Change the Heart

When those 12 ships turned up in Sydney, all those years ago, it wasn’t a particularly flash day for the people on those vessels either…

Prime Minister Scott Morrison
It was not a flash day at Sydney Cove,
not a flash day for anyone.
Not flash for the sailors, turning about
for a week in that blasting Southern sun,

not flash for the prisoners with their lives on board,
not flash for the crew with their rotten gums,
nor for the ones who watched as the ships
docked with their goods and their crime and their guns,

not flash for the gospel the chaplains stowed
in well-intentioned suitcases,
not flash for the enlightened human race
with its scurvy tongues and pock-marked faces.

Neither was it a flash in the pan,
a single raising of the flag,
a peaceful changing of the guards,
followed up with rum and gags,

but day by day my white kin reap
the fruits of that unflashy day
and all the good that came from it
is only God's tenacious grace,

and history has its many tales
where villains have no wicked laughs
and sometimes they can sound like us
and bring us gifts in their subtle crafts,

but human ears are big enough
to hear more stories than our own
and hearts have room for other hearts
if we can step off history's throne.

Advance

We also came across the seas, my people:
Romans, Vikings, colonials, the lot of them,
convicts and scoundrels, emperors and ne’er-do-wells.
They came and they saw, they usurped, or were sent.
You came like us, to this lucky country.
You came in hope. We take it from you.

We also heard of the boundless plains;
we, my people, did not like to share.
Advancing ourselves, your foul was our fair.
Fences excluded; excluding, we fenced.
Tall hedges, tall stories: we made our own glories.
You came here for freedom; we came to rule.

I do not recall the home we came from.
You carry yours as a scar, and the ones
before us both know every hill’s name.
I must steal this to call it my own;
I squander what never was mine, and you look
through bars at the freedom we feast on. Our hearts

are never at home.

Redfern When

image

As a child, I only knew this as the place
where my grandfather was born, the name full
of bright, fiery growth like I saw near home,
our forests full of ferns both red and green.
In history class I learnt this was the scene
of old but living wars, fought, neither won
nor lost. The push of present crime, the pull
of family heritage, rendered this space
neutral. I neither sought it nor fled. Now
in morning light it is still. History stays
where we like it, asleep. Waking, it stings.
Can we find, beneath these sleeping things,
the Redfern when the speech was made? Those days
are passed. The past echoes anyhow.

Blackbirding

image

Did you come here for pearls,
having heard of the Bay
where the oyster-shell waters
open up wide to share?

Have you brought your investors
to see what’s for sale
in the town by the jetty
at old Roebuck Bay?

Have your brought your own tender
to hold as you dive,
or some eager companions
who’ll plunge for your dime?

Have you captured the knowledge
from ancient salt shores?
Will you watch from the shoreline
or dive down yourself?

Dive deep for the oysters;
save grit for the pearl.
The luggers are humming
as they promise the world.

Now the waters are swaying
and the history’s deep.
You should have let birds fly
and left pearls in the sea.

* Blackbirding was the term used for the capturing Aboriginal divers to work on pearl luggers in Broome.