Tag Archives: Indigenous

N-Oodganoo Noonuccal: Indigenous Australian Poet.

All One Race – Oodgeroo Noonuccal

Black tribe, yellow tribe, red, white or brown,
From where the sun jumps up to where it goes down,
Herrs and pukka-sahibs, demoiselles and squaws,
All one family, so why make wars?
They’re not interested in brumby runs,
We don’t hanker after Midnight Suns;
I’m for all humankind, not colour gibes;
I’m international, and never mind tribes.

Black, white or brown race, yellow race or red,
From the torrid equator to the ice-fields spread,
Monsieurs and senors, lubras and fraus,
All one family, so why family rows?
We’re not interested in their igloos,
They’re not mad about kangaroos;
I’m international, never mind place;
I’m for humanity, all one race.

Dear Ms Noonuccal,

It’s a real honour to write to you and touch base at long last.

I am currently writing a series of Letters to Dead Poets and although I risk offending your cultural sensitivities, I am wanting to be inclusive. I am hoping that we could share a metaphorical walk and chat together. Talk about what it would take for all Australians to belong.

Oodgeroo-Noonuccal plaque

We need diversity and to celebrate and respect a kaleidoscope of difference and yet still come together as one. Not as one amorphous bunch of clones but as human beings with a dazzling array of colours, shapes, textures all glued together through respect, understanding and acceptance. While this might sound like a utopian dream, we have to have a go. Do our best. If every single one of us makes a small personal change, then collectively this must amount to something monumental. I know when I was growing up we never thought the Berlin wall would come down, and yet it’s gone. We weren’t all just a bunch of dreamers, after all!

Yet, more and more walls need to come down.

More bridges must be built.

Yet, we sit in our brick bunkers with our technology and remotes basking in our own private worlds.

While there’s apathy, there’s also animosity, resentment and an “us” and “them”. The racism you fought so hard against through your political activism and poems:

Racism – Oodgeroo Noonuccal

Stalking the corridors of life,
Black, frustrated minds
Scream for release
From Christian racist moulds.
Moulds that enslave
Black independence.

Take care! White racists!
Black can be racists too.
A violent struggle could erupt
And racists meet their death.

Colour, the gift of nature
To mankind,
Is now the contentions bone,
And black-white hatred sustains itself
on the rotting, putrid flesh
That once was man.

Oodgeroo Noonuccal

Before we go any further, I’d like to apologise for not reading your poetry until recently when my son brought it home from school. At least, I’m fairly sure I never studied your poetry at school or university, despite studying Australian Literature. This means that I’d never read a single poem by an Aboriginal poet until I was 46 years old. That despite growing up memorizing verses of Banjo Paterson’s Man From Snowy River and Dorothea Mackellar’s My Country by heart, I never knew your poems. I’d never read or learnt about your vision for Australia. I don’t need to spell out what that means. That a nation needs to know its own and not just experience one dish but to feast from the full smorgasbord.

Aboriginal Painting 14.6.2010 low res

My son’s poignant Aboriginal Spirit Man Painting Age 8.

It is my hope that by sharing a few of your poems here and just a fraction of your vision, that others will also be spurred on to get to know you better. Find out what you were fighting for and even pick up the baton and carry it forward.

Unfortunately, with writing over 26 letters to dead poets in a month, time restraints prevents me from thoroughly researching each poet and allowing myself to immerse myself in their poetry in the same way I studied the poems of John Keats when I was at school. I am meeting so many incredible poets for the very first time along this journey and while I would usually undertake lengthy, meticulous research before putting pen to paper let alone posting it online, I feel like I’m flying blind. Indeed, flying blind and straight into the flames. I hope I’m not screwing up, making mistakes and getting it wrong. There are people who have studied each of you individually in such depth and detail and in so many ways I’m just skipping over the surface trying to dig in as deep as I can but inevitably having to move onto the next one too soon. At least, I’m honest about it and don’t pretend to know you well.

However, perhaps that’s all I’m meant to do. Light the spark that ultimately gets the fire going.

Municipal Gum

Gumtree in the city street,
Hard bitumen around your feet,
Rather you should be
In the cool world of leafy forest halls
And wild bird calls
Here you seems to me
Like that poor cart-horse
Castrated, broken, a thing wronged,
Strapped and buckled, its hell prolonged,
Whose hung head and listless mien express
Its hopelessness.
Municipal gum, it is dolorous
To see you thus
Set in your black grass of bitumen-
O fellow citizen,
What have they done to us?

Oodgeroo Noonuccal

Getting back to my original question, what do you think it would take for all Australians to feel they belong and how do we expand that to build bridges around the world?

I’m not really expecting you to answer that but perhaps you could nibble around the edges. I hope it’s nothing but a rhetorical question!

Yours sincerely,

Rowena

Further Reading:

https://www.qut.edu.au/about/oodgeroo/oodgeroo-noonuccal

This post is part of a series of Letters to Dead Poets for the Blogging A-Z April Challenge.

Weighing Up the Past: Australia’s Bicentennial Scrapbook

“If you don’t know history, then you don’t know anything. You are a leaf that doesn’t know it is part of a tree. ”
― Michael Crichton

This is my third and final post about revisiting Australia’s Bicentenary through through the pages of a copy of The  Australian Women’s Weekly, January, 1988, which I recently found in a local op shop.

In terms of trying to better understand the range of views towards the Bicentenary, I threw together a smattering of newspaper clippings to show a few of the different opinions which were around at the time. This is in no way intended to provide a comprehensive, historical account ….just some voices from the past.

Indigenous poet and campaigner Oodgeroo Noonuccal asked at the time of the Bicentennial, ‘from the Aboriginal point of view, what is there to celebrate?’. In 1987, Oodgeroo returned her MBE in protest against the upcoming 1988 Bicentennial celebrations.http://www.womenaustralia.info/biogs/IMP0085b.htm

Greg Foleyhttp://www.kooriweb.org/foley/essays/essay_11.html

“On the same day as the SMH featured its ‘souvenir lift-out, the front page of the main part of the paper featured two major headline stories of Indigenous challenge to the status quo.  The first was a story headlined ‘Torres Strait Islanders back Independence Call” and was about the stirring’s in the Torres Strait that eventually resulted in the High Court delivering the famous ‘Mabo’ decision. The second story was about an audacious plan by Koori activist Burnam Burnam who was in England planning to claim Britain by raising an Aboriginal flag at the same time as descendants of the British were planning their similar action of re-enactment in Sydney. The same report also said that ‘hundreds of Aborigines’ were en-route to Sydney to attend ‘the long march for justice, freedom and hope’.”

On 7th March, 1987 The Canberra Times reported:  “Aborigines may snub bicentenary” and quoted Pat Dodson, National Coordinator of the Federation of Land Councils:

“It will be a national disgrace if the 200th year of our dispossession passes without the proper recognition of our indigenous rights as the traditional owners of Australia.”

The federation called for Aboriginal rights to be recognised in a national treaty or included in the Constitution.[3]

Greg Maher: Woroni (The Australian National University’s student newspaper)

“The emphasis that the Hawke government however, has given to the Bicentenary – that is, concentrating on educational and other initiatives to highlight the Aboriginal situation as the key point of the years activities – makes the Bicentenary worth recognising and supporting and indeed, at least for some, celebrating. The point is that those who propose a boycott say they won’t celebrate an invasion. Nor should they. No Aboriginal does, or should celebrate the invasion of their land and the displacement of their people. This is not to say that they can’t take part, or shouldn’t. As has been outlined already, recognition and support for the constructive message that is attached to the Bicentenary is essential for a reconciliation, for progress in the area of Aboriginal reform and to build bridges of communication with the white population. Of course though, it must be ongoing. How do we achieve this?[4]

In the literary magazine: Bliss, Australian author Patrick White also voiced opposition to the Bicentenary, which he described as a “circus”. Indeed, taking quite a stand, the Nobel Prize winning author refused to have any of his work published or performed during the Bi centennial. More than anything, White says, “it was the need for justice for the Aborigines which put me against the Bi. Very little has been done to give them a sense of security in the country we invaded.[5]

Very much on the other side of the fence, we had John Howard, the then Leader of the Opposition who went on to become the Prime Minister of Australia from 11 March 1996 to 3 December 2007. He said: “Australia’s bicentennial celebration should be an occasion of immense pride, not collective guilt, the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Howard, said in Melbourne yesterday.

He told a National Australia Day Council lunch that he was concerned that the bicentennial program urged Australians to reflect “a little too much” on the mistakes rather than the achievements of the past.

“Certainly, all of us need to be aware of past mistakes, but surely 1988 is the year to celebrate where we got it right,” he said.

Australia had been incredibly blessed with good fortune and had a level of freedom few countries could boast.

The Australian achievement was a matter for immense pride.

Australians should not apologise for the fact that their country was European in origin.

“We have inherited European culture, the English language, British institutions and a way of life which is very much steeped in the Western liberal democratic tradition,” Mr Howard said. “Judeo-Christian values have, by and large, provided the ethical wellsprings of our society.

‘To in any way apologise for this, qualify it, pretend it doesn’t exist, or worse still, imagine that it is an inferior quality of life, is the height of absurdity and historical inaccuracy and likely to render our bicentennial celebrations irrelevant to the overwhelming majority of Australians.”

Because of the Aborigines’ prior occupation of this continent, and their continued disadvantage, they deserved special acknowledgment in the bicentennial celebrations. Their disadvantage had to be dealt with in a constructive and remedial fashion…[6].”

It has been interesting seeing how buying a vintage magazine at the op shop has opened my eyes to so many things and made me see the Australian Bicentenary in a completely different light. That said, I have been conscious for some time that celebrating Australia Day on 26th January is not showing sensitivity or compassion towards our Indigenous people who were displaced and so often subjected to horrific crimes of abuse. This is our national shame and we shouldn’t just bury that under the carpet and pretend that nothing ever happened. We can’t. To be honest, it continues as well.

As I wrote in my last post, I don’t know what, if anything, I can do about it personally other than write about it, which does seem a bit lame but we each have our role in the body, in our community and as I have said before, I always hope the pen is mightier than the sword. That through writing we can highlight prejudice and injustice and also love and embrace all peoples.

In this, I join with Dr Martin Luther King (Jnr) and say “I have a dream”. I haven’t quite worked out all the details yet but have joined at least 1000 other people who will be writing about compassion on 20th February, 2015…the UN International Day of Social Justice: 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion. I encourage you to also participate. You can check out the details here:

https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2015/01/19/bloggers-unite-for-a-better-world-1000-voices-speak-for-compassion/

We need to keep working on the foundations laid by trail blazers like Dr Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela and see love, compassion and equality triumph!

xx Rowena

[1] The Australian Women’s Weekly, January 1988, pg 7.

[2] The Australian Women’s Weekly, January 1988, pg 7.

[3] The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 – 1995) Saturday 7 March 1987 p 9

[4] Woroni (Canberra, ACT : 1950 – 2007) Monday 7 March 1988 p 19 Article

[5] The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 – 1995) Wednesday 1 June 1988 p 30

[6] The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 – 1995) Saturday 25 January 1986 p 3

[7] http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkihaveadream.htm

Australia’s “200th Birthday” Revisited.

“If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten”.

– Rudyard Kipling

Last week, Australians celebrated, lamented or slept through Australia Day which marks the arrival of the British First Fleet at Port Jackson (Sydney Harbour) On the 26th  January,  1788. Governor Arthur Phillip raised the Union Jack claiming British sovereignty over the eastern seaboard of Australia, which was then known as New Holland.  There was no treaty with the Aboriginal people, as there had been with the Maori in New Zealand and you will still hear Australians talk about how Captain Cook discovered Australia in 1770, even though Australia was never actually “lost”.

The Australian Women's Weekly, January, 1988.

The Australian Women’s Weekly, January, 1988.

 

 

If you have read my last post, you’ll know that I recently came across a vintage copy of The Australian Women’s Weekly from January, 1988. This was their “Bicentennial Souvenir: Special Collector’s Edition”, to celebrate Australia’s “200th Birthday”. It included a couple of pages of birthday wishes from around the world:

“Australia is the closest thing to Texas you can get…the women are beautiful, the men are tough and it has got great beer! Happy 200th, Australia.”

-Larry Hagman, who played J.R. Ewing in the hit series: Dallas[1].

“Although by birth I am English, I feel Australian and think of myself as Australian. Australia took me in, nurtured me and sent me out into the world with a sense of belonging   and a great outlook on life. Happy birthday, Australia.”

– Olivia Newton-John[2].

However, while I was reading the magazine, it struck me that there was no mention of Aboriginal people at all. That bothered me enough to put my detective’s hat on and to start digging.

“The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.”
George Orwell

The First Fleet Reenactment, 1988.

The First Fleet Reenactment, 1988.

Rewinding back to January 26, 1988…I was a young, 18 year old who had just finished school and was still reveling from celebrating “Schoolies Week” at Surfers Paradise on Queensland’s Gold Coast. This involved lying by the pool or on the beach by day and hitting the nightclubs by night and to be perfectly honest, I was probably more concerned about the state of my tan and of course, friends, relationships, fun.

Enjoying the party atmosphere on Australia Day, 26th January, 1988 , my boyfriend and I were jammed under the Sydney Harbour Bridge along with hundreds and thousands of other sardines on a characteristically hot summer’s day, spellbound as the Tall Ships in the First Fleet Reenactment sailed majestically through Sydney Harbour. I still remember battling to try to photograph the Tall Ships through the crowd with my humble Kodak camera, which was so old that you had to shove a film cartridge in the back. There was a woman standing right in front of me wearing the largest, brightest sunflower-yellow hat I’d ever seen. Indeed, the brim was so wide, that you could land a helicopter on it no worries. I passed the camera to my boyfriend, who being 6ft 4″ almost towered up into the clouds. With that camera, none of our photos were “good” but at least when he took he photos, you could pick the Tall Ships out over the hat.

That was my Australia Day.

Badge Protesting against celebrating Australia's Bicentenary.

Badge Protesting against celebrating Australia’s Bicentenary.

Meanwhile, there was a protest movement of upwards of 40,000 Indigenous Australians and sympathisers marching through Sydney. For them, Australia Day was Invasion Day and 1988 would be a year of mourning. This was the largest march in Sydney since the Vietnam moratorium. The march ended at Hyde Park where several prominent Aboriginal leaders and activists spoke, among them activist Gary Foley; ‘Let’s hope Bob Hawke and his Government gets this message loud and clear from all these people here today. It’s so magnificent to see black and white Australians together in harmony! This is what Australia could and should be like.’

Aboriginal protests on Sydney Harbour, Australia Day, 1988

Aboriginal protests on Sydney Harbour, Australia Day, 1988

While I can be a bit oblivious, I find it hard to believe that I missed a march of that magnitude and it’s only now, some 24 years later, that I’ve been enlightened.

“If you don’t know history, then you don’t know anything. You are a leaf that doesn’t know it is part of a tree. ”
― Michael Crichton

That said, I’m still fairly ignorant. It’s simply impossible to pick up all the nuances on this flying visit and understand what happened. There are others who have done the research and also lived through the times, who can give a much better account than I. As I said, this is just a fleeting visit sparked by a magazine I’d bought at the op shop and my relationships with my extended Aboriginal family.

Bicentennial celebrations exposed differing views both about our history, our future and our identity as a nation. While it was only 24 years ago, I’d like to think we were in a different place back then when where racist jokes were the norm and most Australians really couldn’t understand what the fuss was all about. Why couldn’t the Aboriginal people just join the rest of us under The Bridge and enjoy a piece of birthday cake and enjoy the “celebration of a nation”?   What was their problem and why didn’t somebody lock all those radicals up? Indeed, a disproportionate number of Indigenous people were already in gaol and there was mounting anger about black deaths in custody.

I am not an Aboriginal activist, historian or anybody who really has an understanding of the rights and wrongs involved but I am a person who has a disability and has experienced discrimination enough to know that even the well-intentioned who at least try to get into my wobbilly feet, don’t necessarily know what it’s like to walk in my shoes. Therefore, I don’t pretend to know what it is to be an Indigenous person in Australia…then or now.

However, I do care.

As much as I believe in equality for all and respecting all peoples, it is particularly harsh when someone comes into your country and treats you like shit. Takes away your land, your children and gives immigrants preferential treatment and won’t even give you the vote. Moreover, once some of these things were finally acknowledged, it wasn’t until February 2008 that Prime Minister Kevin Rudd finally managed to say “Sorry”…some 20 years after the Bicentenary!

I am also in an interesting position because my uncle is Aboriginal and because of him, my children identified themselves as being Aboriginal. No matter how much I seemed to explain to them about genetics and pointed out that we were related to my aunt, they still believed they were Aboriginal until quite recently. The penny finally dropped when, after a long discussion with our daughter, she finally asked rather sadly: “Not even a drop?” “No,” I replied. “Not even a drop”. They wish they were Aboriginal and are very proud of Australia’s Indigenous people, culture and history. We don’t see a lot of my aunt and uncle so I believe this connection has been strengthened by their school. Our school says: “Welcome to Country” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Welcome_to_Country_and_Acknowledgement_of_Country) at assemblies and events and the children learn Aboriginal arts and culture in way that goes way beyond anything we ever did at school. They have local elders come into the school and talk to the kids as well. About 10% of kids at our school “identify” as being Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander and we have an Aboriginal Liaison Officer on staff. We are very proud of our school’s passion and commitment.

It has been interesting seeing how buying a vintage magazine at the op shop has opened my eyes to so many things and made me see the Australian Bicentenary in a completely different light. That said, I have been conscious for some time that celebrating Australia Day on 26th January is not showing sensitivity or compassion towards our Indigenous people who were displaced and so often subjected to horrific crimes of abuse throughout history. This is our national shame and we shouldn’t just bury that under the carpet and pretend that nothing ever happened. We can’t. To be honest, it continues today.

I don’t know what, if anything, I can do about it personally other than write about it, which does seem a bit lame but we each have our role in the body, in our community and as I have said before, I always hope the pen is mightier than the sword. That through writing we can highlight prejudice and injustice and also love and embrace all peoples.

In this, I join with Dr Martin Luther King (Jnr) and say “I have a dream”. I haven’t quite worked out all the details yet but have joined at least 1000 other people who will be writing about compassion on 20th February, 2015…the UN International Day of Social Justice: 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion. I encourage you to also participate. You can check out the details here:

https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2015/01/19/bloggers-unite-for-a-better-world-1000-voices-speak-for-compassion/

We need to keep working on the foundations laid by trail blazers like Dr Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela and see love, compassion and equality triumph!

xx Rowena

PS I have compiled a series of quotes relating to the Bicentenary, which is coming up next.

[1] The Australian Women’s Weekly, January 1988, pg 7.

[2] The Australian Women’s Weekly, January 1988, pg 7.

[3] The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 – 1995) Saturday 7 March 1987 p 9

[4] Woroni (Canberra, ACT : 1950 – 2007) Monday 7 March 1988 p 19 Article

[5] The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 – 1995) Wednesday 1 June 1988 p 30

[6] The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 – 1995) Saturday 25 January 1986 p 3

[7] http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkihaveadream.htm