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“Aboriginal Australia” is a poem written by Jack Davis. The poem is part of the collection “Jagardoo: Poems from Aboriginal Australia” published in 1977. The poem talks about the violence incurred upon the indigenous communities by the colonizers. This poem is a form of protest literature. Through the poem, Davis wants to bring to the front the suffering of his community and the villainy of the colonizers. The poem is filled with references to real-life events that took place. It talks about the massacres, genocides and violence incurred upon the aboriginal community of Australia.
About the poet
Jack Davis was born in 1917 in Perth, Australia. He was an Aboriginal writer. He wrote plays and poems. He was also an activist for the rights of the Aboriginals. He wrote and published a number of plays and poems. Some of his most notable works are the play “No Sugar” and the collection of poems “Jagardoo: Poems from Aboriginal Australia”. He was awarded the Order of the British Empire in 1976 and the Order of Australia award min 1985.
The poem is written in first-person narrative. It consists of 8 quatrains, each stanza consisting of 4 lines.
To the Others You once smiled a friendly smile, Said we were kin to one another, Thus with guile for a short while Became to me a brother.
The poem starts by the speaker addressing the “Others”. He says that the others smiled at him and his community in the beginning. The “others” said that they were related to each other. By listening and believing this, the speaker and his community thought of the others as their brothers. And they all lived like relatives and kind.
The poet begins the poem describing the very beginning of colonization. He calls the European colonizers “the Others”. By doing so he subverts the concept of “otherness” brought by the colonizers. Davis talks about how the colonizers came smiling and became friendly with the Aboriginals. He says that they proclaimed that they were related to the people of the land and this was accepted by the indigenous people without any doubt. And for some time they lived as brothers.
Then you swamped my way of gladness, Took my children from my side, Thus with guile for a short while Became to me a brother.
The speaker talks about how later, the others destroyed their happy way of life and took away the children of the Aboriginals. The colonizers destroyed their traditions and when the people pleaded in court against the oppression, the others created their own laws and denied the pleas.
The poet then asks about how after the Aboriginal poeple had accepted the colonizers as their brothers, the colonizers showed their true faces. The outsiders destroyed the aboriginal way of life which made them live happily. The colonizers also created laws and separated the children from their families. Then the poet alludes to an event that took place in 1963. In 1963 the colonizers took land from the Yolngu tribe. A petition was filed against it. The Yolngu people filed the Yirrkala bark petition but it was denied in court. So the poet says that the colonizers created their own laws and then referred to them to deny the rights of the people.
So, I remember Lake George hills, The thin stick bones of people. Sudden death, and greed that kills, That gave you church and steeple.
The speaker mentions the incident that happened in Lake George hills. He remembers the bones of all the indigenous people who were killed because of the greed of the colonizers. The speaker says that it was this greed and death that gave the colonizers their churches and steeples.
The poet refers to the genocide that took place in 1820s in Lake George Hills. Here many indigenous people were killed by the government authorities. The poet imagines the thin stick-like bones of the murdered people on the ground, killed suddenly by the colonizers. These bones of the dead people are buried into the soil. The poet says that it was done because of the unending greed of the colonizers. He says that it is on these bones of aboriginals that the colonizers’ churches and steeples are built. This stanza talks about how the European colonizers killed the religion and culture of the indigenous people and built their own religious institutions.
I cry again for Warrarra men, Gone from kith and kind, And I wondered when I would find a pen To probe your freckled mind.
The speaker shows his sorrow over the men of the Warrarra tribe who were killed because of their land and resources. The speaker talks about how he wanted to raise up a pen and put it down to paper and right about these incidents. He wanted to do this in order to understand the reasoning behind the “others” actions.
The poet in this stanza makes a reference to the people of the Warrwa tribes who were killed by the colonizers. The Warrarra men had taken the step to defend their land and community. The men were killed ruthlessly by the colonizers for this. Hence, the poet says that he sires for the Warrarra lives lost all because they tried to defend their land.
The memory of these horrific events urged the poet to pick up his pen and write about them. He says that he wanted to right in order to “probe your freckled mind”. Here “freckled mind” means the shriveled mentality of the colonizers which made them do these heinous acts. Davis wants to understand the reasons behind the actions taken by the colonizers.
I mourned again for the Murray tribe, Gone too without a trace. I thought of the soldier’s diatribe, The smile on the governor’s face.
The speaker talks about the massacre of the entire tribe of Murray. They were all killed without any reason. They were removed from the narrative without leaving any trace of them. The speaker thinks about the hate the soldiers would have had against the tribe and the cruel way the governor must have smiled while watching the event unfold.
In these lines Davis feels sorrow for the killing of the Murray tribe. He is referencing to the massacre that took place in the 1830s, where tribesmen were killed in the massacre of the Mount Dispersion. In the next lines the poet again tries to understand how the people could kill the indigenous people without any remorse. He imagines the hatred the soldiers must have felt against the tribesman to have killed them so brutally. He also imagines the devilish smile that must have been plastered on the face of the governor who gave the order to the soldiers.
You murdered me with rope, with gun The massacre of my enclave, You buried me deep on McLarty’s run Flung into a common grave.
The speaker tells the others that they killed him in various ways. They killed him with rope and bullets. They killed his entire homeland. The speaker says that the massacre was done on such a huge level that his body was buried in a common grave along with the others.
The poet talks about the various methods the colonizers used to kill the indigenous people. He says that the speaker and the rest of the aboriginals were murdered with rope and sometimes bullets. The poet says that colonizers carried out the massacre of his entire “enclave”. “Enclave” means territory. So the poet says that the massacre was done on the entire territory of Australia. The speaker was buried deep under the ground along with his brethren. The speaker was buried in a common grave. This shows how the indigenous people were not treated with basic dignity and respect even after their deaths. They did not receive any proper burial. Rather, they were buried in common graves. It also highlights the level of killing that took place. So many aboriginals were killed that there were massive common graves.
You propped me up with Christ, red tape, Tobacco, grog and fears, Then disease and lordly rape Through the brutish years.
The speaker says that after his death, he was propped up just like Jesus Christ and his mouth was shut with red tape. The aboriginal people were exposed to tobacco and grog. They were also made to fear the colonizers. The colonizers brought with them many diseases which killed many poeple and raped and abused the women of the tribes. All of these tortures were carried out for many many years.
The poet makes a Christian reference in this stanza. He compares how the aboriginals are tortured and killed just like Jesus Christ. Just how Jesus was killed by the authorities unnecessarily, the indigenous people are tortured and killed by the colonizers. Their mouths were shut with red tape, tobacco, grog and fears. “Red tape” symbolizes the rules made by the colonial powers. Tobacco and grog were given to the aboriginals to keep them subdued and addicted. The colonists brought with them diseases that the Aboriginal people could not fight against. “Loudly rape” referes to the abuse of indigennous women at the hands of the white colonizers. All of this went on for many years.
Now you primly say you’re justified, And sing of a nation’s glory, But I think of a people crucified - The real Australian story.
The speaker says that the colonists says that their actions were justified. They also feel proud for what they did because it allowed them to extort and exploit the natural resources. This allowed the Empire to gain glory. But the speaker knows that all of this is false. He can only think about the suffering of his people and says that that is the real story of Australia.
The poet in this stanza uses satire to comment on the mindset of the colonists. He says that the colonizers justify their actions and believe that what they did was right. They feel proud of their country and sing praises of it but in reality the nation was built on the exploitation of the resources of the colonies and the murder of the indigenous communities. Davis rejects their explanations and excuses and remembers the episodes of tourtière inflicted upon his people in the name of colonization. The poet declares that the story of the Aboriginals is the real story of Australia.