The Todd

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The Todd

Gretel Bull

The desperate thirst of the Todd,

her sandy banks quenched nightly

with violent tears

and grog.

An undying colonial thirst –

Giles and Gosse and Madigan,

Carved the land with camel tracks –

men who lived to discover

what had always been where it was.

Returning parched and dusty,

shot their camels where they stood.

Unpacked saddlebags of notebooks,

tombs of waterholes and hills.

Posturing for portraits,

immortalised in lead and bronze –

Oh! How his beard glints in that painting!

How his teeth shine in that song!

The ghost gums bow in sorrow,

the river cuts her hair.

Reluctant bride, Lhere Artepe [1]

is christened Alice Todd.[2]

Now, in dawn’s annulment

listen to her cry –

And you must dig,

dig for your life!


fist over fist, without pause for thought.

Dig until the coarse river sand

reclaims your skin,

until bone gives way to earth –

flayed knuckles yielding to some sudden

buried truth.

[1] An Arrernte name for the Todd River. There are other names for this river in Arrernte, but the name Lhere Artepe is commonly used in and around Alice Springs.

[2] The river’s English name was given by surveyor W. W. Mills, after Lady Alice Todd (née Alice Gillam Bell), wife of Charles Todd, previously Postmaster General of South Australia.


Gretel Bull is a writer, artist and mother, living and working in Mparntwe/Alice Springs. Influenced by Jungian theory, her work explores the reciprocal influences between history, mythology, person and place. Gretel’s poem, ‘Highway to Utopia’ was published in Campfire Satellites: An Inland Anthology (Ptilotus Press, 2019) and she was recipient of the 2019 Arts NT Varuna Fellowship.