Church—Hermannsburg Style 1981
[Extract from Trekking with the T-Team: Central Australia 1981]
What is wrong with me? I had this gnawing pain in my stomach, my dreams so vivid I ‘woke up’ several times before I woke for real, even then I wasn’t sure. I dragged my feet to the bathroom, then the kitchen. Is this real? I drank my tea. Were these spirits of the land troubling me last night? There’s something about this land in the Centre, it possesses you. Untouched by civilisation, the land broods, a vortex in the universe where you feel at one with God and the primal forces of nature and yet at the same time disturbed. The spirits ask questions: Why are you here? What are you doing? Where are you going? And I beg the question: What am I doing here on Earth? What is my purpose? And a sadness creeps over me. Am I going to wander this vast empty space alone? All my life? Forever? I put down my spoon of my untouched porridge. Must be something in the water. I’m not hungry today.
‘What about me?’ I stroked the ginger cat. ‘Fourteen single women, but where are the single men? Only ones available, are not for me—they’re family.’
The rest of the T-Team had already departed for the Arunda service. They’d asked Dad to play the organ.
‘Just someone eligible, that’s all I ask,’ I said. ‘Is that such a big ask? That German guy, the one I met at Ormiston Gorge, he would do. He was quite friendly, cat.’
The puss looked up at me as if to say, Are you crazy?
I sighed. ‘One guy and all those single women? I don’t know how I’d go with all that competition.’ I wasn’t one who liked to promote myself, advertise my assets of which I had few. A few months ago, I’d tried to perk up my lank blonde hair with a perm, but by this time, the curls had grown out and the red dust made every day a “bad hair” day. And the rest of me wasn’t much better, being small, bean-pole skinny and pancake breasts. All I had going for me was my artistic talent and personality, both of which were open to debate. I mean artistic talent is in the eye of the beholder, very subjective, and as for my personality, my recent temper tantrums derailed that track record. I sighed again as the cat purred on my lap. ‘I’m going to end up a grumpy old maid, just know I am.’
MR, our host-mother, poked her head through the door. ‘You know talking to yourself is the first sign of madness.’
‘I wasn’t,’ I said, ‘I was talking to the cat.’
‘Only one who will listen, eh?’
‘Come on, the service has started.’
I eased the cat off my lap, depositing her to the floorboards, and then pelted after MR. I raced across the sandy compound towards the historical church. Its white walls appeared lumpy as if pasted with Plaster of Paris. I remembered Mum’s recollections of her childhood, hopping over the hot sand in summer. ‘You were a wuss if you wore shoes,’ she’d say. The white church seemed quiet, too quiet. Oh, no! Not that one, the new church. I veered down the track to the modern church building and entered.
My brother and cousins (C1 and C2) like the three stooges sat on the front row on the right-hand side of the church. With the intention to sit next to my brother, I tip-toed down the aisle. He saw me and directed me to the left side. Huh? What’s he on about? I looked around. Men on the right. Women on the left. I hadn’t even noticed. I perched on the pew with the women folk, and admired the sanctuary made of pine, morning sunlight streaming through the yellow-tinted windows.
Presiding over the alter, the Indigenous pastor babbled on in Arunda. I understood nothing but went through the motions standing, sitting, miming the liturgy and hymns. Where were the subtitles? The translator?
The people sang from their hearts, stirring the pit of my stomach. Dad hammered out the tunes on the organ. I tried to keep my eyes open during the sermon, but noticed my brother’s head sink, his chin rest on his chest, then he jerked up his head and looked around.
I took my opportunity to kip during the prayers. No one will notice a little shut-eye then. I heard a snore. Was that me? I glanced at my brother. He looked away. C1 nudged him and sniggered.
Prayers concluded with the Lord’s Prayer. I may not have understood the words, but I caught onto the rhythm. The pastor raised his hands in a benediction. At last! C2 wiped his brow and mouthed, ‘Phew!’
The pastor introduced Dad who stood up and like a pianist at the end of his performance, bowed. I understood the meaning, even if it was in Arunda.
As we walked out of the church C1 said, ‘Well, the service was just the same as an European one, only it was in a different language.’
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2017
Photo (feature): This Church, Hermannsburg © Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2013
Photo 2: Old Hermannsburg Church © C.D. Trudinger circa 1955