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And the River Waits Nardi Simpson | River, Indigenous, Warrambool, Water, Sing, Initiative, Voices, Journey | FATSILC, Fed. Aboriginal Torres Strait Island Languages and Culture
And the River Waits Nardi Simpson PDF Print E-mail
Young Indigenous Writers Initiative

This story has been written with the support of the Young Indigenous Writers Initiative, a mentoring program run by FATSIL that helps young Indigenous writers to develop their writing skills and get their work published. The aim of the program is to foster and promote the new generation of Indigenous writers in Australia. Nardi Simpson, a Yuwaalaraay and Gamilaraay woman, is our Young Indigenous Writers Initiative participant and Voice of the Land contributor for this issue.

FATSIL acknowledges ‘The Towards a Just Society Fund’ for supporting this Initiative.

If you are an Indigenous person between the age of 16 and 35, have a passion for writing and interest in language and culture, you are eligible to apply for the Young Indigenous Writers Initiative. Please email This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it to register your interest.

Nardi Simpson
We are river people, freshwater flows through us. Even in the middle of this busy city I can close my eyes and travel back to the river...

From Sydney I can throw a line in the still, brown flow and hear as the sinker and boogali spin and twist then slowly settle on the riverbed below.

In my mind I can again sit under a three hundred year old gum, toes in the mud and hold my line and wait.

My auntie told me a story once, she was a good one for stories. She told me that once, years ago our old people, those who lived outside the mission and station fences, gathered together and sang to their families at night, throwing their voices out across dark scrub, melodies sliding and entwining across water, carrying the sounds of our tongue straight to the tips of their family’s ears. Straight away I loved this story. My mind easily drifted to a cool, moonlit night, the flicker of faces in the fire and the strength of voices carried by water. But the story was not complete. It was when I discovered the songs were sung with equal amounts of fear and hope, a fear that the younger and stronger ones across the river, hemmed inby the fence, would soon forget the flick and dance of our language, and a hope that their children, those born within would live to speak and sing it themselves one day, that I began to fully understand the power of the songs and their performance that night. The singers willing their chant to continue through time and the listeners, forbidden to speak but encouraged all the same. Divided by a river, a wired fence and a new world, those old people wanted the tide of our words to continue to flow, just as the rivers and watercourses of our flat, country have for thousands of years. They sang words as honey, to drip slow and thick, to stick in the ears and minds of those wrapped and trapped on the other side. And if I strain, I too can hear the dull thud of old hands and the drift of voices on the breeze. Today, tides later I am learning to speak, but my words are heavy and
stick like tar, not flowing and golden yet.

River Song
Maybe as a consequence (but perhaps not related at all), I love to sing. I love filling my lungs with silent air and converting it into a roaring flow, resonating with sound and feeling and idea. I sing my stories, my family’s stories, about the river and about life. And like the waters that surround me, my river voice has met another to unite, making one. Our strengths combine, join forces and together we carve a journey through stiff ground- and on magical days, we form a whirlpool, sweeping all into and around us. I know of ancestors travelling through space and time to distant lands without leaving the ground. When I sing, I do this too. I don’t know how and I never know where it will take me, but I do journey to other worlds, I can linger somewhere between water and sky and bob, till gently, like my fishing line, I land again to settle below. Here, others can submerge their selves into our liquid world of voice and song, and become buoyant on their own journey, in their own world. Just as my elders had planned and once did themselves, I now travel and sing. And because of this my big water is now connected with the great freshwater rivers and lakes of Africa and Egypt.

And now those old people of Gamilaraay and Yuwaalaraay, who sang to keep our language alive, and who travelled to far away places without leaving their country, rest in Warrambool, the cathedral of stars that is known as The Milky Way. These stars however, are really ancestor’s campfires, twinkling silver-white, as the ashes sizzle with the juice of mussels cooking within. Those fires and its smoke are winking beacons, lighting the way, showing us the journey we must take when it is our time. When the floods come to land however, Big Warrambool becomes a liquid and land reflection of our own galaxy. Warrambool is also the watercourse that engulfs that flat, plains country, filling staid creeks and streams of dirt and transforming them into flourishing ecosystems. Warrambool is flood, but Warrambool is also sky. Two becomes one; as in Walgett two rivers become one, two voices become one and two traditions become me.

Again I drift...

If I strain to think through the restless quiet of city nights I can feel myself in a car of elbows and knees again, hemmed in by a box of oranges and gridiron wire, jolting and singing and laughing my way down to the river.

I remember the sight of that old mattress, baring scars and names of countless kin and trips from indoor to out. I can feel my hands behind my head as a pillow, feel the pulse of heat with feet to the fire. I can taste the bush, a sweet mix of wet earth and dry and can snuggle below the blanket of night’s heavy blackness. Out there, on and under Warrambool there is nothing, yet everything you could ever need - things so moving, and profound, yet simple. The river has always carried strong magic and the powers of memory and time, connectedness and blood, country and language, and story and water run deep, they pour into my small, suburban, brick box even today.

I love to wait for that moment between awake and sleep, the moment I can drift. Downstream, through, banks and snags, holes and weirs, past set lines and age old fish traps, to the still safety of the river, the birthplace of my freshwater family.

©Stiff Gins
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