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.
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.
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.