Blogging the 2010s — 108 — November 2014

Rediscovered the very post to share so close to National Reconciliation Week.

Friday Australian poem: #NS5 – one of my own reposted

I chose this in part as a response to seeing all episodes of SBS/NITV First Contact, and particularly the panel with Stan Grant after Episode 3 last night. Let me quote one of the younger participants, Bo-dene Stieler.

…Before the journey, I would never have thought that my biggest life inspiration would come from Aboriginal people. Looking back, I can’t believe the ignorance I showed and the disrespect I showed by not even taking the pro-active approach to find out more and just believing everything that I had been told.

To have access to knowledge and education, I should have tried to find the truth. I always thought negatively about Indigenous Australians, blatantly disregarding their heritage and honestly having no real facts to fuel my claims. It is not okay to regard the First Australians as being ‘wasters’ and I am ashamed of myself for proclaiming that. If I could go back to the beginning of my trip, having learnt what I had by the end, I know that I would have approached the people and communities very differently. I now realise that I had approached the journey with a set mindset, despite having thought I was being open-minded…

It wasn’t until I met Lucas at Roebourne Regional Prison that my bigotry started to slowly chip away. I did not care to listen to what any of the inmates had to say as I had already made my mind up that I didn’t care for their personal stories. I had painted Lucas to be just a crim, and felt somewhat shocked that his intentions for leaving school were to help his parents through a separation. I felt a connection with him, and I couldn’t believe that an Aboriginal inmate of a jail in the Pilbara shared a common story with me.

I felt the pressures of family breakdown since I was about 13 and I know how hard it is to try and keep your family together. It is devastating to watch the support and love of your family disintegrate before your eyes, and I am only lucky that I had my older brother Jared to look after me. Unlike Lucas, who had no one to keep him on the right path and no role models to look up to, I had my brother. I never realised that I would share so many connections with Aboriginal people. I always thought that there was some huge divide that could never be crossed. But I was wrong.

The journey showed me that instead of many non-Indigenous Australians showing prejudice towards Aboriginal people, we can draw strength from their resilience and determination. I would not have been able to face the next phase of my life without having met such incredible people and being welcomed into their homes. Meeting these amazing people has changed my life in ways that I could never have expected.

REPOST: In 1983 I learned more than I knew I was learning…

Posted on February 11, 2013 by Neil

At that time I lived in Glebe and was in some ways at a rather low ebb, in hiatus from teaching but still editing Neos. I lived for a while in a boarding house in Boyce Street with assorted students, crims and schizos and one or two ordinary folk. It was an education. Among my neighbours was a schizophrenic Aboriginal woman whom I call “Marie”.  As I listened to Marie, who was also kind of concierge to the house, I found a story emerging amid the apparent randomness and even craziness. I tried to capture that in a poem at the time. Every word in the poem she actually said, though not all at once, and I have structured it so that her story emerges, as it did for me over a much longer time. An artist who lived upstairs read it and said I had captured her exactly.


The house in Boyce Street. At the time I occupied the front room. “Marie” was on the second floor at the landing. The artist had the balcony room.

It is clearly no longer a boarding house.


Marie: Glebe 1983

(for the “stolen generation”)

my mama was black
dadda a scotsman

in the home there was a flower
it woke us up

see here it is

and here’s one i’m saving for matron
(i loved you matron)
i’ll write a book for matron

she’s gone now
they say she died

i think i will come back to her

she said “you’re in trouble, marie”
she said “have the baby”
(i was nineteen or twenty)

i know all about cocks
men can be cheeky
but the girls are worse
two backyard jobs

matron’s gone now
see her flower?
i’ve pressed it for her

i’m forty-two years old i am nothing
a woman not married in this society
is nothing

my dream is to get married
i said to matron
“i will have babies for you”


i’ll give up smoking
i must control the grog
but when my head’s upset i need a beer

the pub is good
nobody looks down on you there

i hope my joseph is happy
he chose his family
and thomas
where is thomas?

there have been too many men

i’ll go picking again
on the riverina

this is not my place

this is a dead end street this is a dead man’s house
but there is a lane

they call me

words are very powerful
you must be careful how you use them

do the children still read?

the television
i got mine at the hock shop forty bucks
it freaks me out


i see myself and matron and joseph and thomas
i learn a lot
it freaks me out


this is not my place
my head hurts here

all that fucking going on
over my head

i’ve never hurt no-one
let them kill me it’s good
it doesn’t matter
i’ve never hurt no-one
but i’ve been hurt

do you know my dream?

this is my dream
i’ll have a coffee shop
and there will be little huts
and no-one will be turned away

we did that once
had pillows all over the house

i learned
and elocution

i’ll get up early and get a job
it’s good i reckon
will be good
after christmas
next year
i’ll leave this place

but it’s good
i reckon

see this flower?
i’m saving it for matron
and here is the one
that woke us in the home

my dadda was a scotsman
my mama was black




Each photo is linked to its story.  See A guide to Australia’s Stolen Generations and 100 Year Commemoration of the Cootamundra Aboriginal Girls Training Home.

See also Punishment and death at Cootamundra for a contrarian view from Keith Windschuttle. BTW, if you happen upon that chapter directly via a search you could be forgiven for thinking it had some kind of official status. I find that a bit deceptive, but then I guess it is up to me (caveat emptor) to check the home and about links.

– Originally posted 25 January 2013