The view from here: Winnie Dunn
Stories from Western Sydney
A type of Tongan mat
MY NANA’S FIRST house was 3 Caramar Street. It was her fiftieth birthday present from her nine children. The whole family watched as Nana touched the front door with her melon palms and whispered, ‘Fe’ofa’aki.’
Fee-opha-ah-kee means ‘to love one another’. When I was born, Nana named me after her house so that I would always have a home. The house is in my middle names: Akata Siulolovao Fe’ofa’aki. Nana thought that the more names you had the more important you were.
3 Caramar Street sat just off the corner of Woodstock Avenue, which is the main road of Mount Druitt, in the suburb of Dharruk. Nana’s house had a maroon roof and cream fibro walls that make it look like a big pimple. On the front lawn there were two towering palm trees, like giant soldiers, and behind the trees was a high tiled wall with wrought-iron gates. When I first saw the two-storey structure I had thought it was a castle right in the middle of Mount Druitt. Later my aunty told me a bunch of Italians built it in the early ’60s and then some druggos had it in the ’90s.
Before Nana died she had made 3 Caramar as Tongan as she could. She started with the front garden. Barefoot in op-shop button-downs and with her afro tied in a wavy bun, Nana planted medicine along the tiled wall. Green aloe vera shaped like lizards: open to heal cuts, grazes, boils and styes. Yellow-white nonu fruit shaped like grubs: juice to heal infected gums and calm indigestion. Green Siale Tonga leaves shaped like backs of beetles: crush on the body to rid of evil spirits. Tongans like naming things after Tonga. Mixed in with these natural remedies were white-purple daises and red roses. They were introduced to Nana by her first husband, Brian. He was English.
One Sunday, when I was seven, I helped Nana take out the weeds in her apothecary. The sun was warm and there was a cool breeze. She tried to teach me all the names of the plants but when I couldn’t do it we sang songs together instead. First it was a Tongan hymn Nana wrote herself, ‘Fakafeta’i ki a Sihova, he’oku lelei ia’ (‘Bless Jehovah and His children’). But after a while we started singing Elvis Presley, ‘Love me tender, love me sweet, never let me go, you have made my life complete and I love you so.’ Elvis was Nana’s teen crush.
ONE SATURDAY NANA was painting on a ngatu, which is a type of Tongan mat. The light-brown canvas was spread all over the front lawn and spilled onto the sidewalk. It was a hot day and I didn’t get how Nana could sit outside in tracksuit pants and wooly socks. She called me over to sit next to her and I silently watched Nana paint triangles and circles with thick black ink that smelled like petrol. When I asked her what she was doing Nana told me that she was painting a diamond called kalou kupesi, which represented breadfruit. Nana put the paintbrush between my fingers, held my fist in place, and dragged my hand over the bark of the ngatu to make connecting lines. It was the first triangle I ever drew.
We painted like that into the early evening until my hand got tired and Nana took over again. I watched one of the neighbours across the street take out her bins. It was a skippy bogan named Sharon. She walked out in her matching Tweety Bird pyjama set with a cigarette dangling from her mouth. The bins rumbled as she dragged them behind her toward the curb. Her store-dyed red hair was tangled and her blonde eyebrows were digging into her eyelids. She reminded me of Ronald McDonald. After Sharon positioned the bins she just stood there on the curb staring at Nana and me like she was watching 60 Minutes. Sharon’s gaze made my palms sweaty and I hid behind Nana, clutching her back. Nana saw Sharon and waved hello.
Sharon banged on her bins like a clawing feral cat, shrieking, ‘You’re not gonna fucking say sorry for your shit out on public property like that?’
Nana put her paintbrush down, shoved her fist in the air, and yelled, ‘Tapuni ho mu’a kosi tae kutu,’ which meant, ‘Shut up, you shitty nit.’
‘Speak English you savage!’
I hugged Nana tightly around her melani waist while Sharon turned and stomped back into her house.
I never painted the ngatu with Nana again.
Winnie Dunn is a Tongan-Australian writer from Mt Druitt. She is a manager and editor at Sweatshop: Western Sydney Literacy Movement and a Bachelor of Arts graduate from Western Sydney University. Winnie’s work has been published in The Lifted Brow, Sydney Review of Books and The Big Black Thing. She has presented at Sydney Festival, Sydney Writers’ Festival, Wollongong Writers’ Festival and Stella Girls Write Up.
Photography by Bethany Pal.