black and white


in the gibber, glazed and gathered
the red-earth’s curasse of patterned ground
resides a stain of wind
a splatter of rain and the white slabs of
satin-spar secreted in Neptunian sediments
the round gibber-stones
jostling on this land of shelves and rings
here the scrawny deadfinish with its
yellow puffs of bloom, the scratchy bull-oak
and resinous Callitris
I love this long wide open land
that once I loathed for its bare plains
and drab scrub. Its every fold
returns a miraculous surprise


in Marree where the vandalised ‘Ghan’ rusts
they directed me to outback origins
"Out there, on the road to the dump"
was where the Arabana squats
executed by a false landscape
in tin humpies and abandoned cars
discarded rubbish of white man’s dreams


among the steaming springs where
the boiling bubbles rise, on the mounds
with their salty samphire coat
I looked down on a patch of sand
drifting; among its red grains were some
yellow, some clear, all frosted, angular
over a hard grey cracked clay
I had drifted here from Kent, somehow,
searching for authenticity, abrading my red coat
among the saltating antique sea-sands,
barren flats of oceans
here, a dried bleached stick
some broken kangaroo & splintered sheep bones
white, the stick impregnated with salt, bark peeling
a dung beetle carapace and white webs of grey grubs
among the scraps of dry grass
a parched minuscule of evidence
revelling in the history of wind, sun and
invasions by black and white
myself, part of that invasion, in a place
sacred to old tribes where the waters of life
emerged from ancestral wounds
> myself a part of the ungulate invasion
trampling the lean land
even here, life, the decay of mineral -
grains sustaining growth, replication
and among its detritus, fringing the springs
chips of stone carefully worked - knives,
grindstones for grain, scant evidence
of sophisticated wandering lives
imagined, complex, mystical ? magnificent
we white invaders, a culture of material things
revelling in mounds of artefacts, mountains of garbage
our history secreted in concrete, metal and glass
but here only the flowing waters from earth’s bowel needed
and a song, a chant, creating the fabric of life
instituting the universe according to Arabana
a life that does not stain the world
we, the replicators, the cloning conquerors
the agronomists, the purveyors of prisons
before the British, no flogging, no walls
a harmony of fire and grass
forty millennia of success



Roger Callen worked as a geologist and heritage consultant in the deserts of central Australia and now lives in the peaceful Glass House Mountains in Queensland with noisy Rosy. He revels in silence and nature and spent his boyhood on the chalk downs of Kent, UK.