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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & General Editor
Volume 6, Number 3, September 2012

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Kate King
Canberra, Capital Territory, Australia


Dog Dreaming

After months of planning, our veterinary team leaves Canberra bound for Utopia, a group of Aboriginal communities, northeast of Alice Springs.

ragged clouds
shadow patchworked land
far below
desert dust billows
over my ordered life

Our objective is to improve the health of the dogs and the people of the Urapuntja and Ampilatwatja communities. At first we rush around talking to the people, convincing them to relinquish their dogs to us for neutering and parasite treatments. An assembly line of animals passes through the improvised theatre. We are driven by the shortness of our visit and the flocks of dogs we see at every door.

cut, suture
flick the flies away
desexing dogs
as numerous as sand grains
in the Sandover River

Next day, carloads of locals return from a court case in Alice Springs. Despite their families’ reassurances, they are wary of what we are doing—last time their companions were taken away they didn’t come back. We have to start the talking again.

whitefellas
sitting in the shade
slowed down
to blackfella time
and far horizons

While the men talk, I sit with the women. Under a simple bark shelter, seated on carpet offcuts, one of them applies a layer of lime green dots to a black canvas already shimmering with trails of blue and green. When I ask her about the subject of her work, she laughs and gestures at the bush, verdant after recent rains. Seen from above, that peculiarly Aboriginal perspective, yes, the painting is of the bush tucker surrounding the camp.

stumbling around
in the songlines
an outsider
despite the galahs
and stunted gums

This Australia across the desert is as foreign to me as any land across the water. We finish our work and head back to Alice. Home in Canberra I unroll the woman’s parting gift.

missing
from the canvas
the heat,
flies, dog hair and dust
in the artist’s eyes.

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end

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