I am currently in Oodnadatta, and I have been reading poetry by Oodgeroo Noonuccal (formerly known as Kath Walker) at the Pink Roadhouse. It’s quite fascinating poetry, and incredibly moving. Here I share a few that I have thoroughly enjoyed or found thought provoking.
Statesmen, who make the nation’s laws,
With power to force unfriendly doors,
Give leadership in this our cause
That leaders owe.
Writers, who have the nation’s ear,
Your pen a sword opponents fear,
Speak of our evils loud and clear
That all may know.
Unions, who serve democracy,
Guardians of social liberty,
Warm to the justice of our plea,
And strike your blow.
Churches, who preach the Nazarene,
Be on our side and intervene,
Show us what Christian love can mean
Who need it so.
The Press, most powerful of all,
On you the underprivileged call:
Right us a wrong and break the thrall
That keep us low.
All white well-wishers, in the end
On you our chiefest hopes depend;
Public opinion’s our best friend
To beat the foe.
Since God’s good world began,
Not God but godless man
Made barriers and ban,
And reared each frontier wall.
Brother, when shall we see
Life is for liberty,
And earth was made for all.
Let little killings rant,
Narrow and arrogant,
Their chauvinistic cant
That white is nobler birth.
The best of every race
Should here find welcome place;
The colour of his face
Is no man’s test of worth.
The Teachers (for Mother who was never taught to read or write):
Holy men, you came to preach:
‘Poor black heathen, we will teach
Sense of sin and fear of hell,
Fear of God and boss as well;
We will teach you work for play,
We will teach you to obey
Laws of God and laws of Mammon…’
And we answered, ‘No more gammon,
If you have to teach the light,
Teach us first to read and write.’
White Man, Dark Man:
Abo man, we
To you have brought
Our social science,
And you we have taught
Our white democracy.
White man, who
Would teach and tame,
We had socialism
Long before you came,
And democracy too.
All you ever had
Was ancestor Biami
Except the big bad
Bunyip and his bellow!
White fellow, true
You had more for pride:
You had Jesus Christ,
But Him you crucified,
And still do.
When the white glug contemptuously
Says ‘nigger’, it is plain to me
He is of lower grade than we.
When the dark stockman, used to hate,
Is not accepted as a mate,
Democracy is empty prayer.
When we hear from the white élite
‘We won’t have abos in our street,’
Their Christianity’s a cheat.
When blacks are banned, as we know well,
From city café and hotel,
The stink of Little Rock we smell.
Dark children coming home in tears,
Hurt and bewildered by their jeers-
I think Christ weeps with you my dears.
People who say by bias driven,
That colour must not be forgiven,
Would snub the Carpenter in heaven.
We Are Going:
They came into the little town
A semi-naked band subdued and silent,
All that remained of their tribe.
They came here to the place of their old bora ground
Where now the many white men hurry about like ants.
Notice of estate agent reads: “Rubbish May Be Tipped Here”.
Now it half covers the traces of the old bora ring.
They sit and are confused, they cannot say their thoughts:
“We are as strangers here now, but the white tribe are the strangers.
We belong here, we are of the old ways.
We are the corroboree and the bora ground,
We are the old sacred ceremonies, the laws of the elders.
We are the wonder tales of Dream Time, the tribal legends told.
We are the past, the hunts and the laughing games, the wandering camp fires.
We are the lightning-bolt over Gaphembah Hill
Quick and terrible,
And the Thunderer after him, that loud fellow.
We are the quiet daybreak paling the dark lagoon.
We are the shadow-ghosts creeping back as the camp fires burn low.
We are nature and the past, all the old ways
Gone now and scattered.
The scrubs are gone, the hunting and the laughter.
The eagle is gone, the emu and the kangaroo are gone from this place.
The bora ring is gone.
The corroboree is gone
And we are going.”