The biggest gum on the farm had been a remnant tree even before the whites began to devastate the land. There would have been a Nukunu name for that one tree. He would walk past it on his endless "walks around the sheep" despite its standing on the roughest slope of the ridge. He walked behind it one afternoon, intending his customary turn up past along the west boundary, and met a red kangaroo circling the scrub in the opposite direction. They stood face to face, roo to man, for long moments, tall as each other.
His wife asked him what he had done then. "Well, I turned around and went where I was going, and he turned around and went where he was going." Dry humour which hid the less comfortable facts of the matter.
It seemed to him that after the first moment of surprise they had stood looking at each other for a very long time. Something timeless had happened, a meeting with another face of himself: solitary, powerful, dangerous. And a curious fellow feeling, although who knew what the roo made of it all.
The big reds come south in the dry years, using the ranges for cover, and making short trips out to the paddocks to get water from the sheep troughs. Or travel along the Rocky or the Broughton, lying low under scrubby cover during the day.
Why had it been there in the last few yards of scrub on the range with nothing but open paddocks beyond? "That tree pulled us both in, lost as each other. What sort of kangaroo stands there face to face, and just looks at you?"
He lay down in the scrub and wept.
Wept for tall trees and lost boys, and griefs he could not name.
And all the dark beauty of life which causes so much pain.
And kept on walking, but never saw the kangaroo again.
(Andrew Prior 2022)
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