I dream of Uluru (DRAFT)
G’day, you guys at Meanjin,
The reason I’m writing you this letter is because it has my story in it. My name is Ernie Cookson, but you can call me Cook. I’m not much of a writer but I like reading. I’ve read a few books now, and I like what they have to say to me, as a person, as just an ordinary human being like you guys, wherever you are. This is the first story what I’ve written. I know that my granma isn’t perfect yet, and nors my spelling (that was a joke), but I want you to think about whether or not I have a chance in this thing. So, this is my story. Please be kind enough to read it. I’d do the same for you. It’s called “I dream of Uluru”.
Hello, whoever and wherever you are. Whatever you’re doing right now just stop, and take a pause in your busy lives to read my story. Why? Because I would do the same for you. See, here’s the thing, I love reading. I’ll read anything, anywhere , anytime and anyplace. But it wasn’t always like that. My name is Ernie Abrahams. but people call me Cook. Because I like cooking. Other people call me Bra, which I don’t mind because it reminds me of Bro, as in how ya going Bro. Just don’t call me Bert, because I don’t like that one.
I have recently lost me wife and daughter, and I want tot tell you how and why that happened. Sometimes though, I think I’ll never know. My wife’s family buried her but I want to take my little girl up to Uluru and lay her down at the feet of that great mountain, that piece of solid rock.
Most of the rest of what I tell you will be true. Not perfectly, in all the details, but for the most part.
The reason people called me Ernie was because when I was younger, my favorite TV show was Sesame Street. You know how they talk about being stuck to the screen. Well, my mother just about had to scrape me off. Just so as I could help out around the house a bit with the youngest. My real name is Errol by the way. My family started calling me Ernie and I guess the name kind of stuck.
At school, I didn’t go much. Why? I guess I just didn’t like it. They didn’t talk about anything I was interested in. See, I like fishing and camping. Always have and always will. Oh, and I love kicking a football and hitting a ball. I was actually pretty good at both of them, especially football. I wanted to go pro before I did my knee. Never got into the AFL. I like the other one- the real man’s game- Rugby League. I still like Karmichael, though.
But I never liked books, not at school anyway. I hated maths, and I hated reading. Why? Because I’m black. And it just seemed like part of the white man’s world to me and the teachers never liked me anyway. Besides, I wasn’t any good at it. I kind of fell through the cracks, but they were some pretty deep cracks. I asked for a better word the other day. My reading coach, Mark, told me a “crevice” was a pretty good word to describe what I fell through. I wrote this mostly by myself, but Mark helped me a bit with the spelling, a coupla jokes, and the flow. By the way, I’m only 24.
We used to do crazy stuff (not me and coach, guys me and my friends) when we should have been at school. When did you learn to drive, for instance? I learnt to drive when I was ten! I could barely see the windscreen. We took it slow at first just not to get caught by the cops. One day, I went fishing with my uncle and his friend. He parked the ute and we offloaded this canoe. God, that thing was heavy. Then, my mad bastard uncle said, “Here’s what I want you to do, Ernie.” I want you to paddle down the river for a bit, just past the old flour mill. We’ll park the ute and get the fishing gear out.” “That’s ages,” I said. He said it was “a coupla hundred meters.” This was at Cooper’s Crossing, by the way. Mad bastards sent me on a wild goose chase that day. I was paddling for hours. I started to cry at one point, but sometimes you’ve just got to pull yourself together and keep going. So that’s what I did. After awhile, I thought I’d never find the bloody flour mill. So I tried to park the canoe by the river bank. And I literally, fell out the boat! Suddenly, you’re not going to believe this, a fish jumped into the boat! I didn’t have a rod so I beat it, beat it, beat it, beat it, until it stopped. Breathing, that is.
I’m going to tell you quickly about Abraham my best friend anyway, because if I don’t put my best friend in my story, what kind of a man am I? Abraham was crazy man, but the thing about Abraham is he is the kind of guy who would give you his own shirt off his own back if you didn’t have one. I’ve seen him do it once. He just did it and said, “No sweat, I’ve got too many, anyway. Plus its hot.” The thing with Abraham is he loves women. We both used to. I settled down but Abe’s got five, already. He used to call me Flynn and I used to call him Father sometimes. As in “Father Abraham’s got many sons. I am one of them and so are you, so let’s all praise the lord. Nod your head, clap your hands, shake your feet, and WIGGLE IT” Its an old church song I learnt in Boys Brigade, kind of like Church Scouts. But, he’s still my friend.
Anyway, let me explain what happened to me later. Do you remember the floods a few years ago. Well, my family used to live near Riverbank. Not the best place to be when the rivers overflow. Those were some crazy times, man. Shit man, we had bull sharks roaming the streets! It was like your whole life was being washed away. Everyone was going kind of survivalist, rowing boats to get supplies, and waiting on rooves for helicopters to come or some shit. I was lucky to survive. My house was destroyed and so I had to move into a temporary shelter. I am still living there now. Everyone kind of forgets after the really bad stuff happens. It makes me angry, sometimes, but Mark told me it was just part of life. The same sort of stuff happens all over the world. He also told me right near that time 20 000 people died in Japan where he used to live. Talk about being homeless. Those guys were house less, they were apartment less, they were car less, they were- well there was a lot less of everything after that. I thought we had it bad. But it’s not the scale of the tragedy I guess. It’s not how many it’s that or what. My friend is always saying shit like that I can only kind of understand.
So, I was going to tell you how I learnt to read. After the floods, I was living in a temporary shelter. It wasn’t much really. There were a lot of scared and lonely and angry people around, I remember that much. But there wasn’t much to do. suddenly, these guys started coming by. They called themselves the Footpath Library, and they had all of these books. They had comics, so I used to look at them, because at least I could understand the pictures. They had kids books too. I looked at them and thought, this is baby shit and I can’t even read it.
Then this guy, Mike, came around and started asking us if anyone liked hip hop. Man, it was about the only music I listened to. He said, “do you know the words?” And I said, “sure.” He said, “how good’s your rap. Show me a bit of breaking if you know how to do that first.” “Fuck off man”, I said, “What do you really want.” And he said, “I want to teach you how to read because it looks like you’re not quite sure how.” SO he told me this plan, I didn’t have to do it if I didn’t want to, but if you slow down your rap a bit you can learn to read.
I don’t want to read man, I hate reading. “Cool,” he said, and grabbed this short book and said “look at these pictures listen to these rhymes, what’s the story really about.” He said, “no, it’s not about breakfast. It’s about triumph and overcoming” and a couple of words like that.. “Its about learning to like stuff you didn’t know how to do before.” I said “so whys it called Green Eggs and Ham.” He said, because Green Eggs and Ham only exist inside the imagination, but imagination is the realest thing of all.
So I was pretty unsure about this at first. I liked the hip hop part but that other stuff seemed kind of whack, shit for babies. And then he told me a story about a guy called Joseph who started off with an overcoat that was over used and old and worn out like he felt sometimes. But you can only make do with what you’ve got. So the overcoat gets smaller and smaller and changes into all of these different things and he does all of this different stuff until finally it becomes a button and gets lost. The only thing you can do with nothing is this, use your imagination to make a story which shows you can always make something out of nothing. And then he showed me the book.
After that, I started paying more attention to that part of the program. And that was how I met my wife. She was from Kenya and used to live near Inala. She had stories like you wouldnT believe. Her family were part of a tribe of Bushmen- Bush people she used to say, because she was studying too. She used to tell me about her culture and I told her about mine. We had a lot in common. What I write now I write as my way of remembering her because she took care of me. She opened up her heart and let me in.
I will always love you. I’m going to win a short story competition baby, it’s about homelessness. We’ve been there. Now you and my little girl have both up and died, and I’lost my temporary shelter. But I wouldn’t change a thing. I am so sad our child was still-born because you had denghi fever.
Our people’s have always been homeless. The concept of having a home never seemed real to us. Not really like it does to others. Within our culture we have always thought we shared the land. We have always thought that this land is our land. With the emphasis on our, on sharing, do you white fellas remember that? So long as we were under a sky, of whatever color or whatever hue, we have felt at home. When other people were under that canopy with us, that tent shaped by countless stars, we saw that they were family, that they were brothers, sisters and cousins. Your families turned your houses inward, and it makes you lonelier than us. Xixu’s people had their circles facing out. Xixu’s family saw land differently. They thought it was no-one’s and everyone’s. Xixu’s people knew that home was as far as the eye could wander. But several generations ago our dreams were taken from us, bit by bit our vision was stolen and our dreams were not kept. Now we dream dreams of isolation and despair. How I love to escape from this chaotic modern world just for a moment, even inside my minds inner eye I can see myself in Africa in that boundless terrain Xixu talked about, running, forever free. How do I get there now. How can I go walkabout and feel good about it, in this world of broken bottles, plastic shit, sharp metal. What’s your favorite color people ask. I love black,why wouldn’t I? I am black. But I also like white, I want to be a writer, I see all of the little tiny figures, in all their different shapes and sizes. There’s big ones and little ones, the white fellas call them letters, I see them set against a white background. I learnt to read them signs, and it taught me something. They call that stuff reading, and then once you understand their language, we can learn to write, to tell our stories, our hopes and dreams of little happinesses, like Kuki, but we are going to need a lot of help. We want you to listen to us and to hear our language, too. I love you Xixu. I hope you are in a good place. And you too Kuki. My poem for Kuki, reads like this. “Kuki’s poem: Dear Kuki. I’m sorry. The heart beat. Stopped. Love Erroll.” Now, I want to bury my little girl in Arnham Land, right at the foot of Uluru right where that other white ladies baby girl was taken by the dingo. Because someone took mine too. got a dollar bro.