Out with Franz
after Philip Hodgins
Franz was Dutch once but after spending a lot of time here in Broome the old fella decided to give him the _________ law. He took us up through some of the country, pointing out plants and places of interest. We sped at one-thirty along a dusty red road gloved by burnt scrub to burst out onto the coast: stupid, sheer blue everywhere. Franz told us to walk down the beach a bit, About a ’k, he said. He’d drive on and meet us where the red cliffs turned into sand dunes. After two ’ks at least, the white sand burning your eyes out, we saw the red rock beside us start to sink into the ground and the big dunes rise up with a few tufts of this and that on top. There was a little beach. Some of us undressed and wandered into the water. I turned to see Franz’s relief striding down the chest of a dune. It can be hard to think of this sort of thing as paradisiacal: you can worry a lot about fresh water, or how long it will be until you can get back to shade. You think of what they say about skin cancer, too (the sun’s always there, beating down). I joined the others in the ocean. Franz lay down on the sand, took off his sandals and put them under his head. For a whitefella he didn’t seem to burn much. I swam out for a bit then caught a small wave in. All that heat and stress I’d felt earlier had been washed off. I pointed to the blood red of the cliffs; Franz said they were a big quarry once where the people got paint and good rock. When everyone was out of the water we followed him through a valley between the dunes. Around our feet were scattered thousands of pieces of chipped sparkling shells and thin teeth of stone. It was here, he told us, over thirty of the tribe had been shot by paranoid explorers. Over the other side of that dune was the burial ground. You couldn’t camp there; this was a better place to sleep. Stop! he cried, his hands out. At his feet: two eggs like small marbles resting on a simple patio of broken white shell. It was the oyster catcher’s nest. Then, further on, circles of grey ash in the sand. During lunch, back behind the dunes, someone asked him why the massacre wasn’t mentioned on the tourist information board. They don’t want to give the young people any more reason to be angry, he said.