There’s a woman who lives in an iron-clad company house, on a red dirt track, at the upper edge of an Aboriginal community in North-East Arnhem land. She’s a nurse in a small doctor clinic a short walk from this house. In Summer she drives a car because going outside from the air-conditioner is like walking into a closed bathroom after a hot shower. Impossibly hot and steamy. It’s winter now and she chooses to walk. The sun is merely warm and the outside air faintly cool on her skin. She feels alive.
The first 100 metres is the red bauxite track covered in tiny marble-like balls, slippery underfoot.
She turns left onto the bitumen, 2,000-steps-to-work road, and the bush warm charcoal smell from last nights cultural burn greets her. It was a cold fire that slowly ate down the undergrowth, overnight, that would otherwise have prevented fresh new growth in the spring. A little further along the smell changes to the sweetness of eucalyptus leaves warming in the morning sun mixed with a profusion of wattle blossoms. Acacia auricululiformis or black wattle. Ubiquitous throughout the Northern Territory it needs smoke or heat from a fire to germinate its seeds. Its flower is paler and smaller than the silver-leafed Cootamundra wattle of her childhood further south.
One of the nurses she works with asked her if she was afraid of the dogs, walking alone without a stick? Dogs of varying degree of dingo heritage station themselves at the edges of the invisible boundaries of their owners homes, watchful but not menacing. She ignores them looking straight ahead and presents no threat to them.
A white sulphur-crested cockatoo screeches out a warning, or a greeting, to others in its flock from the highest branch of a gum tree. Maybe to share or to scare away others from eating the bunches of honey tasting flowers.
The woman approaches the left turn towards the clinic.
Sometimes I feel like a woman in a dream, wandering down this path to work. So far from my family and all I’ve ever known, and yet, by now, so familiar. So many paths to choose from and even on this short walk there are sandy side tracks leading to different destinations. I could take one to the right, amongst the trees and come out at the nearby bay. Sit and read all day. I could take the trodden down bush walk to the left, past the houses and end up at the blue house when the new-born puppies are and play all day with them. But I keep walking on the bitumen past houses and dogs until I reach the padlocked gate of the clinic. I rummage in my bag for the key and with that wake from the dream.