The old man died one October,
in the humid build up time before the wet.
We went along to say goodbye,
me, JD, Zoe, Fitah
and the Mine Manager of the day.
We kept our work rig on
to be respectful.
He worked with us for a long time.
Sometimes you couldn't find him.
He was out doing the things
that saltwater bushmen do.
We used to try to frighten him
with rubber snakes.
He would play the part, terrified.
You might run into him in the town
on the mainland sometimes at R & R.
Always lots of girls around him.
Perhaps a beer, a little ceremony
with a respected elder from Homeland.
When we arrived
we were shown a place to sit.
Someone brought us water.
Blues music played out across the settlement.
Zoe went to the women and the crying.
We sat in the stringy bark shade
and talked about the time when
the big greenback turtle sank the old man's dinghy,
the times how he would recount,
how his eyes would grow rounder in the telling.
His accidental gentle humour.
Invited, we all went over to his house,
with a big colourful mat outside his front door,
with men, women and kids all around on the ground.
Then his front door opened.
He came out in his coffin,
carried by six young men.
The bush went silent and nothing moved,
They went to place him on the mat,
but just before he touched the air was split.
A wrenching grief song went up around us.
The young men took him back inside his house
and this continued several times,
each of us realising;
We did not want to let him go.
This part was done and we went to sit again
to watch his coffin lifted into the back of a truck.
Pausing every short while,
two young women went ahead.
They lit little fires of dry gum leaves beside the track
and the truck waited at each tiny pyre
until the smoke had faded.
The cortège moved along with purpose;
We understood the measured pace.
Then he was clear of his old home.
A solemn slow march proceeded
by foot and vehicle through the bush
to the Sacred Place.
In the smoky twilight
they gently lowered him
and they sang him
into the sand hills above his beloved beach.