Where were you born?
I am often asked that.
What country please?
And if I say Papua New Guinea
the next question is Where?
And I have the village name ready,
and a story about the yellow face paint of the bush mekeo
but no real picture of where it is?
See I left there when I was two.
Sometimes people then want to insist
but you want to go back
to understand who you really are
and the next question
is why haven’t you done it yet?
So I try to explain my Papua New Guinea is
my mother’s Papua New Guinea
in snatches of motu
and village language
My Papua New Guinea walks
around dressed in my mother’s life
which is itself dressed
in experiences of a new land.
She is sometimes Papua New Guinea
missionary raised girl
and other times she is changing
to world citizen lady
whose heart can travel the
mountains and make hibiscus grow in
a cold frozen land.
My Papua New Guinea is married to Australia
and she is in my bones
although she has her origins in England.
I am Tasmanian raised.
If you ask me about that place
then I can answer you.
I can tell of you wallabies
at Cradle Mountain
and a crow stealing my sandwiches
and a cold plastic mattress
slept on with a too thin sleeping bag.
And collecting crabs
with mum and my tall pale skinned Dad
with glasses perched on the end of his nose
and the cracking of the skin
after we boil them.
And meeting English grandparents
visiting from New Zealand for the first time
awkward and strange
and they want to be called by their first names
but we don’t and can’t do that
as my mum would find that disrespectful.
And the times my mum gave me gifts
whenever she was mad at me
or wanted to apologise
she always seemed to avoid words
Or the times Papua New Guinea saved us
because she was in my mum as she chased away burglers
with a bush knife
and we toasted waffles in
a waffle iron over an open fire place
to celebrate our small victory over oppression.
But my Tasmania is also filled
with memories of people
calling me names
because of colour
and living with a grumbling stomach
because the food has run out
and being told ‘you have to do better to be treated the same.’
My Tasmania is a place where my Mum is lonely
striving to make friends and going back to school
and every time she goes forward
she is tested
and tries to be strong.
She rings Papua New Guinea when I am little
speaking three languages
all in one sentence
punctuated by homesickness tears.
And sometimes I am mean to her
and wish I could take that back
and throw those memories into
the wide river and they
would skip across
and disappear into the ash forest.
But then there is the day she sends
me grass skirts
and I know all is forgiven.
This gift does not mean anger.
This gift means acceptance.
In me Papua New Guinea and Australia
(c) June Perkins