Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Stone Stories #3 Flint

 We walked for hours along the shore, past the stone fish traps, past the desiccated remains of a more ancient meteorite strike. We got to Signal Point where mounds of granite huddled together like huts. We stopped there for a lunch of boiled eggs and crackers, sitting on the beach sand with the stones as back rests. I tested out my theory there that we could dig into the sand for a layer of fresh water beneath the salt. My dog was thirsty. But it didn't work, the water was still salty and so I gave her a drink from my water bottle instead.

Last time I walked this far, I'd taken a diary, my camera and put a pelican feather in my hair. All these things were a bit silly I realised, after several hours walking. I hadn't used the diary, pen or feather and all I wanted was a drink of water and something to eat.

So this day, we had supplied ourselves sensibly. After lunch we left Signal Point and headed into the clay pan. This part of the inlet was mostly above water now. Blinding white sand for miles and miles, with a clutch of standing stones in the middle, like a pagan altar.

I felt quite exposed as we headed for the standing stones. It's like being in the desert. There was nothing to shield me from the sky and the whiteness was overwhelming. It's an incredible, dynamic landscape. Underwater, above water, fish and then no fish. We were looking for the stumps of trees from the drowned forest, back when the last great sea level rise was a big deal for the forest that used to live in this inlet. We found one, right before we got to the standing stones, a fossilised tree stump seven thousand years old.


We also found some flints on the dried out floor of the inlet. They were knapped from a kind of quartz alien to here. I held the evidence of thousands of years, tens of thousands of years, of trade and commerce, in the palm of my hand. Someone had made these sharps, possibly from before the inlet was an inlet, and someone had brought the raw material here from somewhere else. It's quite a moment, coming across such physical evidence of occupation and it charged something within me. 'I must have it.'

Once again, when I talk about stones, I talk about ownership. The latest thing in Western ideaology about writing is to avoid anthropomorphism. I think this is a bit of a crock. We live on Boodja (or Country) and we all know it is a storied country, that there is history, culture and memory imbued within Boodja. The aversion to anthropomorphism is to deny that the landscape is peopled by critters other than ourselves or that humans are connected to this interchange of species. (I may leave this shit fight for another day now and move on).

What I want to say is that when I saw those flints, I did a total Bilbo Baggins when he discovered the covetous power of the ring.

 So I put them in my pocket and took them home. I put them on the window sill of my kitchen and wondered at them every day.

An ex boyfriend used to do this a lot, in fact he gave me many stones that had been knapped into flints, or the remaining shards from previous flints. He saw it as 'saving them' - from sea level change and incoming tides. 

When studying at a south island university in New Zealand, the Australian lecturer asked us students why there wasn't a more common history of handing in artifacts between the two countries. I was the only Australian student in the room and I knew why. 'European Australia is just discovering this thing called Native Title, through Mabo,' I put up my hand. 'People think if they find stuff on their property, that it will be taken away from them. New Zealand has a treaty.'

It's this problematic colonial relationship that began to bother me, as I looked at the flints I'd taken. If I'd left them in place, someone could work out later where they'd come from and what was going on those thousands of years ago. Sitting on the windowsill of my kitchen, well I'd taken the evidence away and put it somewhere else ... if I die, or if I left the flints in my garden ... who on earth will know where those stones came from? By my actions I was obfuscating history and also the legal processes of Native Title, which on thinking back, is pretty much a crime.

So, it was at this point I decided the flints needed to go back.

An Aunty came to visit me during the lockdown era. She brought her tiny flopsy mopsy dog and I was a little worried about this because Selkie is a big dog and tends to go for aggressive little Flopsies who try to attack her. Anyway, we had some ham hock soup and then headed for the fish traps.

As we walked along the beach, two sea eagles began stalking us. I could tell they were after Auntie's dog who probably looked like a rabbit. It was obvious they were hunting this little dog. I've never felt so afraid of sea eagles as I did that day. I had the flints in my pocket. I'd explained to Auntie that I wanted to put the flints back while she was here. She's an Aboriginal woman and agreed and, after we'd walked beyond the fish traps, I laid the flints down on the ground, and walked on. I could see that she pretended to ignore what I'd done. The sea eagles kept up their swirling patrol over head.


  1. Mmm......yes. I can see where you are coming from here. My defence is that the stones I have are taken from the sea - washed up at the tide mark. I wouldn't trust another human to walk past those stones in which case it may have been better if you had remained the custodian. I feel there is a difference between historical artefacts and salvage too.

    I feel the trend to eschew anthropomorphisation works in favour of those who want to ensure Boodja doesn't have any 'rights'. Isn't this what some countries have done - decreed that land or nature is a living entity with legal rights? Governments and multinationals can't tolerate this fucking up their exploitative agendas.

  2. 'I feel there is a difference between historical artefacts and salvage too.' Oh yes totally.
    But these flints were not salvage and needed to go back to where they belonged. If I can't trust someone else not to walk past artefacts, that's their problem not mine.

    Burning shell middens for lime is a similar way to destroy evidence of occupation and was done a lot in the early days. Think Limeburners Cove over at Little Grove. That was done unwittingly I expect, seeing the shell as only a resource ... hindsight can be cruel.

    I think it was Bolivia and then New Zealand who put laws in place protecting the right to exist, when it comes to certain places. There is a similar claim happening now with the Fitzroy River up north, to protect it from irrigators and miners.

    1. The entire planet needs this law. At least some countries are aware of it. Can't see the luddites in Canberra doing it. VOTE GREEN EVERYONE!!