On finding Charlotte in the Anthropological Record by Judith Nangala Crispin

We meet on the surface of a photograph, as a fish and bird might meet in a lake, at
a point of sky and the water’s plane. Charlotte, in a book called The Aborigines of
Northern Victoria, sits jade-black on earth, wind disarranging her hair. Trees obscured
by falls of campfire ash. Her nudity is covered by a blanket. I don’t know if her
breasts are hanging, if her thighs bear designs or marks. A needlework of scars
crosses her chest, repeated dots, like patterns on a goanna’s back, like rain spat by
goannas into dirt. Soon constellations will appear over branches, on this night of
ninety years ago, this never-again night– and she asks me: “Where did you go girl,
with your made-up history, your ever whiter babies?” This is what remains, a
record of relatedness– scars to hold the memory of someone precious after they’ve
died. We begin by cutting skin– rub wounds with gum and ash, black ants to
cauterise the flesh. I remember them telling me: don’t worry, this blackness fades
with each generation. Charlotte is a map of a Country stained by massacres: Skull
Creek, Poison Well, Black Gin’s Leap. A geography of skin and land– maps for the
returning, for those who speak only a murderers’ tongue, whose songlines are
erased, who consulted departments of births, deaths and marriages, who stood
beside rented Toyotas, clutching photographs, in a hundred remote communities,
asking strangers “Do you know my family? Can you tell me who I am?” This
moment, an old light is crossing the boundaries of emulsion, and I say to her–
Charlotte, Grandmother of my Grandfather, I am Judith, and these are my scars.

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