News & Insights

The beginning of disruption

by Monica Karo

This piece was written for First Nations in the House, a residency program as part of Refuge that invites writers from across the country to share and respond to the matter of displacement, honouring and respecting local stories of resilience, survival, loss and the future.



The beginning of disruption
Displacement is in matrimony with its beloved dispossession.
Severing our connection.
Winter’s tongue licks us up with a layer of toxic poison and scum.

This sickness will have you wheezing.
Grief will turn young bodies into sweating, feverish, sluggish, aching, swollen messes.
Our bodies know of biological warfare; influenza. A virus that keeps mutating, latching onto us like a foreign entity. Discomfort and dis-ease that has become too familiar. Airborne and sucked in until we are wasted.

In need of healing
There was a time where this entity had not touched our land, our water, nor our bodies.
There was a time where we knew every medicinal plant from our land to heal our bodies.
Now there are piles of tablets made in factories, compartmentalised and fractured all lined up on shelves to keep our bodies, well?
There was a time when this was not needed.
Displaced. Forgotten. Remembrance.

Sickness got me.
No time to be sick as a Mother in an unforgiving city. Weeping in pain in pathetic helplessness.
There is no time to be helpless when there is an infant in need of you. Strong gets tired too.
My baby cried for food as I lay cold on the floor by a blasting heater that would burn my skin if I were any closer. “Mummy too hot, Mummy, Mummy”, “Yes Son, I know baby”. “Mummy… food and bottle Mummy, food and bottle.”

As desperation crept in, thoughts invaded me.
“Fuck your pain Mumma, get up. Your baby is crying so don’t you dare abandon him like you feel your body is abandoning you.
Your body is the earth to your baby. So get up, and do better.”

Earth is being hurt by the foreign entity and if it is sick, it cannot nurture itself nor its children. Earth never abandons its children, but its children abandon it.
We are the earth and if it is suffering, we too suffer. If it is dying, we too, die.
And death is out of the question when there is a child in need, so it gets up every morning to meet the warmth of the sun. Providing for its children.

Kinship remembrance
Seven frozen steps into the kitchen to fix my child’s hungry belly. With strain and affliction inside. Every movement is an effort.
A knock at the door and my sister is there to help me.
Not my blood sister, but the sister you were always meant to have.
Crying in the arms of friendship and generosity, weeping in the arms of gratitude.
“Rest my sis, I got this.”
I know this kind of kinship connection, I begin to remember in my time of distress.
Our mothers and children were never alone in the old ways.
My body quivers at the face of this entity that no one can see or truly name but I know is in me.
I try to keep remembering without losing myself to the fever. “Remember girl.” Holding my body under the pelts of the shower.
I am Gunnai, Gunditjmara & Mukjarawaint. Victorian blood of the South-Eastern heat and cold. Around the warmth of a tucked fire, draped in possum skin cloaks… I remember, the warmth, the strength. Before this foreign entity. Before Displacement.

Yearning: A place to call home
Sickness has me coming home. Coming back into the depths of Latrobe Valley, the lower country, swooping down into what feels inescapably sad. My country is crying, though its pulse still beats for us.
The cold sweat fever takes over so I begin to imagine what would happen if my body was the physicalization of my country’s sickness, and in turn, the sickness of my people.
My body, the vessel of transmuting energy, physical manifestation of the pain of remembering. The entity destroying the health of my land, the lands of our people. My people. The entity within me.
As we drive deeper into the lower plains of the valley where they say the Serpent used to rest I wondered if these were just feverish delusions I was having, rather than higher messages and downloads, the connection to my Mother Country.
I pondered on the possibility of my body being a reason to gather, bringing people together despite old wounds and disruptions of colonial confusion around our business, our Nations, our Clans, languages and dialects. A gathering to help exorcise the entity from me, in turn, from everyone, from the land too.

Did I have to banish this entity in order for my people to heal? Is this my responsibility?
I wonder… knowing us young mob carry it, we feel it, baring it all, absorbing it all, and then somehow have to live in this world whilst ridding ourselves of this pain, shame, within our plight of strength and resilience. Yet our strength always spawns from our own bleeding… and blood is spilt whether you see it or not, and our strength is matched with our wounds that are still open and seeping. And our shoulders are heavy for the respect and continuation of the fight our Elders have undergone. This is yearning, intrinsically linked to our deep ancestral knowledge, wisdom and cultural power. Our birthright. Our continued connection.

Salt. Water. Traralgon
At last, home, bathing in a bed of Himalayan salt. As the steam sifts the sickness out, I crumble the pink grains in between my fingertips, yet where is my salt? Why am I using salt from a land unknown to me?
Where is the salt that once cleaned me and my family?
Return this salt to the Himalayas to cleanse and revitalise the people of its origin, the Sovereign people of Tibet who too are in constant threat of being dispossessed and displaced.
I ask for my salt… the salt of my people… the salt of my country.
Yet where is it? I can taste it but I cannot feel it.
This anguish has my own salty tears drip down my cheeks. I can taste it, the salt of my country in me. Not the pink Himalayan salt of the Himalayas, but my salt… my dusty, ashy salt. From me, from my country.
I have returned home, yes I am home. But I am yearning, yearning for a place I’ve lived in all my life but still I feel the country calls for me to truly know it.

Displacement is living on your ancestral country that you yearn to know that calls to you every second for you to remember it.
Your country that is cut up by coal mines and degraded by farming and western agriculture. It is a constant calling, a post traumatic stress call and response.
It is always second guessing sounds, if it is the hails of the wind groaning, the doors creaking or cats and dogs howling from across the streets? Or is it in fact, deep crying, wailing and whimpering?
Why do I always hear the faint whispers, whimpers and women wailing? Is this my heart or my land, or my people or my ancestors who are within me. Dying in sickness, dying to be alive, dying to remember, dying to know.
And here it is. It is yours to discover before the last tree is burnt to ash or the last bit of brown coal is served to you as your spare lung.
The salt of my country is in me, in us, calling us all to remember.

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