PROLOGUE: OF BASTARDS AND COAL MINERS

JANUARY 13th 1999
 
 
Waking to the sounds of crow, magpie and honeyeater, the realisation rose in me as I opened the curtains onto the majestic palm planted to dignify our Queenslander home, that twenty-one years ago today I arrived in Melbourne, Australia, after a long, but relaxed ‘assisted passage’, on Qantas flight 1.

As a fourteen year old looking out of the incubator plane window, the metal wing shimmering and bouncing off jets of light, it felt like I was riding on the wings of angels. They were taking me to the country I had wished for as a small girl: to go to the country my mother dreamed of returning to, especially when she hung out the heavy sheets, or piles of clothes that she’d washed in the bathtub.

She’d give them an extra squeeze with her cold ruddy hands and I would sit on my tricycle watching the water gush out, onto the concrete path my father had made up the middle of the garden. My mother talked about Australia, and I absorbed that vision of a sky so big, blue, light and clear with wide open spaces filled with sunshine to run in.

Anything was better than being hemmed in by ceasless house chores on endlessly stagnant grey days. She said, time and time again, "At least you could hang the washing on the line and within five minutes it would all be dry! You didn’t need to iron a thing, because the hot wind blew all the creases out for you," she said, pushing up the tall wooden prop.

It wasn’t a life of ease though. Like the fortnightly bed-sheet wash, my mothers life unfolded and folded away into the airing cupboard of my psyche. The hot windy Aussie sun may have made life easier, but the nuns insisted my mum and the other orphan charges from the "Mothercountry" had every "bleeding sheet ironed to perfection, including the hundreds of pleats on the big black skirts of the nuns habits…and there was hell to pay if you didn’t," she said.

Yes, my mum had survived a hard, merciless life. Her voice was never without pain, hurt, anger and torment, even when she threw back her auburn hair and laughed out loud with a mixture of defiance and delight. Even after all these years of chimerical communication between us, it becomes hard to distinquish between what is her and what is me, so possessed I am by her undead ghost.

When I left home at sixteen her voice would re-surface through my pen.
"Write my story," she whispered and wished.
"No," said my step-father trying to push her out of the way, "she’s going to write mine first!"
"Bullshit, she is" answers mum, and my first poems and prose written on the peaceful but lonely bed of a school friends spare room, became a never-ending dance between us.
 

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