Gurungu…the magic string…the Muruwari word for mental telepathy. Fullbloods had the gift. When I left Weilmoringle I thought I’d been blessed with it as well but my moment was fleeting and singular. Messages received after that have wafted into my life like smoke from a Muruwari fire but I’ve been grateful for any connecting thread because the light of that experience only grows brighter with time.
Wayilmarrangkal…old grey saltbush…the name of the sheep station, once half a million acres, where I built my first school before teaching in it; where two cultures co-existed while I wrestled with being a lonely itinerant in an indifferent land.
Dougie Orcher…the challenge personified.
Bernard and Leo Hauville…among my first students When Bernard brought his family to visit me in Canada, years later, the memories flooded back.
“Bunny passed away last December,” he told me.
Eight months, I thought, eight months dead. Why hadn’t I heard before this? No magic string.
Bunny…Bernard’s father…the driving force bringing public education to Weilmoringle. When I arrived that mid-summer in 1961 it was obvious he thought the uniqueness of the teaching assignment required more than a young, city bred, rookie. I like to think by the time I left my efforts exceeded his expectations.
Both of us eventually moved on to live separate lives.
Thirty-years passed before we met again, the bond as strong as it had grown to be at Weilmoringle, a mutual respect evident. But time was short and he was already ill. We raced back to the outback station, he driving fast and talking non‑stop, Dorothy, his wife, knitting in the back seat, and I noting his words, hoping they were historically correct.
The land was greener, the emu herds larger, the saltbush taller. A brick post office stood where our home, their home – the Hauville home – had burned to the ground. The school enrolment had dropped to eight pupils. Merri and Rens Gill, owners of Weilmoringle sheep station at the time, were away. New homes replaced the tin shanties in the Aboriginal camp. Regrettably, none of the original pupils could be found.
We returned to the coast and shook hands for the last time. I told Bunny, “I always want to go back there.”
“The land stole your heart,” he said, giving me a fatherly pat on the back. “It does that. Write the story, my boy. It was a special time.”