Neddy and my self climbed back into the boat. The others pushed her out, til we could feel the bite of the sea. The Menang men talked to each other, happy to be heading out to hunt. Neddy did not talk to them. He didn’t know their language. His face was different to them, his straight hair and canvas clothes made him different too. The Menang men treated him like they treated all us sealers, one eye on his cutlass and the other on opportunity.
We had wrapped spirals of kangaroo skin, fastened with copper nails around the oars, to keep them tight in the rowlocks and they creaked now as Neddy and my self laboured out to the island. With each creak and splash, I wondered what the other men seemed to know and I wondered about Randall, whose mind was always on the game and the trap.
We beached on the north side of the island, where it met the deeper water, crunched gently into the rocks. Twertayan disembarked and the four others followed him, their spears clattering the gunwales, stood waiting for me and Neddy to stow the boat,
Neddy hefted his oar out of the rowlock. I watched him. “Push off!” Neddy hissed at me, his eyes wide. I knew what we were about to do. I looked at the best of the Menang men – the five strongest, the five hunters and protectors – grinning, rubbing their thorny feet on their slim shins in anticipation of the bird hunt. I knew all about it then. I could have stopped it then but I did not.
“They do not swim, Neddy.”
“Push off, Hook. Randall tol’ us so.” Randall had broken Neddy’s little brother’s arm over his knee on Kangaroo Island.
“They do not swim!”
Neddy shoved an oar against a stone scrawled with the white markings of strange creatures and the little boat heaved away from the island. Whaleboats have pointed bows ahead and astern. There is no going about or shoving a clumsy transom against water, just turn the body and row the other way for a quick lurch away from a cranky humpback, from swell smashing against granite or from desperate people.
I tried to ignore the lamentations of the marooned Menang men but every time I checked ahead and then over my shoulder for bearings, I saw the five dark figures, their arms waving, silhouetted against the fertile green of their prison. I rowed with that same deadening in my stomach, that same blackness I feel when I dream bad things, when the only happening of my ill deed is shame, shame felt deep within my body.
“There is no water for them Neddy.” This concern, spoken aloud, did not unravel my guilt but made me a weaker man.