Too many voices talking all at once. I walk back to the lounge. Humphrey might be on. Big mob of people start walking through the house. I can’t see their faces properly.

“Audrey, open the curtains!” I yell.

My sister sits down beside me on the couch. I start to cry. Haven’t seem her for a long time. We hold each other. I can’t talk words. I have missed her so much, especially since Mum died.

“Happy Birthday,” she says affectionately.

“What you talking about? It’s not my birthday! I was born out bush, under a tree at Ooldea. My mother did not know what day that was, so what you telling me? That I have to celebrate some day that the government people wrote down on the papers? Hhmph! I’m too old for parties, anyhow. I never had a cigarette or a sip of grog in my life! I’m not gonna start with you mob now.”

“Come on sis,” she urges gently. “Big mob waiting out the back lawn.”

I sigh and allow myself to be led out the back door. Now I can see the faces. All the kids are here; must have come in sneaky way. The grannies are all sitting in a row, all smiling and quiet way now. Tears spring to my eyes again. We don’t often get together, us mob. Been scattered all over the place since the policemans come and took my kids away.

I sit down. The mid-morning sun is warm on my face and the birds are singing. Audrey brings me a cuppa tea.

“Happy Birthday, Nana” she laughs.

I smile to myself. If the whitefella wants me to have this day, I’d better make sure it’s a good one!

“Did you get me a new blanket?” I ask cheekily.

*previously published in Terra: a bilingual anthology from WordStorm, The NT Writers Festival 2007
* shortlisted NT Literary Awards 2005

Town Camp

You call it 3 bedroom house
I call him big lotta trouble

You call it electricity
I call him too much tv

You call it litter
I call him progress

You call it graffiti
I call him reading and writing

You call it vandalism
I call him payback

You call it burnt car wreck
I call him finish

You call it hill
I call him Yiperenye

You call it a sad
urban environment

I call him

© Ali Cobby Eckermann


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