Lost & Found | Gordon Hayes

A young girl goes missing in one of the most recognisable places in the world.

Lost & Found

By Gordon Hayes

For The Crater Mountain Award


I am lost. Don’t panic. There’s no need to panic, yet. Dad will find me, or perhaps Mum. They’ll start looking as soon as they miss me. My young brother will miss me first, for we were playing hide and seek when I lost my way. Dad was setting up the tent and the portable shower and Mum was making tea. Dad threw a rope over a branch for a swing. Trouble was the branch broke and Jason came crashing down. The Ranger told Dad that he should have seen that the tree was dead. I couldn’t believe he expected Dad to know a thing like that. He just works at the Bank.
You’d think it would be difficult to get lost when all I have to do is look up and there in front of me is Uluru. I can see I’m facing east because the sun is setting on the face of the rock turning it umber red in the evening light. But I’ve no idea where we pitched the tent. The countryside around here is just scrubby dense acacias trees, sandy soil, low, thick prickly bushes. I shout. Cooee! Jason doesn’t answer. I shout louder. Help! Help! I’m lost! No answer. A shadow climbs up the rock face turning it from red to grey. For a brief moment, the rock seems to glow in the dark like the dying embers of a campfire.
Fire! That’s what I need to do; make a fire. I saw the Aboriginal elder rub two sticks together and somehow they caught alight. Think! How did he do it? Two dry sticks. Ouch! That hurts! Keep rubbing. Nothing. Help! Help!
A light! I see a torch in the far distance. Help! Help! Over here! The torch seems to go further away. Help! Help! They’re still too far away. I hear a noise behind me and jump in fright. ‘allo girlie, are yer lost? Come ‘er I’ll take yer ‘ome. His face was as black as his voice, but I didn’t care. I put my hand in his.
He looks a little like the other Aboriginal elder; fuzzy greying hair around his ears and his chin. I tugged my rescuer’s hand and he looked down. My name’s Angelina, but everyone calls me Angel. He laughed. It was a deep musical laugh as if a didgeridoo had been mixed with the birdsong of the currawong in his belly. Well, Angel, that’s a beautiful name for a beautiful little girl. Me name’s Namatijiri, but you can call me Mr Jiri.
Mr Jiri. I practised saying it. Mystery, that’s what I’ll call him. At school, I topped the spelling bee for the under-twelves.
Ahead I saw a light. I tried to run but he held my hand firm in his. Just outside the circle of flames I could see a woman. She shouted at him. Her words were shiny pebbles being rolled along in a fast stream. His words were heavy boulders that rumbled along the creek bed.
He brought me to the light. She rose and came to my side. Her face reminded me of my grandfather’s old brown satchel. A brown mud-stained hand reached up to my hair and felt my ringlets. I saw a light blink in her eyes. She grabbed a handful of hair and gave a tug. Ouch! That hurt! She cackled. I started to cry. I heard the hiss of my fat tears as they dropped on the fire. Mystery pushed her away from me. She fell over in the fire-blackened embers on the sand.
A black iron pot sat on two metal star pickets across the fire. Mystery pulled out an old, creased, leather purse from his waistband and extracted some dried herbs which he put in a metal cup and poured boiling water over them. After a few minutes, leaving it to cool, he sipped the mixture he’d made. A white toothed smile split his face. He offered the cup to me. ‘ere drink this, it’ll make yer feel good.
The steamy aroma from the hot liquid somehow captured the very essence of our country. I imagined I could taste the lemony smoke from burning eucalyptus leaves. I sipped tentatively and then relaxed as the magic potion warmed its way down to my belly. Then, as I slept, a wave of sweet relief swept over me. I dreamt that my father picked me up and held me tight against his chest. I saw the tears running down his cheeks. In the half-light of the dream, my mother and brother clung to each other. Later Dad said the helicopter pilot had seen the blazing campfire. The Ranger found me fast asleep by the fire; securely wrapped up in an old blanket. There was no sign of anyone around. I knew it was just a mystery.