Saturday, August 3, 2019

Richard Tax, Senior Lawman, Rainmaker, and Artist

Tea time in Oz
Giff, Jeff Hunt, Richard Tax, Marilyn, and Sean Pack, 2001
         Collecting plants and eggshells was no problem for the elders in Mulan, but taking soil samples was another matter, because soil meant earth leaving their land. In 2001, we wanted to take cores of sand dunes in the Lake Gregory area around Mulan. To do so, we were assigned a “senior lawman” to travel with us to make sure we did not violate any sacred sites. Monday morning we picked up Richard Tax, who was accompanied to our vehicle by his wife. Richard was dressed in an older, buttoned shirt, some three-quarter length pants, and a pair of seemingly  ill-fitting shoes. He reeked of tobacco, sat quietly in the back seat sans seatbelt with his lunch in a tin container.  We took off, going places that we learned later, that Richard had not seen since he was a boy. As we crested only particularly steep sand dune where everyone, not just me squealed, we heard his seat belt on. Together we were on a once in a lifetime ride into wilderness where the closest inhabitants were 100 km away in all directions. The power and beauty of the landscape filled us with quiet awe.
         Tax became a member of our team on Wednesday of that week. When we stopped to pick him up, he leaped into the vehicle, nodded good morning, clicked his seat belt, and we were off. At lunch time, we would park under a gum tree, gather some twigs and make a small fire to heat the Billy for tea and Jaffles, heated sandwiches filled with yesterday’s leftover dinner, slices of cheese, and pepper sauce, melded together over the fire. Student Sean Pack offered Tax sugar for his tea with the phrase “Say when!” We watched as more and more sugar was dumped into Richard’s cup, finally realizing he had no idea what “Say when” actually meant. The syrupy tea was dumped and everyone laughed.
         On our last day with Richard, we stopped and took a group photo. It is said that Aborigines don’t like to be photographed, but that did not seem a problem. We shook hands warmly as we drove out of Mulan, knowing we’d had a cultural experience and glimpse into the life of a native Australian that almost no white Australians ever have. When we departed via the town of Balgo, stopping at the local art shoppe, we were surprised to learn that not only was Richard Tax a valued senior lawman, but he was the Rainmaker of the community, a man who could put a spell on us if we’d misbehaved! He was also an internationally recognized painter with tourists flying into Balgo to purchase his artwork. His painting of people sitting around a campfire hangs on the wall of my home office as I wrote this.

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