from ‘People of the River: 1. Deerubban’

The lighthouse turns, blinks a steady eye, warns
of steep hills, unknown shores, channels moving
with the tide. No one knows how deep it is

Daylight draws in the far-off headland as I cross
still water, drag my skiff to a beach, deserted now
Stories rise from these drowned valleys fold

into pockets of rainforest, left untamed
Families camped here, fished from bark canoes
Built stone traps to catch the prized garuma

coming in to feed on sea grasses. Smoke
from their fires would drift upriver, signal
a welcome, for clans to come, join the feast

Footfalls mark their winding journeys, each path
a trace left from earlier times. Generations
of the Kuringal walking gently on their land

I step in footholds cut in sheer rock, climb high
above the beach to a cave bleached by wind
and brine, a look-out shelter open to the sky

Handprints span a ledge of pristine rock, calara
piled on the dusty floor, a sure sign of feasting
A dry camp for tribes passing through

Tools lie exposed, forgotten on a rock platform
scattered flints, grinding stones discarded
as if left only yesterday by a group disturbed

Cries from the look-out. White clouds floating
up river. Ghost strangers come to offer exchange
Change by gunfire along their River Country


Deerubban: Hawkesbury River
garuma: blackfish
the Kuringal (tribe) : People of the River
calara: large mussel from the river
River Country: Hawkesbury River


Image: Deerubban/Hawkesbury River (by Jason Armstrong)





Brenda Saunders

Brenda Saunders is a poet and visual artist of Aboriginal and British descent. She has published three collections of poetry and her work has appeared in major anthologies and journals, including Australian Poetry JournalOverlandSoutherly, and Best Australian Poems in 2013 and 2015 (Black Inc). She has received numerous prizes including the Mick Dark Varuna Environmental Writers’ Fellowship, the Banjo Patterson Poetry Prize, and was a finalist in the prestigious Aesthetica Prize (UK) and the International Vice-Chancellors Poetry Prize (University of Canberra). She is a member of DiVerse Poets who write and perform their ekphrastic poetry in Sydney art galleries.

More by Brenda Saunders ›

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