For the Aboriginal people Larrkardiy always had a special strength and power. The dreamtime stories tell that this power had made the trees so arrogant that at last God punished them for their impertinence by pulling them all up and sticking them back again, upside down, their roots left where there leaves should have been. Undaunted, the Larrkardiy continued to grow and the desert tribes learned to respect their power.
When treated with respect the tree yielded many treasures in a land where every day was a struggle for survival. Water in times of drought, seed pods for carrying, bark for weaving and roots for eating. But, disrespect the Larrkardiy and you would face a terrible retribution.
They would have to camp. The two Blackbirders couldn’t manage nine experienced aboriginal tribesmen at night in the open. They had taken their collection of prisoners, tied by their hands to each other down the track to Derby. Riding through the bush in their thick woollen jackets and trousers the Blackbirders looked ridiculously overdressed. Their red, burnt faces contrasted with the brown skin of their captives, dry as the land and as dusty.
One of the Blackbirder’s dogs, a mangy mongrel half dingo and half everything else snapped at the prisoners heels or ran off into the bush to chase inquisitive goannas.
“If we don’t tie ‘em up they’ll do a runner in the night as sure as eggs.”
“Take ‘em to the tree mate.”
The “Prison Tree” was a huge boab. In the flat lands it could be seen for miles. For the local tribes it had been a source of many legends.
Then the white fellas came.
No one knew who first thought of using it as a holding pen for prisoners, but, in the desert you had to make do.
This Larrkardiy was known as the two sisters to the locals as it had grown like twins. Between was a cavity ten feet deep and about six feet high.
“Get in there!” the Blackbirder shouted at the group of men looking about in uncertainty, not understanding. They had been walking for a two days, away from their tribes, away from familiar landscapes. Most of them couldn’t understand the English of their captors.
“In there!!!” The redder faced Blackbirder pointed at the hole in the boab with his rifle.
A shudder ran through the group. How could they fit? What would the Larrkardiy say. Surely it would not like it.
The rifle went off and the bullet hit the boab which resounded like a drum. Water poured like blood from the bullet hole.
The prisoners ran towards the dark cleft in the tree, terrified by the shot. One prisoner fell and was dragged along by the others. They clambered into the space oblivious to the webs of spiders and the stinging of ants.
It was choking hot in the darkness and the smell of the sweating bodies grew unbearable, but the ones near the front told the others that the Blackbirders were outside with their guns and their dogs. There was no escape.
A dry wind came up as the night began to fall. The creaking of the moving branches was magnified by the tree and the men trembled at the terrible language it spoke in the darkness.
“The Larrkardiy never forgets…never forgets”
Tomorrow they would be taken to Derby jail then far away to places they had never seen or heard of …amongst people from another world.
But tonight they had to spend their last time together, crammed in the Larrkardiy’s womb as it whispered its ancient dreamtime language.
“The Larrkardiy never forgets…never forgets”
This is one of the few times I am using someone else’s photo as the feature photo for a post as I do not have one of my own. Friday Fiction with Ronovan Writes is a challenge to write a piece of fiction using a photo prompt and I recognised this as an infamous tree from Western Australia’s past.
This story is imagined but based on fact relating to this specific tree which is known as the “Prison Tree” and can be found near Derby in the Kimberly region of Western Australia.
It was purportedly used to detain prisoners in the late 19th century on the journey to Derby Jail. These aboriginal prisoners were often incarcerated for killing cattle that were grazing on land that they had lived on for thousands of years or other transgressions and they were then sent to work on stations or into towns as labour. The white gaolers were known as “Blackbirders”
You can visit the tree which is allegedly over a thousand years old.
Some boabs are considered especially sacred and are known as Malaji, possessing awesome power. This is one of these trees. Desecration of the tree is considered especially dangerous and if it was misused as a prison the aboriginals would have been terrified at the possible retribution the tree would bring upon them.
Some interesting facts about the Boab from http://www.boabsinthekimberley.com.au/the-boab-and-the-australian-aborigines/
It is a source of life-saving water in the dry times as the central wood pulp is spongy and full of moisture;
The fibrous inner bark can be used for rope, baskets and nets;
A red dye is made from the outer layer of tree roots;
The leaves and sapling tap roots are edible and very nutritious;
The seeds can be eaten raw or roasted;
Pulp from the seed-pod is high in vitamin C and may be mixed with water to make a citrus-tasting drink;
The empty seed-pods can be used for storage, and also carved for ceremonial purposes.
In response to Friday Fiction with Ronovan Writes