Below and Above

By Tony Birch

Sun 4 June

Tony Birch reflects on the lands on which Flinders Street Station and the Melbourne CBD sit.


in the city water is there and here the old river flows below the surface she is always with us and here too from the mountains and beneath the bay through the heads into the straights deep into country below the currents out into the southern ocean like a heartbeat like time like life this life a marker immemorial with a voice with a song line and more lines of flow of movement of whispers of testimony a voice that sings always was always will be not as an act of survival but a story of how it is and will remain always was always will be before and after the age of ice the coming of ghosts the bullet the bayonet the brass buttoned uniforms the men always the men who could not hold a drop of water in a hand who could not let the water be and let the river old and new go where she needed to without putting a colonial foot to the ground a boot spit polished black nugget on white skin knowing nothing of country below the heel nothing of water of country more powerful sweeter and beautiful a force of life country never to be your country but our own water and country water and more water


let me tell you a story of shifting sands and soils and clays a story of gouging of cutting of violence but also let me tell you a story of love between water and country before the europeans and their spyglass and their wooden boats when the soils of country shifted with grace with tides and currents on wind and sun narrowing and widening all the time making life nurturing the bringing into being of all of us connected related and respected when birds flew from one edge of the globe to another and settled where they needed to be where they returned year after year after year well before the europeans arrived with a map a lie a deliberate fiction that took country from here with a machine dumped country there with another machine drilled holes flattened curves destroyed the natural flow of a story and ran their boats built their bridges killed the own with falls with fumes cars and trucks and most of all with speed shifting time running against the clock beating the clock on the rumbling streets above the creeks and rivers with bells and sirens and screaming voices the angry voices of a city of progress a city of domes a city a jewel in the crown of a bloodied empire


they call a skyscraper a skyscraper because it scratches the air every building going up is defeated by the next rising of glass higher and higher every crane on a skyline is a muscular manly boys toy punching a hole in the sky every victory is a defeat every bird you plucked from the air is a murder every totem lost to your madness is a crime scene but remember this never forget that the air in the sky above you now right now there is a bird no bigger than your fist a heart no larger than a fingertip a wingspan no wider than two hands greeting defying you now a brave and courageous bird born thousands of years past before you were ever thought of before you in your folly claimed that life was a possession caged and conquered never forget that this bird the size of your own heart possesses the only heart that matters our heart always beating and beating you at your own game a game you cannot win up there in the sky in the air with a night sky of stars we have always navigated by a sky of stars you with your machines and lunacy will never reach


you may not know this but let me tell you that the first people the only people the people of this country were formed of clay formed of earth from their own country in their veins their bones their flowing blood in their knowledge of others plants animals the birds in the air fish in the streams insects all life a weave of one basket with one heart beating below and above below the sounds of the city below your feet below the river and yes above always above until an invader yes say the word don’t be shy an invader shackling people killing bodies chains cuffs more bullets still more bullets shifting people from country marching them drilling them dragging them beating them working them into the ground counting them like sheep like cattle like bushels like bales like property a ledger one column of sweat and blood another of money always more money but never enough never a triumph a victory a colonial salute as we we are still here still still and still and we are the first people the only people and we will always belong with country belongs with us

Read by Kimberley Moulton.

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