Australia Day in Doomadgee

Doomadgee, we write it

In our orthography

When really –

It should be – Dumat’ji

 

No flag raising here

No speech or ceremony

On Australia Day

In Doomadgee

 

The river runs warm

Kiddies swim and swarm

On Australia Day

In Doomadgee

 

Blackfellas bashing

(It’s the national fashion)

On Australia Eve

Here in Doomadgee

 

Broken hand, broken

Jaw, cut faces and more:

That’s Australia Day

In Doomadgee.

 

Adam Goodes

Too far away

This Australia Day

From Doomadgee

 

A busy day this

Australia Day –

Hordes in the wards

In Doomadgee

 

We plaster and we suture

Like there is no future:

Future no feature of Australia Day,

Not here, no way, in Doomadgee

 

The end of Australia Day –

Quietness falls

In hospital halls

Of Doomadgee

 

But short the respite –

Quick! Elder sick!

Dying on Australia night?

Dying here – in Doomadgee?

 

Quiet, quiet, his voice, his breath –

Small his smile at the threshold of death –

Good night Australia:

System failure in Doomadgee

 

Beside him, quiet woman – or girl –

His guard and ward in this world

Trembles, facing an Australian day

Without him in Doomadgee.

 

He slips away from his teeming kin

Who hold their tears and keening in;

A dreadful peace on Australia Day

And quiet, this night in Doomadgee.

A Message from the Moderator on Blog Policy

This is a belated message from the moderator of Howard Goldenberg’s blog.

 

As this is the first time that the moderator (not Howard) has posted on Howard’s blog, I’d like to take this opportunity to welcome you and thank you for your interest and comments.

 

Unfortunately the need has arisen for creation of a set of blog guidelines that perhaps should have been anticipated earlier.

 

Howard spends a significant amount of time and effort preparing content for his audience. He doesn’t get paid for this. He blogs because he likes writing and gets great enjoyment from receiving feedback as well as hearing differing views from his own.

 

Comments from followers with views that are differ from Howard’s or are critical of his opinions are both accepted and encouraged.

 

We support positive and productive discussions and we request that the tone and focus of comments are respectful.

 

Comments that are personally offensive, defamatory or may publicly humiliate the writer or others are unacceptable. Gratuitous personal attacks made under the guise of literary criticism will not be tolerated.

 

Future posts that are offensive, ad hominem or disrespectful will be removed. Repeat offenders will be denied access from posting future comments.

 

In the event that an objection arises to the moderator’s decision, the objection will be considered but ultimately the moderator’s decision is final.

 

I sincerely hope open discussion will continue for all followers of Howard’s writing and that free discourse is not impeded by negativity.

Thank you.

mariza at womadelaide

Well before start time the crowd starts to gather.
Endless preparations are underway on the open stage. Chairs are placed at intervals to form a shallow arc. Mikes are set up,
each at a measured distance from the chairs. In front of each seat an instrument rests. All is unhurried, meticulous. Setting up takes a long time.
When everything has been perfected, the lights go down and Lucky Oceans appears on the stage. As usual, his familiar full-bodied voice is soaked with affection and respect for the music he describes. He introduces us to “Fado”, the Portuguese style of sung lament: “Like the blues, like tango, Fado sings of sorrow. But unlike those others, Fado’s grief is absolute, irretrievable. The Fado singer laments a loss that cannot be redeemed.”
With a few laudatory remarks about Mariza, Oceans recedes, the instrumentalists take their seats and Mariza appears. Immediately arresting, she is slim and very tall, in her long black dress, a manifestation. In stationary moments she is a silhouette, a sculpture shaped like a tall letter “A”. Olive Oyl in a ball gown.

Mariza takes the mike, takes in the endless vista of expectant faces, and booms: “Good evening!”
The audience returns the greeting.
Mariza shakes her head, dissatisfied, and bawls again: “Good Evening”.
We try harder this time, creating a decent roar in reply.
But the diva shakes her head in theatrical disappointment, decides to give us one more chance, and cries out her challenge once again.
This time our reply is thunder and she deigns to accept the greeting
of her clients.

She looks down, looks heavenward, and gives voice, plunging into a full-throated lamentation that is at once black and bloody, a cry that sweeps across octaves, rising, roaring its implacable grief. Now the sound slows as a phrase is articulated, the voice a churchbell, tolling out sorrow, syllable by syllable. The bellowing voice descends to a sob, a note is held, then falls, and abruptly the song stops.
Mariza faces us, her left arm flung upward and backward, arrested in its flight of pain.
We applaud.
And instantly feel a little foolish… and delighted, and relieved of a growing tension, for Mariza has resumed her broken note and her song shakes and throbs again into swooping flight.

Minutes pass and we hundreds seated in the dark on the grass are transfixed as Mariza roams the breadth and sounds the depths of human griefs. She wails, roars, moans, gulps; then subsides, seemingly faint with the wrenching pangs of her song. In every phase and with every phrase, Mariza’s long left arm dances in waving spasms above her sinuous body. Mariza is a choreography of fado.

While she sings, no eye can be drawn from Mariza. We have spent but three minutes in her company and we are utterly captive, witnesses to a witness of compelling human woe.

It is only later that we register the contribution of her instrumentalists, the beauty and the felicity of their work. We note their playing at the command of the imperious Mariza who leads our gaze first to the violinist by dancing towards him as she sings. Presently the stage lights focus upon the two alone as fiddle and voice create an unforgettable duet. Dancing, Mariza advances, the violinist rises, and – still bowing his instrument – dances with the singer. The tempo and the pitch of their music rise faster and higher. Now Mariza sits, swaying in her seat before the violinist, who sits and sways and plays, until Maritza falls silent. Now the cadenza gathers speed, the sound becomes an hysterical wail, then an inhuman sobbing, finally a scream.
And once again, Mariza resumes her fado, and we note the cello, the percussion and the three guitars (one a round bellied Portuguese, one acoustic, the third a base), as the ensemble brings the song to its finale.

“That”, announces Mariza, “Is fado. And fado is Portuguese for fate.”

And that, we realize is high art. And the uttermost wrench of human feeling.

A Cherub

Working here on the old camel trails, we commonly encounter a Rasheed, an Ahmed or an Akbar.

And there is always a story.

This particular little ’Afghan’ is 15 months old, a cherub with round cheeks and light brown curls.

When you see a face like this you cannot stop yourself from smiling.

A child with a face like this finds himself in a world where every adult smiles at him. He likes this world that seems to love him so.

Sarah, his mum, has the same ripe-fruit cheeks.

 

What is the cherub’s story?

Sarah explains: “Akbar’s great grandfather was a cameleer. His great grandmother was Aboriginal. Here – you can read about it in this book.”  Sarah hands me a heavy paperback, titled “Linden Girl”, by Pamela Rajkowski. The subtitle reads: a story of outlawed lives.

There is always a story, and that is the cherub’s story. It is the story of a couple and their encounters with Law. The Law forbade this cherub to exist.

Continue reading

Malpa

About ten years ago an old man consulted me as his doctor of second choice. (His own doctor was away; really I was the doctor of no choice.) A compact man, charming, he smiled beneath a tidy military moustache and carried a Veteran’s Gold Card. Eventually he promoted me to doctor of equal choice. In this capacity I doctored him to death.

In due course I received a letter from the son of the deceased, thanking me. Not for his father’s dying but for the doctoring. Eventually the son and I met.  A remarkable man: no moustache, same charm, huge human warmth.

The son’s name is Don Palmer. He says he used to work for God – in the Anglican franchise. Eventually he resigned from Holy Orders and created Malpa, the imaginative project born of urgent compassion and imagination that teaches Aboriginal kids how to become ‘Young Doctors’.

His story inspired a chapter in my forthcoming novel, Carrots and Jaffas, the story of a couple of identical twins, violently separated. With Don’s blessing I pinched his idea. My chapter reads as follows: Continue reading

Wandering

My father’s father’s name was Joseph. Born in 1886 in Petach Tikvah in Turkish Palestine, Joseph Goldenberg stowed away on a ship at the age of twelve, passing his Barmitzvah date without celebration before disembarking alone in Australia. Papa, as his grandchildren called him, arrived here with five shillings, a working knowledge of Yiddish and Arabic, and no English.

He left his home and his family as a child, remaining an observant Jew throughout his lonely years until his marriage, and beyond, through a long life.

Dad used to say his father was like Joseph in the Bible, a faithful Jew from childhood to old age, steadfast through long exile and separation from his home and family.

Dad found lifelong inspiration in his father’s example.

My own father, Myer Goldenberg (z’l), grew up in Melbourne, married and took his bride, Yvonne Coleman, to the small Riverina town of Leeton, where the couple lived for 14 years, raising four children as knowledgeable and observant Jews. Dad never thought this was remarkable, but it was an unusual achievement and it certainly inspired this son.

Indelible memories come to me from time to time as I recite the Shema, of Dad teaching me to read and to translate every word of this, the first and the last prayer of our Jewish lives. I would sit on his knee, Dad holding his worn and oft-repaired siddur in front of me, his finger showing me each letter and his voice speaking these words time and again: and you shall teach them to your children, and you shall speak of them when you sit in your house,and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down and when you rise up…

 

A Jewish education of this intensity and intimacy is a rare and precious thing. It left this son with the unorthodox confidence that I could live an orthodox life fully and independently anywhere, with or without a community or a congregation to support me. My father’s example assured me that my own observances, my Jewishness, were proof against distance. Dad had taught me how to be a Jew as I walked by the way.

Dad never had any delusion that distance was a good thing. Well before we reached Barmitzvah age, Mum and Dad had resettled the family in Melbourne, where Dad showed (through his subsequent scores of years of service to Shules,) that the question was not whether he needed a congregation, but what could he contribute to one.

But the ‘harm’ was done. By the time we left Leeton, I had absorbed my father’s aberrant example of distance-proof faithfulness; and ever after I have lived a maverick belief in walking by the way, to remote places, well off the Jewish trade routes, taking with me the observances my father taught me. Over the decades, that phrase in the Shema has come to hint to me that a Jew should actively go bush – as Moses did in his shepherd days, as Elijah did while on the run from the king – to find God.

How did I know about Moses and Elijah? How too did I know about the midnight walk in the wilderness of Jacob; and of his encounter with the wrestling angel? It was Dad’s fault, of course: it had been Dad who brought these heroes of the spirit to life within me.

And so it was that I’d bake challah (read damper) in Leigh Creek, read Megillath Eicha by candlelight in Arnhem Land, host the Jewish residents of Alice Springs for Shabbat meals, discuss Zionism with a knowledgeable Elder in the Ngaanyaatjarrah Lands, sing Hebrew songs with one of the Strong Women at Galiwin’ku, sound the Shofar in Ellul at Wamoom; and celebrate Shabbat in the Andyamathanha wilderness with one of Melbourne’s leading rabbis.

(And so it was that I was been absent so often and so painfully from shules, from tolerant children and perplexed grandchildren, from a neglected wife and from a lonely mother.)

All of this unorthodox conduct had some unexpected results. I found what Joseph finds when sent by

his father to “see the peace of his brothers”. Wandering, lost in the wilderness, Joseph meets a mysterious stranger who asks – in a singular phrase – “what will you seek?”

Joseph replies, in a sentence that is equally pointed

syntactically, “(it is) my brothers (whom) I seek.”

The brothers whom I found are the first Australians. In encounter after encounter over a decade or more I have met and worked with Aboriginal people in the outback, discovering much about them, more about my

Jewish self, and writing, writing all the time of these experiences.

(That writing gave birth to a book, Raft, launched at Melbourne Writers festival in 2009.)

And deeply moving to me were those experiences as a practising Jew, when alone in God’s creation, I’d wrestle with the angel, and where I’d catch the echo of a still soft voice.

And, morning and evening, as I’d rise up and lie down in those far places, I’d recite the Shema, that prayer of portable Judaism that my father taught me.

Whale Mourning at Wilson’s Prom

My father walked these hills and steeps:

Woke early ever, walked rugged rockstrewn track

To the lookout, and back. Now he sleeps

Forever; and I rise with the sun

 

On this second day of the last new moon,

Of the dying year;

And sound the shofar, the ram’s horn warning*,

Then go for a run on a crystal morning.

 

My Father walked till his dying year; I follow his track

Across the bridge,

Then up the hill and over a ridge –

Then back; pausing to view a sapphire sea.

 

High here, on air, at Wamoom**, this southern

End of a continent,

Comes remembrance, a fifth element:

Midst earth and water I stand, content,

 

Basking in the gentle fire of an early sun

Then turn

To start the slog and gasp and sweat – up hills

And tracks on the ridge of the returning run.

 

Stop! – cries the voice of my companion

And turn!

And look out to sea, and see – there’s a whale!

I stop and turn and look – and sight the sail-

 

Shaped fin, the hump of back, the mammalian

Brown-black, a bruise

On the blue face of the sea. Now it sinks again

And as I smile, give thanks, and muse

 

It surfaces and plays, and sprays its spume

At the end of the dying year.

Another whale was here, beached, dead; while with my father

A decade ago, I saw it. We paid homage at its sandy tomb.

 

* Through the month of Ellul, Jews sound the ram’s horn, as a call to repent before the solemn days of the High Holydays.

**”Wamoom” is the Aboriginal name of Wilson’s Promontory.

Excerpt from My Fathers Compass by Howard Goldenberg. Hybrid 2007, 2008.