The Marree Hotel
If Australia has a ship of state,
it must be the Marree Hotel.
With her green and gold VB ensign at the top mast,
and her stack all black and white for Port,
she sails silently across the empty stone ocean of old Aussie,
wearing the vast brute down speck by speck.
In her hold are hard, quiet sailors:
shoulders to the slow bar.
Four-wheel-drive tenders nudge her rubbing strakes,
discharging envoys from Oodnadatta and beyond,
messengers adrift without city.
About her, like ladies in waiting,
sit E. G. Kruse's mail Blitz,
sinking into the desert,
and the engines of a train long left without rails.
You could think the only politics are the whoosh of space
and the soft weep of power lines loosening,
bored against the blue.
This was written upon visiting Marree with ABC radio colleagues Phillip Satchell and Ian Doyle nearly fifteen years ago, when we were trying to draw big city attention to the work of the Flying Doctor service. E. G. Kruse for decades delivered the mail in his Blitz truck; VB is Victoria Bitter beer; Port is an Adelaide Aussie Rules footy team. The original owners of this country, the Arabana people, were just beginning their long, eternally patient struggle toward staking their rightful native title claim, a move then considered audacious, even insulting to the whites. There was much brittle friction in the air in the pub that day, but little discussion. So it's a great feeling to hear that today the Arabana, who have lived on these hard grounds for many millenia, have finally signed the deal, and swapped their rights to the town of Marree (pop. 70) for some 70,000 sq km of what looks like mere desert to the white man. Apart from Lake Eyre, of course, which many whites like to visit or fly over when it contains water - even sail upon: there is a local yacht club. I understand there's a very different atmosphere in the front bar of the pub tonight, not to mention the huge party the Arabana are having out on the lake's shore! I've been drinking to their success as I write, and wish them the very very best in the forthcoming millenia. No outback voyage is complete without a night or two here. You can make contact with folks of all hues, and if you're polite, get shown around the nether regions by somebody who understands.
Nothing specifically to do with the Arabana mob, but now I have your attention, I've long sought to discover the author and origins of this flag (is it P Clarke 87?), which comprises the official Australian Aboriginal red, black and yellow flag designed by Harold Thomas and first raised in Victoria Square, Adelaide on 12 July 1971, superimposed by an indigenous version of the Eureka Flag first publicly raised at the miners' uprising in Ballarat on 29 November 1854. If anyone can help me with this search, I would be very grateful. Click here for links to previous writings about the Australian flag and its origins. And congratulations again to the Arabana mob! You rock!