The black virgin

There are bodies lying face down in
the river, black bodies face down in the river, three, five, ten of them, some
bobbing close to the shore, others further from the edge, almost as if someone has
laid out a raft of black boulders across the surface of the river, stepping
stones that I might glide across to get from one side to the other.  But I am too terrified to move.
I lean against the curved trunk of
a river gum branch that throws itself across the water and try to hide even as
I catch glimpses of the naked bodies floating down the river.  Their long wavy hair and slender
outlines suggest to me that they are women, young women, all of them I know have somehow been raped first then tossed aside to drown in the river. 
This is my dream.  I who live in the south eastern corner of Australia and rarely if ever catch sight of a full blown aboriginal, I dream of
their massacre.
 Landscape typical of my dream without the water. 
Among the many times when we left
home to escape my father’s drunken outbursts there was a time when we stayed in my
older brother’s flat in Hawthorn. 
He left for work early in the morning to his job with a commercial
printer and we four kids, we middle children, had to fend for ourselves for the
There were many such days in my
childhood memory, days when we had nothing to do, no plans, no money, no home
base from which to move, stuck in someone else’s house where we were required
to amuse ourselves with books or card games, or conversation and walks
We should not eat too much – a
single sandwich for lunch, a cup of tea.  My brother’s cupboard was that of
a single bachelor who cared little for eating at home.
The flat was situated in an old red
brick house, split level, one step down to an old linoleum kitchen.  I spent part of my time walking up and
down between the kitchen and living room examining the few objects my brother
He had carved a head
out of a lump of wood, his own head like a death mask, a self
There was also a book, with whose title I
associate my dream, Bony and the Black Virgin.  On the back cover I read she was a ‘lubra’, this
black virgin.  The word virgin had
long troubled me, a word from religion, the blessed virgin, a word that had a
hands off feel though I still did not know what it meant other than that it
suggested someone young, a young woman. 
How did someone lose her virginity?
I wondered.  Was it like losing your purse, or your train ticket, or something else
that might be important as a means of getting about in the world? 
I had none of these things to begin
with.  We had stolen our way here
on the train, avoided buying a ticket because we did not have enough money and
I had no money to put in a purse let alone owned a purse that could hold
How could I even find my
virginity enough to one day lose it?  

22 thoughts on “The black virgin”

  1. Such a sad dream Elisabeth. I remember that book well, I've read most of the Bony stories and owned the books myself once. I can see how your memories and that book would combine to create your dream.

  2. This is where the English language—well, all language I expect but I’m only really familiar with English—drives me batty. In Left I talk about loss:

          Loss is when you miss something you once had. What I found myself missing was something else. I missed what we would never have the opportunity to have even though I knew full well neither of us would have made any real effort to move towards it.
          It. The word we use when using the right one would make reality that bit too real. Words are so inadequate. Maybe that’s why we have so many of them and we insist on inventing new words.
          How can you miss what you never had?
          I’d lost my dad. Big deal! People lose things every day. I didn’t do it deliberately. Grow up woman.

    The loss of one’s virginity is another one of those expressions I don’t get. People mostly lose things they want to keep a hold of; like innocence, I suppose, which usually gets ripped from our grasp years before we have to worry about sex. If you’re not a virgin then what are you? It’s one of those awkward lexical gaps, isn’t it? Virginity is synonymous with chastity and purity yet despite the fact Adam and Eve were told to have sex none of the expressions relating to a loss of virginity are positive- or even very pretty-sounding. Are wives impure in some way? I suppose in the old days if you weren’t a virgin you were a wife, plain and simple. Nothing’s that straightforward these days though.

    Your dream is an interesting one. I found this quote and wonder if there’s a connection:

    Lubra Creek derived its name from a wanton slaughter of several lubras by an enraged band of squatters whose sheep had been stolen, slaughtered and eaten by the blacks. It was usual when anything of that kind happened to band together for the squatter, and hunt for the delinquents and shoot down the first blacks they caught innocent or guilty. In the case of the Lubra Creek tragedy, it appears they could not drop across any black fellows and finding the lubras hidden in the shrub, ruthlessly shot them down. – Les Hughes, Henry Mundy: A Young Australian Pioneer, page 94

  3. I did enjoy the writing and the imagery here. And regularly visiting, I am familiar with parts of your story, enough to visualize some moments of your childhood. I will have to look up the book. I can imagine though the premise of the story. Thank you…

  4. When I was in high school, a joke you could play on a girl was to ask her what does a virgin have for breakfast. If she said, "I don't know" then, ha ha ha, she's not a virgin. This was back in the 1970s, when there were already stories in the news about increases in teenage pregnancy, yet in the suburban school I went to, girls were still expected, not just by adults but we teens ourselves, to be chaste, even as Donna Summers "Bad Girls" played on the radio. Of course, there were no such expectations for us boys. We were expected, at least among ourselves if not by our parents, to lose our virginity ASAP, which led to a lot of tall tales about sexual conquests. A lot has been written over the years about the "double standard" but I wonder if anyone's ever considered the mathematical impossibility of it. If all girls are chaste, how exactly are all boys–straight boys–supposed to lose their virginity?

  5. Thanks for sharing this with us, Elisabeth. 'Losing' virginity has always seemed strange to me as it is not an object and yet it is the first phrase we say.

    And is 'losing' virginity an act of carelessness, bad luck or choice?

  6. I gather there is a series of Bony books, River. I suspect my brother might have read them all too. It's funny the things we remember from childhood and how the infect our adulthood.

    Thanks, River.

  7. That's true, Janice. You can't lose your virginity and yet we speak of it this way. As a loss and not something that as you say is either given away or stolen.

    Thanks, Janice.

  8. The tragedy of such events as you describe here – the Lubra Creek massacre – goes without saying, Jim. Thanks for the reference.

    And yet events like this happened all the time in Australia all those years ago. They still happen elsewhere in the world.

    The point of the word Lubra for me is that it is one word I can remember so well from my childhood. To me then it had a disturbing almost sexual ring.

    Thanks also for your wonderful quote on loss. It is a tricky word, as so many words with multiple meanings have.

    Thanks, Jim.

  9. the double standard still exists today, if you ask me, Kirk, and although the statistical improbability applies it only applies of we equate one on one. The truth is there are some who have multiple partners and others who might only have one.

    Thanks, Kirk.

  10. I agree Kath, it is an unusual way of describing something as Janice observes. A euphemism perhaps to disguise the taboo nature of speaking about such matters.

    Thanks, Kath.

  11. Repeated nightmares are disturbing Heidi. And, yes, I have been in therapy over time, but dreams are symbolic of so much more to me, and sometimes the everyday itself can seem traumatic.

    Thanks, Heidi.

  12. I haven't heard aborigines apologise for wiping out entire white families, or maybe that's okay. Have you apologised yet for the Dutch murdering all those black people in South Africa? My beef is with thieving murdering white capitalism that's landed you where you are today in swanky Riversdale Road.

  13. Thanks, Davide. I'm not sure I feel noble thinking about those indigenous people who once roamed this land more freely than today. But times change so fast and we can only imagine.

  14. I can understand your railing against capitalism, Robert. But I suspect all the 'isms' have their draw backs. This is not to dismiss anyone's suffering, including yours and mine.

    Thanks, Robert.

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