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May 01st 2008 print

Jillian Pattinson

Legacy

Because his father was an initiate, my father learned things
that many people have forgotten: why you should sit and wait
for the elders to invite you into camp; that a good layer of river clay
will confound mosquitoes; how to make a bull-roarer and return
a boomerang; what brown snake, bush eggs and midden molluscs
taste like; where to dig up bardee grubs; how to catch yabbies
and goanna; why you should never walk through a willy-willy;
where the scar-trees are; that there is more than one good reason
to burn patterns on a message stick; and how to recognise
the night call of a mopoke.

Because his father was an initiate, my father taught us things
that many people have forgotten: the distance, as the crow flies,
between Australia and Gallipoli; how a diet of certain green-leafed weeds
can prevent scurvy; that, in trench warfare, boys who don’t know
how to darn their own socks are liable to die of the common cold;
when the words intelligence and communication become ambiguous
in a military context; why the top-brass is prone to errors
of judgement; that the enemy also writes home to his mother,
cries out to her in the dark and, come Christmas, is better able
to down rifle and proffer oranges with limbs, skin and intestines intact.

Jillian Pattinson