Natural Selection: Ecological Postcolonialism as Bearing on Place

By | 1 February 2016

The land cleared, the facts of how this was done, remain a splinter. With much anger, the pioneering Indigenous writer and activist, Oodgeroo Noonuccal writes in ‘Acacia Ridge’ (1970 p 18):

White men, turn quickly the earth of Acacia Ridge,
Hide the evidence lying there
Of the black race evicted as of old their fathers were;
Cover up the crime committed this day,
Call it progress, the white man’s way.

Archie Weller feels this same anger and sorrow in ‘Noonkenbah’:

My mother’s breast
that nourished me
with legends and with songs
gives out a milk as black as I
so from her heart it comes.
Now in their trucks the whiteman comes
to squeeze my country dry.
They take our laws.
They take our lives.
And now they take her too…
The earth heaves. The skies’ rain falls down.
The old men sing their songs
                        but my mother weeps rich black tears.   

                        (in Davis et al (eds) 1990, p 16)

Kevin Roberts also feels this loss suffered by Aboriginal Australians. He writes in Red Centre Journal (1992) that Australia was ‘sung / for my steps, seasoned / for my crops, insured / with snake and duck and fish’ but that Europeans came and ‘trampled it’:

more, you planted daffodils
and daisies where my sweet buds
flowered and fell, grubbed
out trees for lawns, tame gardens

named my birds all again
from your hard tongue, gold
finch, robin, wren, bizarre
transmutations of song and flight   (p v)

Angrily, Roberts counters this sense of loss, and asserts:

I would like to scrape you off
my island like maggots writhing
in your dumb sheeps’ eyes.   (p vi)

This Aboriginal and Torres Strait sense of anger and sorrow, is caused by so much dispossession and inequality, and is given such devastating voice by Barbara Nicholson and Romaine Moreton. In ‘The Bastards’, Nicholson writes, ‘and they take our land, and they graze it and mine it and fuck it up forever. / Bastards’ (in Heiss & Minter (eds) 2008, pp 204-205). With much poignancy, Moreton writes in ‘Don’t Let It Make You Over’:

when they rounded
us up
took our land
put shackles
on our hand
stayin’ free has been
a burden ever since

the cultural claustrophobia
of a hard prison cell
occupies my blood
choruses through my veins   (in Heiss & Minter (eds) 2008, p 158)

So Aboriginal people lose first their land, and then come under siege to maintain their culture, identity and evidence of their prior occupation.

Many Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australian poets have also questioned the dominion of white Australia. Eric Beach has used satire to great effect in ‘a map of australia’ (1996, pp 72-73) and ‘in th desert you remember’ (1996, p 75) to write of the continuing spiritual presence of Aboriginal culture in remote parts of Australia in the face of white control and patronage. Patricia Sykes in ‘blandishments and enticements, visuals of electronic speech’ (2004, pp 29-30) has described the signs of the very ancient Aboriginal presence in the Mungo sands and the ‘gawk’ factor of white tourism to this area. Like Miriel Lenore in ‘At the Water Hole’ (1997, p 76), she has described how ‘phoney’ many white tourists feel in the presence of this very ancient culture. Miriel Lenore in ‘burrow’ (1997, p 73) and ‘the place of the emu’ (1997, p 39) and Lee Cataldi in ‘goanna’ (1990, p 42) have described, with great affection, their camping with Aboriginal women in central Australia and their search for bush tucker, while Bernard Harrison in ‘Triptych: True North’ (2004, pp 41-43) writes of gorges and waterfalls, brolgas, kites, goshawks, curlews, mangroves, boabs and paperbarks as he praises the custodianship by Aboriginal people over their traditional lands in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. In questioning the assumption of non-Indigenous dominion over Australia, these poets look at the process of colonialism, the damage it has done and search for ways forward in the future, but they do not only write of Aboriginal culture as a victim culture. Aboriginal poets like Lionel Fogarty, Romaine Moreton, Barbara Nicholson, Oodgeroo Noonuccal, Samuel Wagan Watson and Archie Weller celebrate what has survived, what continues to be strong today. As Jennifer Martiniello, a poet and academic from the Arrernte Nation of Central Australia, writes in ‘Emily Kngwarreye’:

your face 
is the grace a harsh life
bestows on its survivors, each crease
a bar whose notes, escaping their dirge,
run for the high octaves like a bird
to a joyous freedom once the doors
of the cage are broken

deep-coloured as the millennia
sediments that scar the cliff faces of a sacred country
your face is as ancient a bed to flowing water 
carving its agelessness into the land the way
wisdom enscripts its elusive dance upon
humanity   (in Heiss & Minter (eds) 2008, p 195)

Martiniello concludes her poem so memorably with, ‘I see a light more eternal kindle in those you teach, / see each one, mirror-like, reflect the tireless radiance / of an inevitable grace’ (in Heiss & Minter (eds) 2008, p 196). In this poem Martiniello praises the achievement of a major Indigenous painter, prioritising the insights and presence expressed in the culture and story of the First Australians; Martiniello shows us that in writing a place-based poetry of dwelling, such recognition and orientation is vital if the work is to be postcolonial. Only then can this ‘sacred country’ be celebrated in a way that does justice to human and non-human creativity and to the insights of Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

This entry was posted in ESSAYS and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Related work: