co winner The Oodgeroo Noonuccal Poetry Prize

Judith Wright Poetry Prize, first place: Acacia Land

Acacia Land
Black Mary and Gunjies
Duria burumurrung:
eaglehawk time

Can you see this picture – in Ngiyampaa and Gamilaraay country?


in the outback, a Toyota police car cruised on a misty, quiet as death, night,


near the outback town of Wilga, a tidy town


gunjie white wagon, bull bar dripping red dust, driving over dirt roads,


the holding of desperate crying men and women with blood-spattered cushions,


stuffing hanging out


passing silently through a desert cattle station, biggest in the whole world,


rabbit goat ravaged,


a monument to what Whitefella gubbahs could steal, keep and clear fell trees


and wreck with abandonment in


God’s Own Country


 

Acacia shrub lands, saltbush, blue bush, copper burrs, bluebells, grevilleas and


spindly wattles,


rusty sheds abandoned, farmland littered stones, sun set blazing pink,


‘Assumption of the Virgin’ sky


the dark tree line on a high river bank, the Darling River,


a brown dead dribble, a dribble


they see a running dinewan, emu and crashing lightning, it’ll set your hair on fire,


but no water ngaru-gi, fit for drinking


sky now jet black with diving stars, the Milky Way wiggled a black ribbon over


head in the Dreaming Serpent’s path


pearl tongue flickered around Orion’s belt, the moon rose, gunjie drove on beneath its


luminous glow


the vehicle lurched over rocks, getting dark


yellow head light glow, glimpsed old tyres piled against falling down fences of


barbed wire


while thorn bushes crowd the wooden posts, strung with the crucified corpse of a


wedge-tailed eagle,


its great yellow beak bent to kiss the earth

 


they rattled past abandoned lives with rusty signs: ‘BP Service Station’ in


red peeling paint,


gazed at forlorn building, wondered whose life had been spent out in the middle of the


semi desert of broken trees,


followed by a bandaar roo, little spirit fellas, gabinya wandabaa, all brown and


hairy yelling: ‘give us back our dead’


he saw a shadow move inside ruins, a windowed screaming woman’s face


he shifted in his hot sticky car seat, chewed his nails, feeling deep unease, a rising,


foreboding, sickness, in waves


chest tight, a vice and maybe he would have a heart attack any day now


and that would teach them.


shut that steel trap of teeth and wait until the noise died down, they would stop asking


questions after a while


drive slowly and lean forward to see grey mist lifting from a hot road


stones strewn across landscape like giant toys and red gum trees hovered


sensations of total inexplicable anguish grew grew, until around a bend:

 


a ghost, a goonge, in white ochre and blood, in the headlights, a few seconds


his semi-naked dark body trembling, his head gashed and flowed with gore


eyes shone like powerful light beams


the semi-transparent image shivered, pleaded with hands outstretched


his mouth crying: help, hold me in your arms, a warm embrace,


ghost fingers trembled, a drop of blood fell to earth, his eyes wept to watch it


stain the sand


police officers gaped with wide eyed gunjie terror


car brakes slammed, screeched, he gripped the wheel, yelped and swerved


crunched into thorn bushes, rattling gravel


eyes staring, face transformed, a white mask


he tried to restart, the starter whined, whined and he turned the key, again and again, it


crunched, twisted and quietly died


near Wilga, a tidy town


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.



https://overland.org.au/previous-issues/oodgeroo-noonuccal/poetry-prize-julie-janson/







An introduction to Black Mary and Gungies, both plays
written by award-winning Aboriginal playwright, Julie Janson,
provides interesting historical background. Centring on
different aspects and periods of Aboriginal life and people,
both plays are illustrated with photographs. They are
recommended for Years 7 to 12 Australian history,
Aboriginal studies drama and literature.

Black Mary tells the story of Aboriginal bushranger Mary Ann
and her partner, Captain Thunderbolt, roaming northwestern
New South Wales in the mid-nineteenth century. Dressed like
the men, Mary Ann is one of the gang, managing to survive in
the outback and to elude capture most of the time. She dreams
of returning with Thunderbolt to live with her people but
instead witnesses their massacre and plots revenge.
The play performed in Sydney by Belvoir Street Theatre.

A contemporary play, Gunjies combines family life, young
love, a football match and a debutante ball with political
activism, racial discrimination and uneasy relations with
police (the gunjies). First performed in 1993, the
International year of Indigenous People, Gunjies was
highly commended by the Human Rights Commission
and was also nominated for an Australian Writers
Guild award.

You can purchase from aiatsis via the link below.

https://aiatsis.gov.au/publications/products/black-mary-and-gunjies-two-plays-julie-janson/paperback