The Raven

2016

Summer

Changing Tide

Campbell Williamson, Year 12

Slap.  I wipe the bloody remains down my leg and turn to grab the Aerogard, suddenly caught in the glow of the afternoon sun dressing the foreshore in a cloak of gold.  Bewitching shafts of light stream down through the overhanging gum trees, dancing on my watch face before rushing into my eyes.  Against this dressage of beauty, out there, deep within the river, I notice a shimmering figure working against the current.  It removes plastic bags, seizes loose cans and gallantly struggles on.  Alone.  No one seems to care.

I resurface in the present, acknowledging the loud buzz of the picnicking families surrounding our area.  These people are focusing on the important things in life, Sunday papers and the rising scent of their sizzling sausages on their Kleenheat barbies.  They too enjoy the water as it hides in plain sight; force-fed cocktails of human waste, under a thin veneer of golden sun each day.

Sprawled around me in an arc are salads, sandwiches, pies and pasties and a basket of oranges.  Red cherries burst from their plastic coffins and juice from an enormous watermelon begins to trickle from an upturned container.  It runs down and wets my bum.  Metres away, the river feasts on the very chemicals that swelled these fruits to their tasty and exquisite best – yum!

On my right, David, my older brother frowns at his phone as he tends to his raging social life.  He is short and thin in all places except his belly, which protrudes slightly underneath his shirt.  When standing, his arms seem to sag past his knees and I think it makes him look like a Sumatran Orangutan.  I notice him grope for a luscious, ripe, red cherry as he fills the area with his heavy breathing.

I sit up.  “Now?”

Mum’s ensconced in her Women’s Weekly and doesn’t even bother to look up.  I can only see the top of her comically oversized rose glasses and her faded, straw, broad-brimmed hat as she adjusts it further down her face.

“Thirty minutes, love.  No Swimming,” she says as she sucks something from between her teeth, returning to the important things in life.

I nick a final sausage roll and brush the camped pastry off my shirt.  “Please? I won’t go swimming, just wading.”

The only response is David’s heavy breathing.

I unload my questions of interrogation – Why?  Why not?  How long?  When till?  She slowly lowers the magazine mask and gives me a stare that knocks the heat out of the sun.

“What if I go with David?” I sigh.

For the first time in recent memory David’s face leaves his phone screen and molds into a look of puzzled betrayal.  Amongst the gulp of the river, I hear my mum exhale a solitary “Yes”.

I’m already gone, sprinting along the perfidious embankment being sure to avoid the countless cracked bottles and double-gees.  A sort of thirty-metre sprint completed on alternating legs.  Promptly, I realize I’ve forgotten David and rush back, pulling him away mid argument with mum.  My bare feet turn green and the smell of grass permeates the surrounding air as David is dragged along by his arms, dragged away from that picnic blanket that sits on the grass by the foreshore.

We weave between barbecues and dogs and cricket matches and, ultimately, stumble straight through a hide-and-seek game, coming out the other end onto the sand.

The sun is beginning to fall in the sky and I notice a shadow, which sits on the water like sunscreen atop a pool.  A cold gust of wind pushes against me and I look ahead to the city, the old brewery, the cars and the boats.  The lone swimmer is just a speck now, still struggling valiantly against the pull of the water.

“Are we at the river or the ocean?” I ask.

“Do you listen to yourself when you talk, Dingus?” replies David, phone light reflecting onto his face.

“Yeah well, I guess it’s the river but what difference does it make anyway, it’s all related, it’s all… hey look jellyfish!  In the water!” I yell as I kick up sand in joy.

David is so thrilled he doesn’t even budge his gaze.

Excitedly and without thinking I begin to wade out.  Past where the tiny waves break, looking for that globular creature.  Water grasps at my knees and I roll up my shorts as I start getting deeper and deeper.  The river roars in my ears.

Reaching down toward the darkness, the tide spits a jellyfish into my path.  I smile excitedly as it slaps into my grasp.  It’s cold and slimy and foreign.

I turn around and call for David but he’s out of sight.  Even the swimmer is gone.  I look down and focus on the thing that now occupies my hand, still cold and still slimy.  I see its unnatural red colour; I notice its sagging tentacles blotched with boils and how slender the entire thing is.  Disgusted, it falls ungraciously in a heap back under water leaving nothing behind but that slimy sensation.

I scrub my hands in the water but they won’t come clean.  Unsure, I just stand there awkwardly in the tide.

Slowly, I begin to clamber back ashore, trying to shut out the putrid smell of decay that shadows me.  Backing away from the river, I run.  Back, through the hide-and-seek circle, across the cricket match, past the dogs, between barbecues and through crowds.  Returning, I sit down next to Mum and hide my face behind a magazine, trying to focus only on the smell of sausages.

Immiscible

Andrew A. Briggs, Year 12

The yacht drives through the water, sleek, strong, elegant.  Powered by the wind, uncontrolled by anything else.  From up here I can see most of the river; I can see from the mansions of Mosman Park to the bright lights of the city.  The crew and I work as a team – efficient, quiet and strong.  Up here the glare from the water washes over me like a snowstorm; I am blind to the power of the sun and the waves.  I open my eyes to the glare and I can barely see as my eyes protest in the face of the sheer heat.  I am happy to feel alive as I glide along the water atop my shining dragon.

Off in the distance I see a most unpleasant spectacle.  I hear the noise first as one by one they round Chidley Point and I can see the monstrosities, I can feel the hum as if there are a thousand angry wasps gathered with the purpose of destruction.  I can smell the blackness first; the smell of burning hydrocarbons is not pleasant.  The fossils are burning as the boats rev – they strain their captains like the uncontrolled beasts that they are.  They are not powered by energy; they are powered by hellfire.

As the boats get closer I can hear the faux happiness that they provide, women dance while men sip beer as if they don’t know the destruction that they are causing.  They remind me of the sheep trucks by the port; they stink just as bad, but they stink of money and greed.

I climb down from my perch and am greeted by the presents that the boats have left – cups, plates, cans and, the worst part, the petrol slick.  The boats are long past yet they still leave their mark on society much like those that inhabit them.  The colour of money truly amazes me, the way that we will dig something up from the other side of the earth, refine it, ship it and then burn it for no reason.  People will go about their lives and never think about the cost of us living on this earth.  We are but in a giant spaceship and we must work together in order for the spaceship to survive the next century.  I am still staring at the rainbow mess as if it is the most powerful hypnotist and in that moment you could have told me anything and I would have responded with: “the oil”.  I will not jump overboard, I will not swim with the dolphins and drink the oil out of the water; I don’t accept the responsibility for my driving to the club, burning fuel.  In some ways I feel guiltier than the people on the boats.

As the boat docks on the shore I begin to think about how long the river will last at this rate.  I am motivated to stand by and do nothing; I am hardwired to do nothing.  I am disgusted with myself but it will take more than that for me to change.  I pack up the rest of the boat.  I wash the petrol off the hull and go home.

I return to the river the next day, not because I have to but because I want to see.  As I wade through the shallows of Freshwater Bay, I am pondering what the mighty Swan River has become.  I feel something scrape my foot; the cold water numbs my feet so much that I don’t feel anything.  I think nothing of it and move farther down the beach where I get out.  My foot, free from the numbing grip of the water begins to feel hot.  I look behind me as I see the red trail, like an army of ants; they follow me and copy every move that I make.  I sit down on the grassy embankment and look at my foot.  Wedged deep inside my foot is a piece of brown glass.  The glass has been sharpened by the breaking and has sliced deep into the soft underbelly of my foot.  I look around delirious from the pain as it sets in.  I see children playing; kayakers paddle out into the moorings and rowers scream at each other in the background.  I look at the water as I get out and find that it is slicked with red.  The trail leads back to me like I am running away from a murder.  I steel myself and pull the glass out of my foot.  I pull my hand out and toss the glass down in disgust.  In my hand is the mixture of river water and blood; it is dancing on my hand – a red oil slick in the middle of a pool of brown river water.

I sigh as I get in my car and drive to the hospital.

The Article

Connor Arnold, Year 12

The smell hits him like a concrete wall, the putrid stench of years of chemical abuse and neglect floats through the air like a cloud of smog as he cycles his way around the Swan Brewery.  He remembers everything he passes, the statue of the woman dressed in a rotting pink dress, the decrepit boathouse, the closed seafood truck and the university before he finishes his circuit and returns home.  His house in Dalkeith is a modest abode; he comes in the door and is greeted by silence and emptiness; gone are his wife and child.  He only wanted what was best for them.

5 years earlier

Hours and hours spent at his desk, checking samples and data collected from the tests done near the foreshore.  Articles with the headlines ‘Increased Levels of Domestic Fish Dumping’ and ‘Study Reveals Extensive Swan River Pollution’ littered his desk.  Over the empty cups of coffee and empty pens was his nameplate.  “Marvin Trayler” it read. He rose from his chair to take the weekly river samples.  Marvin’s circuit along the riverside was one that filled him with worry and sadness, the once iconic blue river of the 50s was now becoming a depressing shade of green and as he walked past each week he saw less and less embrace the centre of Perth. Mothers pulled their children away from the water, “Don’t go in there, I’ve heard it’s not very nice,” “The river is not what it used to be” were the regular dialogue from those who’d lived during the river’s wonder years.  Marvin collected the river sample in the beaker and returned to his desk at the Swan River Trust.  His goal was to expose the truth about the ‘water dump’ that the river had become and broadcast it to the people of Perth to help gain as much social and political support as possible.  His article was already half finished, detailing the real dangers that faced the future generations of Australia if the river continued to be neglected.  Marvin received an email from his publishing company asking to view his progress on his article; he saved the paper to his desktop, linked it in the email and closed his laptop for the day.

He returned to his desk with a new email:

From: jeremy@owlpublishing.com.au

To: marvin@swt.com.au

Hi Marvin,

I’ve received your article and have read it through.  This is some very damning evidence in relation to the situation of the Swan River. However, I know this will bring nothing but bad tidings for you.  There are some very powerful people connected to the Swan River; I strongly suggest you tone down your article or risk backlash over your claims.

I have attached an edited version of your article.

Regards,

Jeremy

Marvin was worried, yet undeterred.  ‘The people must know about the dangers of their actions’ he thought as he read the edited article.  “Toning down” was an understatement compared to Jeremy’s version of the article; his graphs were gone and his writing had been modified to simply make it seem that Marvin’s opinion was very passive on the matter.  Angered by the suggested article, Marvin typed a reply to Jeremy:

 

From: marvin@swt.com.au

To: jeremy@owlpublishing.com.au

Jeremy,

I have taken into consideration your beliefs on the volatility of the situation regarding the mistreatment of the Swan River.  I have also chosen to maintain the tack of my original article and will not be modifying it to suit your proposed article.

Have a good day,
Marvin

Marvin sent the email and sat back on his chair, angry that society would want to ignore the real crisis that was threatening the future of the river.  He desperately needed a cup of coffee; he went to the machine and took out a polystyrene cup but the machine was broken.  Marvin left the office and was walking down to the George Street Cafe when a black Mercedes pulled up along side him on the sidewalk and a man dressed in a tight cut suit alighted from the car and walked towards Marvin. “Marvin Trayler?” the man asked, his eyes hidden behind a pair of reflective sunglasses.

“Can I help you?” Marvin replied warily.

“Come with me,” the man beckoned to the open passenger doors of the Mercedes and Marvin entered the car.

As he sat down, a man next to him began to talk.  “Dr. Trayler, we viewed your article.”

“Then you would also know I have no interest in changing it,” Marvin replied curtly.

The man was unshaken.  “Perhaps we can make an arrangement.  $50,000 in your account by the end of the week in return for you to withhold publishing your article or publishing the recommended piece.”

Marvin was outraged, yet decided to remain calm.  “Thank you for your offer; however I refuse.”  Marvin opened the door of the car and got out.

The man said, “You will regret this,” but he was already walking back down the street.

A police car was outside.  He entered the office to a dark look from the receptionist at the front desk and, thinking nothing of it, he continued into the office and was greeted with more looks as he passed cubicles.  “What is going on?” Marvin thought as he came to his office door and entered.  The papers, his samples and his work were gone and he was greeted by three men in blue uniforms with ‘WA Police’ sewn on their breast pocket and their eyes on his computer.

“Dr. Trayler?” one of the men said.

“How may I help you?” Marvin replied.

“We’re placing you under arrest for fraud,” the man said, turning Marvin’s laptop around.  On the screen were two bank statements.  One with the name of the Trust’s “Donations Account” and one with his name; a sum of $50,000 had been moved from the Trust’s account to his.  Marvin scanned his laptop screen for the file containing his article, but it was nowhere to be seen.

Norfolk Pines

Peter Cooke, Year 12

Lurching, brown wind, acrid exhaust, murmurs on the wind, quiet fish in the water, slowly moving upwards, toward the sky, the blue, blue sky.  Suddenly it all comes into focus.  I see water fringed by sand, above it grass struggles to grow in sandy earth and in the distance a yacht passes, the water a deep blue, only broken by the fins of dolphins breaking the surface.  The river flows

The wind moves to a rhythm unbeknownst to the people below you, looking towards the trees, the river, the sky, the river.  They are young, long jackets and sweltering shirts.  They move, slowly at first, but with increasing speed as a house is built behind, but I don’t turn my back on life.  The house grows; young saplings lose their leaves and then retrieve them all in what seems seconds; sails flap in the wind, as the cliffs grow with a wooden façade.  Jellyfish move listlessly through the shallows and little children move from behind me into the fore, splashing and playing in the sandy earth on the foreshore.  Laughter fills the air as rowers and yachts glide by on wings of wood and leather, and cloth, and metal.  People picnic on the shore, as kids beat a hasty retreat under the orders of Master Sergeant Mum, batting the sand off their feet as they go.  Suddenly trucks fly by, carrying metal instruments to be put on the hill overlooking the bay.  From the ground lights illuminate the night sky, and block the lights in the sky.  The sky grows silent.  Birds of metal and glass swoop in the air, trying to fill the silence with the sound of bees.  The sound of rain slaps onto metal.  The house groans under the weight of the world and is left empty most days.  The days grow darker, oppressive, as if dampened by the rain. The river flows

Light pours from the sky, pouring into every things being; the river is lit up like lights from the hill, but they are gone.  People laugh and play on the water’s edge and from the house, a new sound is made.  I turn to the house.  More sounds emerge; rhythm and life is created and with that comes joy.  The trees are greener, the Home, more red and brown, the ground more soft, and the sky more blue.  Children appear, and move erratically, with purpose.  There are trees leaving, moving away from the other bank, as houses are built and children play.  The river moves toward the west and with it the hopes of a new generation.  I feel movement on my roots and a squirming form wriggling up me.  A sudden weight rests upon my branches, three large struts are nailed into my trunk and a rope ladder swings toward the ground.  The children swarm over the new home on my branches, with the speed and virility of youth, and with it the complete disregard for injury, scraping their knee as they play their games.  The river flows

I am growing and can see so far now; water laps on the sand to the west and the sun bakes people as they laugh, play, and swim. Smoke rises from bush land around as large swathes are cut to create earth where no plant will grow.  Children leave the Home and walk to the setting sun, their heads filled with the smell of grass stains, and return taller, mothballed.  A car roars into the Home, and it grows too, taller, wider.  Men scurry up on wooden platforms as tinny men read scores from tinny boxes.  The river flows

The sky weeps along with the people, the once children sob silently in front of a coffin for a dead tree, flowers’ corpses strewn haphazardly across the hardening black lacquered lid.  Children leave the Home, their cars sprinting away.  The river begins to change, the unchanging river.  The Yachts squat on their buoys, sails limp with stagnating water and bird shit.  Cans and pollutants move with intent to choke ducks and fish.  The water, once so blue, so fresh, slows to a crawl, brown mud colouring its complexion, a blowfish floats belly up under the shadow of the jetty.  The house grows quiet as life moves on.  The river flows

I hear anger, and pain, and frustration emanating from the house behind me, and the river in front of me is little better.  Fish swim belly up on the water’s surface and grizzled dolphins, scarred by boats, swim fitfully through the shallow.  Prawns once filling the shallows, only move with the tide and come in seasons.  The Home’s rope ladder deteriorates until there is nothing left and the wood slowly putrefies on my branches.  One day a young man walks by and a rotten piece of wood knocks his hat off.  One day an old couple walks by and takes a likening to the house on the hill.  They replace the laughter with quiet, the community with separateness, and the Home with a house.  The old house was demolished and repurposed into something sterile, something empty.  The family leaves the Home, the house, I see some of them from time to time, but never together, never whole, never complete.  I see that the people behind me can barely see over my verdant fronds toward the repugnant water.  The river flows

Without apparent warning, a roar comes from below and acrid smoke fills the air.  I look away from the river toward the ocean, but it is dying.  I am dying.

 

The Dying Swan

Andrew Lesslie, Year 12

Far off in the Dreamtime, there were only people, no animals or birds, no trees or bushes, no hills or mountains.  The country was flat.  The Waugal stirred and set off for the ocean.  He travelled for many days, his tracks made the creeks and rivers as he journeyed.  Plants, animals and the Nyoongar people followed his trail.  All the Nyoongar people used the Derbarl Yerrigan, the Swan River; they used the freshwater turtles as medicine, fished the waters and taught the younglings about the Dreamtime.  The river was full of salmon, prawns, whitebait, gilgies, shellfish and yams.  Old spirits circled the river’s shores.

The land was flat and stretched as far as the eye could see.  The ground had a hue of opaque red.  Dust and rocks kicked up all round the Holden Commodore as it came barreling down the highway… cachink, cachink.  Isaac had heard all about the Swan River from his old man, how he’d caught fish and prawns without even placing the net or the rod in the water, and the days he spent swimming with his friends.  He wondered if it really was so clear, like swimming in liquid glass.  Isaac couldn’t wait to find out; he wriggled in his seatbelt and curled his toes with excitement.  He moved so much you would think his bladder was about to explode.

“Stop your wrigglin’ Ikey, we’ll be there soon enough,” his old man chuckled from the driver’s seat.  Isaac stopped.

There were lakes near Warburton where Isaac learned to swim, but, “Nothing compared to the Swan River,” announced his old man before they left.

“It’s a national treasure.  You’re privileged to fish and swim in its body.”

As Isaac was staring out of the window his eyes fell upon a Blackman standing beside the road, looking like he was waiting for a bus.  Isaac just saw him before the car whizzed past and caked him with red dust.  He looked back but he’d vanished, as if the dust was like a smoke bomb and the Blackman a magician.  Isaac quickly forgot and remembered where they were headed.

“How long till we get there?” he asked wearily, tired suddenly by the long journey.
“Soon enough, Ikey,” mumbled his dad with a half lit fag in his mouth.  “A few more hours.”
Isaac barely heard him as he drifted off into a sleep where he dreamt of the river and the Blackman with his smoke bombs.

Isaac awoke, sore from being confined to the small passenger seat beside his old man.

“Are we here?” he asked still wiping the sleep out of his eyes.

“Take a look for yourself,” replied the old man teasingly.
Isaac sprang out of his seat and thrust open the door, leaping out of the car; the sudden burst of movement was like adding Mentos to a bottle of Coca-Cola.  He froze immediately as he gazed at the water.  It looked like a road of crystals in between the land.  Isaac was entranced by the way it shimmered as the sunlight bounced off it, almost turning the water white with light.  Its body meandered for miles and miles like a giant diamond snake.  He itched to dive in and feel the cold water against his skin, to touch, feel and taste the river, to stay underwater till his lungs burned for oxygen and to see what it held beneath its beautiful white body.

This desire would not last long.  Isaac caught sight of the Blackman walking along the edge of the river, watching the flow of water with an intense stare.

“Help us grab the bait, Ikey,” yelled his old man from the back of the Commodore.  Isaac spun around and ran to grab the bait from his old man.  He looked at where the Blackman was but saw nothing.

They raced each other down to the river and both cast their rods into the water.  The seconds past like hours for Isaac, but no fish jumped out and fell into his lap.  After catching some dirt and a mouldy boot, they trudged back to the car.

“Struthe,” voiced his old man whilst they packed the rods, “There wasn’t a fish to be seen!”

“That mean I can have a swim now?” replied Isaac curiously.

“Sure can, chuck ya togs on first though.”

Isaac tore off his shirt and legged it to the river.

“Cheeky blighter,” muttered his old man as he ran off.

Isaac stopped once he reached the edge and slowly walked in, step-by-step eyes closed.  The water encased his knees, then hips, stomach, chest and before he knew it his head was beneath the water.  Isaac felt the flow of water around him, inviting him below.  He opened his eyes and was meet with a barrage of beige, brown and black mud and dirt swirling around the water.  Plastic bags coiled and contorted like dead bodies, whilst huge swollen goldfish snapped and bit each other.  Algae bloomed like pimples on an oily face and rusted oxygen tanks blew sad bubbles into the water.  The water was thick with sludge and sent Isaac’s stomach heaving into gastric spasms.  What hellish inferno had he stepped into?  He tried to leave but cold hands yanked his ankles and pulled him down to the river’s bed.  The river would not let him leave.  His lungs burned for oxygen as he pulled, clawed and bit at the water fighting to break free.  Suddenly a hand broke the surface and heaved Isaac out.  He lay grasping for breath at the edge of the water.  He looked up to see his old man but was met with the sight of the Blackman.  His skin black as night and a beard that grew wild, his eyes burned into Isaac harsher than the sun.

“Sorry” Isaac whispered.  The Blackman, expressionless, turned and walked back into the red land.

The Hooded One

Mathieu Du Buisson Perrine, Year 10

Death does not consider the out and in of breath

The preciousness of life has no interest.

He is the debt-collector coming to the front door,

Who knows only his instructions to hand.

Death does not look inside, death does not understand

He is the relief of many, and the end of all,

The body may die but the memories won’t be destroyed.

We all labour against our own cure, for death is the cure of all diseases

People for years have been on their knees.

But we shan’t be afraid, we are masters of our fate,

Death is slave of forces that dominate

And when the heart must pause and arrest, love itself never rests.

 

Wherever life begins, there must be an end

And for such a mission on death we depend.

The Black Swans

Denver Quantrill, Year 12

The river was quiet and unspoken.

Its murky surface remained undisturbed as the silent gulls circled above.  The steady rising sun over the Darling Range on the horizon, completed by its reflection on the once mighty Swan, seemingly warmed the water’s surface, yet left the depths ice cold.  A cool, gentle breeze brushed across the water leaving behind a trail of ripples, like breadcrumbs, desperate for someone, anyone, to follow.

The rowboat glided across the surface, creating a tender wake bound to reach the desolate shoreline with nothing to oppose it except for the small ash grey fishing boats lining the edge of Elizabeth Quay, with ash grey men busy in the wretched hope that today would perhaps be their day.  The looks on their faces each day when another Steel Blue work boot or orange traffic cone was fished out of the water expressed everything their words wouldn’t, when they miserably returned to shore.

The aged oars felt light in Grant’s similarly aged hands as he gradually worked his way across the dark, sterile water.  Sam sat in front of him.  In spite of the warmth of the morning sun, he shivered, and watched his Granddad paddle along looking around as if he didn’t recognize where he was or where he was going.  At the same time, it seemed like his body knew exactly where it was taking him, repeating a journey he had undertaken thousands of times.  Grant looked around, the same way a father looked around for his son at the Royal Show, with a sense of anxiety and distress in his eyes.

The entrance to the Elizabeth Quay suddenly loomed over them; in Grant’s mind the West coast’s incongruous waterside equivalent of Sydney’s Luna Park.  The apartment and office buildings that dominated the quay bizarrely reminded Grant of the haunted houses and roller coaster rides he and Sam’s father used to take when he was just a boy, twenty years before Sam was born.  The black swans floating around the shallows seemed dazed and almost motorized, as though someone should be sitting on each one and driving them into each other like bumper cars.

“Granddad, what was the River like when you were a kid?” Sam asked enthusiastically, looking around at the newly developed wharf in awe.

“It certainly wasn’t anything like this, Son,” Grant said as he reminisced about his childhood fishing, prawning and playing in the translucent river.  “Back then, you could dive down to the bottom with your eyes open, and watch schools of black bream or a preponderance of prawns swim past.  And, if you reached out far enough, you felt like you could almost touch them.  The water was warm and full of life.  It gave life.”

“What happened?” Sam asked, a slight change of tone in his voice, realising that he hadn’t felt a bite on his hand-line since they hopped into the boat.

“We told them to take care of our precious lifeblood and not to build it,” Grant responded, looking up at the colossal buildings, following the line of balconies down towards the water’s edge, where a white plastic bag danced along the sand and landed in the water, next to a flock of disheveled swans.

“Who’s we?”

“The City Gatekeepers.  The Swan River Trust warned them.  We all knew what this would bring to the river, to the city, to the people.”

“But Grandpa, look at those towers!  Imagine living up there!  Imagine living so close and looking onto the river!”  Sam said, pointing to the penthouse of one of the tallest buildings, with his eyes bulging with excitement.

“Son, look through there.”  Grant pointed over the swampy-smelling water to a street between two of the buildings, where dozens of cars belching tail-smoke lined up behind a red traffic light, where a garbage truck held up a queue of traffic further up the street, where a crowd of people rushed across haphazardly between cars cutting off cyclists and taxis, whilst large green and grey buses reading ‘delayed’ sped through stop signs trying to keep schedule.  “That, my boy, is havoc, covered by a big beautiful blanket of early morning light.  Now look down there, Son, tell me what you see.”

Sam looked down into the cloudy water.  Clouds of algal bloom floated just beneath the surface.  A long piece of grey plastic had wrapped around his line.  Sam’s eyes tried to follow his line deeper, to the point where he could no longer see it, less than a metre below.  A lone puffer fish circled his line slowly as though it was waiting to share the bait with its friends and family.  Bits of flotsam and debris drifted with the current like small fish, congesting the water.  Sam suddenly shivered again.

“I don’t see anything, Grandpa.”

“Exactly, my boy.  On the surface, you see a beautiful river that is filled with the life and abundance, where birds come to feed, and fishermen come to catch.  But when you look a little deeper, beyond the surface, underneath the blanket, you can see the damage that has been caused in a single lifetime.  Our lifeblood has been poisoned.  In 1829 this was virgin land and an abundant warm river.  When I was a boy it had hardly changed; it was our favourite playground.  Only a few years of greed and neglect have turned it cold.  Elizabeth Quay was the final straw.”

He continued, “We need to speak up for the quiet and unspoken amongst us, before it is really too late for us all.”

“I’m sad, Granddad.  Are those black swans real?”

Pars pro toto – “a part (taken) for the whole” – Flynn Robertson × Pars pro toto – “a part (taken) for the whole”

Flynn Robertson, Year 12

The children followed tentatively, weaving their way through the park, their feet crushing the scratchy grass underfoot, being careful to avoid the broken glass and dog shit.  At last they came to a small patch of dirt under a peppermint tree where they found some refuge from the droning incessancy of the army of happy families.  “This here place is where we come from, you lot, this is where our ancestors slept.  Now siddown and shut up” said the old man.  He folded out his chair and carefully lowered himself into it, straining against his arthritic manacles.

The children winced as they watched him struggle with the tab on his beer can, their gaze severed as a stray frisbee whizzed narrowly overhead.  After a painful eternity, the old man began to speak, “This place is Dyoondalup, the place of long white flowing hair,” his eyes straying to the now brownish sand serpent, coasting across the broad, murmuring river gently lapping at its sides.  He remembered how his great grandfather described it as pure white, assailed by whipping waves, pulsing through the river like the blood in your veins.

“This is the way our ancestors crossed the river, Derbarl Yerrigan, which is the freshwater turtle dreaming down the river.  It’s where our people came to heal and – ”

“But wasn’t this south side side for the women?” one of the children asked.

The old man paused, gazing toward the mass of ‘ensuite’ bathrooms and tennis courts on the north bank, “Yes, boy,” he muttered with a distant gaze.

He found himself thinking back to the stories passed down to him, of how his father’s fathers sat around a fire, listening eagerly to the dreamtime stories and learnt of how their land, their place, was formed.  He remembered the intensity of his great grandfather’s eyes in the fire, his arms having their own corroboree and the shadows dancing behind him, pitch black against the fire lit trees.  He remembered imagining the shimmering scales of the divine Wagyl as it formed the river.

He also remembered the chills that ran up his spine and the roar of the fire as his grandfather explained that he would never get to experience that for himself, and that all he could see was a small rock.  A rock hidden in the bushes between two tennis courts that had the fading outline of a turtle on it.  “Why?” he asked his great grandfather.

“Because when the white fella came, that’s the only bit they didn’t spot!” his great grandfather responded, wheezing out what he assumed was meant to be some sort of half-hearted laugh.

“Why don’t we still live here?” asked the youngest of the mob.

The old man’s mind was torn from his memories.  “Well girl, there are big houses here now, and the white folk in ’em will get real pissy if they find you in their backyards.”

“How could they just take it from us?” the girl rebutted, her face slumping and her lips tightening.

“Just the way it is, girl.”

She looked down at the cracked dirt, running her hand across it, feeling the faint warmness of the land’s blood running beneath her fingers.  She smelt the putrescent air, damp with the odour of the decomposing turtle upwind of her and felt the salty wind lazily flowing through her hair.  “This is bullshit,” she whispered under the cloak of city noise.  “Can we go see the rock?” the girl asked, her expression like that of a dead man, sombre and forlorn.

The old man looked at his chair and thought for a moment, “Orright then,” he muttered, remembering his eagerness when he was younger.

With that he lead the kids through a series of dense, wiry bushes littered with used condoms and makeshift bongs.  The children’s heads were constantly searching in a sort of distant fear, as though there was something waiting to pounce on them.  Finally, they came to a tiny red rock that looked as though it was slowly being consumed by the earth, its wrinkled face etched with the faded shadow of a turtle.  The old man’s wheezing suddenly slowed as his eyes perused the rock, his feet struggling to find their place beneath him.  The air became heavier and the old man’s chest felt like it was going to burst.  The old man unfolded his chair once again and grabbed another beer from his pocket.  “This, kids, is the freshwater turtle that dreams down the river.  It is a symbol of healing and medicine and is part of the foundation of our culture.”  The youngest girl gazed on, casting her mind back to the rotting remains of the turtle on the shore.

On the way back to the car, the girl found herself observing her surroundings more keenly than ever.  The looming brick structures that could be where her ancestors used to dance or the eroded path where the men and women would have their meeting ceremonies.  She stopped to take one last look at the great brown river, meandering through its chartered channels, bleeding out to sea.  Seeping from the cuts of the jet boat’s wake, poisoned by the ventures of the white fella and slowly slipping away into nothingness.  This plagued her mind for the entirety of the trip home, which was now a very long one.

a faceless man

Mitchell Raymond Atkinson, Year 12

Switch.  Click.  And she’s awake.  The gentle growl of the engine reverberates throughout the ferry, rattling my bones as the morning sun peaks over the horizon.  The sweet, sweet smell of shit surrounds me like a bubble, as I reluctantly fill my lungs to the brim with river air.  That’s the smell of progress.  The Swan River, ha, more like Swanless River; am I right?  I look down into that river filled with rotting fish, the blackened waters like a mirror that hides our apathy, and I see myself looking back.  A wan smile stretches across my unkempt face and my cloudy eyes take in a backdrop of endless adverts that stretch to the horizon.  NEW IPHONE 19!! VOTE MUHAMMAD FOR PRIME MINISTER, 2032!  BUY THIS.  BUY THAT.  Bah, who gives a damn?  Not me, that’s who.  I frown. The dead fish are floating.

I cast my gaze up towards the noisy crowd as we near the ferry slip.  I stand at the ready by the bow cleat, watching the jetty creep closer.  I bend down and secure the three-inch heavy-duty rope to the cleat.  The captain guides her in and she gently comes down, slow yet eager, caressing the jetty’s buoys.  I jump onto the jetty and secure the other end of the rope to the thick pylon.  The engines gasp in relief.  Finally, she’s in.  Now to the chore of moving the crowd from the jetty onto the ferry.

Agitated, but at the ready, I lower the ramp.  The apron ramp grips onto the jetty like a hand and the mob, with tickets in hand, wait in anticipation.  Then everyone’s rushing towards the entryway, eager to find a seat.  There is some impatient shoving among the crowd and I think to myself, “Damn you mate, I’ll check your ticket when I’m ready”.  I check my thoughts and set a smile on my face and in my deep baritone voice I bellow out the company’s compulsory greeting.

“Good morning ladies and gentleman.  Please file along here with you ticket ready.  You will shortly be on board enjoying our premium on-board entertainment systems and bar services.”

And so, the first of the hoard step up and out of the incoherent babble of faceless voices, handing over their tickets as they crossed the threshold.  Handing over their tickets some exchange ‘pleasantries’ and enter.  Then the next come, and the next, and the next. Occasionally I get a rarity, someone who not only exchanges the standardised ‘pleasantries’ but also has the nerve to complain to me about the smell of the river.  TO ME!  What the hell am I supposed to do?!

Finally the mad dash comes to a trickle and then, to an end.  The apron ramp glides back up, pealing back from the jetty to hold the passengers inside.  Once again the engines thrum to life.  We pull the ropes in and slide off, a soft white wake left behind us.  I look across the river to the tall city buildings surrounded in angry clouds; our destination a mere thirty minutes away, and nothing but a thin layer of wood holding back the blackened river water.

They say that boating is dangerous out on the sea.  Crystal waters and rough swell threatening the very lives of the crew.  Out here on the river there were different dangers, albeit less fatal ones, but dangers nonetheless.  I suppose I never respected that.

I look at my watch; we’re running late.  The captain brings her in fast, almost frantically.  I cast my rope over, leaping with it.  I tie it around onto the pylon.  But we’re going too fast.  My fingers get caught.  And suddenly BANG.  WHACK.  The rope tightens.  My fingers drop down, away.  Forever?  Someone screams.  Then the boat slams against the jetty fenders.  I lose my balance.  CRASH. I splatter into the mirror of river water, cracking its perfect reflection and plunge deep into its depths.  Debris surrounds me; a dead fish floats beside me, welcoming me with open… fins?  I can hear a distant voice’s shout but darkness is crowding my vision.  And then, nothing.

When I wake I find myself in bed, a white hospital gown my only clothing.  I look towards the window.  It appears to be nighttime.  The soft glow of a lamp is my only lighting.  I hurt.  My chest, my head, ache.  My hand.  Ohgodmyhand.  I lift it up and it’s bound in white bandages.  Oh God.  No no no no no.  Not my hand.  Then the door creaks open and a nurse fills its frame.  Her kind face lights up with a reassuring smile as she calls for the doctor.

“Doctor!  Doctor, he’s awake.”

The doctor enters the room, his face devoid of emotion.  I hold my breath in anticipation, fearing what he may say.  He pulls up a chair and sits down beside me.

“Sir, my name’s Dr Goodman.”

“M-my h-hand?”

“You were brought into the hospital about twenty four hours ago. The pain in your chest, the abdominal swelling, your shortness of breath are all a consequence of near drowning and will dissipate.  However the pollutants in the water have infected your upper right limb.  Your thumb and two forefingers were severed from your hand, and it is at this location we believe the bacteria enter the body.  I’m sorry.  This aggressive infection is spreading through the whole of your upper limb via your blood stream and will continue to spread without the right medication.  The antibiotics we have you on at the moment do not seem to be making a difference.  We are unable, as of yet, to identify the strain of bacteria that has entered your wounds.  It appears to be a new strain of bacteria.  It is early days, so we will continue to monitor your progress.  But for the moment there is nothing we can do.”

Of course this is the moment I realize that it is our capacity to stop caring, to destroy without care, which ultimately, comes around and bites us.

Her

Jimmy Cameron, Year 12

The morning silence is really what makes it so special; the only noise to grace the ears is the slight lapping of waves.

Soothing.

I often walk out over the sandbar, to stand in the middle of Her and feel the immersion that she offers.  Out there, with the wind against your face, the water kissing your feet and the sand wriggling between your toes, you are free from all that plagues Earth’s fragile skin; the industrious bacteria that tells itself, “I’m different, I’m helping, I’m.  Not.  Evil.”

I come out here merely to escape, merely to clear my mind from the foggy cloud that looms overhead.  This cloud that hangs over me.  I feel its thick, constricting presence that warns of imminent downpour, but that relief never seems to come.

As I sit, simply sitting, nothing more, I realize something unusual wind its way into my ears, something that doesn’t fit with Her.  My mind reluctantly returns back to Earth and I glance around, surveying my surroundings.  It is a few hundred metres north that I see the source of the discomfort, a small white speck speeding towards me: a boat.

As this boat accelerates towards me I begin to wonder; how does something so small have the ability to be so corrupting.  As I focus more on this boat I begin to notice more noises around me, I begin to notice all the other little bugs running around blissfully unaware; people arguing, engines roaring, construction booming.

She doesn’t protest, but you can feel her crying out, feel her shake and shiver.  I look at all our people and wonder where we went wrong, when we stopped living with the Earth and began living on it.  People enjoy life, people enjoy the Earth and people enjoy what the Earth can do for them.  Yet very few understand what Earth is: a living thing capable of emotion and feeling.

Her.

She feels, she feels the weight that we ignorantly place on her shoulders.

It is something special to witness Her for what she truly is, to take away the stainless steel boats and spluttering engines and be left with just the water.

I dive into her murky depths.

Sitting, hovering in suspended animation I observe the unseen world below.  Dust and dirt litter the floor.  Even though there are fish and other marine life roaming the sunlit water, they look unhappy, out of place, dispossessed of life.  It’s remarkably depressing seeing this underwater wasteland.  You expect to see colours and bright life, instead darkness and despair.

This seems to be what man is intent on creating.  We carelessly meander through Her and expect to leave her untouched.  We abuse and steal her resources and take advantage of her beauty.  We run along and fly over her now murky, saddened waters and do not think of what she once was.

I return to the sand and begin the walk back to mainland.  Thinking on this and feeling the water lapping at my feet, I am almost brought to tears.  She has such beauty and such kindness, and yet receives little in return.  And still, she does not object, she continues to give herself to us unconditionally, even after everything we have done to her.

I make it back to the mainland and sigh.

Something must be done about the crime that we are and the impact we have on her.

Something must be done to change the destructive nature that we embody.

Something.  Must.  Be.  Done.

The solution seems distant and out of sight, and it may well be.  Yet without the willingness and courage to venture into what may be unknown, she will most certainly perish.

Through all her kindness and all her gifts, we will have murdered her.  Murdered her without even realising it.

I turn back one last time before I drive away, to catch one last glimpse of Her.

She smiles, as bright as ever, and says, “Thank you”.

I smile, as even with all the hatred and despair clouding around Her, there are still many a reason to smile and enjoy her warmth.

Her.

The River.

Her.

I breathe out and vow to return, vow to not let the corruption and mutiny keep me away.

The River sighs as I drive away, preparing once more.

Judas

Antonio Baxter, Year 12

The frail figure of the skipper emerged from the Mercedes, glistening in the mid-February sun.  Behind it, a battered trailer lay perched on the green grass of the Peppermint Grove foreshore.  The skipper slowly made his way behind the Merc, unhooked the trailer, and dragged it and its cargo, a battered sailing boat, towards the cool embrace of the Swan.

I have sailed these rivers for many years.  I know her rhythms, I hear her aches, I see her pain.  And I know she’s dying.  My relationship with the tempting mistress called the Swan has existed since boyhood.  I remember, as a young larrikin, being at these very shores.  Around me, then, the sweet, enticing smell of the Peppermint trees cast a tempting aroma across the foreshore, as I sat there beside the Esplanade, pulling a dirty and ragged sail up the mast of my small Pelican, as the river sat there, its clear water beckoning.  This was the heyday of the river, the Golden Age of the Swan.  As a young boy, wandering down towards the water, I remember the euphoric buzz of activity all around me, as families sat and played upon the foreshore, celebrating life on its banks. Fish were abundant, the water clear from the plastic that has come to characterize the Swan River of today.  As I pulled the Pelican into the water, a ritual I continue to this day, I felt only coarse sand amongst my toes, not the shattered remains of a half drunken VB or the discarded wrapper of a long gone Redskin.

The skipper finished his musings as the battered sail reached the top of the mast.  He checked to make sure that its batons are fully popped, before clipping the flapping sail to the wooden boom, savouring its cracks and creaks as it protests against the weight of mother nature’s mighty breeze.  “Morning, Brian!” yelled the skipper as a small balding man in the green overalls of the Fisheries Department walked slowly by, pushing a wheelbarrow filled with bottles and plastic.  “Mornin’ J!” droned Brian as he stopped, catching his breath.  “Large load today?” asked the skipper, the excitement from his eyes somewhat dimming.  “Na mate” replied Brian, “You think this is chockablock?  Struth mate, I tell you, it’s like the world’s going mad!”  The skipper nodded, covering a veil of shame that had fallen upon his face as he abruptly turned back towards the Pelican.

Ah, where was I?  Ah yes, I look back fondly upon the river of old, its abundance and its health.  When I sail atop the waters of the river today, I see only a shadow of the river I once knew, an empty husk.  I see my river dying, strangled slowly.  But I know why she is dying.  I realize the damage my betrayal has done to my once pristine friend.

The shrieking of the boat as it groaned into the water and took float broke the thought of our lone skipper.  As the boat floated away, its skipper chased it across the shallows of the foreshore, seemingly walking on the water.  He arrested the boat’s drift and climbed atop the small hull, sitting his arched frame on the starboard bench, as the boat slowly made its way into the middle of Freshwater Bay.

It was only in the 80s when is started getting bad.  I remember the eve of the change quite clearly as suddenly the once white crescents of her waves were streaked with brown, the Swan’s once majestic dolphins lying dead, overturned with their fins out, as if they were nailed to a cross.  The sweet smell of the water was replaced with a ghastly stench.  The river began to fill with rubbish, and the bottom of Freshwater Bay, once filled with course, fine sand, was now mingled with the sharp edges of discarded VB bottles and bleached copies of The West Australian.  Families no longer congregated around the Swan’s now dirty shores, and as Perth began to expand, many people began to forget the beauty of the Swan.  As man progressed, nature paid a heavy toll.

The boat rounded Chidley Point and a small tinny appeared beside.  In it an old soul, with skin as loose as someone might be after a night out in Northbridge, sat hunched over a flaking fishing rod.  “Morning Rod!” yelled the skipper, startling the old man into action. A wrinkled hand waved in sudden acknowledgement before returning back to the safety of the dilapidated rod.  “Caught anything today?” shouted the skipper as the Pelican slowly passed behind the stern of the boat.  “Haven’t caught anything in 35 years, J!” shouted the old man back.  “Maybe tomorrow!”  The skipper flashed a tight smile, before turning his concentration back to the tiller, and continuing on his way.

I have reached an old age.  My legs are not what they used to be, my skin no longer tight around my bones, and my consciousness clouded, much as the river is now.  I feel responsible, responsible for my river’s death.  It is a heavy burden to bear, and I feel I can only be unburdened by looking for forgiveness atop her waters.  As a young man, I abandoned the river, and in doing so contributed to her destruction.  I was blinded by my actions, but now I can see.

It was the 70s, a time of growth in our state.  The buildings got higher, the roads longer, the music louder and the population larger. To cope with this, Perth needed to expand.  I was qualified to help due to my training as an engineer, and, in Perth’s hour of reconstruction, I was drafted to assist in the expansion of the city.  The only way to do this, I concluded, was to reclaim land on the foreshore.  Over many months, thousands of tonnes of soil were dumped into the river.  It clouded her, making her polluted.  The water turned brown, the fish lay dead on the river banks, now deprived of the fishers, the families and the fun of my childhood.  The river of my childhood, the river I had so admired, dead at my hands, through my betrayal of her.

I know I have sinned.  I have done an awful deed.  But I was young, I was blinded by ambition, but now I see the effects of my actions.  But I know that if I can repent of these sins, and search for forgiveness in the river, she can, she may, forgive me.  That is the hope I must hold on to.

The boat silently swept by Rocky Bay, its sails flapping, its nose waning towards the shore, its skipper lost in deep thought as the boat heeled and continued on its way.  The waters silently lapped the side of the boat and as the skipper and his boat continued to sail in search of salvation, a host of bright silver fish leapt from

the dead waters of the Swan, hundreds of them, piling and wriggling atop one another until the scratched hull of the Pelican was no longer visible.  Shocked, the skipper surveyed the withering mass of bright fish at his feet and as he looked, amazed by the sight before him, a glimmer of a hopeful smile widened across his weathered face.