Poem
Type
Poetry Prize

Co-winner: Duria burumurrung: eaglehawk time

Their ghost blue eyes glowing with bright light.

Her father sings his country walking through Blue Mountains.

He sings great serpent’s swimming, swimming to make rivers.

He sings each place calling, calling out to spirits,

Friends passing, needing permission, moving across lands.

His singing marks secret places, treading softly on quoll cat head rock.

Singing by rock shelters, pressing ochre palms.

Pushing red hands, Lilly Pilly Creek. Little hand prints, men’s hand prints, marking

their passing.

 

Late night, she listens to her father.

She won’t understand, must not be afraid.

She wriggles in possum cloak, listens, listens.

Waiballa have taken much land.

Anger bringing down grief. Love flies.

Hand runs across woomera, slapping against thigh.

She must help her people, learning waiballa language, their ways.

She must be brave.

Remembering he loves her, he will come back.

Now panic rising, crying, crying, holding his hand tight.

He removes her hand, continues.

She should trust him.

She is alarmed, clear this night is goodbye.

Her aunt mothers look, lying near a fire, crying.

 

This child Mary Burrarone, is not afraid in killing times.

Her father finds her, lying in soft valley grasses.

Picking her up in great dark arms. A funeral of a burning man.

All confusion, smoke, hawks swooping, to eat burnt things.

Yunga, kudjal. Weapons thrown on pyre.

Cloth turns to feathers, floating, floating on hot smoke.

Singing and wailing sadness, burria burria.

Women cutting heads, stones and blood trickling.

Objects float in blue sky, birds fight.

Duria burumurring, eaglehawk time.

 

Magpies, currawongs call across morning sky.

Sun’s heat streams down.

Clan gather belongings, dilly bags, coolamons

Walking, walking to a new town.

Old women stamp out fire, gathering babies in arms.

Hiding seed damper in dilly bags.

She is eager to see waiballa, taste beef.

Walking all day. Holding her father’s head.

Legs balancing on shoulders, hands gripping forehead,

pressing against black curls.

They stop, her father offers up sugar bag wild honey. Sucking.

Long hot walk, asking, where they are going?

High up on father’s head, he can’t hear her.

Hoping for food, hoping. Very thirsty, no water.

Chewing, chewing, she chews wattle gum.

 

Arriving in this new town, carriages, bullock wagons churning mud.

Leaving marks, like snake tracks.

Horses everywhere, yarrowman, terrifying size unbearable.

Hooves sharp, trampling earth.

Horses whinnying, voice of monsters.

All confused, wooden platform on high church tower.

Soldiers standing in formation, rifles at ease.

Black coated men, women in long shining dresses. White parasols.

A town dressed with roses, blooming, blooming behind picket fences.

Musicians playing, drummer boys rapping drums.

Thrumming in Mary’s head.

She sees tiny white dog, ruffled collar, licking his master’s fingers.

Watching dog, longing to touch it.

Smiling, putting out pink tongue.

She pulls her father’s arm, wants to hold this magical thing.

 

Waiballa has feelings of benevolence towards native people.

This word ‘gift’ can’t be correct, is she passed into another man’s hands?

Mary confused, screaming, her father serious: she can’t move, can’t speak.

Father’s hands on woomerah, leaning forward, listening.

Intent on agreement.

 

No one will harm her, he loves her.

Tribal law protects children, she was not chattel. Chattel.

A captain in red wool looking, talking slowly, as if her father is stupid.

English words sound like rattling sticks.

 

She saw that look on father’s face before, a gift bag of flour, the first time.

Joking, had they given him white dust or ochre paint?

Miming, spitting, he slowly touched white powder, tasting.

No good, he said, threw it, bag bursting like a cloud.

They all laughed. A tribe kept eyes on him, seeing what to do.

These ghost men had fire sticks that killed.

Wondering how to behave, father, their star and moon.

Soldiers laughing at him, laughing, sudden humiliation.

When people, point, laugh, you are the reason for laughter, it burnt you.

Soldier picking up flour bag, licking and smirking.

 

Damper bread given from saddle bag.

Except her father: tree standing tall, turning his back, mob walking away.

Proud.

Not needing white dust from dead people.

Only later: begging, begging for one scoop of waiballa flour.

 

Now, Mary here, nearly naked, naked and shy,

Pulling shift over her head.

Knowing ghost men like nothing more than this, this moment of taking, taking

something. Something.

Bringing shame to them all.

Their ghost blue eyes glowing with bright light.

 

 

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Julie Janson is an Australian writer based in Sydney. Julie is of Aboriginal descent from the Burruberongal clan of the Darug Nation of the Hawkesbury River, NSW. She was raised in a Boronia Park Housing Commission home on the Lane Cove River in Sydney. She is an established playwright with ten plays produced professionally in Australia, Indonesia and USA. Her debut novel, The Crocodile Hotel, was published by Cyclops Press 2015.

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