Catherine Liddle's chilling account of seeing four figures, 'long and lean and watching', begs the question - do we need more awareness about the rifle times and frontier wars in Australia? And how do we share these stories?
By
Catherine Liddle

16 Oct 2016 - 11:41 AM  UPDATED 21 Oct 2016 - 4:20 PM

It was a Saturday. Dawn was on the horizon and mist was on the road. The diesel engine of the Prado was humming, it's knock knock creating the gentle rocking motion that, without fail, reminds me of my Grandfather.

I love those memories - the smell of diesel on his jacket, the tray back rattling and the old man humming.

Outside everything is red except the sky, which is blue and cloudless. You can see for miles and Grandpa likes it that way because you can see what's coming, whether it's a bull camel on musk and looking for a fight or a big red, powerful and carefree bounding through the spinifex. The 22 sits behind us - it's never far away. Out here help is a long way away. A snake will kill you in 20 minutes. We're five hours away from town in a car and the Flying Doctor is at least two hours in response times.

It's funny how memories overlap like that. I'm nowhere near home, I'm on a road flanked by stringy trees that I cannot name. The road is bitumen and windy and there's mist settling over the road, changing shape and settling on the car window. It's the diesel and the roo that have caused this memory to overlap. It's not quite light and my eyes are scanning the scrub for Greys.

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The dashboard tells me that it's five degrees outside. If I touch the window I know it's telling the truth, because it's icy to the touch. But inside the car it's warm, the heater is humming and the three boys are snoring lightly in the back seat. Their heads are buried in pillows, a shared blanket covering their lean young bodies. At least, that's what I think they look like, because while my mind is thinking about them, my eyes are glued to the scrub looking for danger.

I feel it before I see it. A cold spot hits me and a figure catches my eye to the left another three to the right.

I feel it before I see it. A cold spot hits me and a figure catches my eye to the left another three to the right. Not grey but black. Long and lean and watching, then one breaks away and runs across the road. There but not there.

It's like a memory, not like the one with Grandpa - there's something sad about this. Sometimes places just feel sad. I always think it's like a variation of transgenerational trauma. It's not passed down; it's more like an intuitive understanding that something bad happened here.

It's not passed down; it's more like an intuitive understanding that something bad happened here.

I look into the scrub again, even this makes me sad as I think about how fertile it looks and what it must have been like to live on this country before settlement. That's something I do with my boys. "Think about what this country looked like boys, see how thick that scrub is. The people who lived here didn't need maps; they knew their way. This country spoke to them, the stories told them what they needed to know."

I look to the SatNav - Narrandera it says. I look to my husband. My brain clicks, "This is Stan's home town," I say. "You know they declared Martial Law in this area against the Wiradjuri in rifle times? I'm not sure if it's this region or further up near Bathurst?" It's a question but it's rhetorical. My husband nods and shivers.

"You cold?" I ask.

"No," he says. "I just saw someone run across the road from the fog. It happens every time I go past here, the exact same spot".

I don't tell him what I saw, just in case the kids can hear me and I scare them.

I don't tell him what I saw, just in case the kids can hear me and I scare them. Instead I ask, "How do you know it's the exact same spot?"

My husband's eyes move to the left and I follow them.

I look at the sign and I shiver.

 

Shadow Trackers premieres Thursday 27 October 8.30pm on NITV.

Our two intrepid ‘Shadow Trackers’, Hunter Page-Lochard (Cleverman) and Zac James (8MMM) encounter local storytellers and elders as they attempt to discover the truth behind the scary stories from Indigenous Australia that petrify us, guide us and teach us life’s lessons.