Saturday, September 25, 2010

Highgate Hill Dreaming

It was a warm spring day.  The little girl, not yet of school age, lay down in the furtherest corner of her back yard to watch the insects in the grass.  She watched with great intent and lost all awareness of the world outside the land of the tiny.

Eventually, the heat of the sun brought her back to her surroundings.  But this was a very different world from the one in which she lived.

The suburban houses, gardens and fences of Highgate Hill had all disappeared.  Instead, she found herself in a dry eucalypt forest.  It was quiet except for the sound of cicadas and the leaves crunching under the feet of a goanna lumbering slowly  along.

The words "Bennung-urrung" seeped into her consciousness, but she had no idea what they meant.

Seamlessly, her familiar scene returned.  She could hear a car's motor and a dog barking in a back yard.

The next time it happened, she ventured up along a ridge.  Near the top of the high hill, she found a small creek and, further over, a couple of cool lagoons.  She sat down on a rocky outcrop at the very top of the hill and, again, the words "Bennung-urrung" came gently to her mind.  But this time she understood.  It was the name of this place.

She saw kangaroos grazing on the slopes and koalas sleeping in the trees.  The lay of the land reminded her of where she lived, but the resemblance ended there.  She headed off downhill towards a swampy area.  Several people came towards her but they passed by, unseeing, towards a small hill.  She followed them and, on reaching the top, saw where they were heading - a bora ring.

Once again she slipped back into her "home" reality.  Her mother was in the kitchen, cooking, and everything was completely normal.

She didn't have the words to explain what was happening to her.  In any case, it wasn't the sort of thing she would tell anyone.  She just "knew" that time was a strange thing and it didn't always tick-tock around the face of the clock in an orderly fashion.

She had once heard another child who, on learning about octaves, had looked up from the piano and said "Yesterday, today and tomorrow are the same thing".  The adults had dismissed this as just childish nonsense, but those words had stayed with her.  Now she understood what they meant.

She was living in the same place at all times, but split between two different time zones - one called the present, the other called the past.  She wasn't afraid.  It just seemed perfectly natural.

She returned to the "forest time" often, watching the people hunt, dig for yams, gather fruit, make fire by rubbing two sticks together, and once observing a youth stand very, very still for several minutes before quickly spearing a fish. Their songs were not tuneful like the ones she heard on the radio, but she found them strangely absorbing.  Their dances, too, were very different from the ballet her sister was learning, but the moves looked just like those made by kangaroos and the other animals.

As she grew older, her forest visits came less often until, by the end of Grade 3, they had stopped completely.  But when she read about the Dreamtime in the school library, she discovered that the Aboriginal view of time was similar to hers.  The creation of the world in the Dreamtime happened "then", but also in the "now".  It is always with us.


Bennung-urrung, the place of the frill-necked lizard, is now called Highgate Hill.  The bora ring at Woolloongabba has been cemented over to make a carpark in the grounds of the Holy Trinity Church.

Suburbia has buried the past, but every now and then a small child catches a glimpse of it through a tear in the curtain of time.



  1. That was great, Gaye. You have a way with words that make your stories very easy to read and at the same time interseting and thought provoking. You have a great voice. Top work!

    Keep it up.

  2. I'm sure I have mild dislexia. That was supposed to be "interesting". Maybe I just can't speel. :-)



As I walk by the river or sit in my tiny garden, not thinking of anything in particular, thoughts sometimes seep into my brain. If you'd like to read my seepage, here it is ...