Murray River Terminus: Coorong Trail to the Southern Ocean

She is terminal. My mother. My child. Some say it’s not so, that she’ll recover, that she’s always got a bit sick from time to time. But this time is different. This time it’s the culmination of all the last times, all the sicknesses of the last twenty, thirty, forty, two-hundred and fifty or so years.

Parts of her have weakened. Parts have dropped off altogether. Some look like they’re suffering a palsy, a leprosy; there’s parts that are bigger than they should be – bursting at the seams and covered in infestations – and others that are emaciated – wasting away, a barrenness prevails.

It becomes harder to look at her, to smell her, to sit with her. She is not what she was. She is, and is not, herself. I look forward to seeing her and yet I hurry away as soon as I can.

Vapours drift from her, vicious moods overtake her with disturbing frequency: she wails, she thrashes, she weeps, she rages. There are some salves that work, a little, here and there. They show promise but her carers limit its application.

Everywhere there are rights and restrictions, codes and precedents, which stop the full application of cures. The things she needs are not allowed. They exist, but we can’t get them. At every turn the bureaucracy leaves her to fester, to wither, to waste away.

She gives what she can – relentlessly. Her heroism is hailed on occasion, her fortitude promoted. But still she is used like a slave and increasingly she fails. The accolades are heavy medallions around her neck, dragging her down with their unfulfillable expectations and demands. The thoughts and prayers, spells and blessings, cast by well-wishers are as useless as miracle diets.

She will persist though. She will be re-born. Of that I have no doubt. But I won’t be there to see it. Her rebirth will leave us all behind. She will have no strength left to support us in her new reality. The concessions we gave her will prove too flimsy, too transient, too compromised and contradicted to stabilise her. And in turn she will be unable to exist with us. Her pungency, her mouldering desert heat, her turbid blooming rising waters, will be incompatible with life. She will be as a new unrecognisable dimension in space.

She is my Earth. My mother. My child. My inheritance. My gift. My land, my country, my home. She is terminal. All the specialists say so. There are remedies, but the specialists are disabled and discredited, undermined and derided. Misquoted by media, paraded by politicians, the conflicted, and the deluded, as crackpots and alarmists: an ironic accusation.

Yet, even now, she dies before our very eyes, proving the specialists right time after time. She dies before our eyes in a hundred different ways. She will die in our floundering arms just as the specialists foresaw and forewarned and we will shake our heads and cry for help and search for who to blame. Who then can put up their hand and say, not I?

© Palitja Moore, text 2020, and image, Murray River Terminus: Coorong Trail to the Southern Ocean, 2019

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