By Bonny Cassidy
Edited by André Dao
You know before you arrive that ‘the last corroboree was staged in 1862, about two miles outside Hexham, for the amusement of the white conquerors’. There are a lot of lasts around here, after all: the type you find on obelisks and studio portraits, they pass unseen
(‘let others tell the tale I cannot’).
By the time you call it home, really there is ‘no evidence’ of settlement at all. Even the squatter’s run at Hexham Park has been gridded up for you. Home and identity become ‘homogenised’ and the soil takes you in. The famous, molten loam is fed by soaks and southern storms; in this lushness there are no gaps and no time for them. In this industry you become a monument by a highway.
Tony Birch writes that, ‘where gaps exist within historical narratives, monuments act as filler … the monument has been the commonest answer to the absence of continuity’ in the colonised environment. Now gaps are rising from where the saltwater tide rushes upriver, climbing the stones, ponds floating within mounds of basalt and bulls standing knee-deep in red mud. Rising to the high emu plains, big sky weighing down on cypress windbreaks. You follow the Hopkins River pressing through the tablelands, the skin of lakes flashing clouds.
Behind the greasy sheep under your crowds
of wheat, beside your graveyard the drained swamp.
A gazette of Hexham, disintegrated into neat selections, is dominated by the Hopkins as it inscribes itself through the land. The river makes even the alphabet turn sideways, bobbing down the page.
There are ways to read inwards, and beneath what you are told.
When you arrive, in fact, you meet signs of a long-cultivated landscape: ‘the pastures consist of native grasses, and the character of the soil and climate keep the grass growing right through the season’. Kangaroo apple, yellow box and tea tree grow wild by the roadside and around the cemetery, thickly tangled. There are discarded bark and sapling roofs to be removed from the blackwood stands, and basalt bricks to be dragged from oven mounds into borderlines. And before long, you learn that ‘the former camps of the natives are now mostly grassed over … at Hexham Park, on the Hopkins River’. Every day you pass the sunken stretch of earth as you enter town, open flats leading up to the banks. Ducks scramble up from the shady water as you approach.
You call it Weetya for the Djab wurrong’s blackwood
and no one knows how you acquire this word for a place of trees that cover you in planets of light as you clear the boundaries of your living.
You travel the old eel highway through Girrae wurrong land, from Hexham to Lake Bolac. Kestrels and herons work over the tributaries of the river, following the fish runs. Salt Creek remains lush, there is a small storage pool on its floodbank. You may hear of the lava flows in Gundijtmara country, their village walls and spiral stone doorways in bracken to the west. A smoking gum. Inside the ashes of its gut, its fat, steady fire, and the rain in its muscles like sleep. An old timer may tell you that where your pub stands near the ford of the river at Hexham, is where GA Robinson noted a large weir of sticks erected to snare the shortfin eel as the waters rose.
You have witnessed evidence of what one surveyor calls, ‘a dateless monument of incredible labour’. But you forget it all, because there is ‘no recognition of the process of displacement that was occurring’ for generations before you. The gaps between what is told and untold, seen and unseen, close up. You say nothing, there is no one to listen; and so it is as though you had always been here. Bulrushes fill the clearing.
You are becoming native. From the crushed oven mounds, your boys collect flakes and glass, and keep them precious on a windowsill. They draw a pair of scar trees, still there, further up the river where it turns into the town. Writing of this district, Maggie Mackellar argues that ‘first-generation Australians were blind to the transnational encounters that were happening all the time’ in sovereign lands. ‘In spring on open country they watched for the first blue orchids and in sheltered places sought greenhoods. They climbed hollow trees to find parrots’ nests … they could fish the creeks for yabbies and on summer evenings sit, bare toes in the water, listening to the croak of frogs and the shrilling of crickets. They could hunt wallabies, possums and bears, and make rugs from their skins’. Everything else is the past.
Your forgetting is a basalt pool where you might drop.
Lie down. In a place where you first made yourself.
In Hexham, you are neither 2,000 sacks of heroic wheat, nor an inheritance. You’re a guest, gathering leeches as you dwell in the country that feeds you.
If you learn and know, you can remember.
Ross Gibson insists that this ‘remembering is something good we can do in response to the bad in our lands.’ Memory is walking in time, learning ‘advice from the past’. This remembering is how ‘people strive to know events in their entirety, abhorring denials and erasures’, like the texture of things in the soil and the way it rearranges itself as you gently turn its layers.
Start again there, in your ‘entangled histories, because boundaries and uniformity are essential to the consistency of settler-body identity, which in turn produces a habit of forgetting, or a careless body.’ This feels like digging, not invasively mining and extracting, but sifting and handling the surface of the place. The twists of iron from a plough and the repaired weave of a fish basket are witness to entangled lives: Hexham can be ‘an assemblage of lots of real things’ that subject familiar myths to different realities.
Huddling there below the road, you watch blokes crossing the ford into your pub; they are talking about blood again. Perhaps you are starting to let go the forgetting that has made you, as it fizzes like dead cells and husks into that gentle, constant plains breeze water ribbons an emu drinks the swamp is refilling.
These words are useful for doing that remembering, some of which is imaginative.
In the dark, you can hear Mr Pellow’s lecture on Australian Missions, droning into the street. Beyond his voice, you may also hear what Reverend Stähle can: the ‘silence that descended … after the children had been taken away’ from Lake Condah mission.
In Letters from Aboriginal Women of Victoria, 1867-1926, the voices of mothers, doubly dispossessed, ring out across this district. You might hear the mail coach carrying those letters, down from the plains and across the stones. You are charged more than once for keeping your boys back from school, but it’s a small penalty for the extra help.
You petition for a rail line extension to transport groaning loads of wheat; then perhaps you remember black Diggers climbing aboard at the siding as you load. Some of them come from Framlingham, where families from the former mission fight the BPA to cultivate land. You extend your property from 1,200 to 2,000 acres of wheat.
If you can remember, you can see.
See how seeing is made.
See how the vernacular of the Hexham bluestone is a homage to the Girrae wurrong fish runs, ‘built of indigenous stone [that] seemed to grow out of the ground’. You are subject to the same desire for settlement: that lushness, the generosity of the volcanic soil; its goodness the creation of a meeting place for neighbours to share; the way ‘it becomes increasingly difficult to separate residences … from the activity that sustains the people occupying them’.
See that name, Weetya, not as a token of exchange but as a false certificate of ownership.
See how Aboriginal men from nearby nations, forced off the missions, labour with you at your project of crushing, smoothing and covering.
See how you are driving ‘the same roads that took Aboriginal children from their families—firstly on foot, then on horseback, in coaches, trains, and finally in the back of police cars’. Nothing looks the same.
You follow the diesel wake of a ute as it cruises the plains. ‘Justify Your Existence’, reads the cabin’s rear window, a decal in gothic script.
Justify the insistence of your voice in a place of resistance and survival. Rewrite the landscape and the narrative of the selector, the pioneer, the agriculturalist, the ancestor. Embed that small life, entangle it in transnational encounters and unrecorded evidence. As Jan Critchett writes, after collecting oral histories of Aboriginal lives in the Western District, ‘I saw a landscape enriched by new layers of meaning … not part of the experience of the non-Aboriginal community among which the Aboriginals live.’ Record, remember, imagine, research what your myths have forgotten or ignored.
Your voice is a proposal: ‘the “contact zone” of a shared existence’. You are a ‘monument to complex histories’ that will never be finished because it is made of gaps. The ‘proposed monument – the way that the boundary between the monument and the real world is not clear – suggests that there is also no clear line between our lives and our past.’
In this mode, you are implied; you are learning how to see deeply. To see lots of real things, scattered here, through the property you once called mine.
 Aldo Massola, Journey to Aboriginal Victoria, Rigby Ltd, 1969 (55).
 Caleb Collyer, qtd in Ian Clark, Scars in the Landscape, Aboriginal Studies Press, 1995 (2).
 HC Builth, ‘The Archaeology and Socioeconomy of the Gunditjmara: A Landscape Analysis from Southwest Victoria, Australia’, PhD Thesis, Flinders University, 2002 (81).
 Maggie MacKellar, Strangers in a Foreign Land: The Journal of Neil Black and Other Voices from the Western District, The Miegunyah Press, 2008 (248).
 Thanks to Ian Black at the Hamilton History Centre and Ian Rees at the Wimmera Association for Genealogy, for their help with researching the settlement of my ancestor, Herman Anders, in Hexham.
 Tony Birch, ‘“Death is forgotten in victory”: colonial landscapes and narratives of emptiness’, in J Lydon & T Ireland, eds., Object Lessons: Archaeology and Heritage in Australia, Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2005: 186-200 (186; 195). Thanks to Tony Birch for his kind permission to quote from his work.
 ‘Cutting up the land: its progressive effect’, The Age, 31 March, 1910 (9).
 Massola (55).
 I pay respects and thanks to the Winda-Mara Corporation for sharing Gunditjmara history and landmarks at Budj Bim National Park.
 Max Ingram, qtd in Builth (64).
 Mackellar (248).
 Mackellar (248).
 Margaret Kiddle, Men of Yesterday: A Social History of the Western District of Victoria 1834-1890, Melbourne University Press, 1963 (428).
 Ross Gibson, Seven Versions of an Australian Badland, UQP, 2002 (3).
 Gibson (84).
 Gibson (178).
 Lisa Slater, ‘Waiting at the Border: White Filmmaking on the Ground of Aboriginal Sovereignty’, in Beate Neumeier and Kay Schaffer (eds), Decolonizing the Landscape: Indigenous Cultures in
Australia (Rodopi: Amsterdam, New York, 2014): 129-147 (136).
 Stephen Muecke, ‘A Touching and Contagious Captain Cook: Thinking History through Things’, in History, Power, Text: Cultural Studies and Indigenous Studies, eds. Timothy Neale, Crystal McKinnon and Eve Vincent, CSR Books, 2014: 153-166 (157).
 ‘Lantern Lecture’, Mortlake Dispatch, 8 April, 1914 (2).
 Jan Critchett, Untold Stories: Memories and Lives of Victorian Kooris, Melbourne University Press, 1998 (235).
 Kiddle (283).
 Builth (71).
 See Pascoe (73).
 See Critchett (193).
 Tony Birch, ‘Come See the Giant Koala: Inscription and Landscape in Western Victoria’, Meanjin 3 (1999): 60-72 (71).
 Critchett (237).
 Birch, 2005 (186; 195).
 Clare Land, Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheener: The Involvement of Aboriginal People from Tasmania in Key Events of Early Melbourne, City of Melbourne, 2014 (6).