Claimed by Country

This chapbook came out early in 2010 from PressPress and is dedicated to my friend, Elizabeth (Aunty Betty) Pike.

The poems in the book are one attempt of a non-Indigenous person to engage with place in terms of being claimed by place as both that which sustains us and that which carries the scars of colonial violence against people and country. Country is a term many Indigenous Australians use to refer to the land of their people, eg. Yorta Yorta country, Nyoongar country, Mutti Mutti country. The poems are written in response to the country on which I lived at the time, which belongs to the Wurundjeri, and country through which I travelled for various reasons, including retreats and vacations. As far as possible, I have tried to name the people to whose country the poems refer.

The cover for the book was chosen by the publisher, and I feel that white writing on a black background conveys not only the reality of our colonial past and present, but the ambiguity of the thing I am doing writing as a non-Indigenous person who has found herself, in ways different to Indigenous people, claimed by country. At the same time, being claimed by country is an experience very much shaped by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people I have met, or had the privilege of hearing, and who have generously shared something of their relationship to country with me. The white writing on a black background also recalls for me the way NZ artist Colin McCahon came to convey a particular relationship with the sacred. For information on Colin McCahon see http://www.mccahon.co.nz/

Two poems from the book:

Claimed by Country V

 

This is the rose on the gum.

This is the rust on the earth.

Here with the lightest touch

 

the fragile leaf of gold’s

applied to ground. And here,

where rocks shift to wallaby

 

and edge toward the altar,

the congregation stirs as

by degrees, a full moon

 

climbs the far side

of the range. With vested

hills, the dancers and the priests

 

attempt a fugue of ways,

where one is always

almost

 

lost. Insects light upon my

hair and on my skin.

We stand. We sing.

 

We give a peace

that takes the breath.

The dry is in my lungs

 

and in my flesh

as by the iconographer’s

grace I remain,

 

crushed cotton and dirty

feet, a smudge of white

in the corner of the frame.

 

River gum

 

This

falls –

 

the skeins of colour on the skin

and from the frame tough scarves

 

hang and

hold.

 

A clamourous consensus breaks

from the bank. But high, against blue,

 

bare

limbs

 

stagger, amid bursts of green

subtle with scent.

 

They

prod

 

the mottled cloud. And

leaves’ lances exude a slow grace

 

like a

man

 

who thinks himself old and scarred.

His words are the pause of a creek

 

stagnant

with loss.

 

They catch a woman on the verge,

where river gum is a language,

 

shambolic

with age.