Authors: Neil Grant
ALSO BY NEIL GRANT
From Kinglake to Kabul
(Neil Grant & David WillIams, eds)
This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body.
This project is supported by the Victorian Government through Arts Victoria.
First published in 2012
Copyright Â© Neil Grant
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The Australian Copyright Act
(the Act) allows a maximum of one chapter or ten per cent of this book, whichever is the greater, to be photocopied by any educational institution for its educational purposes provided that the educational institution (or body that administers it) has given a remuneration notice to Copyright Agency Limited (CAL) under the Act.
A Cataloguing-in-Publication entry is available from
the National Library of Australia:
ISBN 978 1 74237 669 1
Printed in Australia by McPherson's Printing Group
Cover illustration & design by Joe Leong
Text design by Bruno Herfst, set in
For Emma, Matisse and Calum â children
of immigrants. And for my ancestors
who lived and died on the Badbea cliffs.
And for Sardar Shinwari
who is still finding his way.
Omed had the Buddha's eyes and a tongue that refused
words. His was the silence of caves; the false peace that
descends when a mortar shell rips apart a building. His was
the stillness of bald mountains and long beards and the paths
cleared by bullets; the quiet of a long-bladed knife.
Did this all begin with Omed? Or did it start with me at fifteen,
shouting for answers; words running sour in my mouth,
bleeding to whispers in my throat, evaporating in numbed
ears. Those ears: my dad, my invisible friends, teachers that
either didn't care or cared too much.
It is easy to look back and see all the pieces and the joins
between them. The shards that could one day form this story.
The tricky part is getting them all to fit together. It is like
building an arch.
An arch begins with foundations, dug deep into the earth,
filled with concrete. Then, the columns rise side by side,
curving in space until they almost touch. They are cheating
gravity and need to be propped. It is then that the most crucial
part is laid. The keystone slots neatly into the curve and
spreads the load to the two columns. It is what links them
and holds them in place.
Our two stories, built word by word, in parallel, rise alone
and unstable until the keystone is located and placed to make
I am searching for that keystone. Without it I cannot begin
to build. It is buried in cold sand; it is bruised by wind and
slivers of ice. I am searching for Omed. I know if I find him
then I find the final stone. Then all this looking back can stop.
I have learned you cannot live in the past and the present
at the same time. It takes too much energy to carry the dead.
There is only one path out and that is forward. Omed knew
this, but in the end he was forced back. Maybe that was the
end of him. If this is true, I need to know; because his story
and mine are waiting to be linked.
Today I am in a big tin bird, droning across the acetylene
sky. Clouds are nothing, vapour that this plane discards as
it shunts onwards. I press my palm to the perspex window
and I can feel the ground below. My country, dusted crimson,
auburn, citron, umber. It is a mandala viewed from above.
Tiny roads and dusty tracks vomit into dry riverbeds, cloud
shadows smear the land. The bleached bones of cattle and
kangaroos settle into dirt. Somewhere on this landscape, his
tracks are still there, after all this time.