4 October 2020
The 2020 Hachette Australia Prize for Young Writers Fiction Winner- Soledad Musk
Soledad Musk’s story My Mother Wanda has been awarded The 2020 Hachette Australia Prize for Young Writers in the category of fiction. Soledad was presented with the award online at the National Young Writers Festival at a special event, and won a $500 cash prize, an exclusive book pack from Hachette Australia and acknowledgement of their winning entry in Express Media’s flagship publication Voiceworks. Read Soledad’s winning piece right here.
My Mother Wanda
Soul of Wallaby
Died 2019, Ararat
This is a sacred place. This is like a church. This is a place where we connect and heal and unite as a people
Lydia Thorpe, Wurundjeri woman. Speech at the site of the Djab Wurrung Sacred Tree protest
I’ll be dead soon. I’m six years old. Not old for a wallaby. I was born near here. Near these trees. The oldest tree has lived eight hundred years. Its stories are older still.
Eight hundred years.
Their words are few.
The noise is mostly silence
Silence is the friend of witness
I was born near here. I don’t remember much. I have loose memories of warmth. And softness too. I do remember my mother. She was called Nona. I spent most time in her pouch, sometimes with my head poking out the top. Then when I grew older my mother let me out of her pouch. I always came back, ‘don’t go far, little fella’ she would say. My mother told me stories. Stories her mother told her and her mother and hers. My favourite was Bwalla, best fella hunter.
In a time of no rain and little food, Bwalla the Hunter set out, with all his children, to find something to eat. For a long time, he searched, couldn’t find a thing. No kangaroos, no emus, no wombats, not even a seed. Just as the children had begun to cry, Bwalla spied a great eagle flying overhead. The eagle was heading for a gum tree not too far in the distance, where his children sat crying. Held in the eagle’s feet was a fine young wallaby. Bwalla reached the gum tree as the eagle began circling slow. Bwalla told his children ‘stay’ and he began to climb and climb, til’ he reached the eagle’s nest. Then, Bwalla and the eagle flapped and spat, they snapped and clawed.
But Bwalla, the tucker-thief, took the wallaby and climbed down. ‘Best fella hunter!’ the children cried as Bwalla reached the bottom and laid the wallaby down to light a fire. Everyone sang and laughed – finally, they could eat. Darkness fell and the fire was ready. But when Bwalla returned to the trunk of the gum tree, there was no wallaby. ‘Cheeky little fella,’ said Bwalla the Hunter, best fella hunter, ‘he better than me’.
My mother told other stories too. Stories of people and animals. There was the terrifying roar of big fella Bunyip, the young girl Wanda who loved all young things like the young dawn and all happy things like yellow and red berries and Biami who made the world and men too. I know the stories had deeper meanings, but they always ended with ‘time for sleep now, little fella’.
‘Little fella,’ she would call me.
Wallaby the white fella’s call me.
Wallabia bicolour a poster in a nearby town calls me.
That is not my name, let me tell you.
Only the trees know my name.
My mother taught me ‘A Song of Hope’. We would sing it together. It was about the dawn breaking. World waking. Bright new days.
I’m six years old. Young for a wallaby. I was nearly one when I left my mother. It was springtime. With the growth of new grasses and the days growing longer, I placed one long foot after another and never returned. I thought of her a lot at first, especially when it became colder. I longed for the warmth and softness of her pouch. Instead, I returned to the trees and slept in the grasses. I told the story of Bwalla the Hunter to myself, though perhaps the trees were listening.
I’ve visited the trees many times since then. I gave birth to a joey – a boy – a few months after I left my mother. Lying still in the grasses, I watched as the tiny joey climbed his way up to my pouch, using only his front paws. I spent nine months telling my son of the wallaby that got away from Bwalla. I told him about Nona. Nona’s mother and her mother and hers. I told the stories, he listened. I taught him the song of hope. I added something about our children’s children and the glad tomorrow. We sang it together.
In the spring, my son left me. He placed one long foot after another and never returned.
We wallabies lead a life of solitude. We watch from afar, never draw too near. Only come close to eat or feed or drink. I spent my time grazing. Listening. Travelling.
Being alone is hard. Sometimes, at its worst, I thought of my mother’s story, big fella bunyip.
Big fella bunyip only ever came out at night. He belonged in the darkness of the Silent Pool, Gooboora. The Silent Pool was filled with bones, many bones. When big fella bunyip was very hungry his roar could be heard from far away. He could make the fur from the tip of your tail to the tip of your nose stand on end. Everyone knows the bunyip’s roar.
One night, when the kookaburras and kangaroos couldn’t keep quiet, big fella bunyip left Gooboora. Into the night. Across the grass. Beside a tree. Old wallabies kept still. Invisible. Emus are not still, and their scream is short. But loud.
‘Keep quiet, little fella,’ the mothers would say, ‘curl up, little fella.’
She told me to scare me, I know. Keep me close. Same as Bwalla, she taught me to watch out for the hunters, the big fella Bunyip’s. Listen. Watch. That’s how you live alone.
My solitude was seldom interrupted.
Once, I came across a different kind of wallaby, a brush-tailed rock wallaby. I’d never seen one before, my mother told me they were hard to find. I realise now she meant they were dying, never to return. This wallaby was old. He was losing fur and was bent over always. We stood together, grazing. I learnt his name was Jarri. He spoke softly and with unfinished sentences.
‘Long way away, I’ve come,’ was the first thing Jarri said to me. I didn’t know how to respond. I stayed silent.
‘I heard murmurs, from the others. Murmurs of straight lines. Old trees. Older than me. Killing,’ he ate and spoke, slowly.
‘Who are the others?’ I wanted to ask, but Jarri had closed his eyes. Stopped eating. Resting. I should have asked, ‘Which trees? My trees?’
Visiting the trees became harder and harder. There was less grass, more fences. Finding food was not so easy. Sometimes I had the trees to myself. I could sit nearby, tell stories, make new stories, remember my mother’s stories. Other times I had to watch from afar. Look out for the people. Stay low in the grasses. Watch out for Bwalla.
From their deepest roots to the tips of their leaves, stories are woven into the tree.
Eight hundred years’ of Djab Wurrung stories. Of my mother Nona and her mother and hers. Mine too. The stories curve, sway and twist. They want to kill the tree’s stories. Our stories. With one straight line. I want to ask them, ‘why can’t you bend for the tree?’
for the wind
for the sun and the water.
They bend into stories
and stories bend into them.
Why can’t you bend for the tree?
A year has passed since then and the people – they’re everywhere. New signs have been put up: Hands off Country, #NoTreesNoTreaty, Respect Sacred Sites. Remember my mother Nona I want to tell them.
Remember my mother and her mother and hers.
They’ll cut through the very place where my son was born, where I was born, where my mother Nona was born and her mother and hers.
I listen for the trees.
Perhaps they are saying
curl up, little fella.
time for sleep now, little fella.