Have you noticed the light at 5am? It has a mustard-yellow stain to it. Your mind plays tricks; you think its blue, but it is not. Its the same for the harbour. You think its blue some romantic memory of pure water. But if you really look at it, half close your eyes, the water is shadowy and sombre, glaucous or steel grey.
Darcy dragged himself along the riverbank toward the reclining beast. The closer he drew the more it stirred, snorted and growled. It was hungry, and it was his job to tend to it. Darcy dared not make it angry for fear of retribution. When it was fed by the blackened hands of 2000 toiling souls, the fiery lungs of the beast heaved and exhaled a foul stench. The billowing exhaust left a strangely sweet aftertaste in the back of Darcys throat, like the morning after a wild night at the Palais
LUDWIG watched him carefully. The efficient, dark figure stood tall, motionless, meditative. A gentle blue vapour rose from behind his silhouette, a camp off in the immediate distance.
A white-bellied sea eagle launched from its sentinel and dove sharply into the turquoise estuary, its razor-sharp talons bearing down on its morning prey. She ascended with her catch, a shimmering silver flathead (Ninag, the locals called it), and returned to her thatched eyrie, cantilevered out over the rivers bend. The steady figure below raised his woomera and thrust a spear into the same crystal-clear channel. He, too, yielded his catch. There was more than enough to go around, for the river was teaming with fish.
Ludwig watched this scene for a short while, then quietly arose from the warm swag. The fire had burnt itself all but out and only a smouldering orange glow remained. The floral scents were light, sweet and welcoming, and Ludwig inhaled emphatically. As he stretched his knotted back, he was acutely aware he too was being watched, from the opposite bank of the Coquun. Burigon turned ever so slightly, adjusted the fish onto his hip, nodded at Ludwig and then stepped back into the khaki green tapestry behind him, absorbed by the bower of the thick cedar trunks and the charcoal sculptural forms of the coastal banksia.
Ludwig was captivated by the cacophony of birdsong surrounding him, mesmerised by the array of avian activity. He took out his thumbed leather journal and began to record the days sightings. Forty-four different species. A flight of pied cormorants soared overhead in an arrowhead formation. Swirling and spiralling, they landed on the sandbar spit between Moscheto and Dempsey islands. There were five islands between the arms of the river they now call the Hunter. They lay in harmony, existing as an interplay of land and channels, forming positive and negative space a symphony written in nature.
This paradise will surely last for eternity, muttered Ludwig to nobody. It is a remarkably fine place, not only to enjoy the beauty of nature, a broad shimmering river, a luxuriant vegetation of a great number of plants I have never seen before, but also because it is so peaceful and serene here. He was used to talking to himself it helped him to think out loud.
Ludwig began to pack for his journey. He knew he would one day return for good, but for now he needed to leave to satisfy his curiosity in other directions. After a brief visit with his dear friends, Alexander and Helena, up on Ash Island, and to restock from their abundant orchards and fields, he left them with a letter to deliver by the next mail coach to the Governor.
His Excellency Governor General Fitzroy
I write to thank you for the welcome offer being for the granting of lands and 100 head of cattle in honour of my lifes work in science, dedicated to furthering our understanding of the immense natural features of this great landscape. The title to the lands on the northern shores of the Hunter River, beside Stanley Park estate, at 8800 square chains as drawn by the Surveyor General, will be most fitting and suit my every need. It is a romantic place which I like well enough to think that perhaps Id be content to live and die there. I wish to take it up upon my return from this next and final journey across the centre of the continent.
I remain your humble servant,
L. Leichhardt. April 1st, 1848.
Cold light of day
DARCY entered the monstrous lair that was the Broken Hill Proprietarys No.1 blast furnace. The engine chugged idly as the cargo of steaming slag poured into the cauldron-shaped carriages. They were abruptly shunted together, and some spilt over the rim. Hundreds of scalding tear drops trickled down the sides of the pitted, fat cheeks of the carriages. They hit the dusty ground and scurried in all directions, desperate to hide in the workshop crevasses. Darcy rode on the outside of the wagons, clinging to the hot rails. He sucked through the corner of his mouth so as not to gulp the acrid plumes coming off the load.
When they arrived at the dump site between Ash and Moscheto Islands, Darcy was swarmed by a thousand tiny grey mosquitoes, like a cloud of tobacco smoke stinging his face. The train squealed to a halt as Darcy jumped down. He began winding the rachets as the load began to tip to one side. From the rail line embankment, the steaming slag surged and slumped downward amongst the mangrove roots, pushing the murky tidewaters back. The lava-like stew let out a screaming whistle as it was quenched and solidified in situ alongside the oil-stained puddles and piles from the day before.
Darcy proudly surveyed the artificial land he had reclaimed from the swamp. Kooragang.