John Woodcock Graves the younger [with] Truganini

By | 1 March 2017

So often reproduced and yet
the message so elusive.
John Woodcock Graves the younger,

lawyer, writer, poet, ‘friend’,
is standing high beside her,
not quite profile, looking down,

frock coat reaching to his knees.
Truganini, Trugernanner,
also known as Lalla Rookh,

is sitting in a stiff-backed chair,
the lines of which her long-sleeved, white
Victorian dress obscure.

What looks to be a scarf with tassles
reaches to her knees;
it’s white as well, her captors’ colour.

She’s thought to be the last, she knows —
of interest to Science.
She knows too that related women

are living in Bass Strait with sealers.
Graves, it’s said, was genial,
learnèd and eccentric,

something of a sketcher and
a well-known greyhound breeder.
Although the photograph’s undated

some say it’s 1876
and just three months away
from Truganini’s death

and five from that of Mr Graves
at only forty-seven.
But all of this is mere description.

It doesn’t read the code between them:
Graves, full-height, arms folded,
pensive, sad and somewhat

Truganini with her hands
clasped across her lap.

Her woman’s eyes are wary embers;
they blaze at her ‘protector’’s belly.
Are the two of them aware

their photograph must prove symbolic?
Truganini knows her bones
will be displayed and sent to London;

she cannot know her ashes
will take just on a century
to regain D’Entrecasteaux Channel.

Graves knows too that he is powerless
for all his knowledge of the law.
He can’t foresee, we must assume,

his own death is so imminent.
Each knows, but in a different way,
the moment of this moment.

The future’s sepia already.

In response to John Woodcock Graves the younger [with] Truganini,
Photographer unknown, Date unknown. Sepia toned, 15 x 10 cm Collection: Allport
Library and Museum of Fine Arts.

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