It feels like a decade has passed since we moved to Melbourne to take up work in the unceded lands of the Kulin nations. In our first days here, we attended several sessions of the Activism @ the Margins Conference, held in RMIT’s Capitol Theatre. It was perhaps the most diverse and interdisciplinary conference we’ve attended in our careers, with dozens of presentations challenging already contested boundaries of critical and creative performance.
Last Christmas, when our book of essays on activism was hot off the press, the sky above Melbourne was shot with smoke. As the bushfires raged, we wrote, with an ominous eye to the horizon, about bodies in crisis, and dead bodies as symbols of resistance. We were spotlighting protesters on the line, what it takes to express resistance in an age of violence and extremities.
The 1992 Mabo decision recognised Native Title on the Murray Islands in the Torres Strait. This decision led to the Native Title Act (1993) and subsequently had a direct impact on the identity of First Australians. There was greater acceptance among First Peoples to publicly define our identity according to our pre-colonial status. We define ourselves by clan or nation, rather than the generic colonial term ‘Aboriginal’ or geographic terms such as Koori.
In 2012 Adani walked into Bundaberg with all the Wangan and Jagalingou people, and he said: we wanna give you this, we wanna give you that. Blah blah blah. Nobody wants to listen to that, so we kicked him out of the room, and said no. That was to the mining lease. Every single blackfella in the room said: get out. Sent ‘em packing; all the lawyers: get out now. That was 2012. Then 2014: no we don’t want you here, get out. Adani went behind the back of all the other applicants, singled out a few people and told them, if you don’t sign, you know what’s gonna happen? You’re gonna lose all your Native Title.
I am not Australia’s imagined Aboriginal, nor its Indigenous. I do not identify as an Australian citizen: I am a sovereign Plangermairreenner from Meenamatta Country in north-east Tasmania. My people are Pakana and Palawa. I was born on Flinders Island in 1942, and my parents were both from Cape Barren Island where many of our families survived the impacts of colonisation and dominance. This was an Aboriginal mission under the Cape Barren Island Reserve Act (1912), designed to control all aspects of our families’ lives.
There’s a saying. If you can live in this country. Don’t forget about the emu. We teach it to soar. Would you like to come hunting with me? I’m only saying this because if you want to achieve something, you go hunting. Does that mean you can go hunting today? Are you going hunting? I can see that you’re sitting down and not hunting. Do you agree with me that you’re not hunting? But to me, it’s hunting time.
An important value across the Indigenous world including in Aboriginal philosophy is: Knowing that which has come before helps to understand ways forward. In Ghanaian tradition this value is represented as Sankofa, a bird with its feet facing forward, its head turned back and a gold egg in its mouth. The Twi language word translates to “go back and get it” and the associated proverb is “it is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten”. There are many ways for me, an Aboriginal person, to go back – reading the life and works of Oodgeroo (1920 – 1993) of the tribe Noonuccal is rewarding.
One of the old ladies in Mareeba used to buy my schoolbooks. She sponsored my schooling for me. She said, boy, when you go to school, I want you to learn and learn good, and what you learn you bring it back to your people. Going through high school, examinations. I’ve always kept that in mind. Of all things I got the highest marks in English in the whole school, and nearly up there with Mathematics as well.
Protest songs have long been used across the globe and through the generations as a way for artists to share their politics. In Aboriginal hip-hop, protest lyrics express collective and individual will and indignation, a resistance to historical erasure. Bek Poetik’s music connects the personal to a shared history of oppression: At school I read books on Indigenous history / In my own time, my culture wasn’t a mystery.
An important role of universities at this moment in post-modernity is to investigate and interrogate the ideas and institutions that came alive in order to give modernity its intellectual power and socio-economic transformational capacity. The crucible was a world driven by the global governance and entrepreneurship of white supremacy, colonialism.
At noon the sky above the cathedral splits in half – Light and shadow play across the city square like fireflies. A woman orders us to wear a mask and promises there’ll be no rain. She says there’ll be a barbeque later by the river, then winks – because we’re in on the secret to a ploy.
Clothes hang from the line, strung out in rows. They are one-dimensional half-people, not quite formed, wilting, limp and lifeless. Erin watches them absently from the shade of the verandah. The heat of the sun sucks moisture from them just as it drains energy from her. It’s not yet morning smoko and the thermometer sits in the high thirties.
For a long time, I was sure the boy had always worn a Mickey Mouse t-shirt, the cartoon stretched over his round belly like extended cling wrap. His extra weight was important somehow, a possible explanation – at least to my ten-year-old self – as to why his speech was so sluggish. Children knew when other children sounded ‘dumb’ and this knowledge that I was somehow smarter – more evolved – made it easier to dismiss his words in Underwood Park that day.
Ghost gums creak like echoes in the slow opening dawn. After three hours propped against a tall eucalypt hiding in a nest of ferns, ass sore and somehow also numb, Nick tips his hat to the sun, the sign he’s been waiting hours for, hands burning with frost, toes damp in his boots that have seen better days. He picks up the rifle, pulls his body from the puddle of leaves. His left ankle throbs; he squeezes into the pain with cold fingers.
In the mornings the silences are round and smooth like eggs. They happen before she’s fully awake, before she registers the sound of Graham’s breath, or the movement of the children in their rooms. Inside those silences, her thoughts are warm; they are long, uninterrupted lines. Until the day starts and her good intentions scatter, rolling away from her like coins.
and asked the bird if it feels trapped by its song, by its language being known only as melody. Its eloquent speech ‘my home is endless and dying’ reduced to piping notes, a shrill ringtone.
I am a vexed engineer: my ‘smoke encrypted whispers’ faded toward the obscurity of spectral encrypted echoes … Ghost-editing over old ground … Discovering that my words previously published were morphing into crawly-little arachnoids and flies, attacking one-another … All the shiny sentences I had orchestrated were like buttons on a favourite shirt
out of watching butterflies drinking turtles’ tears on the internet. My family won’t benefit financially from the quickening pulse and close-held breath that make sunlight slow
Rounds of unshucked applause bursting from the silt; for the festival heat, as though the sun has scraped back this tide; for the cast-away tyres and steps in a dark, treeless wood; for the fluttering white hedges shifting borders by the hour;
are heavy to lug. think also of the weight of wool you crushed lichen &
made a potion. There is bromine & it is a weakening agent
when the orderly comes to take the tray of sandwiches Dad can’t possibly eat I am compelled by an impulse to eat the sandwiches and also to catalogue them for a later poem that I know I will write / here is the poem 20 months later
West of Katoomba on every bit of your brakes ent’ring dubitable wine country. Wellington Kirkconnell Lithgow Bathurst prison country central New South Wales.
There’s a lot of things I don’t care any more Calling me ‘Yu Ouyang’, for example Putting me under ‘Y’ in a bibliography, for another Accusing me of writing in a ‘sloppy’ way
Lo Lo at the door, her big eyes blue to bursting through the threshold of the simple house at 108, and billowing fabric, a train of electricians in her wake. ‘La Loïe’, receptive to fancy, desired luminous wings of radium, had read a story in the paper of the couple
the money printers showed up hadn’t seen anyone for months maybe everyone was broke by now couldn’t know what kind of system is this our desires battered by empty shelves these are the people who used to laugh at Moscow GUM