The 9th Place
By Niven Dallas
The Apprentice Gadichi Man
It was just under three hours chopper flight-time out to Punmu, with one short stop on the ground to water the desert. Dave hoped the old man elder Mirachung was still alive. He was a true gentleman of the old school, living off the land and teaching the young men how to be a real Aboriginal. This tribal leader commanded total respect from his people; a man who knew all and everything that happened in his vast desert.
Mirachung would be the best man to ask about all of the strange things happening in his desert over 190 miles away: being around fifteen day's walkabout from Punmu towards the morning sun. Doc Dave had the highest respect for the elders of the Aboriginal tribe that owned full rights to this part of Australia.
Over the many years working in the remote Australian bush, Dave had come to understand and respect the reasons why the desert Aboriginal people did things in a certain way. Everything in the desert always done for a very good reason, and a purpose.
Over the years, he had learnt a number of desert survival skills from these people; skills that on one occasion had saved his life. Unfortunately, the young tribal people were not interested in learning these old ways and skills. They were only interested in television, motor cars, and alcohol. Most leaving the community for the white-man towns as soon as they could.
Doc Dave was looking forward to meeting-up with Mirachung again; this thought reminding him, he had better go over the local Punmu community rules with his passengers. Doc Dave pulled the helicopter boom-mike closer to his lips.
'Gentlemen, we are only about thirty minutes out from Punmu; just remember these people are very proud and tribal. They live in the middle of this inhospitable, hot barren desert only because they choose to, and because they own it. The tribe run and managed by a council of elders, with a chief elder, whose name is Mirachung; do not forget his name; and more importantly, what he represents out here. He is more than just the boss elder he is much like a great Chief or a King and respected like one.'
Big Des, a South African was the oldest of the two company geologists being around fifty-six and had been in Australia for only six months. He was a massive six-foot seven-inch hulk of a man with an angry foul mouth. Doc Dave could not warm to his blunt Afrikaans manner however; he was well experienced in desert exploration having worked four years in Iran.
Young John on the other hand was just twenty-five, fresh out of geo-school, a few months out of Leeds University in England with the ink still wet on his degree. This was his first company job and his first trip to an Australian desert, and it showed.
The heat was killing him and the sun was nowhere near its maximum for this day. Doc Dave had managed to convince him before they had departed that short sleeves and no hat was not a good idea. Advising him, that trying hard to get an Aussie suntan was also a dumb idea in this heat.
Both were a worry, as neither of them had ever met up with a real Aboriginal, let alone a desert Aboriginal, they were about to be educated in a way they will never forget. He decided now would be a suitable time to give his clients some local information and rules.
'I need to explain a few things to you guys, we will be camping on the Punmu airstrip right next to our fuel dump. The town is only about six kilometres down a gravel road but we will only go into the town if, and when we need to for supplies.
Punmu is a dry community, in other words, no alcohol of any sort allowed on-site. The last time I was in Punmu some four years ago, they speared a bloke in the leg. He was a white idiot caught selling booze to the locals. The council of elders do not muck around with trials and presumed innocence around here, so if you have any booze I suggest that ditch it now, or hide it real good.'
There was a silence while they both digested this bad news. A silence punctuated by the high-pitched whine of the turbine and the steady whacky-whack of the rotor blades overhead. Then Des spoke in his heavy deep Afrikaans accent.
'I don't have a problem with the no liquor available, I got my own. Four years in Iran working in a "Slum Ou" Islamic tea-totalling country fixed that. Everybody was a secret drinker in the shebeen (Illegal drinking place), what about you John?' turning his massive head to face the innocent looking young geologist.
John was displaying a look of shock and horror, answering in a tumble of words...
'I haven't brought anything to drink at all. I thought we would just go down to the local town bar and buy a beer or two. It never occurred to me that a town out in this godforsaken hot desert would not have a cold beer. This is terrible, I don't know if I can survive eight days without a beer.'
Big Des replied with a rumbling laugh.
'Well John at least you won't be speared in the leg by a kaffer eh, what about you Doc. You don't look to me like the abstaining type?'
'It goes without saying that Punmu hasn't got a bar. I have my hidden provisions for a much-needed medicinal nightcap. Doctor David's orders, I can't sleep without a wee dram o scotch.' The helicopter erupted into laughter; with Dave thinking to himself, I hope they both got that, as he was not joking.
It was a full three days before Mirachung decided to invited Doc Dave into Punmu town for a chat. This was the way of the desert elders; a gentle reminder that you were politely tolerated when visiting their community, but not overly welcome. These people much preferred to avoid all outside contact when possible, especially from whites.
Most of the community still lived in the old way, under a platted bush shade, with those who choose to, living in corrugated tin huts.
Only the toilet block, tucker shop, medical centre and the generator hut had proper lockup buildings with tin roofs.
Doc Dave knew the way to the elder's private quarters, an old transportable donga; where he found Mirachung watching GWN satellite TV. It was just after eight in the morning, finding him engrossed in a children's TV programme called Fireman Sam. Mirachung turned to the door while Dave stood at the entry to the donga. As was the way of the desert people, the door along with the windows, removed many years ago. Then with a wide toothless grin.
'Nyaparru (my friend) Doc, I bin not see you for long-time now, must be oh maybe four year ago.' Rising himself from his old armchair to shake hands vigorously. 'As bin thinking you was dead or something all this long-time, ha he he.'
Mirachung might be in his eighties but he had no trouble launching himself out of his old chair. His wicked sense of humour had not changed one bit. Firmly shaking hands, his steady almost closed desert eyes that looked right into your head for any sign or flicker of a change. He then continued with his inspection of Dave.
'You bin look real tired mate an you got a worried man's face, ah thinks you last wife gone walkabout on you, ha he he. Doc you has gotta keep dat prick in dem pants mate, ha ha he he.'
Dave just had to smile. Here he was, in the middle of one of the harshest and desolate deserts in the world, and this old man knew more about his disastrous marital life than his divorce lawyer, then responding to old Mirachung's mysterious wit.
'I see you are catching up on your childhood education,' nodding towards the TV. 'That stuff can be very demanding for an old man to understand in these modern days.'
'He he ha, dis is best stuff on whitey TV box mate. Anyways I gotta checkout if it okay for my community to watch.' Then with a regal look of a wise man, 'Am tribal elder you know. These things is very important mate, if they do right thing in community they can watch dis TV. Better that than a big stick on the arse, he he he ha.'
Mirachung was no fool. Control of the satellite TV reception was a good way of controlling the kids... and all the adults. The control and access to the satellite phone and TV was real and present power in Punmu.
Mirachung turned the TV sound down, and offered Dave a chair that was in a far worse state of repair than the one he had just returned to sit in. Dave glanced around the room. As expected, apart from no door there was also no glass in any of the windows. Even the King had nothing to keep out the desert heat and dust.
The wall-mounted air-conditioner unit looked like it had never been used and the power plug was missing. Dave had seen this all before. Desert Aboriginals just don't like windows and doors... never have. Mirachung was now comfortable again reaching into his little fridge placed neatly at his side, handing Dave a cold can of coke, then with a well-timed pause and a grin, opened up the line of conversation... Mirachung spoke...
'I would offer you a cold beer mate but then I'd have ta spear yeh in the leg mate, he he he.' Then all of a sudden, Mirachung changed from his normal toothless grin and became very serious, looking across at Dave, this time with his eyes wide open.
'I see you got something on your mind to talk about; we old men can tell these things mate. I think you gonna ask me about things we no like to talk about... but you the only white-man in mah whole desert dat I like, so you can ask mate. But I don have tell you anything, cos I'm elder, an this all my land... my desert, you understand mate?'
A faint grin returned to Mirachung's face telling Dave to go ahead and ask his questions, but he should tread softly... the warning was clear.
Dave took a sip of his coke while he pondered a way to open up with his questions on the touchy subject of the strange things happening in the desert, right in Mirachung's own backyard.
What was more of a concern was the old man appeared to know what he was about to ask him, and had warned him to be careful. Then there was the matter of his third divorce, now how did old Mirachung know about that? About Mary and me splitting-up over me screwing around with another woman. The desert telegraph was not that good... or was it?
'Mirachung you know that I fly all over your desert and I see the strange wonders and things that only a man of the desert would know about and understand.
I know that some places are very special and sacred to the desert people, we simple whites do not know which places are important, or, which to stay away from. There is a place in your desert fifteen days walk towards the morning sun that makes my flying machines get lost in a strange dark fog.'
Mirachung went quiet, turned and looked into Dave's eyes.
'You bin told by Mooroopna (ghost spirit) to stay away and you went back. Now the Wirinun (sorcerer) has called you back for a chat. The only one-man who go to dat spirit place is...'
Then Mirachung fell silent and it took Dave a few minutes to realise why. The desert people cannot mention the name of a dead person as this is disrespectful to the dead spirit. I thought who would be important enough to have the elder's permission to visit a sacred place, and someone who was now dead. Mirachung kept his steady look into Dave's eyes.
Dave searched his memory for an answer, and then it suddenly came to him. Yes of course, four years ago the biggest wake singing in the desert. Munyo the old Gadichi man had died.
'I know and respect your custom which is not to talk and say the name of a dead person from your community. I also know, that with just you and me in this room I can say the name of this person as long as nobody can hear. I can now say the name of the man with the special right to talk with the Mooroopna. His name was Munyo the Gadichi man.'
Mirachung slowly nodded his head in agreement. He was no longer cracking jokes as his face took on a look of detachment and his eyes glassed over in a milky haze. Mirachung had gone into a deep trance. Then Dave realised that Mirachung was the most likely successor to Munyo... Mirachung was the Martu desert people's new Gadichi man… He then started to speak in a low guttural but clear voice, a sound like he had ever heard before.
"You must listen to Mooroopna the ghost spirit; it has much to tell you of a past life and what the future will hold. Munyo never replaced the bone as promised, and now he has gone; taken by the Great Spirit. Too many secrets are with the sacred bone. You will bring the bone back to its resting-place. Only then can I walk to the sacred place of the Mooroopna as the desert Gadichi man."
Mirachung stopped talking and continued his wide-eyed milky stare into nothing. Dave passed his hand across Mirachung's face with no reaction. He was still in a deep trance and he had said aloud the name of a dead Gadichi man. This was a terrifying breach of the Martu desert people's spiritual beliefs. This could only mean one thing that this was not Mirachung speaking... Could he talk to this deeply entranced man?
'Spirit man, will I offend the Mooroopna if I go to the place fifteen days walk towards the morning sun from this place?'
Mirachung's head swivelled around on his shoulders from looking at nothing on the wall to face Doc Dave. Dave felt a shiver go up his spine; it was like watching something out of The Exorcist movie. Then he spoke in the same strange guttural voice… but his lips were not moving. The voice came from deep within… Doc Dave's head…
"It is waiting for you and the two others to return the bone. Time is running out; there is still much to learn and much to do. I cannot help you further, time... no time. An end to all that we know may be very close."
Dave realised that he was sweating heavily, the reason was obvious... fear, he was actually terrified. He had known Mirachung for many years. The man was always joking around and happy, a wrinkled near toothless eighty-plus year old man who liked nothing better than teaching the young people about the old tribal ways.
This weird trance, was a side of Mirachung he had never seen before, this was not Mirachung. The voice had no English or Aboriginal pidgin, there was no accent, and it was a strange neutral sounding voice.
Mirachung's head slumped forward and Dave got up from his old chair to see if he needed any help. Thinking, Christ I hope he is okay and not dead. Just as he touched Mirachung, he moved, being startled appearing to have just been woken-up from a snooze.
'Ah must dozed off nyaparru (my friend), when you get my age that happen all the time, like always this time of day.'
Dave looked at his watch it was 2:15. Had he really been here for six and quarter-hours, this can't be right. Then he noticed the TV, the afternoon movie was just finishing with the credits showing. Mirachung smiled his normal toothless grin with a glint in his almost closed desert eyes.
'Am bin thinking Doc, you had a snooze with me mate, he he he. Just like old men do in the sun, but has thinks you got important things to do now, ha he ha ha.'
It was obvious that Mirachung had no idea about his trance, and his chat with me. Then again, he must have some idea as he referred to me having important things to do. One last question may provide many of the answers; however, this last question would need asking in just the right way. Then Dave had a sort of spiritual revelation, he would acknowledge the change in Mirachung's status.
'Mirachung I have been touched by the spirit of time, I have this powerful feeling that you are the new Gadichi man of this desert.'
Mirachung's face quickly changed back to a blank look of detachment but this time he did not fall into a trance. His eyes opened wide directing a deep penetrating stare into Doc Dave's eyes and held his gaze steady.
'I no be Gadichi man if you no gonna make the Mooroopna happy. You gotta bring da bone back... mate.'
Dave was lost for understanding, replying.
'What fucking bone?'
'You gonna know all dat when time is right... you want another coke mate?'
Big Des broke the tense moment; the big Afrikaans geologist appeared in the doorway blocking out most of the light, and displaying a look of dark rage on his face.
'Where the fucking hell have you been all day, we have lost this workday skaarpie (cuntface). You owe the company another day's chopper flying to cover this one mompie (retard). You can spend a day with that kaffer (nigger) in your own time domkop (idiot.) Okay let's get going right now this place smells of verk (death).'
Doc Dave waited in silence as the big rough South African geologist finished his ranting and raving. By now there were around thirty young and not so young well-weathered Aboriginal male tribesmen with nulla-nullas (large wooden fighting clubs) silently surrounding the entry to Mirachung's donga.
Dave glanced at Mirachung who then just nodded with a toothless smile. He now had full permission granted from the community elder to save this big loud-mouthed South African dimwit from what would most certainly be a messy death.
'Des, you are lucky today, lucky that you will live. But can you fight as well as you swear, insulting these people in Afrikaans,' crooking his index finger in a provoking action to call the giant closer, and away from the doorway.
'We Aussies think that you may have missed the etiquette classes when you first arrived in Australia.
If you are ever going to get along with people working in the bush you need to learn some respect for the traditional owners of this vast continent.'
Big Des cared little for the local customs, his face broke into a well-practiced bar-brawler's grin… adding.
'And you intend to teach me I suppose?' grunted the big Afrikaner with an ugly smirk on his face.
'You bet, and the only way we Australians know how.'
The big Afrikaner got the message loud and clear, displaying an evil grin, and then bunched his giant fists ready for a fight. He was standing just one-step inside the donga doorway with the light behind him. If he had turned around, he would have seen what Doc Dave was looking at. A group of thirty almost naked tribal desert hunters were waiting in silence, just four short steps away, nulla-nullas at the ready, listening for one single word from their chief elder Mirachung.
Dave had to work fast to save the big Afrikaners life. A quick glance at Mirachung had him displaying his toothless grin; he had just taken a drink from a large contour glass bottle of coke-a-cola. The thought fleetingly passed through Dave's brain, they don't make those funny shaped bottles of coke any more, and that one must be a large display bottle, how the hell did Mirachung get one of those old bottles way out here... and then it was on.
The thirty desert hunters gave out a high-pitched hunting scare cry, used to spook pray towards a hunter. In the instant that the big man was distracted Dave drove his size-twelve geo desert steel capped work-boot hard into the Afrikaners balls. The result was a bellow of rage and pain with the big man bending forward clasping the area of his recent injury. Dave knew that this action must be followed through or he was dead… this was a big bloke. Dave mustered up his full power into a massive uppercut punch to the Afrikaners face that connected with a crack of a bone. The big man went back with such force that his arms flung out across the doorway stopping him from being thrown out of the donga to his certain death by thirty nulla-nulla clubs.
Amazingly, the man was still standing with bulging eyes of rage, Dave was starting to panic, if he recovers he will kill me, and the tribe will kill him. The big Afrikaner took a step forward and Doc Dave mustered another almighty punch with his damaged hand driving his fist hard into the man's ample nose. Blood splattered all over the place and the big man grunted then swore, yet he remained standing.
Dave thought Mirachung will give the order any second now and his mining company client would end up dead, and he would be in deep trouble. Another quick glance at Mirachung showed he was still grinning away but now he was holding the big coke-a-cola bottle by the base in his right-hand. The message was clear. Dave grabbed the heavy coke bottle by the narrow neck and swung the thing with all his might at the Afrikaners head. The bottle smashed into a million pieces and the big man sank slowly to the floor propped up firmly against the donga doorway... big Des was out cold.
The tribal desert hunters clapped and whooped at the successful result. Mirachung had other pressing concerns...
'You bin owe me now a big bottle of coke Doc, an don you forget it mate.'
The pain was starting to erupt in Dave's right-hand just as the government medical nurse arrived, pushing her way through the large gathering crowd of locals. The well-built frumpy nurse stepped over big Des propped-up in the doorway and enquired if Mirachung was okay.
Then she checked out big Des by moving his head about like a rag doll and stuffed some smelling salts up what was left of his nose. As Des was coming around the nurse announced that he was still alive but would have a sore head for a while. Dave thought that's not the only thing that will be sore for a while and he was not referring to big Des's balls. He was looking at the bloody mess of his painful right-hand, he was sure that he had broken a bone or two. Will he still be able to fly the Jet-Ranger back to Sandfire?
The nurse gave the disorientated Des a wet towel to clean-up his face and turned to Doc Dave. As two desert men stepped through the doorway and stood one on each side of big Des with nulla-nullas at the ready.
'You should be ashamed of yourself Doctor Sharp. Just look what you have done to this man, fighting like silly little school boys right in front of the chief elder.' Then screwing her face up in disgust, 'Mirachung could have been hurt. You were lucky that today is my Punmu visit day.' Then quickly added… 'Have you been drinking alcohol Doctor Sharp?'
Mirachung quickly came to the rescue.
'The Doc, he bin drinking coke-a-cola with me all morn an got all upset when this big whitey fella called me a kaffer. Now as don know what a kaffer is, but it must be a pretty bad name mate, he he he ha.'
The nurse softened her attitude a little towards Doc Dave as she started to work on his smashed hand.
'Your thumb and two fingers are dislocated and you might have a broken finger but I will know more when I carry out an alignment. You are a damn lucky man Doctor Sharp, as I have considerable experience in joint manipulation. However, I will warn you that the procedure is very painful and I can only administer a small amount of this painkiller,' as she promptly inject Dave's hand with a large syringe that appeared from nowhere.
'Place your hand on this table, palm facing down. When I pull you will feel the joints go back in, so tell me when. That Doctor Sharp, is the very reason why I use little, if any general anaesthetic or sedation,' Dave detecting a small glint of sadistic pleasure in her eye.
'My hand is in your hands nurse, although I would suggest that you give that big bastard on the floor a fair squirt of your sedation before he fully comes around. Otherwise we may all need some bones fixing, Mirachung can back me up, and he's one hell of a mean angry bloke.'
'He he, the Doc's right, we might have ta kill dis bloke soon he wake up, just lika old days. Stop him break-up mah donga, he he he. Ah got no more coke bottle left to stop im, he he ha ha.'
The nurse looked around the donga with no doors or windows and all the broken glass scattered around splattered with blood. Dave and the nurse looked at each other; their thoughts were the same, (how in hell could this donga be damaged any more that it is?) The nurse quickly grabbed another large syringe from her bag of tricks and stuck it into big Des's right leg just below his groin. The blood soaked towel fell from his hand as he drifted off to sleep with a pleasant smile on his face.
Doc Dave was stunned as big Des only had a few bruises. All the damage he could see was a broken nose, plus two black eyes and a large lump on the side of his head where the coke bottle scored the final blow. Then a horrible thought occurred to him, he had to fly this big bastard back to Sandfire in a helicopter... now that will be fun.
The tough nurse was right; it was a very painful procedure. With Mirachung giving his normal toothless grin and a he he he. As big Des started to snore, the nurse went about pulling Doc Dave's fingers until they popped back into place.
'You have been very brave Doctor Sharp now all I have to do is splint all of the damaged fingers to keep them immobile for a few weeks.'
Through the pain, Doc Dave suddenly realised that this finger splinting would prevent him from flying the Jet-Ranger. A helicopter pilot needs both hands and feet to fly, and then Dave had an idea.
'Oh so you have remembered my name after all these years, how nice.'
'How could I ever forget you Nurse Trudy, flying you all around the outback so many times to tend the sick and needy?'
Dave was lucky as Nurse Trudy sported a large polished nameplate just above the standard issue nurse watch pinned to her ample left breast. Dave thought that "Matron Tardy" would have been a more suitable nameplate; however, she certainly did know her finger joint fixing stuff, and right now he needed her help.
'I have a small favour to ask of you as I have two rapidly developing problems. The first is could you please splint my fingers into a grip shape so as I can fly my helicopter. And the second favour I ask is can I have a syringe full of that sedative stuff to keep that big bugger asleep during the three hour flight back to Sandfire.'
'That will not be possible Doctor Sharp; you are still under some sedation. Just when do you intend flying back to Sandfire.'
'Just as soon as I get back to the airstrip and pack-up our camp. If I can get into the air within the next hour and a half, I will make it back to my Sandfire base before last light.'
Nurse Trudy thought about all this with a glum look on her face. Dave could see she was wrestling with her ethical conscience since sedating a person against their will is technically illegal, as it is in law taking a person hostage.
Dave did have the option of tying Des up, however if he were nicely sedated, then he would not know a bloody thing until he got back to Sandfire. He could then blame Nurse Trudy for the excessive injection of sedative... and then he thought of a neat plan.
'Nurse Trudy, I think this big man needs just a little more sedative and you should get one ready for me as this joint correction splint thing looks more painful than I can handle, I can always consider flying back tomorrow.'
Trudy got the message and gave Des another quick squirt then placed a full syringe on the table next to his elbow. Dave noticed that Mirachung had stopped laughing and giggling, then spoke in his official elder voice.
'You two can go fix dat broken hand outside, I gonna talk some tings with dis big white-fella man in plivat.'
Dave looked at Mirachung in surprise…
'Mirachung, this Des bloke is out cold mate, he won't be talking to anyone for the next hour or so.'
'Ha don want him talk back mate. No, he jus gotta listen fo five minutes things I say. Doc dis plivat talk so you can shut donga door on the way out.
There was no mistaken the blunt meaning, we had just been told to leave. Nurse Trudy and Doc Dave stepped over big Des on their way through the door-less doorway. Looking back at Mirachung, he had stood up and was now holding a small Kangaroo skin pouch, tied with a leather thong. He was staring down at big Des, who was still snoring; but the grin on his face was gone, he now had the look of a serious man.
They both walked to the other end of the small shaded porch and sat down, Dave in Mirachung's afternoon snooze chair and Nurse Trudy at the small wobbly table. The sedative was working making him very drowsy as nurse Trudy worked expertly on fitting metal splints to all of his damaged fingers. Dave thought it was odd that nurse Trudy would have finger splints in her medical kit... In his half state of consciousness, he thought he could hear Aboriginal spirit singing, and clap-sticks, and then remembered the last time he had heard this sad singing....
It was just over four years ago. He had landed the Cessna 402 on the Punmu airstrip at last light after a long day flying. Asking Mirachung, then a young seventy-eight year old, who had just become the new chief elder if he could stay overnight? Mirachung had come out to the airstrip to meet him, driving his old battered Toyota, saying that this was a bad time to stay at Punmu. He was very sad and unhappy; a number of the community people were turning away from the old ways. They had two rebellious, young men who were now bringing hard alcohol into the town, and three young women had been badly beaten and raped. The young men in the tribe were now starting to follow the two men who had recently come back from the white man's town of Port Hedland with exaggerated stories. They had no respect for the elders and the old ways; many in the community were frightened.
The old grey elder had a worried look on his face; the council of elders had decided last night to call on Munyo the Gadichi man, this would mean only one thing... a death was due.
Mirachung looked out over the desert and I followed his gaze. The sun was slowly setting in the west, outlining a lone figure some two hundred metres away of a thin man standing motionless like a statue on a small hill. Mirachung said he is here, now nobody can leave until it is over, we must go build a fire in the old way. Climbing into the communities' old Toyota truck, they headed into the town of Punmu.
It was not difficult to understand why the elders were so upset. The young kids were running around like wild things following a group of rowdy youths who looked like they had been drinking for some time. The little kids, just children had bottles, old cans, and rags that they had soaked in petrol to sniff the fumes. They were all off their faces drunk and crazy. I glanced at Mirachung, he was crying; tears were running down his face. I will never forget his sad words.
"It has come to this, my people are no good, and now we gonna show them the old way is best for desert people. This will be a teaching about respect for the old way and most times about... death."
With those words, thoughts went through my mind. In all my years of desert exploration, and the meeting of many aboriginal tribes, I had come to understand that these desert aboriginal people have a deep inbuilt tribal instinct. In any threat or conflict to their way of life, they always follow their ancient ways. No amount of white man's government or hand outs, with dongas, tinned food, Toyota's or generator power will sway or convert them when urgent tribal matters need attention. They will always revert to tribal instinct, and the old ways.
I followed Mirachung to the town sports oval being just a low fenced oval-shaped flat area without a blade of grass. At the highest point of the oval was a small earth mound with an elevated referees chair fitted to a metal stand covered with a simple rag of a sunshade cover. Mirachung pointed to the referees chair and said in a sad voice,
'You go stay here mate, not move or say anything any time, no one word Doc or you may be dead too.'
Thus began the strangest night of my life, establishing a new inner understanding that not all things on this earth easily explained by science or white man's judgement. This new experience was so powerful; it froze me to the spot with fear and astonishment.
I watched a strange scene unfolding from under the two bright oval floodlights. Fifty or so older tribal men and women had assembled a large oval of rocks in the middle of the field, filling the centre with wood and burning embers creating a low, hot, fire.
The air was calm, there was no wind not even the slightest hint of a breeze, the fire flames rose and flickered vertically. All the tribal elders came and sat forming a one-third of a circle around the fire leaving a space in the middle of the arc. Behind the row of elders, all of the Punmu people formed sitting on the ground, behind them, a group of men and women sat with clap-sticks and didgeridoos.
These people were almost naked painted in white and red ochre, as is the traditional tribal way. Nobody made a sound as the one-third theatre area became larger and larger with local Punmu people sitting in many curved rows one behind the other. The young drunks came over to the fire to see what was going on, making fun of all the older people in their ochre paint and traditional ceremonial dress. Then without warning... the power generator suddenly cut out. The oval was plunged into a hush of darkness. Only the big low glowing fire in the middle of the oval gave off any light. The still dark night was strange, steeped in a deep silence...
Until it shuts down you do not realise that a continuous generator background sound is part of your everyday life in such remote communities. When the man-made noise stops, the sound of the desert is a welcome natural sound, and the darkness is absolute and total. The crickets immediately started-up their call for a mate, now carrying further in the unusual still silence of this deep velvet black night. The Dingoes stopped howling to the pack, as there was no moon or generator to compete with now. Everything and everyone that night turned to watch, with heightened inquisitive interest at what was about to happen.
All were sitting around the fire, waiting in total silence. Most of the drunks had shut-up to watch this unusual spectacle, only the occasional jeering voice and swearing punctuated the still night air. Then the rhythm of clap-sticks started their slow steady beat. Click... click... click... click. In the background the singing started very low and haunting, click... click... click. One lone voice pitched high above the rest of the singers in a mournful wail almost like crying.
The jeering and insults still came from the group of youths on the other side of the fire. Then the entire Punmu community sitting at the fire, as if directed by some secret signal made a sound in total unison, BAAHH-Shoooooooo. Then complete silence filled the air. Even the drunken louts fell silent with curiosity, and the crickets stopped rubbing their legs together in their song to attract a mate to watch what would happen next.
I had been to many Aboriginal ceremonies, both Cooroboree's, and initiation rites; however, this was very different; there was no dancing or laughter from this community, this was serious business.
From out of the flickering shadows came a tall thin man carrying two long hunting spears, a small bag, and a rolled pouch of some sort. He was completely naked apart from a number of long bone necklaces and a Kangaroo pouch tied with a leather thong around his waist. He was a frightening sight painted all over in bright red and white ochre... This was Munyo the desert Gadichi man. (Aboriginal Witch Doctor)
Munyo took-up the centre stage in front of the Punmu elders driving the back-end of his spears firmly into the ground, one on each side, then turned and squatted on the ground facing the fire. Everyone watched in silence as Munyo slowly unrolled his wirinun (sorcerer's tool kit) on the ground in front of him. He started to sing a mournful song as he opened the Kangaroo skin bag and laid-out a number of small pouches and one large old bone on his wirinun roll.
The clap-sticks started a slow rhythm then everything fell into an abrupt silence again as the Gadichi man stared into the large settling fire. Then as if by some hidden signal the elders began to sing, and the clap-sticks started again, this time two low rumbling didgeridoos joined in on the rhythm. The Gadichi man suddenly jumped to his feet pulled both spears from the ground, and walked up to the edge of the large area of glowing embers within the large oval of rocks and stopped. At the same time the singing stopped. He raised the spears above his head and started singing while lowering the spears to point at the group of jeering youths across the fire.
The Gadichi man then drove both spears into the ground. Pointed end first each side of him, and then suddenly threw his arms out towards the fire, which erupted into a massive cloud of dense black smoke. At the same-time, two bullroarers (heavy flat wooden slats swung around in a circle on a rope) started-up making a powerful deep whirring roar that added to the already spooky atmosphere. When the smoke cleared, the Gadichi man was standing on the other side of the fire staring nose to nose with one of the older drunk youths. It was obvious from my viewing point that these young men and all of his pals were now terrified.
The Gadichi man slowly walked among the ten or twelve youths stopping for a moment to look deeply into each person's face. Returning, he came back to stand with his back to the fire, it was only then I noticed he was holding what looked like a large bone. At fifty metres away, it was difficult to identify; however, it looked like an upper leg bone, possibly a femur bone. Then the Gadichi man held the bone above his head; the singing and clap-sticks again started on queue. All the terrified youths instantly sat down… except two.
The sound was beginning to rise to a fearsome level. The wailing singing, didgeridoos, clap-sticks, and the bullroarers were starting to make me feel creepy. All of a sudden, in a swift move the Gadichi man pointed his bone at the two young Aboriginal men that were still standing as he slowly backed up to the edge of the fire.
Suddenly he threw out both his arms, something landed into the fire, and another massive cloud of dense black smoke covered the area. It took a long minute to clear, the Gadichi man was then standing back on the other side of the fire again.
The bullroarers and didgeridoos stopped abruptly however, the singing and clap-sticks continued but at a much lower sound level. The Gadichi man did not look back as he walked between his spears. Back to where his wirinun kit lay on the ground. He then quietly rolled all his things back up and picked up his Kangaroo skin bag, tying it to his waist. Only then did he turn around to face the terrified youths across the fire.
They all stayed as if frozen to the spot, the two young men standing, and all the others still sitting silently on the ground with their heads bowed. The Gadichi man walked back to the edge of the fire carrying all his gear and stood between his two spears. All the noise stopped and there was a great hanging silence.
Nothing moved. The crickets had already ceased calling for a mate, even the mangy dogs that run wild in the town had stopped rummaging through the rubbish to see what will happen next. All eyes were on the thin black Gadichi man. Then in a sorrowful high-pitched voice, the Gadichi man started to sing as he pulled both his spears from the ground. Holding one in each hand, he began lowering them together in front of him pointing them towards the two youths.
He then gradually turned, pointing both spears to his right towards the open desert. Without a word, both young men slowly walked off in the direction of the pointing spears like zombies out into the desert. The Gadichi man crossed his two spears in a gesture of completion; suddenly he spread his arms wide creating yet another giant cloud of black smoke. When the smoke had gone, so had Munyo the Gadichi man... he had finished his work for this day and had left the stage.
I remembered waking-up stiff and aching in the referees chair at 5:20, just as the sun was rising to yet another fine hot tropical day in Punmu. The fire was all gone; no ashes, not a burnt cinder, not even one of the large oval-of-stones remained. The ground was just bare flat raked sand. There was nothing to show that a fire had ever been in the middle of the town sports oval... was it all a dream?
Walking over to Mirachung's donga, I found him sitting in his favourite old chair watching an old black-and-white James Cagney movie on TV, as it was too early for the morning children's shows. He was not in a talkative mood. Without a word uttered, Mirachung went outside and climbed into his old battered Toyota, I swung into the seat beside him. We drove out to the airstrip in silence.
Just before climbing into the Cessna 402, I felt compelled to ask Mirachung, what had happened last night, then quietly told.
'Doc, you not to worry my nyaparru (friend) dis stuff all bin Martu elder business, not for white man to understand okay. You only understand dis Doc, dem two bad drunken young fella, they gone out on last walkabout into da desert.
Their names not never be said aloud any more, and now da Martu people together again in a happy Punmu community.'
Doc Dave realised that could mean only one thing.... They were now both dead.
END OF SAMPLE