Highly Commended: Fragments of the Shadow People

One day 

But one day, a boy appeared.


The shadow people heard a loud cry and so they raced to where the sound came from.


There, between two large tree roots, a small human boy was wailing loudly.


Above him, a crow was circling, still-warm embers falling from his wings.




They say the old ones started it.  This drum beat.  This path we follow, it was carved by them.


Endless hours, endless cycles. Each generation walking in the footsteps before them.

Fresh feet sinking into earth older than time.




In the orange glow of a fire that never was,

stands a man with coal for eyes and hands made of clay.


In the river reeds of a pool carved from stone, hides a woman with scars

on her cheeks and hair filled with ash.


In the shadows of a tree that didn’t grow, lay a pair of lovers made of

whispers buried and covered with earth.





Skilful hands repeating the motions created a thousand lifetimes ago.


Up, over, around, down, through and back again.

With each motion a story is told.


Creation happens and the threads grow stronger. Sometimes the pattern

is different, sometimes a thread is lost.

But we always find them again.

Always, they come stronger.



Quiet dawn 

Quiet dawn on cockatoo while grey waves lap with sighs,

and the people who are floating in are mother England’s spies.


The gulls shriek in the harbour, their cries are blue in fog,

and the women in the treetops are watching chaos on the docks


Our men have gathered elsewhere to plan for diplomacy,

but the ghosts on board the big canoe have been hardened by the sea.


So while perhaps it was true at first, now all things have changed.

For the chance to have some peaceful land, has been swapped for sailors rage.



I walk this path

I walk this path, this lonely road, with steps – like in a dream.

And I wonder at the never heard. The never heard, but always seen.


Other shadows share this forest. Their names, written far below.

None of them are in my sight, each of them are ghosts.


Ghosts like me, who once were men, now walking on this road.

This dusty path is scattered, with the bones of those we know.


Along this path, we walk all day, but weariness is kept at bay

Eternal strength, immortal pain, for we who marvel and we who pray.


And as the purple dusk filled sky, falls before us, falls to night

We look around and breathe with sighs, for another day has heard our cries.


Where once the dappled sun would play, now dark has come, I hope to stay.

And with the bleeding of nights vein, we bow to evening jasmine’s reign


Sandstone trail before me, it’s lit up and showered – in beams from the moon

the curving edges are glowing, the ground covered in runes.


It’s a trick, a misleading, a twist at midnight.

A ruse created to find you, by cunning blue lights


They tempt us with offerings, of flower formed crowns,

Of myrtle and banksia, of gnarled wood and bone dusted gowns.


Now none are left for all are dead but still our shades remain.

So we walk this path before us, pulling always at our chains.



Within you 

There is rich earth beneath your feet

and sacred water flows through your veins.


The air in your lungs has memories of the old ways

and of the old days.


The fire that sparks in your heart and mind is ancient

you are its keeper,

never let it go out.



Ashleigh Johnstone

Ashleigh Johnstone is currently undertaking a PhD at the University of Wollongong. Her family are the Dunghutti people, and they have been a huge influence on her passion for Indigenous research. She lives in the beautiful coastal city of Wollongong.

More by Ashleigh Johnstone ›

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