by Hannah Donnelly

I had been walking the rivers for weeks. A river is never rushing nonsensically. It is flowing according to a specific seasonal pattern destined to support a unique ecological system. I had an inbuilt hydrological knowledge of country. I could sing in no particular order the flow time, flow path, flow rate, temperature and volume of our waters.

Maybe I wasn’t taught all these things. Sometimes what you know is simply there because it belongs to you.

I was hungry. Boobialla seemed to be about the only plant with fruit. I had really wanted to taste the crisp sour lilly pilly because I had been eating the water bush fruits every day. But it confirmed what I had been recording on my survey. Boobialla water bush were drought resistant. Precipitation levels had been falling again this season. Almost none.

I was following a particular curve of the catchment dotted with fleshy leaves of the water ribbons. I wondered if they had yams ready and started laughing. There hadn’t been fruit on the water ribbons for generations. The sound of the lone laugh echoed off the banks. I hadn’t seen any of the dome travellers or water miners on this walk. I wondered if that meant they were getting sicker. The rising temperatures meant they couldn’t stay outside for that long.

I saw one dying once. An illegal water miner in his tempsuit. Dying of thirst, the cracked lips couldn’t even swallow the water I poured from the coolamon. I attempted to push the acidic paste of casuarina nuts in his mouth to stimulate saliva.  Too late. I shrugged and left him near the edge of the rising sea at Wallan. The others probably wouldn’t look for him. Since the coming of the salty mother that crushed their seawalls they mostly kept to their photovoltaic-powered domes.

It was getting dark now and I needed to head back to my recording site. Soon I would travel home to report on the progress of our waters. I was slack for this river walk though. Regenerated areas seemed to have faded in osmotic shock. The water allocation for the domes was getting lower.

Our treaty meant no systems of dammed or diverted water should restrict our cultural flows. We quarantined proportions for their use in return for them not trespassing on our lands. If precipitation levels didn’t rise we would cut the water to the dome communities. They claimed refugee status, but it was an unsustainable lifestyle.

Following my own track back over the banks I noticed the yellow flower and splitting bark of some mulga trees and stopped confused. I hadn’t realised it was becoming brighter like day.  Immediately I knew. Back home it was the season of the dhinawan sitting low on the horizon and my father had been telling me to expect the arrival of the water spirit. I lifted my gaze to meet her.

Her pulsing energy, like a moon with rings around it, was over me. Like a dull light in the middle then another big ring and a faint tail of her thirsty family behind it. It was her drinking our rain clouds. I sunk to my knees and sang for her family to save our water for our children. All the river walkers across the land would be doing the same and preparing for ceremony, hoping to Biami she would release her tears while she stayed in our skies.

It rained for three days.