I had a friend named Albatross. He had a few years on me and a few inches in height. He belonged to a large family of Australian aboriginals who all lived in an assortment of old buses and sheds in a huge fruit orchard on the estate of a cattle ranch, where the older members of the family worked. Albatross had an uncle who everyone simply called ‘Uncle Parky’. In fact, I believe this name appeared even on his drivers licence.
Uncle Parky lived in an old bus also, way out in the woods, on the banks of a huge cold river which flowed down out of the volcanic limestone mountains, named Green River. He occasionally came into town, to buy supplies and all of that, and he’d always visit my dad. He looked about nine thousand years old, in fact, no-one really new his age because of the circumstances in which he entered the world. Parky had the longest feet I have ever seen, and all his toes gnarled up and pointed in different directions. I asked dad what had happened to Parky’s toes, and dad said that he’d never worn shoes in his entire life, and his toes got all broken from not wearing shoes and kicking trees, when he rode his horse through the woods. Every one called him Uncle Parky, though only Albatross could really claim the fact.
Anyway, this one weekend Parky came through an entrance that no-one ever used, into the Police station, huffing under a load of groceries, his Akubra all beaten up and filthy, the sweat band on it not a sweat band, but a band of sweat, a black cockatoo feather punched through the felt. He caught me at my dad’s cop-desk, lifting a stack of blank drivers-licenses for my gang, The Wreckers. Parky shouted out to my dad as he laughed at me, trying to stuff the licenses back into the drawer, and just as I thought I’d gotten away with it, he dobbed me, told dad what he saw me doing. Dad went on about all the hell that I meant for the family, even told Parky about the drugs and the pornography. And Parky tut-tutted through his giant grey beard and looked at me out of his one good eye. His other eye got poked out with a burning stick during an Aboriginal ceremony. Apparently Parky’s tribe chose him as Witch Doctor, while still a baby, and they burned out one his eyes with a red-hot stick, so that he could navigate the Dreaming. This tribe, way back in the early droving days, got wind of the approaching cowboys who had struck north from Charters Towers to claim land along the banks of the Burdekin River, and for reasons unknown, at least to me, stuffed Parky in a hollow log and disappeared into the bush. One of the cowboys found Parky and waited with him, by the log, for three days. When Parky’s tribe failed to return, he adopted him. Dad told me that Parky looked about four when found by the cowboys, way back in 1880 something.
Before I knew it, my dad had agreed that Parky should take me, and Albatross, out to his bus on the Green River. That by doing so, I’d for certain learn some discipline, and that, “Some bush-tucker and a few lessons in life from Parky, will do you good, boy.”
As we arrived at Parky’s bus-house in the woods, up in the mountains by Green River, the sun slipped beyond the horizon. I couldn’t see a damned thing, and Uncle Parky and Albatross said they could both see clear as day and reckoned I suffered from white-man blindness. I said, on account of their black skin, that I couldn’t see them, at all, if they closed their mouths. They thought this the funniest shit they’d heard all year and deliberately melted into the darkness, so that I flailed around like an idiot, tripping over logs and god-knows what else, in the moonless night. Parky started up a raging bonfire and went walk-about for a couple hours. Albatross and I sat around smoking Nagura burr. Apparently Nagura burr holds a sacred place in Aboriginal witch doctor ceremonies and Parky had shown it to Albatross. Albatross showed me how to prepare it for smoking, and boasted that Parky had decided to teach him how to act like a Kadji.
I asked, “what does Kadji mean?” And Albatross said, “it means ‘clever-man’.
“I think of Parky as a witch-doctor.” I said.
“Parky doesn’t like white-man’s words…you shouldn’t, under any circumstances, call Parky a witch, to his face!” Albatross whispered.
About then we both realised that Parky had heard the whole thing, as he sat up in the dark behind us, skinning a goanna, because he suddenly materialised by the fire and said that he didn’t mind if I called him a witch, but I shouldn’t smoke the Nagura burr, because it’d ‘fuck with my white-man mind.’ I slept by the fire, under the stars, dreamt of serpents and eagles and about Parky, who walked on water and rode clouds around. I also dreamed of a woman who had sex with a swan. The swan had it’s beak in her cunt, and she had it by the neck, moaning and madly thrusting the swans beak in and out of herself, until she strangled the swan to death, its neck snapping, with a sound like stepping on a pencil while wearing socks.
The next day, after we ate cold goanna and drank billy tea for breakfast, Parky took us boys up into a giant limestone gorge. He said that this gorge formed when a lava-flow exploded out of the mountain, a billion years ago, and as the lava cooled it cracked open, like the top of a cake in an oven, forming this gorge. He pointed out a cluster of caves, explaining that they guarded the bones of his Kadji ancestors. He showed us where to find actual real fossils, of weird looking ancient fish and perfect fern leaves frozen in the limestone. He said that where we stood, you couldn’t find older land on the whole earth, and he showed us a long, broken length of rock, which he said, had an entire legend attached to it. He told us the Legend of the Kunia woman, whose legs, if you knew how to look right, jutted up, and became these rocky outcrops in the distance. He told us that Kunia woman had gotten herself captured, raped and killed by a lizard man.
By and by, way up in the gorge near a deep green lagoon, we broke for lunch. Uncle Parky said that we should go for a swim while he went off and got us a possum, or another goanna, or a kangaroo. So he disappeared up in the woods on the ridge and Albatross and I stripped down for a swim. We kicked about, stirred up some turtles and a jewfish from under a floating log, and took turns trying to touch the bottom, clearly visible, but far deeper than we thought. We both floated on our backs, looking up at the cliff above the lagoon. Presently, we concluded that diving off the cliff sounded like a good idea. We clambered up, through the trees and made it to the edge. Albatross dived right off, straight away, leaving me standing up on the cliff. He floated down below, egging me on to jump, when, suddenly, he froze and turned whiter than me. I swear the colour in his face literally drained away like spilt ink in a sink. He shouted something incomprehensible and thrashed about, almost drowning himself.
“What?” I yelled down to him.
“Yowie!” he screamed, pointing up at me.
“Fucken, Yowie, Help!” he shouted so hard I swear blood foamed from his mouth. Just the fear in his voice triggered the ‘fight or flight’ mechanism in my brain that I’d read about in the REFERENCE ONLY section at the library. I turned on heel, simultaneously ready to punch and run, and what I saw stopped my heart, dead, in my chest. Thump…thump…thu. Directly behind me, within touching distance, so that when I spun I actually brushed up against it, stood a ferociously ugly looking, eight foot tall man, covered entirely in long, orange hair. The hair had all matted in clumps of mud and broken sticks and other gory looking stuff. It looked at me with dull grey eyes, snorting through a flat, pushed up nose, with teeth like an English bulldog. As I tried to wrap my poor, feeble, white-mans mind around this thing, it roared. I vomited, right then, straight in its face, half from the stench of dead rotting carcass and half from pure, unadulterated terror. A projectile vomit, too, and it hit the Yowie right in the eyes, which made it roar again, even louder. I turned and ran, like a banshee to heaven, to the cliff and dove off. In mid air, before I turned like a thrown cat, to see if the thing had decided to follow me, I could see Albatross sprinting through the trees, his screams as he ran sending flocks of birds up out of the woods.
I landed, I swear, on my feet on the surface of the water and ran right across the river, up the steep sandy bank on the other side and leapt ten feet up a tree without missing a single beat.
Later, when Parky returned with a dead, skinned kangaroo, I told him that we’d seen a Yowie, and that Albatross had run off into the bush and, as yet, not returned. Parky looked more concerned than I’d ever seen anyone look, and ran off into the trees, searching for him. Albatross didn’t show, until the next morning, when I woke up to find him sleeping beside me. I swear I don’t know how I managed to sleep, because I suffer from insomnia anyway, and my ass burned, from when I shat my pants as I vomited on the Yowie.
An extract from Scoundrel Days ~ A Memoir