“G’day, mate,” Turbo said with a friendly smile after climbing down from the cab and sliding his sunnies to the top of his bald head. He couldn’t believe what he was seeing — the kid looked like he’d stepped straight out of the Stone Age! It was as if he was in a time warp with two worlds meeting at the tip. He’d seen pictures of bush Aborigines before, but they were all tattered old black and white photos. I wonder if he’s just some local kid on his way to do some busking? Surely Aborigines don’t live in the bush anymore? “How ya going?” he added, with a swat at a fly.
Billy couldn’t believe what he was seeing either — the man had green eyes! He was prepared for white skin, colourful hair even, but no one told him whitefellas had green eyes.
“G’day,” Billy replied. “I’m … ah. I’m walking!”
“So I see,” Turbo laughed while looking Billy up and down. My God this kid looks authentic! His feet look like they’ve never even seen a pair of shoes before. He noticed Billy looking at a colourful new tattoo on his forearm so he held it out for him to see. “Takeda! He was a famous Samurai Warrior. You look like a bit of a warrior yourself with those tattoos running across your chest and carrying all those weapons.”
Billy unconsciously ran a cautious finger over his freshly healed wounds, which drew Turbo in for a closer look.
“Holy shit!” he said. “They’re scars! I thought they were just tattoos.”
“Tribal scarring,” Billy said proudly, liking the whitefella’s reaction. “It’s my totem!”
“Mate I’ve seen scarification before, but nothing like that! They even sit below the surface! Tribal scarring you say?”
“Yeah, my great–grandfather did them.”
“Fair dinkum? Well they’re the best I’ve ever seen. What’s his name?”
“Cobar. But yours are good too.”
“Nah, mate. These are just tattoos! They hurt, but nothing like scarring. I bet yours hurt?”
Billy wanted to be tough about it in front of the whitefella and say how it didn’t hurt at all, but he felt an upfront honesty about this man that made him feel comfortable. He couldn’t believe he was having a friendly conversation with a whitefella after all these years of having the fear pumped into him about their dangers. Hiding from them, being on constant lookout for them. And here was one being completely friendly. Billy didn’t want to feel the fear anymore. He wanted to see these people through fresh eyes. After all, it was his own mother who had sent him into their world. He didn’t think she would have done that if they really were going to shoot him.
“Yeah, hurt like bloody hell,” he said with a sheepish grin. The driver laughed easily and nodded in understanding. “I had to handle the pain like a man but, ‘cause it was for my initiation.”
“So are you a man now?”
“Yeah, I’m a man now!”
Turbo was feeling the friendship too. He liked this little blackfella who was trying so hard to be a man with his chest expanding and his back straightening as he declared his manhood. He couldn’t hide the innocence of his youth and the boy bubbling below the surface though, which Turbo found totally endearing.
“Turbo’s my name,” he said while holding out his hand.
Nervous excitement tingled through Billy’s body. Burnam had prepared him for this — the handshake, though he felt completely unprepared. He stared at the hand for a moment, hanging out there, waiting to be greeted. He never thought a whitefella would want to shake his hand. Then he panicked, remembering that he should have shaken it already. He’d left it out there too long! He quickly thrust his hand into Turbo’s, shaking it too much and making Turbo laugh.
“Billy’s my name.”
“Nice to meet you, Billy.”
“Yeah, nice to meet you, Turbo,” Billy said with an excited smile.
“So what is this pattern? Your totem.”
“That’s the Red kangaroo.”
“Doesn’t look like a kangaroo.”
Billy thought a demonstration might be best so he pulled his back scratcher from his bag and ran the claws across his chest.
Turbo’s eyes nearly popped out of his head.
“Felt like one!” Billy grinned while handing it to Turbo.
Turbo ran the claws over his arm and marvelled at how easily it scratched him. Then he had another look at Billy’s chest.
“So if the kangaroo clawed you, how is it Tribal scarring?”
“Grandfather burn them to stop the bleeding and initiate me.”
“HE WHAT? HE BURNT YA OPEN WOUNDS?”
“Yeah, hurt like bloody hell, mate.”
“Holy shit, Billy! That’s full–on, man!”
“Yeah, I’m a man now.”
“Can’t argue with that! Except you’re the smallest man I’ve ever seen,” Turbo grinned cheekily. “So how did he actually do it?”
“Hot ash from a gum tree stick.”
“Riiight,” Turbo grimaced. He was impressed by the method, although he wasn’t sure what he thought about such a young boy enduring Tribal Scarring. He is full of pride though. Manly for such a young kid too. Still, doesn’t seem right. Kids today couldn’t handle it. S’pose they’ve got sport. Maybe that’s how city kids become men?
“So you got the roo, I take it? This is his paw?”
“Yeah, I spear him. Now I got his wandering spirit for my Walkabout. We walkabout here, we walkabout there.”
“And you walked right into this tip. Of all places!”
“Them whitefellas back there chase me and say ‘PUT SOME CLOTHES ON YA BLOODY, IDIOT!’”
“Yeah. And the old lady fainted.”
“And you thought you’d find some clothes at the tip?”
“Dunno! Dunno what clothes are.”
Turbo started laughing.
“Is this all you’ve ever worn?”
“I got a hat!” Billy said excitedly. He whipped it out and put it on with bright eyes full of hope. “Is this clothes?”
“Kinda,” Turbo said with another laugh. “I don’t think it’s quite what they were hoping for though.”
“I got a vest?” Billy pulled that out too and put it on.
“You haven’t a clue have ya?”
“Pants, mate! You can’t get around bare–arsed like that!”
“Them girls back there say I got a nice arse.”
Turbo cracked up laughing.
“Reckon the old lady might have thought so too. Billy you need a proper pair of pants, mate. Like mine, see, my arse ain’t hanging out the back!”
Billy displayed his bag for Turbo to see and said,
“Can I make pants with this?”
“Whoa!” He ran a hand through the fur, admiring the suppleness of the leather. “You fellas sure know how to tan a hide!”
“My family make him for me,” Billy said with a thumb crooked into his vest to show it off, “so I look like everyone else.”
It took all of Turbo’s willpower not to laugh — the innocence and the absurdity of it was just ridiculous.
“I couldn’t let you ruin your nice bag, mate.”
Turbo scratched his head and wondered about the load in the back of his truck.
“This is unbelievable! So you say the spirit of the kangaroo guided you here?”
“I can’t believe this — kangaroos just aren’t that smart!”
“What do you mean?”
Turbo shook his head in dismay, trying to understand what was going on.
“Have you been living in the bush all your life?”
“I was born in the bush.”
“So what brings you out now?”
“My mum want me to go walkabout through the whitefella culture.”
“No girls left in our tribe. I gotta find some or we gonna die out. No more Dreaming!”
“So your tribe sent you to find some girls for them?”
“The girls like my arse!”
Turbo laughed again.
“How many girls are we talking about?”
“My dad wants one. I don’t think my great–grandfather wants one ‘cause he’s too old. My grandfather didn’t say anything but he probably wants two. My brother Mallee, he wants six! And my other brother Pindaari? I dunno what he wants.”
“Six? Your brother wants you to bring him back six sheilas?”
“Yeah. He say a warrior like him should have six wives.”
“Well he must be the mightiest warrior on the planet ‘cause one wife is all most men can handle!”
“Yeah. One! Trust me! Even that’s too much for most blokes.”
“How many you got?”
“None! And I intend to keep it that way thanks very much. Why? How many do you think you can handle?”
“Dunno. I never even seen a girl till now.”
“Nah. No girls in my tribe.”
“But what about your mum? She’s a girl.”
“She died when I was born.”
“Hang on. I thought you said it was your mum who wanted you to go walkabout.”
“Yeah! She told me in my dreams. But I didn’t want to go, so she did this,” Billy touched his scars again.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa. Hang on a minute. How did your mum do that to you?”
“She ask the Red kangaroo to give me his spirit for my Walkabout.”
“A kangaroo did this to you but he did it because your mum told him too?”
“And you’re here now, after living in the bush all this time, because your mum asked you to, in a dream?”
“Riiight. Well that makes more sense than a kangaroo putting all this together. I think?” Turbo was shaking his head in wonder.
“Putting all what together?”
“Can’t say I’m sure really, but I got a call to drop a load to the tip this morning from a company who have never called me before, which was strange. The other strange thing, no, another strange thing was I decided to dump it here. See I normally just use the tip near my place, but because my mate Diesel lives up the road, I thought I’d dump it here instead. He’s been hassling me for ages to grab a load of firewood from his place for the clubhouse. So I figured I’d kill two birds with one stone and here I am, for the first time ever! And then I run into you — a little blackfella from a hundred–thousand–years ago who just so happens to need exactly what I’ve got in the back of my truck.”
Turbo shook his head in disbelief again.
“I’ll show ya. I still don’t believe it, but I’ll show ya.” He walked over to the side of his truck and pulled a lever.
Billy jumped back in surprise as the whole back of the truck lifted high into the air and tipped its load out the back.
“I don’t know how your mum managed this, but Vinnies had so many donations this year that they’ve had to dump a whole semi–trailer load of clothes! Here ya go my, friend, there’s enough pants here to cover every bare bum in the country. Yours especially, nice as it is and all.”
All Billy saw was a giant pile of beautiful colours.
“Go for it, Billy. It’s all for free, mate. Take what you want.”
Billy liked everything red and picked out a bright red sundress.
“It was sheilas you were looking for wasn’t it?” Turbo asked.
Sheilas was another word that Billy was struggling with.
“Girls, mate. You want girls don’t ya?”
“Yeah, girls. Sheilas.”
“Well you won’t pick up any in a sundress my, friend. Here ya go, try these.” He held up a black and grey pair of camouflage cargo shorts.
Billy was reluctant to ditch his dress but he did like the look of the shorts. If only he knew how to, “try” them.
Turbo could see him having trouble so he showed him how to work the zipper and the press–studs on the pockets. It didn’t help — Billy played with them for ages, totally fascinated.
“Put your legs through the holes, Billy. See, like mine. They’re a pair of pants, mate!”
It was as if a light had suddenly burst into life. Billy saw it all now — all this stuff was the clothes that whitefellas wore.
He excitedly put his foot through but it got caught. He hopped around, spinning on the spot while trying to keep his balance. Finally, he got them pulled up and zipped up.
Turbo was going to suggest that he didn’t need his loincloth anymore, but it looked kind of cool hanging over the outside.
Billy was rapt and spent the next few minutes zipping up and down, opening and closing each and every press–stud and finally, he looked up at Turbo with an outrageously happy smile.
Turbo laughed at his innocence and said,
“No one’s gonna call you an idiot and chase you up the street anymore!”
“Gonna make it harder to find the sheilas but.”
“‘Cause they can’t see my nice arse!”
“No one wants to see your arse, Billy! Trust me! You just keep your pants on and you’ll look like everyone else, OK?”
“I’ll be invisible! Cobar said I can’t get into trouble if people can’t see me.”
“He sounds like a wise man, that grandfather of yours.” Turbo didn’t have the heart to tell him that he was a dead–set stand out with his spears and kangaroo hat.
“He gonna be happy you make me invisible.”
Turbo suddenly felt sad about putting clothes on the little blackfella from the bush. It was like he was painting graffiti on a National Treasure. Like painting, “TURBO WAS HERE” on a living dinosaur. He wanted to take them back and send Billy back to the bush, but he knew it was too late. He figured the best he could do was to try and help him.
“So where are you headed anyway my, friend?” Turbo asked.
“My mother show me brown snake watching over the whitefellas on a white ant nest. That way,” he said, pointing south towards the city.
“A brown snake on a white ant nest? That’s a bit vague isn’t it? I live in the city and I haven’t a clue where that could be.”
“I’ll see it up there,” he said, pointing to the peak just a few kilometres away. “Looks like this,” he held up his forearm and hand like a cobra about to strike.
Just then, the distressed calls of a crow caught their attention. A white plastic garbage bag caught in a gust of wind was dragging the hapless scavenger along the ground by its only remaining leg. It was pecking desperately at the bag and its leg, trying to free itself when a Willy–Willy ballooned the bag and lifted it high into the sky. It spun mercilessly until finally the sail folded, dumping the weary soul back into another frenzied attack by a flock of seagulls.
“Reckon our culture could do with some lessons from your culture, Billy,” Turbo said in disgust of the gruesome sight.
The bag ballooned again, this time with just the weight of a dripping red leg to weigh it down.
“Billy do you know anyone in the city? Anyone you can call if you need help?”
“My mother will guide me,” he said with more confidence than he felt while massaging his scars again.
“Hmmm. Well if I’m not mistaken, and that’s entirely possible because all this is freaking me right out; your mother guided you to me, or me to you, or both, or something, I don’t know but anyway, here, take my card and some money and give me a call if you need anything, OK?”
Billy wondered how Turbo would know it was him calling with so many bullroarers going off in the city.
“Put it in your pocket, mate, and take good care of it. I’m only a phone call away, OK?”
All Billy heard was, “Put it in your pocket” — he had so many to choose from and so many press studs to play with.
Money. He remembered Burnam teaching him about money. Pounds and shillings and pence and stuff. He could understand how to add and subtract numbers, but when it came to money, it just confused him. Twelve pence to a shilling, twenty shillings to a pound, two–hundred and forty pence to a pound, all it did was give him a headache.
He wanted to give Turbo something in return for his friendship, but he didn’t know what. He remembered Turbo having a good look over his spears. He carried a broad–head for fast blood loss, a heavily barbed spear that wouldn’t come out no matter how far his prey hopped, a multi–pronged fishing spear, and his woomera for throwing the spears. It was the broad–head that he’d been preparing to use on Turbo if he had to. He felt really guilty for misjudging him like that so he held out the broad–head and said,
“I want you to have this spear in friendship, Turbo!”
“Whoa, Billy. I can’t take that!”
“Grandfather would want you to have this for helping me.” Billy was steadfast, holding out the spear with determination. “For making his great–grandson invisible!”
Turbo was torn between accepting the gift in friendship and taking something from an Aboriginal boy who already had his whole country taken from him. But he could see that it was a matter of honour for the young warrior. He had no choice — he had to accept it. If only he had a phone to give Billy to be sure of keeping in touch with him.
“Billy if I take this, will you promise to call me and let me know how you’re going?”
“OK. Thanks, man. This is really cool!” He spent a moment admiring the spear. “Did you make it?”
“Me and me dad.”
“Did you burn these patterns into it? I see they’re on all your things.”
“Yeah, that’s me mark. I always do it.”
“Billy this means more to me than you will ever know my, friend.” He was starting to choke up, struggling to hold onto his emotions. “I better get going. Got lots to do today. It was nice to meet you, my little warrior, buddy.” He shook Billy’s hand and climbed back into the truck.
“Thanks for making me invisible, Turbo,” Billy called as the truck hissed and rumbled off.
“No worries, Billy,” Turbo called out the window. “And call me OK?”
“AND KEEP YA BLOODY PANTS ON!”
Billy felt exhilarated — things were going really well. He spent a moment rearranging some of his things into his new pockets and was about to leave when he heard whimpering coming from the pile of clothes …
Bunya Publishing: http://bunyapublishing.com/