Published in Overland Issue The 2017 Oodgeroo Noonuccal Poetry Prize Uncategorized Highly Commended: Fragments of the Shadow People Ashleigh Johnstone 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. Started 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. Down 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. Weaving Weaving. Skilful hands repeating the motions created a thousand lifetimes ago. Weaving. Up, over, around, down, through and back again. With each motion a story is told. Weaving. 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 Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places. If you like this piece, or support Overland’s work in general, please subscribe or donate. Related articles & Essays First published in Overland Issue 228 7 February 2023 Aboriginal Australia Victoria police back down, is this a case for defunding? Crystal McKinnon and Meriki Onus After three arduous years, Victoria Police have today withdrawn their charges against two organisers of the 2020 Black Lives Matter protest. Whilst we welcome their decision, we note that their mediocrity gave them no other option. Emboldened by their state-sanctioned impunity, Victoria Police’s ineptitude hit a dead end. Pigs cannot fly. First published in Overland Issue 228 6 February 20237 February 2023 Aboriginal Australia Winaga-li Gunimaa Gali: listen, hear, think, understand from our sacred Mother Earth and our Water Winaga-li Gunimaa Gali Collective To winaga-li, Gomeroi/Kamilaroi people must be able to access Gunimaa. They must be able to connect and re-connect. Over 160 years of colonisation has privileged intensive agriculture, grazing and heavily extractive water management regimes, enabled by imposed property regimes and governance systems. Gunimaa and Gali still experience the violent repercussions of these processes, including current climate changes which are exacerbating impacts, as droughts become longer, floods and heat extremes become more intense, and climatic zones shift, impacting on species’ viability and biodiversity.