Get Me Out of Here
by Paola Balla

Get Me Out of Here

Too much too young.
Get me out of here…

Chrissy Amphlett wails into the microphone while I vacuum – it’s up loud so I can her over the big bloody Dyson I thought would be the answer to domestic problems and anxieties about dirt.

“Too much too young…” I see myself splayed on a hard dirt river bank edge, my skirt pushed up my belly and my undies round my ankles like shackles. A hotted up Commodore idles nearby, its red tail lights like red eye at the window, seeping into the exhaust fumes like beautiful bleeding little clouds, red eye mooky taunting me, watching and disapproving while I open myself up to a complete stranger.

A young Italian from the western suburbs, older by about nine years to my sixteen has me pinned onto Yorta Yorta Country pushing me into her until I feel like I don’t exist at all. I fall through the Country like a little dark Alice, falling and falling, passing dead rabbits and foxes and pretty middens and mussels and yabbies and crays, their little black eyes move over my body but their bodies stay still and I see pity and love in their eyes and they tell me I’m welcome to stay but the Italian comes and pushes off my body, doing up his jeans and laughing, calls out to his cousin that it’s time to fuck off.

I play bold and unafraid, my friend sits in the backseat talked into it by the other Italian, touching, coercing, forcing, fighting her when she fends him off. I’ve really put us here with my limitless vulnerability, daring myself, daring someone else to take me away. My body goading the ever present numbness, trying to feel something, anything. Anything but the boredom and oppression of being normal, drinking, drugging, smoking, fitting the fuck in and watching fucking neighbours and blue light discos and pervert cousins and mums useless and dirty boyfriends and pedophile teachers.

“Get me out of here…”

The Murray laps ever so gently this late at night under the bridge when no paddle steamers or petrol spewing speed boats come past, no cousins or mates jumping off the bridge laughing or yelling or running down the dusty bank and diving in, heels sending hot sand over Mum’s old Cottee’s cordial bottle filled with tap water and ice, buried where the river meets the sand.

There was only quiet here, just the sound of a stranger grunting over my small body.

I dream about Melbourne, about being famous and beautiful and being skinny and perfect. I want to be Lisa Bonet and Neneh Cherry.

They burn off into the bush, leaving us to walk home through the dark, over the bridge crossing New South Wales back into our Victorian town to sleep it off and to never talk about it again.


Marsala Tongue

“You’ve changed, you’re the not the same girl anymore.”

I dropped my head, the blood rushing to my cheeks and the marsala crawled up the back of throat like a prowler casing my tongue, I licked my lips, sore and strange-tasting from four different boys.

“This is not like you, sis. What are you doing?”

This shaming cut deep, I loved this boy. I measured my coolness and my blackness against him. I was in love with him but a secret made me unable to open up to him and let him love me back. The secret would have split our families and our worlds apart and sat between his older sister and I.

Years later his mother was yarning with Mum and my other Aunties over their muggaccinos, “You know he said you are the only thing he would have come back to this poxy town for?”

“Now he’s with some scraggy red headed gubbah. Wish it had been you, darlin. He still loves you.” Squeezing my wrist, she leaned in close, whispering, “Loves you.”

I still think about him, blue eyed, copper skin, curls dropping on his forehead like a young black Elvis. I love him. I even loved him when the white girl who pity-fucked him at her house laughed in his face, “Your dick is like a little frozen carrot!” We were sitting round our makeshift camp, the boys had dinked me and my girlfriends, two other Koorie girls on trail bikes out bush, just out of town on the river. I perched on my cousin’s handlebars, the wind whipping tears from my eyes into my ears.

He looked hurt and ashamed then his blues flashed dark and he spat, “Least I’m not some white sloppy slut.”

I felt shame for him for screwing her in the first place and for being shamed up by her.

I pretended not to know.

He would never fake, he wore and said everything out loud, flinging barbs at people when he felt threatened and showing off for attention and out of pride. He never let white kids or teachers get away with shaming him or other black kids, he had and gave respect when he thought it was deserved but sometimes went too far.

When a girl killed herself with alcohol poisoning while everyone gossiped and tittered he was the first one to organise going to her funeral.

We were used to funerals, we were cool and dignified at hers. The white kids looked terrified, it was their first, we went to one every few months or so, an aunty, uncle, cousin, suicide, murder, diabetes, cancer, accidents, sometimes Old People, mostly people young, not ready to die but not really ready to live either.

This church was the one we drank in front of, our funerals were not in this church, this was Catholic, ours were Church of England, for poor whites and even poorer blacks.

He was careful with our feelings and that of the other kids and showed us the way there. Gammon wayfarers on, school uniform freshly ironed and a shiny gold fob chain hanging from his neck. Cool as fuck.

I knew the inside of a Catholic church from my holidays with Dad when they buried distant Calabrese relatives, dying old after migrating. They seemed to live forever. Wrinkly and bent, dressed in black, crucifixes flashing they crossed themselves as they entered and I would mimic them pretending I fitted in and knew the rules, but I didn’t.


Gold Nuggets

I’ve just finished another therapy session. I’m exhausted. I’m concentrating on letting go off the trauma I just manifested on the soft floral recliner, in a room with no windows. I’m glad to see the sun and road and babies in prams and even hipsters getting their coffee here with their dogs.

The café is curated to represent a period of time that everyone seems enamored with. The past: a romanticised place where everything was better. Pressed tin wall panels, Bendigo pottery jars used to hold Billy Buttons. The same Billy Buttons Nan would make Mum pull her car up for on Goulburn Valley backroads.

Hard vintage tables and chairs that look good but are bloody uncomfortable. My cutlery arrives in a tin can with a large white serviette, not the small cheap types I get in a dispenser in the Vietnamese restaurants in Footscray where the chairs are plastic and comfortable.

The tin makes me think about Moonacullah Mission. My Wemba Wemba homelands and fossicking at the Echuca tip with my great Aunty and Grandmother and Mother. “White people throw such good things away.” Aunty Val would say, shaking her head.

Nan, me and Mum scoured the Kyabram and Echuca op-shops from the back to the front, they went straight to the china, always carefully turning the cups, jugs and plates upside down and hung on them like kids on monkey bars – checking for “the” stamp.

“Ooo Johnson England, here look.” Mum would whisper, leaning into Nan for approval. Nan pursed her lips. Whispering, “Gorn, see what they want for it first.”

Nan got stuck into the white women loudly – them in their neat pressed white blouses, soft cardigans and brooches, “I know you keep all the good stuff for yourselves out the back! Want to be ashamed of yourselves!”

I’d blush and bury myself in the dresses from the fifties and sixties, leather shoes and hats that I adore; the past seemed better to me. I want to hide there always, the now is so hard.

These four older white women in the cafe wear quality leather comfort shoes that soothe their sore feet. Their hairs are highlighted and their blouses are floral and accented with tasteful costume jewellery probably picked up from a little Sunday market, or maybe a gift from a friend.

The loud one relays loudly that her property fence line is in danger but that “we’ll be buying out their laneway boundary to expand our property line.” The others nod approvingly umming and ahhing.

She loudly and proudly recounts a story about a man who found a large gold nugget, fourteen centimetres wide in his backyard after his fed up wife had sent him outside in exasperation at his quitting-smoking grumpiness.

”Yeah – he can read the land you know,” she continues.

I wonder do they know whose Country the nugget has emerged from and what might it mean?

“And…” She pauses to wait for the other three women to ensure they are paying her their full attention, “They’re going to re-open Bendigo gold mine, how amazing that they’re still finding nuggets that big!”

Their eyes aglow at the thought of gleaming gold, just waiting to be taken from our Country to further their wealth and privilege. But maybe the gold is meant to stay there, maybe it has a connective purpose in the earth and soil, perhaps pulling it out causes a rupture in Mother Earth that can’t be healed.

I’m not angry at these women, perhaps I’m envious of how comfortable they are. I think they rankle me so much because I wish I still had my grandmother, I wish she was able to grow old like them, not die early at sixty-one like most Aboriginal people in this country. In shops and cafes I was Nan’s constant companion, a little fairer version of my grandmother’s big curly black hair, brown skin and broad nose, “My big damper nose!” She’d laugh, mocking herself and pushing her elegant long fingers onto the tip of her nose (which I thought was beautiful like her) squishing it from side to side.

One bright morning in her bedroom, where I often slept, Nan was pushing her nose and saying she should get a nose job, to get rid of her “ugly damper nose.” She loved Eartha Kitt and had met her once when Ms Kitt made a special visit to the Aboriginal Health Service in Fitzroy in the nineteen seventies, “Eartha Kitt has the perfect little nose.” Nan sighed. This made me so sad that it still brings tears to my eyes. I couldn’t understand Nan’s self-loathing. Nan was such a strong, proud black woman, always standing up for others and staying dignified in all those shops and cafes where she would be served last or completely ignored.

It all made sense to me when I learnt that her perfectly straight, white teeth, unlike my crowded, crooked little fangs, were in fact falsies. When I was eleven she popped them out in front of me in a fit of laughter, doubling over she laughed even more when she saw my mouth hanging open.

It was only recently during my breakdown that Mum shared with me the reason Nan had false teeth, was that her partner, (not Mum’s real father) a violent alcoholic that enjoyed sexually abusing children including me, had knocked her own teeth out of her head with a piece of wood.

My mother, aged twelve had crawled on the ground, on her hands and knees looking for her mother’s teeth.

For all the tea and china and gold I wish I still had my grandmother.

I wish we were having tea and cakes in this café where these women are comfortable, they are used to being seen and heard and obeyed, even by their annoying husbands and twenty-something darlings who are travelling the world and going to university when they are ready. They don’t even know what they have, or what it is women like Nan and Mum had to worry about, like feeding your kids, or being raped, or knowing how to read the signs when you are going to be raped or bashed, or knowing how to con white men up for a charge or for a feed or a dollar.

There’s gold there, glistening on their ring fingers, a little sparkle on their ears, but only a little so it doesn’t upstage their costume stuff.

Their kind of wealth is ingrained and inherited and comes at our expense, and they don’t even know. They probably believe in Reconciliation and listen to Uncle Archie on ABC 774, they are probably really nice people and I am sad, bitter and wounded and really, really angry.

My yoyo arrives almost the same size as the little op-shop floral bread and butter plate it’s nestled on. I lift the yo-yo on its serviette, protecting it like a baby bird, and tip the plate upside down to check for its stamp, and it says “Johnson, England” and I smile, missing Nan. The size of the yo-yo makes me shame having grown up hungry. I pour my English breakfast tea over the white women’s confident laughter.

“Put the kettle on bub.” I’m hearing my Nan’s voice in my head twenty-two years after we lost her. I think of Nan’s Bushells tea and her making me jam and runny cream on white sandwich bread, the cream running over the crust like little white fingers. Sitting on her sun room steps, knees together, cream dribbling down my chin and my little brown fingers.

My milk is delivered in a fifty milliliter medical jar, I’m reminded of experiments and my Nan giving birth on the verandah of the Echuca Hospital because she was black, and the white women laugh about gold and properties and a friend who is touring Europe on the Game of Thrones tour and their gold glistens.