Judith Wright Poetry Prize, first place: Acacia Land

Can you see this picture – in Ngiyampaa and Gamilaraay country?

in the outback, a Toyota police car cruised on a misty, quiet as death, night,

near the outback town of Wilga, a tidy town

gunjie white wagon, bull bar dripping red dust, driving over dirt roads,

the holding of desperate crying men and women with blood-spattered cushions,

stuffing hanging out

passing silently through a desert cattle station, biggest in the whole world,

rabbit goat ravaged,

a monument to what Whitefella gubbahs could steal, keep and clear fell trees

and wreck with abandonment in

God’s Own Country


Acacia shrub lands, saltbush, blue bush, copper burrs, bluebells, grevilleas and

spindly wattles,

rusty sheds abandoned, farmland littered stones, sun set blazing pink,

‘Assumption of the Virgin’ sky

the dark tree line on a high river bank, the Darling River,

a brown dead dribble, a dribble

they see a running dinewan, emu and crashing lightning, it’ll set your hair on fire,

but no water ngaru-gi, fit for drinking

sky now jet black with diving stars, the Milky Way wiggled a black ribbon over

head in the Dreaming Serpent’s path

pearl tongue flickered around Orion’s belt, the moon rose, gunjie drove on beneath its

luminous glow

the vehicle lurched over rocks, getting dark

yellow head light glow, glimpsed old tyres piled against falling down fences of

barbed wire

while thorn bushes crowd the wooden posts, strung with the crucified corpse of a

wedge-tailed eagle,

its great yellow beak bent to kiss the earth


they rattled past abandoned lives with rusty signs: ‘BP Service Station’ in

red peeling paint,

gazed at forlorn building, wondered whose life had been spent out in the middle of the

semi desert of broken trees,

followed by a bandaar roo, little spirit fellas, gabinya wandabaa, all brown and

hairy yelling: ‘give us back our dead’

he saw a shadow move inside ruins, a windowed screaming woman’s face

he shifted in his hot sticky car seat, chewed his nails, feeling deep unease, a rising,

foreboding, sickness, in waves

chest tight, a vice and maybe he would have a heart attack any day now

and that would teach them.

shut that steel trap of teeth and wait until the noise died down, they would stop asking

questions after a while

drive slowly and lean forward to see grey mist lifting from a hot road

stones strewn across landscape like giant toys and red gum trees hovered

sensations of total inexplicable anguish grew grew, until around a bend:


a ghost, a goonge, in white ochre and blood, in the headlights, a few seconds

his semi-naked dark body trembling, his head gashed and flowed with gore

eyes shone like powerful light beams

the semi-transparent image shivered, pleaded with hands outstretched

his mouth crying: help, hold me in your arms, a warm embrace,

ghost fingers trembled, a drop of blood fell to earth, his eyes wept to watch it

stain the sand

police officers gaped with wide eyed gunjie terror

car brakes slammed, screeched, he gripped the wheel, yelped and swerved

crunched into thorn bushes, rattling gravel

eyes staring, face transformed, a white mask

he tried to restart, the starter whined, whined and he turned the key, again and again, it

crunched, twisted and quietly died

near Wilga, a tidy town


Image:  Josh Bartok / Flickr



Julie Jedda Janson

Julie Jedda Janson is a Burruberongal woman of Darug nation. She is a teacher, artist, playwright, poet and novelist. In 2016, she was the recipient of the Oodgeroo Noonuccal Poetry Prize. Her published works include The Crocodile Hotel (Cyclops Press, 2015) and The Light Horse Ghost (Nibago – Booktopia, 2018).

More by Julie Jedda Janson ›

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