Australian poem: 2008 series #8 — Indigenous poetry

07 Mar

A recent comment on my Indigenous Australians page was followed by an email from the commenter with a request:

I am located in United States and I have been trying to find Australian Indigenous poetry, but it is kind of hard.

There are some leads on this overview of Australian poetry and more here. Paperbark : a collection of Black Australian writings edited by Jack Davis, Stephen Muecke, Mudrooroo Narogin, Adam Shoemaker has been around for quite a while now; it is very good. It is one of the books listed on this useful Queensland Government site, from which today’s poem also comes. Best of the lot, though getting old now, is the complete e-text of Black Words White Page: Aboriginal Literature 1929–1988 (ANU 2nd ed 2004) by Adam Shoemaker.

Today’s poem is one I had never read before.

Last of His Tribe

Willie Mackenzie

by Oodgeroo Noonuccal (Kath Walker) (1920-93)

Change is the law. The new must oust the old.
I look at you and am back in the long ago,
Old pinaroo lonely and lost here
Last of your clan.
Left only with your memories, you sit
And think of the gay throng, the happy people,
The voices and the laughter
All gone, all gone,
And you remain alone.

I asked and you let me hear
The soft vowelly tongue to be heard now
No more for ever. For me
You enact old scenes, old ways, you who have used
Boomerang and spear.
You singer of ancient tribal songs,
You leader once in the corroboree,
You twice in fierce tribal fights
With wild enemy blacks from over the river,
All gone, all gone. And I feel
The sudden sting of tears, Willie Mackenzie
In the Salvation Army Home.
Displaced person in your own country,
Lonely in teeming city crowds,
Last of your tribe.

According to the PoARTry in Motion page, “Willie Mackenzie was a full-blood Aboriginal, the last surviving member of the Darwarbada tribe of the Caboolture district. He died in 1968, age unknown but probably in the eighties. His tribal name was Geerbo, his totem the native bee. The ‘Mackenzie’ came from his family’s first white boss, a selector of that name.”

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5 responses to “Australian poem: 2008 series #8 — Indigenous poetry

  1. Jim Belshaw

    March 7, 2008 at 6:13 pm

    Neil, I don’t think that you mention who wrote this poem, or have I missed something? I thought that it was written by Willie Mackenzie, then realised that it must be about him. Checking through, it was wriiten by Oodgeroo Noonuccal (Kath Walker) (1920-93.)

  2. ninglun

    March 7, 2008 at 6:18 pm

    Quite right, Jim. Now fixed.

  3. Jim Belshaw

    March 7, 2008 at 6:20 pm

    Wow, that was fast, Neil!

  4. cecilia

    March 11, 2008 at 4:34 am

    Thank you for posting this beautiful poem. Can somebody suggest me an Idiom, quote or phrases in the aboriginal language for a title? I am trying to cover the topic living in harmony with the Earth and Its peoples.

  5. ninglun

    March 11, 2008 at 10:12 am

    You’re welcome, Cecilia. There are hundreds of Aboriginal languages in Australia.

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