These lives matter too!
White Australians, and our institutions, have never sufficiently respected that simple fact. Recently, on our current affairs TV program Q&A, the Indigenous actor, comedian and writer Nakkiah Lui was asked what her people want from we others. Her answer was clear, direct and unequivocal: 'Stop killing us!'
We have been killing the Indigenous Australians since Britain first invaded. There were many horrendous massacres, unbearable to contemplate, by both Government officials and private citizens. Now we have other ways.
There was at one time an official policy of genocide, though it wasn't officially called that. It was thought that if children of mixed race were removed from their families and adopted into the white community, they would become 'assimilated' – and that over time they would marry into the white community and their Aboriginality would be bred out of them (!) The removals of those children were carried out forcibly. Meanwhile it was expected that the rest of the Original population would gradually die out.
And why would they not die out? Many were denied access to the homelands they belonged to. Many, employed as workers, were denied their due wages. They were disadvantaged in the educational system, in the job market, in housing, in access to hospitals and medical care.... Such things may not have been written into Government policy but it is hard not to think that those in power hoped they would hasten the disappearance of the race.
Well, guess what? The Indigenous people are still here, proudly so, and they are speaking up.
It's time to listen! They could have taught their colonisers a great deal if anyone had had the intelligence to ask for their expertise in land management, for instance. Had those in power sought the great wasted resource of Aboriginal wisdom, we might have had better water supplies. We might have avoided last Summer's disastrous fires. We still aren't listening properly! But some of us have become aware of the necessity.
Today I'm sharing with you the words of two very articulate writers, on aspects of the Indigenous experience here.
We are storytellers here, as well as poets. And I have a story to share with you – the story of poet Ali Cobby Eckermann. She was one of the stolen generations of Aboriginal children separated from their families. In 2017 Eckermann won Yale University’s annual Windham-Campbell Prize for excellence in writing, awarded for her poetry. Her personal story was aired when she went to America to accept her prize. You can read the facts of that story here, interspersed with lines from her poetry about the experience. Even better, click on ‘Listen to the story’ at the top of the page. It’s a brief account, but powerfully moving.
You can go and do it now, and then come back here. Don’t worry, I’ll wait.
When you have more time, there are wonderful poetry readings and talks on YouTube. You can find them all gathered together here at Red Room Poetry, which recorded them for students and teachers. Several of her poems are now on the curriculum for HSC (Higher School Certificate) students. These recordings are in connection with that. She’s eloquent, clear and engaging. Among the things she speaks of are the importance of story in understanding each other, the value of the natural world to poets, and her dream of an Australia where the Aboriginal and white races live in friendship and unity.
Her award-winning book Inside My Mother (recipient, also, of the New South Wales Premier's prize for poetry in 2013) was published by Giramondo Publishing. It’s also available from Booktopia, Google Play, Amazon and Kobo.
Her earlier work has won a number of other awards. She is the author of two verse novels, Ruby Moonlight and His Father's Eyes; a memoir, Too Afraid to Cry; and an earlier book of poetry, Love Dreaming (2012). Some of these seem to be unavailable. Others can be obtained from Booktopia or Amazon.
You can also read some of her poems on PoemHunter. Such as this masterpiece of understatement (from Love Dreaming):
Mallets pound fence posts
in tune with the rifles
to mask massacre sites
Cattle will graze
sheep hooves will scatter
Wildflowers will not grow
where the bone powder
When facts are so brutal in themselves, there is no need to sensationalise.
A great way to experience her poetry is on those Youtube videos I mentioned earlier.
Do you remember Jasmine Logan, the young poet and rising star I met at local poetry readings? I featured her at Poets United last year – here, if you'd like to refresh your memory. I think she writes and reads with astonishing maturity. (She will be turning 14 later this year.)
This photo is from Poets Out Loud last October. Jasmine takes the stage, as host Sarah Temporal readies the mic.
The Poets Out Loud readings have been happening on Zoom this year. Jasmine and I have both attended, and have sometimes read, but for personal catch-ups we chat occasionally on Messenger. (A passion for poetry bridges any age gap.) I asked her if she would let me have one of her poems for this current topic, and she offered to write a new one. How exciting is that – a new poem, commissioned and created especially for us! While making wider points, this piece also has specific reference to the issue of Aboriginals in custody.
Indigenous Australians are both convicted of crimes and imprisoned at a disproportionately high rate in Australia, as well as being over-represented as victims of crime. The issue is a complex one, to which federal and state governments as well as Indigenous groups have responded with various analyses and numerous programs and measures. As of September 2019, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners represented 28% of the total adult prisoner population, while accounting for 3.3% of the general population.
Even more scandalous is the disproportionately high incidence of Aboriginal deaths in custody. A recent article in Vogue Australia gives details – and also notes the even higher rate of detention for Aboriginal women and children. We now know the shocking truth that some of these juvenile prisoners have been subjected to actual torture behind closed doors. And I don't mean only in the past! Our systems of authority are no more civilised now than they ever were. (It is not the original inhabitants of this country who merit the label 'savages'.)
Here's Jasmine's Black Lives Matter Poem.
I asked her to read it for us on Soundcloud. Please click the link to hear how beautifully she does so.
And this is the text:
Life is precious Life is sometimes robbed Life is not fair Life is shared The justice system is not your life, however it
can take your life All the black lives that were taken, they did not
have a white flag to surrender to express that
their lives were soon to be over They were mistaken of doing wrong when they
were the ones being wronged From the colour of our skin this diversity is
turning into a murder scene Racism will never be the description of our lives
Of our respect Of our future Of us If all lives matter, why is it mainly the black
lives being attacked? Why is it a plea of justice to the justice system? No matter how loud we talk, no matter how
many there are of us, no matter how young
some of us are, no matter many people we
educate We still aren’t listened By people with power By people with popularity By people with stubborn minds We are heard but not listened to We are being tortured but not falling We are different but not any less the same
You'll be aware that some people have countered 'Black Lives Matter' with 'All Lives Matter'. I have been given to understand that this was a slogan originally created by vegans and animal rights activists. Lately it has been coopted to try and diminish the assertion that Black Lives Matter. I love Jasmine's beautifully logical, stating-the-obvious riposte.
The posts of these last three weeks have only scratched the surface of this issue, and obviously there are other countries too where it needs addressing. I'm not going to continue with this theme here at this time, but neither do I want to just pay lip service and move on. I think we are all needed in keeping the momentum alive. Let’s keep on – as I know you in this community already are – thinking deeply, reading widely, and writing both thoughtfully and passionately in the service of change.
Material shared here is presented for study and review. Poems, photos, and other writings and images remain the property of the copyright owners, usually the authors.
I read breifly, after midnight here in Texas. But what I saw and what I read I must return.ReplyDelete
I have a pet peeve concerning "all lives matter" when it is in the reply to "Black lives matter." In my opinion "all lives" should have no place in today's issues. It started again with "Black" and let's dont rob the Black race of the power behind their motto in this episode.
BTW two of my grandchildren have mixed marriage, Black and White, relationshops. And two have international marriages.
I think you are absolutely right in your objections, Jim – as you'll see when you read the rest. (Grin.) Obviously your children and grandchildren were brought up with some sanity! (So was I, for which I am very thankful.)Delete
Coming late to this...I was one of the first to use the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag but eventually used the others that *seem to* negate it. There are always more sides to these things than the commercial media want to discuss. Real racist incidents as I still use the term, incidents of active hate, violence, injustice, make most Americans--including White ones--very angry. B*y h*l yes Black lives matter! Especially those of The Nephews who happen to look Black; say one word that might disparage or discourage them, answer to me! But then that phrase was coopted by an organization that takes in a lot of money, mostly spent (last I heard) by a young woman who seemed already to have more money than was good for her. That might not have been so bad if the money had been spent on things like after-school enrichment programs for urban latchkey children, child care, drug rehab, legitimate entrepreneurial programs for ghetto youth...but we heard nothing about that. Instead we heard the BLM organization was responsible for escalating the violence of campus demonstrations, which should have been used to rally support for constructive efforts. #BlueLivesMatter was a response to murders of police officers, NOT the ones who shot too soon or hit too much either, just anybody in uniform on a basis of tribal warfare. Some Black people I respect started using #BlueLivesMatter and #AllLivesMatter and #LivesMatter in response to that, and I did too. It does not mean that Black lives matter less. It means that in a civilized nation we don't do tribal war. We at least try to do peace.Delete
The whole story was not unknown in the US in 2020, but it *was* easily overlooked by those who failed to read both sides. Sometimes I've had to make a conscious effort to do that. So I'm not blaming Jim for his comment. A lot of people still think the choice of hashtags remained a matter of feeling loyalty, not supporting a few specific people's specific acts.
The history of indigenous Australians is tragic and the way they have been treated is unforgivable. I had heard about the ‘policy of genocide’ and I read a book about children who were taken from their parents in order to assimilate them. It made me so angry and sad. The story of poet Ali Cobby Eckermann is very similar.ReplyDelete
I would have hoped that all of modern-day Australia had woken up to the innate racism that exists and made a better attempt at putting it right. Australia is such a big country, and so diverse, that there should be room for everyone, no matter what colour or religion they are. Your posts have been enlightening, Rosemary, and I have been fascinated by the range and content of the poems.
I love these lines from Eckermann’s poem:
“My mother is a granite boulder/I can no longer climb nor walk/around/her weight is a constant reminder/of myself/I sit in her shadow/gulls nestle in her eyes/their shadows her epitaph/I carry/a pebble of her in my pocket.”
I also love the poem ‘Wild Flowers’ and the image of the fence, which was also prominent in the novel Rabbit Proof Fence. I agree, when facts are so brutal in themselves, there is no need to sensationalise.
Thank you also for Jasmine's Black Lives Matter Poem.
Thanks, Kim! Yes, I'm afraid we are indeed a racist country, even though many of us think we're not. (When, as a young woman, I first heard the statistics on the relative rates of incarceration, it became very obvious to me.) In fact it is not only that Eckermann's story is 'similar' to those of the stolen children – she is one of them. The stealing was still happening on a wide scale as recently as that, and even later. And Rabbit Proof Fence was not a novel; it is non-fiction. One of the girls in the story was the author's mother. There is still some very racist stereotyping of our Original people, even though there is so much demonstrable talent and brilliance among them, so I am glad to be able to point out just a couple of examples of excellent writing, from the acclaimed prize-winner to the up-and-coming young performance poet.Delete
It'd be wonderful if all lives truly mattered, wouldn't it? But the sad truth is society acts in ways that show that isn't the case. And forced assimilation, as in the case of Ms. Eckermann, is just a slick repackaging of genocide. The same thing has been attempted on our side of the world with people touting it as something done "for the betterment" of the indigenous population. It's revolting.ReplyDelete
Oh yes, it’s always ‘for their own good’.Delete
I read Ali's story with interest, and her poetry and Jesmine's are heart-tuggers. Children in certain tribes of American Indians in the U.S. wee taken from their parents with the same sick philosophy, and both native Amer4icans and black Americans deal with much the same as the aboriginals still today. Breaking the old tradition of belief in white supremacy remains an awesome task, sad to say.ReplyDelete
I was very blessed to be brought up by parents and extended family with good humanitarian values, so any kind of prejudice appears to me ridiculous and stupid. And when I was in group therapy in my twenties, the psychiatrist told us categorically that racial prejudice is 'a sign of severe mental disturbance'. And yet such beliefs are taught at an early age, passed on, and held by many. I think it needs to be addressed in schools (if not in the home, which would be even better). It seems as if the schools are beginning to address it; can't come fast enough!Delete
I read Ali's story with a hand on my heart. She has endured so much and yet bloomed as a Poet and chose to share with the world, I am glad she did! There are so many people who aren't able to. My eyes welled up when I read her words; "Wildflowers will not grow where the bone powderReplyDelete
lies." The way indigenous Australians have been treated is beyond cruel and unforgivable. I was shivering after reading the details in Vogue Australia. I sincerely hope that the situation improves and that justice prevails!
I am so happy to read about Jasmine once again! She reads beautifully on Soundcloud. I agree with her when she says "From the colour of our skin this diversity is turning into a murder scene." Like her I too hope that we are not just heard but listened to.
Thank you so much for sharing, Rosemary!💝
Thank for being so receptive, Sanaa. I gave people a lot to absorb this Friday, especially with those YouTube videos. It's fortunate they're so rewarding too!Delete
Thank you for sharing. I confess that I don't know much about Indigenous Australians (or Australia in general, to be very honest). Ali's poem is stark and hard-hitting, and Jasmine's is impressive. It's hard to believe it was written by a 13-year-old!ReplyDelete
A 13-year-old who thinks deeply and feels strongly on these issues – and who has had the writing vocation since even younger.Delete
The scattering of those "children's bones" lingers like thunder. I always wonder how so many can go through life never hearing that terrible sound, never seeing (and caring about) the loss...ReplyDelete
Like Rommy suggested above, it would indeed be nice if all lives mattered to all. Maybe one day. Soon...
We must keep persevering.Delete
Thank you so much for sharing these poets & poems! Listening to Jasmine read her poem was powerful.ReplyDelete
Thanks, Chrissa. I've had the privilege of hearing her read live a number of times, and I know she is always a powerful reader. That's why I was keen for you-all to have the chance to hear her too.Delete