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Remembering Veronica Brady

  • 02 September 2015
Imagine the long expanse of Darwin's coastal strip in late Spring. It is already uncomfortably humid and the sand is a burning hot. Ahead of me is a slight woman in shorts and a floppy canvas hat. Her arms are bare, and I worry that she is catching too much sun on her Irish-pale skin. We are looking for turtle eggs.

The hunt is part of a challenge issued to us, white woman from the far southwest and southeast of Australia, to understand the nature, depth and sacredness of the relationship between Yolgnu people and their land and creatures. We are in Darwin on a theological exchange — but I suspect that the traffic is all one way. We are out of our depth, even in the shallow water to which we retreat to salve our burning feet.

I should not say 'we'. Veronica isn't out of her depth. She is avid for experience, ready to learn, and her willingness is infectious. It communicates to the Yolgnu woman — her name is Rosemary — who is leading us on our dance up and down the incendiary dunes, and who smiles impishly as we confess to our ignorance. We believe we have as much chance of finding turtle eggs in this shimmering expanse as we have of catching a unicorn.

So we laugh at our discomfort, and allow ourselves to be taught.  Rosemary laughs with us. Then she begins the lesson. 'Look there. See that undulation in the dunes? See how it is shifting? Wait.' So we do. And sure enough, slowly the sand begins to cascade as a giant, ancient creature shakes off its gritty carapace, like a fossil coming to life, and emerges. We watch as it waddles away, then we move in (feet still burning) to find the eggs.  Exhilaration!

Veronica and I have learned how to stay cool, alternating shallow water trudging with the brief sorties up the sands, so we have time to talk between hunting forays.  I've known Veronica for years — in the way one knows a public figure and fellow Catholic. We share a love of literature, Australian literature in particular, and a professional, if hardly orthodox, interest in theology. We have a mutual friend in Phillip Adams. Veronica is one of Phillip's 'favourite Catholics'.

He's a broad church atheist, Phillip, with a fondness for nuns and a loyalty to the ABC, which Veronica long served as a