Eugene Alexander Donnini: ‘The Ruins of Killalpaninna’

The Ruins of Killalpaninna

Here, the stretch of a season can number decades,
transforming water and land from a sanctuary
ripened with craspedia, snow-pea and spongiosa,
into the barrenness of a parched and burning sand.

Where few manifestations can stand, like an old coolabah
with its dipping branches, or quartzite hills
scoured by the wind’s relentless hand. Here, in 1866,
the Lutherans came with bibles, top-hats and tails,

to impress a white man’s Dreaming on the black.
Through heat and sand, they raised their mission
by a lake, its tower seen from the Birdsville Track,
crowned with a little wooden cross, around which,

every day at twilight a lantern was lit and bound.
And every Sunday morning its bell would sound,
summoning the Diyari from their Dreaming.
Burnished like black marble, naked as the full moon,

the men, with boomerangs and mulga spears,
ocher-smeared, fierce and proud, the women,
with box-gum vessels and digging sticks, their hair
platted and cascading, with daisies, fire bush and twigs.

But prayers and sermons could not impress
what a culture out of its Dreaming had never dreamt,
and as time passed, fewer chose to be baptized
or venture in, living outside in Mia-Mias covered

with fragments of paper and tin: some men in top hats,
the women, awkwardly pressed into European gowns.
Until the season imploded to a drought, not even
a Kunkie with his rain bundle could beat, or white

man’s prayer moisten with its atmosphere: 22,000 sheep
dying of hunger, as one by one the lights of the mission
went out. Below the canopies of a beating sun,
starlight and a desert flower, over broken pews

and splintered rafters, where Japanese tourists
snap around the crumbling of a bell-less tower.

Eugene Alexander Donnini

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