CLEARWAY (Corona): A Film of Stories We Live, Music We Imagine and Found Plastic Sculpture
In March this year, Voices of Women was gearing up to present live performances of new Australian women’s short stories, selected from our annual writing competition. Then, there was Corona … But that just made us stronger. The result was the birth of a digital Voices of Women experience PLUS a live one! Discover more about this year’s journey here, and submit pieces for next year’s Voices of Women: Entanglement here!
— Lliane Clarke, Director & Producer, VOW
Come on a visual journey of storytelling for just under an hour. Intriguing, moving and hilarious tales traverse the lives we are leading. Dive into music by flute and cello soloists, wrapped in a world of found plastic sculptures collected from the sea. Experience the journey of a strong First Nations woman, the combined joy and utter frustration of motherhood, the trials and tragedy of domestic violence, the comedy of a day in waitressing, bus rides of the imagination with legends and heroes, discovering a same-sex awakening, bonds of friendship, the pain of betrayal, Corona and the oysters, the kin of womanhood.
Watch The Film
Listen to the Podcast
Read Some Stories…
With Gundungurra language interpretations informed by the teachings of Aunty Val Mulcahy and Aunty Trish Levett
Learn it slow.
Speak it fast.
It means walking together and working together.
It means belonging.
In On Identity, Stan Grant talks of the 99.9% of DNA that we as humans share, and the 0.01% of separation that exists within the space of difference between us. Within race, religion, gender and sexuality.
This story speaks to that space, and the absence of it. To our belonging and isolation. To the power of oppression and the greater power of reclaim.
It begins with my Great Gran, Nan Hoskins, the tender-hearted, Dreaming-Speaking riverside Matriarch, a descendent of Salt-Water people, of the Yuin and Gunai nations. A protector and a teacher, who carried our stories and passed before we met.
Of the 2 million eggs from Nan Hoskins ovaries, the one that would form Gran, and in turn, would shape my Mum.
Mum, another riverside blessing, was one of five born at the intersection of Russell and Hoskins — where Biripi and Gadigal stories melted with South Coast ones. She was raised with love, by Mob, the Old Way.
And it was hate, in the space between, that later took her away.
Hate for her 0.01% that created policies of protection and assimilation. Hate that packed her and her siblings into a bus, a train, a government car and split them apart, into Children’s Homes and Foster Care.
Hate that had them disown identity to adopt white ways, so they might belong somewhere.
And belong somewhere she did.
At one point, in the arms of a Saunders, with Danish, English and Irish ties, their love was safe from the racist slurs of work and the probing of cultural backgrounds in town.
It was here that Salt-Water Dreaming flowed to the mountains of Gundungurra lands, to guide their three tanned-skin, green-eyed children through daily life. It was also here that the middle of them, I, was counselled through the dangers of a Christian School, which taught of terra nullius and explorers, and gave power to teachers to be racist under the guise of education. To stand black kids up in front of the class ‘to show what an Aboriginal looks like’.
Gundungurra lands helped me know what it was to be 99.9 and 0.01% all at once. To be both too black and too white, to belong and to be isolated. It was here at the age of 7 that disassociation began to bloom in me. A growth that was felled and fertilised at moments throughout my teens and young adult years.
In the aftermath, I became a teacher. In the hopes that no child would ever feel as I did, at the front of that classroom, stood out from my peers. I moved away from Gundungurra Mountains to Dharawal Sea and honed my skills in education.
At a professional development program not far from Nan Hoskins’ riverbend, I was spotted by a Yuin man, who looked at me and remembered my lines. Over tea he spoke healing into the intergenerational aches, connecting the space between me, Mum, Gran and Nan, telling me things about my Old People.
Uncle told me about The Dreaming, and summarised it as a way of knowing and being, something past, present and future — non-hierarchical. He said it was our responsibility to the Earth, the Self and Mob. He told me I was a teacher, but that there were stories in me that needed to be told.
In the months that followed, I penned them on a river bend, up the coast from Nan’s.
It was here that I heard the Ancestors speak for the first time, as if spurred on by my meeting with Uncle. I could tell they were for me, so I called an Aunty on Gundungurra Country.
She said the Old People wanted me to learn language. To return to their wisdom and to find homecoming in using the right names for all things.
So I started with hers back home.
It means walking together and working together.
It means belonging.
Since that moment, I’ve been walking and working with mobs all over, helping them to teach their young ones language on Country.
Teaching them, like Nan Hoskins taught Mum by the water.
We’ve been learning it slow and speaking it fast. Remembering the sounds to bridge the gaps between, so that our young ones might yana (walk) in both worlds confidently.
We’ve been helping our goodjagah (small children) find mirren (belonging) in all of their spaces so that the millions of eggs in ovaries that move through our lessons might carry our stories.
We’ve been undoing the shame taught to us and remembering ourselves with words like
It means strong.
Enacting our Duwi (Dreaming), laying down the path for those who follow, with the Burringilling (Ancestors) guiding us along the way.
It is here, in our 0.01 that we find power to undo past policies, to soften removal and dissociation.
Here that we are connected.
Here that we are held and loved and known,
here that we are healed.
Her Rattle Up the Road
Flesh and fat were luxuries of childhood, in that window before starvation was understood.
My loose, thickened skin — coloured the same as my mama’s, who I’d never see again — held my cracked bones in as they rattled up the road, away, away from there.
My hair — the same colour as my sister’s with the auburn tinge, whose hair I’d never braid again — was still short from the soldier’s forced shaving, but it was growing; growing slowly, but growing.
My scalp — still burning from the bites of bugs sucking my starved blood, burrowing into my skin — was covered in sores with an incessant itch and a ceaseless sting.
My knees knocked as they rattled up the road, building the bulging bruises that coloured my limp limbs. My determined hands, which had white-knuckled their way this far, domed to shelter the bluest bulge — reminiscent of my brother’s treasured bouncing ball — on my left knee.
My flesh — alive but not fresh — was weeping waterish whiteness that pooled and glistened beside the dry blood that sealed scab to skin.
Amidst mountains and valleys of emaciated corpses with familiar faces, my sores from unsanitary incarceration had erupted into volcanoes: boiling blood ruptured, releasing the gas and burnt hair that had been inhaled and trapped within.
My weeping wounds revealed what my grit concealed.
My back straightened through spasms as I spat on a scab and brushed it with my rag of a dress. My tongue pressed again and again into my palette, muscles moving and saliva springing — mechanically, magically.
My scant spit smeared away some of their dirt, their mud; my hurt, my blood.
My cries were contained by recalling stories of heroes from history that hid in my head — their examples hauling me upward, forward and onward, to be sitting here where my bones rattled, my wounds wept, and my heart hoped that my mother, sisters and brothers waited somewhere ahead. To survive the threshold of a hell previously unimagined, to walk upright through the gates of an inferno and be sitting in this truck, my imagination had to lie and lure me on with the promise of the warm windows of my old home, improbably glowing.
Now, with a moment to sit, no longer on the run, I could begin to look into the pit where my body had been flung — I’d postponed the pain and perhaps fully would until old age when mind’s threads come undone…
Two of ten toes were broken. Three of ten toes missed nails. Four of ten toes balanced nails, now dead. But my eyes stared fixedly at the three nails still growing.
My new clothes came from the soldiers who’d liberated the camp. The ones who’d led us to food. They told me I was a hero; I wished they’d paid me no heed. For they’d seen the secret of how dirty, dirty, dirty Auschwitz was.
Food was finally in my belly but disease now lived there too. My body was working, I was alive, but my belly hurt and hunger morphed into malnourished agony as my body rejected mouthfuls too large following meals of just occasional snails and stale trails of crumbs.
It was too much after not enough: I needed a toilet — quickly! I needed my dignity. I could wait no longer.
Waiting for the war to end, waiting for reunions, waiting for warmth, waiting for death, waiting for life, waiting for the truck to stop; waiting for the toilet.
The wait was over. I found a toilet. There was no paper, but I needed my dignity.
I saw a copy of Mein Kampf sitting on the shelf above the basin. I needed the paper. I needed my dignity.
I took the book. I began to cleanse.
I straddle a vast problem. While my right eyeball behaves like an unreliable rap dancer who lives in a tunnel, my left hides at home … under blankets … in a cupboard … with the door shut. My problem is not that I’m blind, it’s just that I can’t see. I only use a guide dog because my feet are too far away, and knowing where to put them is awkward. I can’t quite make out my fingers if my arm is outstretched. But if I put my hand close to my face I can see them just fine. Therefore, I’m not a real blind person. Real blind people read braille, play blind cricket and use the voice-over feature on their smart phones at a million words per second. I can’t do any of those things. I take notes with a fat-tipped Nikko pen, listen to audio books and have the text on my phone set to huge. Last year I thought I was sending my mother a rose emoji, but it was a turd. Since then, I’ve used words and spelt out emojis.
My friend, Tracey, now she’s the real deal. Can’t see a thing and never has. When I’m with her, I get this weird feeling, as though I’m cheating — peeking in a game of Marco Polo — because I have partial vision. I’ve told Tracey that having low vision is only an inconvenience, compared to her total blindness. Tracey has a legit disability.
Tracey wants to join the library, and she’s on the waiting list for a new guide dog so she needs my help.
I offer her my elbow, pick up the harness of my dog, Olive, and we begin to walk. After a few hairy road crossings, I pause. Got to calm my farm.
‘Can we take a few steps further along the footpath so we aren’t standing in a fricking driveway?’
Good point. Inside the library, people are moving differently than shoppers or pedestrians; they’re dopey, like flies after rain. I bang into somebody.
It was a post. I hope Tracey hasn’t noticed. We eventually find the counter and explain what we want.
‘Just fill in this form.’
‘I’m blind. Could you help please?’
‘I’ll give it to your friend.’
‘It’s just a blur!’
The librarian speaks slowly and loudly, pointing at screens neither of us can see, so we leave. Tracey is clutching a laminated card with a barcode, which entitles her to borrow books and magazines, and a page of instructions about how to enter the code on the website for online access.
We sniff out a coffee shop
Tracey asks, ‘Do you have smoothies?’
‘I’ll have a long black,’ I say. But when it comes, I change my mind.
‘What’s wrong with it?’ asks Tracey.
‘I don’t feel like it.’
‘Why’d you order it?’
‘I didn’t know what else was on the menu.’
‘How inconvenient! You’ve got two disabilities.’
‘First, you’re visually impaired, and …’
‘You think I’m ugly?’
‘You’re have a severe case of denial.’
‘I think of people with a disability as like, being in need. I don’t want for anything. I can get around. Like you, I’ve got a degree. I’m okay.’
‘Are you meaningfully employed?’
Ouch! Cut to the quick.
‘I admit I’d like a proper job.’
‘Is being underemployed an inconvenience?’
‘Yes. It’s demoralising, isolating, depressing even,’ I say.
‘You’re in the same boat.’
‘True. It’s also uber exhausting listening for cues as well as doing normal work — even with modifications. No wonder we don’t have energy for other stuff like … washing, eating, meeting men, life.’
‘The drop in temperature is pleasant,’ I say. ‘I hope it doesn’t turn windy.’
I hear her smile. Wind is my enemy. I can’t hear traffic accurately; echoes bounce. Wind is as disorienting as rain on an umbrella..
‘You’re afraid of windy days, aren’t you?’
We laugh hysterically at ourselves: two potentially professional women spooked by the wind. Under the table, Olive joins in, thumping her tail between the wall and my chair. The salt and pepper shakers on our table rattle. I hear comments from other customers, surprised by a dog in the café. We settle, and I pull my attention back to Tracey as she trails her hand across the table to find her glass.
I feel a fraud because I can see her doing this, and guilty because I have a dog, whereas she’ll have to wait two years, even though she needs one more than I do. After all, she’s more blind. I don’t have a disability. She does.
Tracey says, ‘You know this inconvenience that causes you to feel demoralised, isolated and depressed? The one that means you don’t realise you’re standing in a driveway while you compose yourself after crossing a road?’
‘Oh, come on,’
‘Or telling the difference between a post and a person? Or filling out a form at the library?’
‘Or reading a menu.’
I slurp the coffee I didn’t want.
‘Or going outside when it’s windy. Are you ready to call it a disability yet?’
Breathe. Just Breathe.
‘I’m afraid you’re about twenty weeks, Miss Costas.’
That’s what the doctor said, not to my face mind you, he didn’t have the balls to look me directly in the eye as he gave me this earth-shattering news. His face went this strange bright red colour; seriously he looked like a tomato about to explode. What a dick, sitting there in his fake Armani suit bulging at the seams.
Twenty weeks. Shit!
‘I’m afraid you’re too far gone to have a termination.’
There he goes again — he’s ‘afraid’. I don’t know what he’s got to be ‘afraid’ of, he doesn’t have to tell me dad, does he?
And what kind of word is termination anyway, sounds like I’m on a train line. I may be young, but I’m not stupid. I told mum I didn’t think ‘it’ could happen the first time. Being 16 sucks, being 16 and pregnant … that’s fucking scary.
When I told Mum she started crying. It was funny in a weird sort of way; she’d thought I was constipated, that’s why I was so bloated.
‘It’s all that junk food you keep eating, a couple of suppositories will sort you out.’
No way was I going to stick anything up my arse, ever. So we ended up at the doctors.
When he told us the truth, she started to wail. Oh my God, it was really, really, embarrassing and sooooo loud. The doctor couldn’t get us out of his office fast enough. She was probably thinking the same as me — how to tell Dad!
Breathe. Just breathe…
Mum cried all the way home. We were sitting on the bus and no one would sit near us.
I’ll never forget the look on his face when Mum told Dad ‘the news’…
He didn’t hit me or shout or scream. It was much worse …
He just looked at me. Didn’t say a word.
Hasn’t spoken to me since, unlike Mum, who keeps on and on at me all the bloody time.
‘Who did this to you’
‘Who’s the father?’
As if I’d tell her. I’ll never tell her.
I lied when I told her it was ‘the first time’. When he came into my room. When he told me that he loved me. When he told me I was ‘special’, that what we did was ‘special’, our ‘special’ secret.
He just looked at me. He didn’t say a word.
Skin and Bone
It’s dark in here, but not so completely that I can’t see the gas camping lantern illuminating our five faces. The young-one found it yesterday. A good find, although something, anything, to eat would have been more appreciated. Right now, we’re huddling around the hiss of burning gas, like moths to a flame, as they used to say, except moths are extinct now and probably just as well, because if there were still moths about, we’d have caught them and sucked them dry.
The birthing-one’s in the corner on a pile of rags. Her cries could wake the dead as well as the living, but for the moment she is quiet. It’s a respite for our jangled nerves. I keep waiting for the soft yellow glow of light to extinguish, but that’s the least of our worries. The light reminds me of camping, and my former partner, David, and of how we liked to escape from the city and trek in the rugged mountains, especially in spring when the wild bush-flowers exploded into life. Once, he forgot to bring matches and we spent a whole wet weekend shivering under a rocky overhang, eating cold food, and I got a pounding headache. ‘I need hot coffee,’ I said, ‘it’s an emergency!’ Such trivial emergencies we had back then.
How suddenly our old lives disappeared! David is alive now only in memory, one of the first to fade out when the darkness came. I don’t usually allow myself to dwell on him, and how life was back then — how we continued on, blithely, despite the warning signs, as if things would remain as comfortably as they were, forever. Back then, I read in books about people hiding in caves during periods of war. And then, what about those Thai kids, years ago, the ones who were rescued from that flooded cave? We were all transfixed by that story, weren’t we?
I remember images of illuminated caves, birthing stalactites and stalagmites over millennia, but for that you need water, and here there’s precious little of that. Our refuge is not one of those caves anyway, it’s just a cave-like mine shaft; dark, dirty and cold. I suppose we could forage for a few remnant pieces of the black-stuff and try and light them with one of our precious matches, but I don’t know if that would work, and anyway, it’s too risky — the smell and the smoke might give us away. None of us wants that. The Hunters have no mercy for the likes of us. Despite it all, we still cling to each day of our lives, learning to live like troglobites, animals of the dark — and yet let me tell you, the scent of death and decay in here is not what anyone would choose.
The birthing-one is crying again. An endless labour. ‘Help’, she cries, ‘dear God, help me!’ She wants this over, and she’s not the only one. We, who have laboured with her, are tired too. A sigh escapes before I can stop it. There is no God here. I scuttle towards her, hold her hand, stroke her matted hair. I try to remember how to be kind.
‘Remember to breathe, in and out, slow it down, yes that’s right, good girl.’
The others try to ignore us. They said I should leave her where we found her, but I was a mid-wife once, I can’t let her suffer this alone. The birthing-one pants and moans, writhing through pulses of pain. I used to run classes on how to have a ‘good’ labour. I believed you needed to practise, be well-fed, fit and healthy — nothing like this tiny scrap of skin and bone. She is pushing urgently now. I see the baby crown and to the echo of a scream it slips into my hands — a girl child, already snuffling and mewling. Despite themselves, the others drift over and stand in awe around this tiny, shiny miracle. The light flickers and fades, and what we are left with is shame — for all we didn’t do when we still had the time.
Feature image: Kirli Saunders reading ‘Ngununggula’ for Clearway 2020 at Articulate Project Space
Kirli Saunders is a proud Gunai Woman and award-winning international writer of poetry, plays and picture books. She is a teacher, cultural consultant and artist. In 2020, Kirli was named the NSW Aboriginal Woman of the Year.
Kirli created Poetry in First Languages, delivered by Red Room Poetry. Her debut picture book, The Incredible Freedom Machines, was shortlisted for the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards and CBCA notables. Her poetry collection, Kindred, was shortlisted for the ABIA 2020 Book Awards. Her verse novel, Bindi (Magabala Books), was the inaugural winner of the WA Premiers, Daisy Utemorrah Award and will be released in October.
Kirli has four forthcoming titles and her poetry features in anthologies published by Magabala Books, UQP and Penguin. Kirli is the winner of the University of Canberra ATSI Poetry prize (2019). She has been shortlisted for the Nakata Brophy prize in 2018 and 2020, and is an esteemed judge for the 2020 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards and QPF Val Vallis Award.
Kirli’s was a finalist in the Contemporary NOW prize, and her artworks works have been commissioned for Wollongong Gallery, Shoalhaven Gallery and Curio Gallery. With the support of Australia Council for the Arts, she will hold her first solo poetic arts exhibition, Returning, in 2021.
As a playwright, Kirli is co-creating Dead Horse Gap with Merrigong Theatre and South East Arts. Her first solo play, Going Home has been supported by Playwriting Australia, and will take the stage in 2022.
Siân Darling is a documentarian, artist and development manager working at the intersection of art and social justice. Siân’s work has been published and exhibited in state institutions, national magazines and poetry anthologies. Siân has produced and directed a collection of documentary and music videos and held a variety of roles, including Business Development Manager at Art Guide Australia, General Manager at the Human Rights Arts and Film Festival, Producer of Nasty Women Everywhere, Co-Chair of Right Now Inc., and Community Facilitator with Good Beginnings Australia during its merger with Save the Children.
Siân currently works as an artist manager with One Louder Entertainment for songwriters Uncle Kev Carmody and Paul Kelly. In 2020, Siân produced the Kev Carmody tribute album, Cannot Buy My Soul 2020 Edition, a charting album of Aborignal truth-telling in 42 songs sung by some of Australia’s greatest talents. Siân does ongoing work with Kimberley legend, Uncle Sam Lovell, documenting his life and building the Sam Lovell Collection at the State Library of WA.
Siân is devoted to the integrity of Australia’s independent media, and is dedicated to human rights and to chipping away at the disconnection between people, our responsibilities to others, and the natural world.
Danae Sweetapple lives in Toowoomba, Queensland, with her Guide Dog, Lily, and retired Guide Dog, Olive. When Danae and Lily are not dodging traffic, they are seeking adventure. Danae has a Bachelor of Arts (Hon) in Sociology / Literature and a background in performance. She is an emerging writer.
Suzy Wilds is a full time Nursing Unit Manager at a suburban Sexual Health Clinic in Sydney. She has a passion for all things theatrical and only began writing in 2012. She has been involved in Script in Hand and Crash Test Drama in Sydney. In 2012 she won Best Play for ‘Bodily Fluids’ at Crash Test Cronulla. She has had her plays performed regularly in Short & Sweet, the largest 10 minute play festival in the world, as a writer director and performer. Some of her plays have also been performed in Melbourne, Chennai, Kolkata and Hollywood. She had two plays performed in Sydney in May 2015 as part of ‘Rhymes With Silence,’ An Improvising Change Theatre Production on Domestic Violence. In 2019, ‘A Silent Accomplice’ won Peoples Choice and came 2nd in Judges choice in Short & Sweet Sydney. Going through to the Peoples Choice Finals. ‘A Bicycle Made For Two’ won best production and the Best Actress award at ARKfest, Melbourne, in March. ‘Breathe. Just Breathe’ was selected for Clearway, A Voices of Women Production which was meant to be part of an immersive theatre event which but ended up being filmed instead due to COVID. Suzy loves to write about women’s issues and is honoured to be involved in this project and have her work published by Verity La.
Arna Radovich is a Blue Mountains based writer of short fiction, poetry and stories for children. Her writing has been published in Meniscus Literary Journal, fourW-thirty, Story Cities: A Guide for the Imagination (Arachne Press, UK), the 40 South Short Story Anthology, Time (Spineless Wonders) and ZineWest. She won 2nd prize in the 2020 Peter Cowan 600 Word Short Story Award and has previously been a finalist in the Carmel Bird Digital Literary Award, the Tasmanian Writers’ Prize and the NWF/joanne burns microlit award.