The Sydney City Council cleared some trees at the end of our street, opening a space right at the beginning of King Street, the main drag. On impulse, I wrote to the council suggesting they plant a Boab tree. I said this tropical variety could be iconic; it might become the ‘Newtown Boab Tree’. It would welcome strangeness while also being a sign of global warming. Andrew from the Council rang me within a couple of hours. He was sympathetic and said he’d put the idea to a meeting – though of course, those responsible for streetscapes had a master plan … Master plan? I should have known.
Boab Dreaming – Words Stephen Muecke, image Joe Muecke
Stephen Muecke lives in Newtown, Sydney. Young Joe lives in Copenhagen.
[map 1 – Hanging Rock, Victoria, Australia]
In the time of the bay the feet of the boats left the earth and lay and rested on stone and earth and waited to be called to the water – they were called – and drifted along rivers born in the mountains and flowing with life. They navigated the web of creeks surrounding the bay and met where the mouth of the ancient river announced its arrival to the bay. In the time before the bay, all boats were trees. The boats stood end on end, settling into earth and touching sky. The boats grew in the mountains and lined the river valleys. They rounded their bodies and carried water. They gave care with strength. When it was time for new life, the boats provided the hollows for newborn and the cribs for nests. And when it was time for death they cocooned the spirit in sanctuary and journeyed the spirit home. In the time of the humans the boats have worked for us, crossing the waters, providing life. When the ghosts first came they arrived in boats that once were trees that had always been boats, listening to be called and shaped. When the men and women came in iron chains cutting skin and bone, with children dying in the arms of mothers, they came in boats groaning with sadness and anger. And when the boats wept and sent themselves to the bottom of the sea, they took the ghosts, the men and women and the babies with them. They are there, ready for us, resting in coffins that were trees. Today, when the desperate come to us for sanctuary, they do not come in boats made of iron and machine. They come in boats of wood collapsing under the weight of life, in boats that once were wood in the forests of Europe, in the jungles of Africa, and the plains of North America. The boats speak and have a question for us. They want to know – are we truly human? Or something less than we claim to be. And are we ready to lift the desperate from the water and carry them to safety? Or will we send them away? The boats remind us they were here before us. And when we are gone they will be here, standing end on end, reaching for the sky and speaking with the earth.