On a Balcony Overlooking Torres Strait
This week, Mona features an experimental mix of fiction and non-fiction in a reflective piece by Ingrid Mason, a woman who has had many interesting life experiences living in far flung, remote places in Australia and across the Pacific.
To know something of herself had taken a lifetime. To know anyone else would have taken several. The woman gazed across the strait to the neighbouring islands. Distance clad them in ever-diminishing shades of green under a bright haze.
She thought of people like islands; beaches and jungles promise wealth and pleasures, often leading to disappointments. She thought of the great ships that had floundered on the reefs of the Torres Straits. Europeans would see romance in the skeletons of great hulks stranded there.
Romantic love was something she had foregone. She admired those who found fulfilment in marriage. One cannot have everything. She saw the receding tide replacing flotsam and jetsam of weed, glass, and plastics she'd gathered from the beach that morning. It had weathered some of the thick green glass blunt.
Whalers in the old days’ broke bottles on the rocks on payday. Now it seemed bottles broke on the rocks most days. The trade winds gathered plastic and other rubbish from around the world to deposit on these beaches. She thought of children's feet amongst all that glass, like in Hans Christian Andersen's Little Mermaid.
She was aware of the challenges ahead for her grandchildren. Oh, how she loved them. They were healthy and confident. If romance in love had eluded her, her children were evidence of success. She watched the changing light in the sky and the helicopter throbbing towards the helipad. It was carrying her daughter home from patients on the outer islands. She was proud and happy, her daughter lucky to have been born at a time in history free of common diseases, unwanted pregnancy and death in childbirth. Yes, she was lucky. So lucky.
They say the Inuit may have many words for 'snow'; those who live on islands across the Pacific have many for 'sea'. The Ipakatu have no word for thank you; in her Tok Pisin, there is no word for 'love'*. If it is the language that defines us, it's a slippery thing. She looked at the sky and tried to see it as those who had found their way to the island over tracts of ocean might. The sky had fractured into shades of indigo and pink. Sailors would have myriad ways of describing it.
She was born on an island larger than this one in a Taim belong war. Lying on a mountainside, on a mat on a dirt floor, her mother cut the umbilical cord with her teeth.* Cerebral malaria had left her with brain damage. She wondered at the extraordinary changes since. Her childhood was one which children now could only imagine, and she had the benefits of a modern education.
She thought of the human potential lost in hunger and violence, aware of nature's indifference to everything. Nature had spared her, flawed as she was. She turned her back on the last soft rays of dying light. Some people claim they are of stardust. She was of salt water and volcanic sand, and she only existed in the minds of a select few. And she was glad it was so.
*Pidgin English, when I grew up at the end of the colonial era, was a language of trade. It was a very concrete language; there was a word for 'sex' but not a word for 'love'.
* I was born in a hut with a dirt floor. In my time, even mission hospitals had dirt floors.
When women were displaced by violence or war and on the run, in hiding and had no one
to help. the most practical thing to do if on a mountainside alone giving birth was to cut the
umbilical cord with teeth.
Ingrid Mason resides at Wongaling Beach in North Queensland. She has written a mockumentary, Sole to Soul for SBS and a short award-winning film, Seize the Day. She has also won an Ipswich Prize for poetry. She is treasurer and a resident writer for The Pineapple Cottage Theatre Company in Mission Beach. Raised in Bougainville, her family's Anglo Saxon and Northern European story encompasses the Torres Strait, Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands and the Autonomous Region of Bougainville and New Guinea. Her Pacific Island origins may date to 3500 BC. Ingrid is a NIDA Graduate with an Associate Degree in Creative Writing from Southern Cross University.