Yinaargal come together by a fire burning eurah and sandalwood. Smoke fans away distractions that distance us. Each one of us silently places a small branch in the fire. Letting go. Working together in the shade, talking a little, smiling a lot. Busy hands turn over cubes of damp clay, rolling them into balls, pinching, stretching and smoothing until a bowl takes shape. Thirty plus bowls. White, grey and terracotta, the size of a woman’s palm. Offerings, requests drying in the sun. Placing my bowl alongside the others, I look at the ring of open vessels, imagining them in use. Filling and emptying, giving, receiving. Spindly bull rushes and native clover wait for rain. A pelican glides above the body of water landing on the opposite bank. Insider knowledge. On Country, the bumble tree guards this lagoon where Garriya lies. Like others before, I stand on the outer lip, on sand tempered by the sun. Coolibahs and a line of proud black box hold tight against the drought. Three coolamons with wet ochre; white, grey and red, rest not far from our bowls. Wide and shallow, a coolamon carries water, food and medicine for ceremony. The form embodies receptivity. A safe protected space, partially enclosed yet also open. We women paint one another. Three lines, for we have travelled to be with one another. A filled in circle — our campfire, surrounded by dots — all of us. At the milky water’s edge, river clay is slippery underfoot.
Dhalbin yinarrgal worked tirelessly for this day. Healing and connection — ‘allied health’ blackfulla style. Medicine Dreaming. More than a t-shirt and blood sugar check. Few carry this land like dhalbin yinarrgal. Vessels of conscious spirit. Others miss what we see. We collect and share seeds left by the Old People. Seeds sprout our place, our purpose. On the hot coals is lunch. Photos are shared. One shows a river gum with an oval hole in its trunk. A tribal boundary tree. When the two trees were small, the sapling trunks were threaded together so they grew into one trunk. Once these trees traced the borders of our Country. The hole in the centre is a sign. Following one tree after another, miles apart, led you home. Crossing boundaries between the past and the present, precious knowledge exists between spaces. Stories locate our Bloodlines to Songlines. We dance together. Emu, brolga, eagle. Then belly laugh. Sitting together amongst a nest of raffia and emu feathers. Me all thumbs, rolling and twisting. Strands come together to make a rope connecting us all.
Dhalbin Yinaargal: Medicine Women
eurah: type of shrub
Old People: Ancestors
Michelle Vlatkovic is of Kamilaroi and Croatian descent. Her writing has been published by Overland, Southerly, Gargouille and Review of Australian Fiction. Michelle is a First Nation broadcaster at 4ZZZ and current PhD candidate at Griffith University.