Paul Collis is a Barkindji person. He was born in Bourke, in far north/west NSW. His early life was informed by Barkindji and Kunya and Murawarri, and Wongamara and Nyempa story tellers and artists. Paul grew hearing traditional stories of Aboriginal culture and Law. He earned a Doctorate at University Canberra in 2015. His first novel, Dancing Home, won the 2017 David Uniopon Award for a previously unpublished work by an Indigenous author, and the 2019 ACT Book of the year Award. Nightmares Run Like Mercury his first poetry collection is published by Recent Studies Press in 2021. Paul lives in Canberra and teaches occasionally at University of Canberra.
(26th January) – Mend That !
I’m too black to be Blue…
too black I am, to be true Blue Aussie, like you.
I’m not like Johnno and Crew,
too black I am, to be that Blue.
so no happy birthday, Australia,
Oi, Oi, Oi,
Situation In Sydney…
“Na. Not doin’ that. Not goin’ to rehab”.
And then, there’s that silence. You know?
Denial in silence.
(her skinny little body, a tremble. her eyes fill with shame and pain)
I search her face for a sign, for one little memory, of her.
She knows what I’m looking for.
Eye’s overflow. “I’m sorry, Uncle”.
I think of Christmas morns in PJ’s, and her, lost beneath a mountain of wrapping papers.
Laughter with smiley faces.
Tears of joy as seven bells rang out loud.
Everywhere the Christmas bells.
Think . . .First day at school and new uniform,
slowly turn into first cigarettes and later to boyfriend kisses.
Movie dates and birthday cakes,
and she slowly slips away into a grown-up world.
For a moment, for just a moment, she’s back – that shiny face little kid
back with me, for a second.
I searched the city for a bed in a Rehab.
But all the beds were taken.
All the doors turned closed.
Despair. Now everywhere despair.
They’re all buried out there,
near Fred’s grave. All in a line. We lovingly called them ‘The Black Sisters’.
The Nuns built a small little place for the dying, named it Bethlehem…old drunks and cancers from grog boys and old girls went there and were nursed by these beautiful Nuns until they passed on.
They were dearly respected and loved by us Murrdie people in Bourke…The Black Sisters were Ours.
Most of the Nuns worked the rest of their life and died in Service at Bourke.
An Aboriginal man suicided in front of their Altar one night after being jilted by his lover (a married woman).
Duncan’s suicide announced the end of the Nun’s service in Bourke.
When I was back home there 3 years ago, I ran into some of the Blacks Sisters at the Bakery, early one morning before going to Brewarrina. “Lovely to see you Sister’s” I happily said.
“Lovely to see you, Brother” one Nun spoke, as they all held their hands in prayer position and bowed to me.
“I think you Sisters are all Barkindji now, hey! Its so good to see you again. Will you be here long?”
“Not long. Ha ha…Not Barkindji, ha ha.” The speaking Nun joked.
“Just a short visit, this time.” she finished.
“All us Aboriginal people…. we all love you, Sisters” I said and began to wipe tears from my eyes.
“As we all love You,” Sister concluded.
I waved goodbye.
I walked to the car; it was already a hot day, revved up the air con and we drove the dusty road to Bre. I began thinking of kindness and love acts.
The next day was my last one in Bourke that trip. I went to the Cemetery to say goodbye to my deceased relatives. I noticed fresh prayer papers at the graves of the Black Sisters. I realised that it must have been one of the purposes of the Nun’s visit, all the way from India again was to pay their respects to their Black Sisters.