Cawongla. Sunday, 2.30pm

Im following a convertible metallic blue volkswagen beetle. Its crawling along. (Ha.)

A bloke with a baseball cap and sunburnt ears is driving and beside him a girl with auburn hair whipping about her face laughs.

Its a perfect day. Jesus couldnt have chosen a better day to rise.

Behind the Cawongla shop I see a flat-topped mountain and know Im home, back in my tribal land. My shack hangs precariously from that mountain.

Ive been on a bit of a truck-about. Like people from my area have done for thousands of years, I travelled north and west across the mountains and over the endless flatlands, to the Bunya Mountains.

An old Toyota Camry speeds past the beetle and me, passing us on a blind corner. It carries a red P-plate tucked behind a rego plate. Of course.

For a moment I feel the urge to floor the accelerator, give chase and ram the young bugger. To teach him a lesson. (And wouldnt it just!) But I dont, because that would be juvenile. And Im driving a Barina. (The accelerator is already pressed hard against the floor.) And I must love my neighbour, said the man we have eggs for.

A few days ago, when Jesus died, I started my expedition to the fabled mountains where tribes have gathered every three years (until recently) to feast on the delectable seeds of Araucaria bidwillii.

I motored to the very headwaters of the Richmond River at Unumgar past Grevillia in the shadow of Mount Lindesay.

Then westward past Woodenbong, chucked a rightie at Legume, and bounced across the Macpherson Range to Killarney. Then its good-bye mountains, hello flat farmlands. Maize, sunflower, millet, stretching forever.

Finally on the horizon loomed the Bunya Mountains, its blue head in the clouds, its foothills cleared and regrowth poisoned. (Did I say regrowth? I meant woody weeds.)

Then, ascending like Jesus on an Easter Sunday, I found heaven in a cool, serene rainforest liberally peppered by majestic bunya trees. (Theyre not pines.)

I had arrived.

I had made a pilgrimage that people have been making since way, way back when this great southern land dried out and the bunya trees found refuge atop this mountain range.

Kaiabara, Jarowai, Dalla even Bundjalung have climbed this mountain to meet, celebrate and feast.

Unfortunately, Im too late.

For a start, the big bunya nut crop was last year. Bummer. And the last great tribal feast took place in 1875, 10 years after the loggers came to the mountain to chop red cedar.

The tribes resisted, but we had Jesus, guns and alcohol. In 1883 the Great Bunya Sawmill opened to cut the sacred bunya.

Yesterday white folk with sun protection came to the bunya forest to feast on caf latte and chocolate bunnies.

There were no Aboriginal people there. No memorials. No acknowledgment of their long connection with the bunya mountain.

I pass the big bunya near the Cawongla tennis courts. There used to be a hall here but it burned down when the hippies moved into the area. But thats another story.


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