Coiled about our continent exists an ancient songline. Unmatched in duration and ancestry, it is fabled to stretch back across the ocean to forgotten lands. Where it reaches the fatal shore, exact location uncertain, mythology begins: sliding up the shifting sandbank, through the spinifex and over the primary dunes and off into the drylands, the songline gently proceeds to turn on itself and so describes the genesis of a great, ragged spiral, first following the coastline then ever inwards to the centre, tracing the many sites of tribal occupation – separate yet connected.
Where it passes over terra firma, the melodic contours of the songline are known – said to emanate from the very land itself. Yet these are merely the closing phrases. How far it casts back from the continent’s edge, both temporally and geographically, is uncertain. Some believe its beginnings can be heard by travelling against the spiral’s grain like a skipping record needle, treading softly and with ears pricked. Others claim to hum the likeness of its origins, their murmurs beckoning the ocean winds to blow their ancient song.
In 1998, construction commenced on Melbourne’s Federation Square as a monument to commemorate a century of colonial federation. In that same year, the land that sang itself into existence lost its breath. Indeed, the ancient song of our continent suffered an irreparable offence. A hole the exact size and shape of colonial federation was dug from its ground, sending a chthonic whipcrack through the land like a spring uncoiling, casting the many nations of our ancestors into silence; millenia of an ancient songline stilled.
The hole, in fact, was the shadow of a single rock craned from the earth, its scalene skin of zinc, sulphides, silicates and sandstone shrouding structural veins of iron ore. No ordinary rock, but a super-mineral composition of such improbable magnificence that it had been chosen to commemorate the foundation of a great modern nation. Complete with its every crag, crack and shimmer, in time it would be honed and hollowed, its silicate sheets polished to admit the light that now fractures over the stream of visitors to Federation Square.
For now the nation’s misplaced heart keeps beat by the banks of the slow-moving Yarra Yarra. And while the world admires this crystalline monument, somewhere the red earth weeps its ruddy tears, the land’s people left to tend a gaping wound – quietly, anonymously and all but forgotten – as the great uncoiling accelerates, each day a little stronger, a little faster, turning madly on the strains of a fractured melody; mother earth twisting widdershins.