A Parcel of Crows
Christmas Eve, 1931, NSW, Australia.
They call me Ol’ Nell, but once I stood straight as a Red Bloodwood with skin soft as the Smooth Barked Apple tree, with a head of hair as dark and shiny as the feathers of the wise old trickster crow.
These days I’m more like a Grey Mangrove, twisted and gnarled, with skin thin as its ash coloured bark, and bones stiff and brittle - closer to becoming dust with every passing day. But ‘least me bones will be buried with me mob ‘ere at Salt Pan Creek, not one of those white-fella reservations I grew up on!
The billy’s close to boilin’ and I’m hopin’ little Jimmy and Maggie are catchin’ plenty of fish and gatherin’ Christmas Bush to sell - no thanks to their drunkard father who promised me dear Koorine ‘a better life’ - was his fault she died!
Bloody white-fellas squeezin’ the blackness outa us with their stories! I’m sick of hearin’ ‘bout white saviours makin’ our sins ‘white as snow’ and songs ‘bout white Christmas when it’s stinkin’ hot and flies stick to ya face like honey!
I give the burning logs a good hard jab with me stick, when I see three crows and hear a cry just like little Maggies. I know it’s a message from me ancestors, so I grab me stick and hobble as fast as I can, asking old Crow to open his bag of whirlwinds to help sweep me along to where I need ta be.
When I get there, I see Jimmy throwin’ somethin’ up towards the old Eucalypt and see somethin’ fall. I scramble over its thick roots only to find a nest with one dead baby crow and three eggs.
‘Look what you’ve done son!’
I hand the nest to Maggie and we walk silently home.
The billy’s boiled dry and me throat’s full of dust. I tell Maggie to place the nest down and fetch some water.
‘We were headin’ home, and a parcel of crows started sqauwkin’, then Billy came outa nowhere and pushed me to the ground, takin’ our money. It was the crows fault for drawin’ attention to us, so I threw stones at ‘em.’
Even with the boy feelin’ bad and all, I couldn’t miss hearin’ the pride he took in callin’ ‘em a ‘parcel’ of crows - just one more useless thing he’s learnt from that white-fella school!
‘Silly boy! Our ancestors were tryin’ to warn you that Billy was near.’
Later in the evenin’ I take down his stocking and replace his presents with three lumps of coal.
Next morning, he walks outside and throws ‘em in the embers, when I hear the squealin’ of baby birds!
Jimmy picks up the nest and comes running toward me.
‘Now, that’s the best present you coulda got me boy!
Jimmy nodded, turned his back and started running, shouting ‘back soon!’
As he set the nest down, Jimmy heard a familiar sound as he looked up to see two crows. ‘Sorry’ he shouted, and as he went to turn, he spotted some coins on the ground, scooped them up and put them in his pocket.
When he got home, he winked at his little sister, happy to see his fathers chair empty, then headed towards me.
‘Nanna, look at what I found when I returned the birds - a pocketful of pennies!
By then me heart was swellin’ with love, and I had to give him somethin’,
‘Yes me boy … for a parcel of crows!’
(By Vicki J Long)