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.
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
Take care! White racists!
Black can be racists too.
A violent struggle could erupt
And racists meet their death.
Colour, the gift of nature
Is now the contentions bone,
And black-white hatred sustains itself
on the rotting, putrid flesh
That once was man.
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.
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.
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
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?
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!
This post is part of a series of Letters to Dead Poets for the Blogging A-Z April Challenge.