Grinding Grooves

Gundungurra Man
© Gregory North, 2006

In the mountains there's a spirit, and I wish that I could hear it
    whisp'ring answers to these puzzles that I scan.
Will these tantalising traces soon transform to empty spaces
    that forget the ghost of Gundungurra Man?

August sunshine’s gently warming where no clouds have thought of forming
    in the wondrous blue extending past my search.
Fancy sends my footsteps steering to a spacious, stony clearing,
    where the atmosphere has presence – like a church.

Scrub wrens trill and tweet and twitter; lyrebird traipses through the litter
    and the breeze ekes out a gum tree's eerie creak.
Sodden edges, velvet mosses soaked by water as it crosses
    silent sandstone it has stained to show the streak.

Sandstone rock that's bare and weathered with the bushland closely tethered
    to the edges where it scratches for a hold.
Tessellations, grooves, and banding of the ironstone – commanding
    that it sit up proud to watch the view unfold.

And the view! Oh, what a treasure. All the world there at my leisure.
    There's the city in the distance. What a sight!
As I sit and gaze and ponder, my hands gently start to wander
    over sandstone that's been formed by Nature's might.

Then my fingers find some grooving made by something that's been moving
    to and fro to form this finely sculptured dip.
Aboriginal axe grinding – well I need no more reminding –
    these are precious as they fade with Nature's grip.

In the puddle there are others, workshops carved by Koori brothers,
    grinding basalt that was treasured by their clan.
Pools and channels catch the water, carved from rock, no bricks or mortar.
    What an artist you were, Gundungurra man!

Peering past the pool's reflection forms a tenuous connection
    to a time that's lost forever in the past.
I can see you work and chatter of the things that really matter –
    fun and laughter while you share the skills that last.

Cannot hear your explanation – you’re in my imagination,
    mouthing words that nowadays no mortal hears.
But I have so many queries answered only in vague theories,
    for your people's ways were lost down through the years.

Did this place have special meaning to the group you were convening,
    as you ground your basalt axehead in this groove?
Were the spirits with you, guiding, through the songs of birds confiding
    in the fragrant wattle blooms, that they approve?

These Boronia in flower have a scent to overpower.
    What did you call them? I fear we'll never know.
Some self-righteous white explorer gave his own names to the flora,
    seeking not to learn, but simply overthrow.

Winter morning is a glory, but the night's a diff'rent story.
    So, where did you sleep and how did you keep warm?
Did your arms enfold your lover; 'neath an overhang for cover
    from the freezing air, the howling wind and storm?

Did you move to suit the seasons? Did your folk lore give you reasons
    for nomadic journeys through your tribal land?
Did the landmarks give direction? Did they aid in recollection
    of instructions you were taught to understand?

Is that mountain in the distance linked with spirits' co-existence
    with your people and this ancient land of old?
Mount King George (to be respectful), but it's really so neglectful
    of ancestral names from dreamtime stories told.

Did you see the white man's labours, hear about them from your neighbours
    of the tribes whose land they spoiled in their quest?
Did you hear their cattle grazing, find their horse and dogs amazing
    as they slowly infiltrated further west?

Cockatoos squawk at a stranger, lyrebird shrieks to warn of danger
    and a wallaby takes off and pounds the ground.
Did the white man try persuasion? Was it simply an invasion?
    Was resistance quelled by actions now renowned?

Did you feel you were forsaken by the spirits when they'd taken
    all your loved ones through disease the white man brought?
Did you scream in desperation at their shameful declaration,
    herding ev'ryone to shantytowns like sport?

When you spent your final hours, was it here among the flowers,
    in the bushland where you first stood on your feet?
Did your body lie decaying – on a spot you'd once been playing –
    till a bushfire came and made the loop complete?

As the moss grows ever nearer, wind and water make it clearer
    that your grinding grooves will also pass, with time.
Will our mem'ries then be jaded when the evidence has faded,
    of a culture that was snuffed out in its prime?

I am jolted from my dreaming by a jet with engines screaming,
    drowning out a fluting bird and creaking gum.
Still, the rocks continue weeping for the secrets they are keeping
    of a man whose legacy will soon succumb.

Yes, the mountains hold a spirit; how I wish that I could hear it
    whisp'ring answers to these puzzles that I scan.
Will these tantalising traces soon transform to empty spaces
    that forget the ghost of Gundungurra man?


The Gundungurra tribe of Aboriginals have inhabited the southern and western parts of the Blue Mountains in NSW. Archaelogical evidence suggests that they inhabited the area since at least 22,000 years ago – during the last ice age. Traces such as axe grinding grooves, rock engravings, cave paintings, stone arrangements and tool fragments can still be found in places throughout the mountains. Unfortunately, many of these are slowly disappearing.
Source: “Blue Mountains Dreaming. The Aboriginal Heritage” Edited by Eugene Stockton, published by Three Sisters Publications 1993.

This poem won First place in the Inaugural Gippsland Wattle Bush Poetry Award 2006

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© Gregory North 2010. Photos by Andrew Bosman and Gregory North. Updated 
August 2010