by Stephen Muecke
It is the late 19th century, and Mounted Constable Willshire is busy “protecting” settler property around Alice Springs in central Australia. Willshire, who may have wiped out about 500 Arrernte people before an unsuccessful attempt was made to bring him to justice, described the scene in the following terms:
They scattered in all directions, setting fire to the grass on each side of us, throwing occasional spears, and yelling at us. It’s no use mincing matters – the Martini-Henry carbines at this critical moment were talking English in the silent majesty of these great eternal rocks.
He never mentioned killing, and while his guns “were talking English,” he sublimated the horror, literally, with figures of the sublime landscape creating the context, in his memoirs, for his unutterable actions. “The mountain was swathed in a regal robe of fiery grandeur,” he continued, “and its ominous roar was close upon us.”