‘The Rally Is Calling’: Dashiell Moore Interviews Lionel Fogarty

By and | 1 February 2019

DM: You’re regionalised into …

LF: Yeah, regionalised into ethnicity, and most Aboriginal people say I don’t give a fuck, my daughter has pale skin, blue eyes, but they still identify their race as being Aboriginal, not the identity that was pushed onto them like the ‘South Sea Islanders’. That’s one good thing about black Aboriginal people, we don’t look at the colour of the skin or the features, we look at the spirit which produces the language, the song, the love, which is very important. It is not a personality song, a political machinery of love, this love here exists all the time and it is practiced in culture. The politic gets in the way of practicing that, why us in literature have to dominate the politics to let love and culture come together.

DM: Switching tack a little bit. Your poem, ‘Biral Biral’, appears to convey a boy’s experiences as he undergoes initiation. There’s a line where the boy is looking out from his camp, and you describe what he sees as ‘sparkling stars windowed at darkness’. What do you consider to be the relationship of writing and the environment? Do you think about that connection when you write?

LF: I wrote ‘Biral Biral’ about two connections, a sacred song that belongs to the Butchulla people from Fraser Island way, as you go into meeting with your forefather, the creator. Biral is a shield to get there, and the other thing is that you have to have a messenger, and to get to the messenger you have to go through smoking ceremonies and dancing ceremonies. I wanted to purposely write in a way of sophistication to make it simple without anyone seeing it as about a spiritual experience in making the writing a message stick, as if you come upon it, carved up, and you have to read that message stick and then come into touch with your Biral. That’s what it was basically about. When I was a small boy I was told these words, but not explained the meanings of them. Someone will take your hand and give you a certain word and ask you to remember those words. Today, those words that I was told have been catalogued and recorded by historians, and a lot of people are making children’s books out of it. What I wanted to do was not demystification, but provide my own mystery of these words, sacred words, wisdom words, to try and explain my Dreaming, but it’s difficult to put down because of that mystery – because being told a word with no meaning given around it, you have to find out later on what the meaning is.

DM: I had a question regarding the end of the poem, where there seems like there is a renewed connection from the boy’s having experienced alienation from his community. Does that ring true?

LF: Yes, I would say so.

DM: You seem to be suggesting that you need to know both worlds and histories, a plural world, to enter into a greater understanding of your spiritual beliefs.

LF: Sometimes when I wrote a poem like that, story poems, they’re Dreamtime reality. They’re difficult to explain. It makes me reflect on the up and coming writers, for example, the Mornington Island experience with Dick Roughsey (Aboriginal artist from Lardil language group on Mornington Island). His wife, Elsie Roughsey, had a book on Mornington Island, saying that they gave Percy Tresize (a white Australian pilot, painter, and writer) permission to do this work on the secrecy of the tribe. I questioned that. I’m a questioner of giving permission, to write about it and give meaning to other people about that reality. I questioned that, as it’s up to the younger people of Aboriginal descent to present that. To me, it’s like another experiment to stop up and coming Indigenous writers writing forward. Sometimes when you have old ancient stories, they are not just old ancient stories, they have to change with the seasons, the climate, and the way human beings behave in the present day. I feel they have stopped young people adapting to that change, in keeping with the format of what they have written.

DM: When you’re thinking about political kinship or cross-cultural solidarity, such as in ‘The Slaves Her People’, or ‘Advance Those Asian an Pacific Writers Poets’, are you conscious of ensuring you are contacting other Indigenous peoples on equal ground (because you’re familiar with how intercultural communication can have negative consequences)?

LF: I am conscious of what I’m doing there because I want to get to, regardless of what race it is, get to a revolutionary change, a revolutionary emotion, a revolutionary spirit. I’m trying to make them understand we can move forward with a different direction through what solidarity and unity is about. We don’t have to rely on the negativity of it, we have to produce something positive, and to produce something positive you have to have facts in it, and the facts of the struggle is with the resistance fighters and that’s something important to me. They’re not the ones who are going to commercialise it. I can be, and I can be, well off, in what I do. I notice that. You can use the struggle, exploit the struggle to make yourself pretty well off, and that’s easy to do in any struggle in the world. I wanted to connect to the Asians, Pacificans, Indians, and avoid making a business of the struggle. We’re all trying to get to humanity, as the human beings when we first started out. I like to see my writings being read by young people like you, regardless of what nationality, and unite together, and see my writing as an entity for the future, a positive conscience, a conscience gathering us all together to produce a frontline activity together. The poets these days who are poets of Aboriginal descent don’t go out and read a poem and march on invasion day, and instead they put out in the Tube, the Facebook, and wait to get invited to a special reading to read the bloody poem. The rally is calling. I see words beyond any acceptable meaning, and this is how I express my Dreaming. But the message doesn’t have to be a scream all the time. I used to scream land rights, justice, and chucking graffiti paint on walls, that’s not going to get me anywhere. You have to dream the proper reality. It’s like terrorism, we always say that terrorism began when the white man first came here. But that doesn’t mean we have to justify a petty criminal terrorism by our own people or by other people. You know what I mean?

DM: This was why I asked the previous question on the role of ethics in poetry. Across your work there seems to be a real concerted effort to question how to think about relation. How do I best engage with someone else, and what are the most appropriate ways to form community. It seems like this is a very rich vein of thought for you.

LF: A tiny bit. Ethically speaking, I don’t understand the word myself. I want to work toward a humanitarian understanding, ethic or ethnic, that’s a racial thing for me. I don’t understand the academic word, I think the word is a dirty word. Yes that (aspect of my poetry) exists, but that’s not just a word, it’s a thing that is in play all the time. The most important thing for me is that there’s one race in Australia, the Aboriginal race, other races it doesn’t matter. They have to get to a point where they have to see themselves as not a race, but a human being, once you get to there you don’t’ get to (the) ethical. When there’s no race, there’s a consciousness of equality among people. For someone like me, who wants to think back to the Dreamtime, it’s to get back to humanity, and that humanity is 40,000, 60,000 years old.

DM: I apologise about using ‘ethic’ here, I suppose it might have that connotation, but the way I was trying to articulate is whether you think about making positive connections that ensure equality.

LF: I see it in Solid Rock [by Peter Hudson and Shane Howard], when that came about by that guy. It influenced a lot of younger people in Australia, and the way I looked at it, was that this is an Australian guy from Geelong trying to find his Irishness, not trying to find his whiteness. That’s something I heard from my younger people, everyone learnt from me, that the Irishman is not Whiteman, Scottish man he’s not white man any more, moving past it, and then perhaps past-human? Literacy can get to there with beautiful art, that’s what I’ve been trying to get there especially when I’m deleting and conquering white supremacy.

DM: In thinking about writing in traditional language in your poetry, how important is that to you as a way of pushing language revitalisation?

LF: I think about that a lot, because it’s a form of, not so much decolonising as, de-textualising the means necessary to make people think of … I don’t want people to think that English can bring about our language.

DM: Do you mean that writing in English is a roundabout way of prioritising Indigenous languages?

LF: Right. I think that sometimes when I write that’s the only way I can reach out to my people through my political writings and complicated writings with one word of Aboriginal that everyone can understand and recognise regardless of place. Maybe I can see this, not in the schools, but with translations on both sides of the page, that’s happening in so much literature through the old Dreamtime stories. Present day, English written Aboriginal people, I really like seeing that happening, and it’s happening very slow in the market, but with me, I really liked to specifically dab into that to futuristic thing where literacy that’s written by people like me that are detribalised could one day really see young people who write in their own languages and writing their own languages so they can read people like me quite clearly. The most important thing for me is to see the warriorship and leadership from the detribalised written languages that will point out the fact that English is a great tool to be used. It’s not that I’m in love with English, I just know that it can be used as a tool.

When I write English, it’s not a proper understanding of English or written down English. I just wanted to see creole and broken English being understood first before 100% English because it blocks the flow of the readership and the writing in language. Full English does that. Creole helps, because it’s open more, giving you a way to get there if you know how to handle language, it does give Aboriginal people a way to understand the language, to get a job, to get employment, and creole does that and it’s quite successful. But it can still steer away from the importance of reading and writing in Aboriginal writing, which I find difficult, steers us away from it sometimes.

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