I was sitting at my desk. The Centre had a new head – a pleasant bloke from Cook who was interested in palm trees, biodiesel and cladistics – and a new faculty member – and extremely cheery woman who'd just received her doctorate from ANU, working with Tyndale-Briscoe on marsupial evolution. [The CSIRO had stated that using pure first generation biodiesel or blending biodiesel with standard fuel reduces greenhouse gas emissions and air pollutants from the transport sector.]
The phone rang.
"Greetings, O evil father-in-law."
"We're fine. But I've got a mining problem. Might you have time to talk to me and possibly help?"
"You know I've always time for you, but I know nothing about mining."
"That's okay. Would tomorrow be possible? I'd drive up."
"You or both of you?"
"Just me. This is work."
"I'll be in the office by 9 or 9:30. We'll go off for lunch at some point."
"Fine. Kiss Weena and Pat for me."
"Right." I called home.
"Your dad called. I'm meeting him at my office tomorrow."
"I'll figure out something for dinner. Martha's at the library, I think."
"I don't think he'll be staying. He sounded serious about talking to me about something. Not a word about Mary or about coming here. Just that I should kiss you and Patrick for him."
"Funny. I wonder what it is. I thought they'd be all quiet after nearly a year away."
"They've been back for months. Enough time to get bored with not working and just sitting still and fishing."
"I'll try to get away by four and tell you all."
"You'd better! Otherwise I'm stuck with Patrick for conversation."
"I didn't marry you for conversation."
"Don't try to butter me up!"
"No butter. You'd slip out of my lewd grasp."
"What's Patrick doing?"
"In his playpen, tallying his toes."
"I'll worry when one falls off."
"Can that really happen?"
"Yes, but I've never heard of it in Australia. Only in Africa and South America, I seem to recall. It's called Ainhum."
"Look it up. Isn't there a medical dictionary at home?"
"I've got an old Stedman, but it's in a box."
"Well, use google."
When I got home I walked to Patrick's doorway. He was again talking to his toes, but most of it was unintelligible. "Hi, Patrick."
"Sure. What would you like?"
"Tell dream story."
"A dreamtime story?"
"You want to sit on my lap?"
"Pick up." He lifted up his arms. I picked him up and carried him into the sitting room and sat down.
"OK. Weena, could you get us a blanket? I'm telling a short story." I paused, Weena brought a light blanket, draped it over Patrick and my arm, and sat on the settee. "At the beginning, before the first sunrise..." Patrick sighed.
... everything was dark. Everything was flat. There were no hills. There were no caves. There were no valleys. There were no trees. It was quiet. There were no birds.
Then an old, blind woman called Mudungkala rose out of the ground, carrying three babies. A boy and two girls. No one knows where she came from and no one knows where she went. But she created the land of the Tiwi. [Bathurst Island and Melville Island, about 100 km. north of Darwin.]
She crawled in a big circle and water rose up in her track. That's the strait that still separates the islands; and separates Melville Island from the Mainland.
Before she left, Mudungkala said that the islands should be covered in plants and that there should be animals so that her children and her children's children would have food and shelter.
And they do.
Weena got up, took Patrick and put him in his crib.
"You really do know a lot of those stories."
"They explain things. They're very short. Truth is for when you're older. Myths are good explanations when you're little."
"That's why I love you. We're going to have to get him a bed. He's too long for that crib." And we shut down everything and went to bed.