Published in Overland Issue 223 Winter 2016 Nakata Brophy Prize Runner-up: Learning Bundjalung on Tharawal Evelyn Araluen Above his desk it is written: ‘I wish I knew the names of all the birds.’ I know this room through tessellation of leaf and branch, wurahŋ-bil and jaran-gir, in the shade of a kulsetsi — (Cherokee) ‘honey locust’ [a flowering tree]. I am relearning these hills and saltwaters and all the places wrapped around this room We both have dagahral here, lovers/fathers/friends/conquerors/ ghosts. But here, in this new and ancient place, I ask him to name the song that swoops through this mosaic: Sometimes it is wattlebird sometimes it is currawong — when we drive, he tells me king parrot, fairy wren, black cockatoo and I know jalwahn and bilin bilin and ngarehr but the rest are just nunganybil, the rest are just: ‘bird’ It is hard to unlearn a language: to unspeak the empire, to teach my voice to rise and fall like landscape, a topographic intonation. So in this place the shape of my place I am trying to sing like hill and saltwater, to use old words from an old country that I have never walked on: bundjalung jagum ngai, nganduwal nyuyaya, and god, I don’t even know if I’m saying it right. But I watch the bark twist: grey and slate and vanilla and vermillion he tells me this is ribbon gum — so I find five words for this bark and I promise I will learn them all Because to hold him is to hold the tree that holds these birds I cannot name, and a word spoken here might almost sound like home. We are relearning this place through poetry: I open my book and say, wayan, here is a word which means road, but also root and in it I am rooted, earthed, singing between two lands I learn that balun is both river and milky way, and that he is baray-gir, the youngest child and the top of the tree, where the gahr will come to rest — to call its own name across the canopy, long after his word for it is gone. Read the rest of Overland 223 – If you liked this article, please subscribe or donate. Evelyn Araluen Evelyn Araluen is a poet, educator, and co-editor of Overland. Her Stella Prize winning book DROPBEAR was published by UQP in 2021. Born, raised, and writing in Dharug country, she is a Bundjalung descendant. She tweets at @evelynaraluen More by Evelyn Araluen 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 30 October 202230 October 2022 Activities Final results of the 2021 Nakata Brophy Prize Editorial team The Nakata Brophy Short Fiction and Poetry Prize for Young Indigenous Writers, sponsored by Trinity College at the University of Melbourne and supporters, recognises the talent of young Indigenous writers across Australia. First published in Overland Issue 228 20 October 202220 October 2022 Prizes Announcing the Nakata Brophy 2021 shortlist Editorial team The Nakata Brophy Short Fiction and Poetry Prize for Young Indigenous Writers, sponsored by Trinity College at the University of Melbourne and supporters, recognises the talent of young Indigenous writers across Australia. The prize, now its sixth year, awards $5000 to one Indigenous writer 30 years or younger and $500 to two runner-up entries. First place also receives a writing residency at Trinity College and publication in Overland's print magazine.