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At the brink of dawn



At the brink of dawn, the blazing white sun has ground to a halt. And paradise teeters on life support. It was only yesterday, I heard the sun spluttering, weep out in a whisper — a bridge will take us back, back to paradise. I couldn’t think of anything worse.

Illustration by Chris Johnston

At the brink of dawn, a rupture. Many lives on pause, many others may end. Strange shit’s happening. Billions, billions, and more billions to breathe life back into the sun. It was only yesterday our pleas went unheard.

At the brink of dawn, a tiny opening. In the space of the unknown.

At the brink of dawn, I also heard, rising in the distance, a flurry of birdsong, which I always carry deep inside my chest to protect me from the sentimentality that can stifle a post-colonial setting. Surveilled day in, day out, by a withering white sun.

At the brink of dawn swelling with the cries of the pinkest of pink galahs, the sweltering Tennant Creek, thirsty with soul, stranded in the heart of the heart of the country.

At the brink of dawn, it is another one of those days. The sky a hazy kind of blue. Children go to school, office types to offices, and painters paint. Lovers meet, try and laugh away fear. Trapped in the heat, a lonesome cowboy sits and stares at the drips and drabs of passing traffic. A line sprawls outside Centrelink. Life goes on in the desert.


'At the brink of dawn, I try and imagine there is a place of deep rest — not in the resting but after, when the body has forgotten the weight of betrayal.'


And the colour line dances. The nurses, the doctors, the health workers holed up in the hospital, the clinic, braced for the pandemic, they cannot stop to bear witness; flowers of trauma scattering in the wind like the caws of cocky cockatoos; an old couple’s brave smile, lips cracked with sorrow; an old poverty festering, gnawed away at by cheeky camp dogs; an old silence deafening, turning in circles between suicide and madness.

And in this soulful town, a tick after midnight, the stars livelier than a swarm of flies at midday, the Tennant Creek police doing laps and laps in ever pointless circles. Night in, night out. Word on the street is that the federal police are in town too. Doing laps and laps in unmarked vehicles.

We’re waiting, treading time. Lake Mary Anne is closed. Cafes and restaurants too. The Tennant Creek night fairies have left messages of thank you in chalk on pavements. And in the nearness of yesterday, perspex barriers at the IGA checkouts confirm the rupture. We file in to do our shopping, one by one, after helping ourselves to a squirt of hand sanitizer. Up this way, we’re swimming in the unknown.

There’s no going back.

On this frail piece of earth already humiliated, surveilled, parched, the white sun is whimpering. And at long last, there are bandages of shade. Work for the dole activities, out of the blue, suspended. No more penalties for a failure to turn up to a bullshit job. No more jumping through hoops for food, clothing, and shelter. At long last.

And at the brink of a dawn so fragile the horizon shimmers with hope, another promise — this time louder than a whisper — of a return to paradise. The promise goes unheard. Hundreds turn their back and return to country. For safety, connection. For a patch of shade in the dying days of the white sun.

There’s no going back.

Even with the horizon shimmering, it has been another one of those days. Weighed down with inertia, I follow the stream of news online. I read about how Aboriginal people are at greater risk from COVID-19 because of poor health and overcrowded housing. I read about how doctors are preparing for death and suffering in Aboriginal communities. No mention of the reasons for the poor health and the overcrowded housing in the stream of news.

At the brink of dawn, I try and imagine there is a place of deep rest — not in the resting but after, when the body has forgotten the weight of betrayal. When the late afternoon light of early April, the sun-baked back yard, the lime green eucalypt, the spread of budding sweet potato, the uncanny elegance of stubborn tufts of buffel grass, swaying nonchalantly in the wind, all coalesce. And the warbled song of corellas fills the air, and the Tennant Creek sky is as a kind of watery blue, a comfort, the kind one knows, even sitting here, waiting in the unknown.

I take the invitation to slow down. To try and salvage perspective. In this moment I imagine I can see spirits and that these spirits can help guide us to bear witness to the betrayals of a country, a people. And to bear witness to the colour line. The moment lasts seven breaths.

At the brink of dawn, I will remember to stretch out and breathe.



Brian Obiri-AsareBrian is a writer who currently lives and works in Tennant Creek, in Warumungu Country.

Main image: Illustration by Chris Johnston

Topic tags: Brian Obiri-Asare, COVID-19, Tennant Creek



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Existing comments

The words beside your photo read "Brian is a writer". And, by gosh, you are. Your writing leaps off the page in a torrent of emotion and strength. Keep bearing witness: your words are powerful and at the brink of dawn I want to wake up in a different Australia.

Pam | 22 April 2020  

I have never understood pretty ordinary prose that claims to be poetry. It strikes me as a contructed claim to poetic insight which doesn't exist in truth. But this prose is sublimely poetic in its abandonment of the need for justification through rhythm, rhyme or word association. The best poetry/prose I have read for years which challenges even the Hopkins and Thompsons of the poetic world. God has given you a great gift, Brian Obiri-Asari, one of those gifts blessed with the beauty of creation, something to elevate the human spirit towards the Creator himself. You use this gift remarkably well!!

john frawley | 22 April 2020  

I would like to say 'Amen' to John Frawley's words and say for myself that your writing took me into that place where you are which is probably where the Australian government sent you and leaves you. There are thousands of us Australians who will continue to shout out for a way back to humanity, compassion, justice and recognition of the awful way we have behaved towards those who asked for help. Come the day Lord, come the day.

Rod Horsfield | 22 April 2020  

A poignant blending of realism and allegory infused with glimmers of hope. I imagine the current pandemic will give rise to many literary responses, but this one - for the qualities Pam and John Frawley identify - will be a standout. Thank you, Brian.

John RD | 23 April 2020  

Brilliant and beautiful! Thank you, Brian

Elizabeth Young | 24 April 2020  

A lovely piece! But surely Brian wrote, 'Lovers meet, CRY and laugh away fear'? 'Try' makes no sense, other than as an egregiously jarring typo.

Michael Furtado | 27 April 2020  

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