Gunnedah by Neil Murray
This piece was published in the Melbourne Age as
"Gunnedah Dreaming" on 3rd July 2004.

In December, it is a normal for the heat to be building inland. If you head north west from the coast, sooner or later you'll strike dry, parched country and familiar dusty towns.

Under any shady tree in any of them you can find people who are still close to the earth.

I walked over the stars of Tamworth - their gold names were embedded in the sidewalk theme park of a dinky-di Nashville/Hollywood transplanted from America.

I took my songs further on to Gunnedah, to where Dorothy McKellar had spent holidays in her youth.

From a hot tiny room upstairs in a local pub, with no fridge, no aircon and no phone, I can taste her sunburnt country. She was born into landed gentry and was nineteen and virginal when she composed that ode to Australia. How could she know how ravaged it really was?

She painted a picture postcard- notable in it's absence of living creatures, indigenous or otherwise. It struck a national chord because white people could identify with a view of the land from a romantic
distance. They didn't include themselves in it, they were separate from it - admiring or fearing it, but not a part of it. And thus being separate they could do what they willed to it. For most, the
land was an adversary that had to be tame.

We learnt Dorothy McKellars "My country" in school, and chanted it like a mantra for our homeland. No other description was on offer. We sang God save the Queen too. No other song was on offer.

Dorothy never married. She eventually sought comfort in the bottle and would remain a symbolic bride to her country, though she spent too much time abroad to really know it. I don't know if she ever joined in a blackfellas flagon party, but I'd like to imagine that if she had it might have been the making of her.

The grizzled white blokes in the front bar of this town are the same as you find anywhere. They all go against the grain of the land. And they all die harder for it.

The blackfellas turn up on foot or in old cars packed with blankets and belongings. They still walk the streets as if it's a creek bed and when they sit in the parks they sit at ease on the ground.

The mainstream will never have me now. I committed the cardinal frontier sin. I turned "injun". I threw my lot in with the blackfellas. It rankles and irks - when you play for the wrong team. They don't understand it. Both sides said, "you're white" I couldn't produce that perfect picture. My landscapes were full of murder and rape, drunks and destruction, stolen children, cultural genocide, species extinction, degradation of land and waterways.

In Gunnedah tonight I expect not to pull a crowd. Like the last place, and the place before that. Where might a few scattered souls wish to hear any of this? I don't blame them.

I guess I'll keep going down the road. Fold myself into these hills, these plains and gullies. Anywhere is good enough to lie down. May the first dark face know me.