William Crawford

Field of Thunder

They called it that, 
   the Brit Bomb Testers
      who came to South Australia’s
          Terra Nullius in ‘53
             eager to catch up
                  in the Arms Race

At Maralinga
   Do Not Linger
      the local tribes say
         Marcoo is Mamu
            a bad wandering ghost

When the men in white
   moon suits and masks
      translated ‘Maralinga’
             as ‘Field of Thunder’
                they were metaphorically mistaken

Maralinga means
    Looking Down
From a Place Above

This, the traditional view
   of the Anangu People
who have dwelled there 40,000 years

Some thirty years later
   when the land was finally
       handed back
the Anangu wanted nothing to do with it!
It was Mamu
   a sick shimmering badland
      a no-go zone riddled with radiation

Science was not the answer
   The clean-up was cursory, a political expedience
      the usual cosmetic rush-job

There was no answer
   for the Anangu who
     still tell 10,000 year-old stories

They say Mamu came
    when the wild camels appeared
       milling in mobs through the mulga

Circling ravens
    rode thermals, looking
        for humped carcasses

The claypan surface
   like an oil painting
     a fine salt glaze of shining scales

A dry cruelty
   for the traveller dying of thirst
      a mirage of wet glimmering gloss

Old camel hoofprints
  frozen in terra cotta
    dingo and emu too

The mushroom cloud
    still throws shade
      on white termite dust

Desert doves
   sheltering in she-oaks
wings squeaking, take flight


A biblical column of dust
   willy-willies its way
      into the Never-Never

Toe-stubbing scatters
    rusting and abandoned, saying
        ‘Made in England’

Forbidden Zone Downwinders
    wasted and worn out
       gone walk-about forever

Still births, sisters
   and brothers, all skeletons
     combing wind-shifting sand                                                                                      

The Black Mist
   Was it a dust storm approaching?
      moved in quietly that day

Through the trees
    above the trees, rolling
       like lava flow

Dust Storms
   don’t come
      in windless silence

Shivering cold—
    the black cloud dropped dew-like
        sprinkles of rain

Eyesight gone, burned blind
   the elder led along, holding on
           to a stick.

Smokey smell of burning tyres—
   a big coiling up cloud thing
     leaving a trail of oily dust

Vomit and excrement went green
   Headaches never-ending—How many
the Black Mist killed no one knows

The heat-scorched sand
    turned into green glass, a new element
          called Atomite

Authorities contended
    the vomiting was merely a psychogenic
        side-effect from fright

The West Wandering People
    never seen again, swallowed up
       vapourised by the blast

Only wild camel mobs now
      thinning out into badlands  
           dying off one by one

Do Not Linger in Maralinga
      Home of Mamu