The Pix, forbidden by Nanna, so I was forced to sneakiness,
gave me first glimpses of Fannie Bay – scandalous gaol in far Darwin.
Prisoners chained to each other, wearing only nagas. (Oh Nanna,
you didn’t want your granddaughter to see their shameful treatment.)
Great knobs of knees. Skinny black legs. Nose pegs.
Prisoners strolled out daily, at sunset returned
from smoking opium in China Town joss houses.
Fannie was a gaol, which perturbed me, cos
fannie was a part of my body, and Nanna had one too.
We didn’t mention that bit, though I had to rub
between my legs with a soapy flannel. It stung.
My first night in Darwin the kids and I camped on Fannie Bay,
sleeping on sand where now the Museum of Arts and Science reigns.
Fannie Bay Gaol glowered. A guard manned the watch tower.
We couldn’t see in – high corrugated iron walls. We drove slowly past.
It was not an historic site then. Her Majesty’s Gaol and Labour Prison
opened 20 September 1883, and still housed the Territory’s wickedness
in 1971. I still shiver thinking of poor buggars shut in gaols.
Goyder surveyed the township of Palmerston. A nice little beach
4 miles from town he named Fannie Bay. In 1870 Government Administrator
Bloomfield Douglas brought 5 daughters to a handful of log huts and natives
looking over our heads. Larakia land-owners watched civilisers, and Celestials
colonise their land –with chinese food gardens, Haritos harvested salt
for Vesty Meat Works, and the encroachment reached a acme with a neo Egyptian
pyramid casino. The Larakia had a lot to look over,
and to overlook in the struggle for power.
The young ladies were wont to lead the cream of society on horseback
along the scimitar sweep of Fannie Bay beach and the cliffs of East Point
to watch for incoming ships. We still watch for ships: yachts sail for Ambon,
LNG boats bound for Japan, cattle boats bound for Viet Nam and Indonesia,
iron ore boats bound for China, the commuter ferry to Mandorah.
Our eyes scan the Arafura Sea, we drink champagne and toast Fannie Bay –
her famous fiery sunsets.
In 1971 we tracked the curved blade of creamy coral sand to East Point;
we clambered over gun turrets, we scratched in concert
with orange-footed bush chooks, searching for shell case souvenirs
of WW2 in vine forest thicket. This week, sooty oyster-catchers
watch the tide flood around the cliffs, submerging mangroves.
The remnants of Australia’s Defence of the North
are housed in a flash new Military Museum, but
bush chooks still scratch a living. My friend
photographs Wet Season fungi, we admire wallabies.
At Lake Alexander-named for Alec Fong Lim,
first Chinese Australian mayor,
we eat barbequed bacon and egg breakfast.
Long grassers return from the shower block, smelling sweet,
skin shiny with coconut oil, hair brushed. No nose pegs, I note.
Their breakfast remains – oyster shells, longbum shells, periwinkles
lie discarded in the grass. They smile at grand-kids kicking balls.
They greet us grandmothers with cultured Adelaide accents:
‘Good Morning Ladies. Good Morning. It’s a beautiful day.’
Miraculous, bloody miraculous day.