A.D. John

A. D. John is a Wiradjuri writer residing on Gadigal land. He is a recipient of the 2023 Penguin Random House “Write It” Fellowship and the 2023 Writing NSW Diverse Writers Mentorship with World Fantasy Award finalist Eugen Bacon. He is currently studying for an MA in creative writing at the University of Sydney.


My Blood, Your Blood

Beyond the distant scrub on a strangled ridge, rhythmic rifle fire snapped and cracked – the powder smoke lifting like a delicate veil and dispersing as it cleared a dense regiment of parched saplings. Jimmy heaved the saddle onto the officer’s horse as another volley of shots pierced the damp evening air. He watched as the men around him flinched. 

“Jimmy,” a white officer called from his seat near a smouldering fire. “You see them boy?”

Jimmy shook his head. “Nah boss, can’t see a thing in this light.”

The officer scratched at his shabby beard, nodded and went back to stoking his piteous heap of embers. 

It was a lie. Jimmy could see the soldiers perfectly but was in no mood to play “spot the white fullah.” He secured the saddle and started with the bridling. 

They called him Jimmy Jackson. That’s how he introduced himself around camp and to his troop, even though he hated the name. It was a white fullah’s name, and it didn’t fit. Whenever he got the chance, he would introduce himself with the name his mother gave him – Mugi. The night before her son was born, she dreamed of birthing an eaglehawk and took that as a sign, dubbing him accordingly. Like the formidable raptor of his name’s sake, Mugi had the gift of sight. Put a jag-spear, knife, or rifle in his hand and he’d find his mark – sometimes from hundreds of metres away. 

His sight wasn’t limited to hunting. 

Mugi could cast visions of the abstract and slip into a place most other folk couldn’t. He’d soar above the hushed paddocks and the dense, suffocating scrub bordering their perimeters, rushing high over the magnificence of gumtrees. From up yonder, he took in everything. His mind’s eye traversed the expansive, sapphire skies tangled with wisps of cloud and surveyed the ravaged landscape below. 

He was all at once untethered up there in the eternal blue, but a slave chained mercilessly to the earth. Mugi would never mention the Dreaming to the white fullahs. He could only imagine they’d hack off his head or burn him alive. These men only believed in the Bible and that was that. 


Every so often, Lieutenant Wilson would be full of the spirit, rum or a mixture, and he’d limp up onto a discarded supply crate and begin spitting verses from his tattered St James Bible. There he’d be, unsteady in his boots, swaying and gabbling, fighting to keep his eyes from rolling back into his skull, as spittle caught in the nest of hair around his mouth. He’d speak of the end of days and Mugi wondered if those times had already come for his lot.

“Watcha doing?” A voice called from behind him.

Mugi turned to see Paul standing next to an open tent, its flaps whipping and snapping in the wind.

Paul was Koori as well, but no one knew his real name. He was tall, lanky yet strong. His skin stretched taut across his face and betrayed a menacing intent when he smiled – like he was now.

“I’m saddling the horse for the Lieutenant.”

“Which?” Paul’s eyes squinted into slits. He spat a peach seed that landed not far from Mugi’s boots.


“Uh huh, goin’ get it done then.” 

Paul buttoned his jacket and marched into the open tent. 


Mugi had noticed Paul striding through the camp from time to time as if he owned the place – like he was one of the white fullahs. This was his first interaction with the man, and it went as well as he imagined. The other Kooris nicknamed Paul “the White Dog”. Stories about him spread through the troop quicker than any cold or flu. These weren’t the type of tales Mugi would have recounted to his nephew back home. Rumours were that Paul played his part in desecrating a whole mob close by. The mob were charged with stealing cattle – so the settlers said. 

Other Kooris told Mugi that Paul had unsheathed his sabre during the battle and hacked at limbs and sheared off heads, all the while grinning that maniac grin of his. Mugi had seen enough bloodshed to last him an eternity. He could feel the malevolence of the mission weigh damp and heavy on his spirit. 

Mugi and his unit were sent to arrest the warrior Dawarang, whose mob was accused of disturbing the day-to-day lives of the nearby settlement. Mugi knew what it meant when white fullahs said “arrest.” Dawarang and his mob’s so-called crimes were miniscule to start with. Snatching a few chickens here, some pigs there. When cattle began to vanish, the settlers called in a local regiment of soldiers. 

Then there was the clash and the mob speared a few of the soldiers, one fatally. This was the story that the white fullahs drilled into their heads along the dusty trails all the way from Wagga Wagga. A young Koori officer named Dirru spread rumours that the real reason they (the white men) wanted Dawarang and his mob gone had less to do with protecting settlers and more to do with panning for gold. 


Mugi had spotted unfamiliar faces mulling around the creek beds with all sorts of equipment – he’d never had the chance to stand still long enough to gander at what they were up to. He also noticed they were clearing the forests slowly, two or three trees at a time. Mugi was beginning to agree with Dirru. There was foulness in the air, and he wanted to know which direction it was blowing in from. 

Mugi didn’t want to fight anymore. He wanted to go home. He wanted to hunt, cook damper and brew billy tea with his nephew. This wasn’t his nation. This was some other mob’s and now he was here trying to pry it away on behalf of these white bastards. 

He hated the way the white fullahs strode around like they had a right to it all – like they were some kind of gods. The only thing godlike about them was their opinion of themselves. He’d seen them bleed just like his mob. They weren’t anything ethereal. Just blood and bone like anyone else. Mugi wasn’t sure what he despised most: the white dog’s greed or their ignorance. They wanted to take, conquer and rape the land. Like it was a prize to be won. They had their heads so far up their own arses they didn’t realise how deluded they truly were. The land wouldn’t allow itself to be conquered. It wasn’t some fruit that sat heavy and plump on the lowest limbs of a tree. It was as harsh as it was beautiful, and it could show you who was really in charge if you were stupid enough to give it a good hard poke. 

Mugi closed his eyes so he could recalibrate. He was doing this for his sister and her boy back home.  That’s why he was here, no other reason he could think of. 

After they came in and stole the land from his people, they sold it back to them. They called it civilisation, but Mugi couldn’t find the civility in anything they were doing. The only white folk he gave a good goddamn about were the Irish. They were the only ones that seemed to cop it as sweet as the Kooris did. Poor bastards – all of them – poor, poor bastards. His lot and theirs. 

Mugi stood there with his eyes closed. The breeze lapped sweat from his cheeks. He imagined peeking through the kitchen window of his sister’s house. Her and the boy would be making damper or soda bread and laughing and gently elbowing each other. A fire blazed somewhere and it cast a long shadow that moved back and forth like someone pacing. He saw her, in his mind’s eye, the woman from the creek. 

Then he remembered he did have other reasons for being out here.


At night Mugi would sneak away. He crept past the tents and the officers snoring like smokestacks of old locomotives. He stayed low to the ground and waded through waist-high grass. He dove into the deep, cool shadows of the towering gum trees. He sprinted, hard, into the heart of the bush. His legs burning and his chest heaving until he reached the creek.

Until he reached her.


Mugi rounded a clump of tents. As he crept past the last one, he heard Captain Miller conversing with Lieutenant Daniels. The night had truly settled over the camp now and he crouched down behind a stack of logs, assured that the darkness would shroud him from the camp’s collection of paranoid eyes. 

“I don’t know how they know we’re coming. It’s like someone is giving us up.” Captain Miller’s voice was distinct—rough and deep like a rockslide in a quarry.

“Yes sir. It is quite perplexing,” Daniels said.

“I’m glad to hear you’re perplexed, Lieutenant. It shows you care. I was beginning to think you wanted to tend the land and raise cattle here.”

“We should have dispatched this Dawarang fellow weeks ago and been back home with our wives and children. I was beginning to think you liked it out here so much, you wanted to stay.”

Mugi listened as Daniel’s cleared his throat. “I’m sorry, sir, I am not following.”

“If you truly hated the heat and the stink and the general sense of melancholy this place imposes on one, really felt it on a day-to-day basis, I’d have thought you’d do everything in your power to achieve your objective?”

“Yes, sir I –”

“I don’t want to hear any more words from you Daniels. I want action. You hear me? Action.”

“Yes, sir,” Daniels said again.

“Yes, sir, yes, sir, three bags bloody full, sir. Just find the bastard, understood?”

There was the loud sharp click as Daniel’s snapped the heels of his boots together and then – silence.

Mugi waited in the shadows, waited for the tent flaps to open and the light to spill out and a dejected Daniels to slink past. A few seconds and nothing. Mugi froze as he heard hurrying boots clomping towards him. He turned to see Daniels striding for him, the weight of his footsteps kicking up plumes of dust. He must have exited Miller’s tent from the rear.

“You, there. What the hell are you up to?” 

Daniels stood over Mugi – a looming storm cloud.

Mugi began to gather logs from the pile and bundle them into his arms. He stood so he was face-to-face with the lieutenant.

“Sorry, sir, I’m just collecting wood for the fire.”
Daniels looked him up and down, his thin lips curling into a sneer.

“Well bloody hurry up then will you. Get back to your tent officer. I’m imposing a curfew tonight.”

Mugi saluted, almost dropping some of the logs. Daniels didn’t break eye contact until he’d stomped off behind one of the tents. 


Mugi knew that when a curfew was imposed, the white fullahs employed an extra level of vigilance. They’d have sentries strewn all around camp. Most officers who had the pleasure of a night shift were already exhausted and it was inevitable that they’d nod off – it was just a matter of time. Then there was the lackies, like Paul, who loved to catch a dissenter just so his white masters would pat his head and say “good boy.”


The horse Mugi had saddled earlier was still tied to the log where he’d left him. No officer had bothered to investigate why one of the horses wasn’t back in the stable with the rest, or why it was still wearing a saddle.

Mugi stalked his way toward the animal. The horse dug at the dirt with its hoof and whinnied when it saw him approach. 

“Shhh, ya dumb bugger,” Mugi said.

The horse flicked it’s head up and down and started pulling at the rope clipped to its bridal. Mugi reached the animal and stroked its mane, until it stopped jerking.

A calm fell over beast. 

Mugi spotted one of the sentries standing in the paddock only a few meters away. Yawning, the officer gazed up at the luminous stars that exploded across the canvas of the night sky.

Mugi searched around in the dust. He stood once he found it, a small round stone. He ran his fingers over the rock’s smooth edges and then lined up his target. 

 “Sorry, Brother,” he said. He wound back his arm and snapped it forward in a fast whip. 

The stone cut through the cool night air and struck the distracted sentry on the back of the skull. He didn’t want to cave the man’s head in – just blow out his lights. 

Mugi watched the man’s knees buckle and his whole body seemed to crumple in on itself and the tall grass swallowed him.

The sentry now asleep—probably the deepest he’d had since being deployed—Mugi didn’t waste any time. He knew there’d be more sentries milling about and didn’t think there’d be enough rocks for all of them. 

He led the horse through the long grass, making sure to crouch down and stay out of sight. He appreciated the symphony of insects. Crickets and frogs and the slow buzz of cicadas. He reached the middle of the clearing when a bat screeched and swooped overhead. 

Mugi felt his heart slide into his throat and stood frozen until he was able to regain his composure and push on. As he reached the deep, elongated shadows of the tree line, he glanced up at the sky. He could see why the sentry had been so enraptured. Thousands of jewels burned through the blackness, their sharp trails of light reaching down toward him. 

Mugi sunk into the darkness of the thick bushland, and he and the horse clambered over the dense scrub and fallen branches. They crept carefully through the brush until he could no longer smell the whispers of the campfire. He then mounted the horse and charged towards the creek.

He heard the creek before he saw it. The burbling of tannin-stained water trickling over the pock ridden stones that cut the bed of water in two. Mugi jumped from the horse and tied it to a nearby tree branch. He went on foot until he reached the creek bed, lit by the radiance of the full moon. 

She was there. 

The woman knelt by the bank, her hands cutting circles in the water, humming an unfamiliar tune. She turned ever so slowly, and her onyx eyes caught his in their rapture. Mugi felt his heart soar. No matter how many times he saw her, he swore she was the most beautiful vision. She was the ethereal shimmer of the moonlight.  Her name was Alinta, a name that meant fire or flame, he couldn’t remember which. The woman rose and floated towards him.

Mugi didn’t move – couldn’t move. 

Alinta threw her slender arms around his neck. Mugi felt the chill of her flesh, which soothed him. He slipped one arm around the small of her back and pulled her body tightly against his. Eyes shut, two white hot mouths heat seeking, soft wet lips melting together. It took everything Mugi had to breakaway away from the ache of her want.  

“We don’t have much time,” Mugi said. “Those dogs mean business this time. You must warn Dawarang. You must tell him to leave this place.”

Alinta smiled, and she let go of Mugi.

“He can’t leave this place. It’s not that easy. This place owns him. Needs him.”

“I’ve seen what these bastards are capable of. They’ll burn this place. They’ll take it all.” Mugi stood closer to Alinta and took a handful of her soft curls, spinning them around his fingers.

“It’s getting harder to leave,” he said. “What if I can’t tell you when they’re coming for yas?

Alinta swatted away his hand and smiled again. 

“Let them come, let them see what happens.”

There was a sharp crack as a heavy footstep splintered a branch, then a metallic click. Mugi and Alinta turned to see Paul, the White Dog, who had thumbed back the hammer of his rifle.

“We’re already ’ere.” He smiled that sadistic grin of his and levelled the weapon at Mugi’s chest and pulled the trigger. 

Mugi felt the impact snatch the breath from his lungs and the creeping heat of the wound slowly enveloped his entire body. He fell backwards onto the soft wet earth of the creek and tried to cough up the torrent of blood lurching through his windpipe. He waited to die, waited for Alinta to scream but instead thought he saw her laughing. 

“What are you smiling at ya daft bitch,” Paul said as he began to slide the rifle’s trigger back.

What happened next, Mugi thought was conjured from the dying embers of his imagination. 

The trees seemed to move. Not like they did in the wind. They appeared to take steps. Their roots tore free from the ground dredging up dirt and dead leaves. They circled Paul like a pack of ravenous dingos. Their skeletal branches tore at his clothes, grabbed at his arms and he dropped the rifle. 

He screamed as angry limbs hoisted him high into the air and, as if they’d practiced it a thousand times before, they wrenched his arms and legs from their sockets simultaneously. His body broke and shuddered violently. Paul’s eyes were wide and Mugi thought they’d burst but they grew dim and closed. His mouth went slack and hung open in a frozen twisted howl.

Alinta kneeled and ran her hand over Mugi’s chest, slick with blood. Her soft caress stole his mind from thoughts of death that swarmed like flies.

Those eyes locked onto his and she grinned.

“See,” she said. “Let them come.”