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International Reflective Writing


Oodgeroo Noonuccal

Kath Walker adopted the traditional Noonuccal name Oodgeroo, meaning "paperbark tree." Oodgeroo was born in 1920 on Stradbroke Island (the island is called Minjerriba by the aboriginal people), Queensland, Australia, of the Noonuccal people of the Yuggera group. She was best known for her poetry, although she was also an actress, writer, teacher, artist and a campaigner for Aboriginal rights. 

Oodgeroo shared with her father the Dreaming totem the carpet snake (Kabul) and his sense of injustice. Leaving school at the age of 13, Oodgeroo worked as a domestic servant until 1939,when she volunteered for service in the Australian Women's Army Service. Between 1961 and 1970, Oodgeroo achieved national prominence not only as the Queensland State Secretary of the Council for the Advancement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders (CAATSI), but through her highly popular poetry and writing. With her 1964 collection of verse We Are Going,Oodgeroo became the first published Aboriginal woman. Selling out in three days, We Are Going rivalled the previous record for a publication of Australian verse set in 1916 by C. J. Dennis and his Moods of Ginger Mick. The Dream Is at Hand (1966) was her second volume of poems. My People (1970) represented verse from the earlier editions as well as new poems, short stories, essays and speeches. Stradbroke Dreamtime was published in 1972. Oodgeroo also wrote a number of children's books - Father Sky and Mother Earth (1981), Little Fella (1986), and The Rainbow Serpent (1988) with her son, Kabul Oodgeroo Noonuccal (Vivian). Oodgeroo was involved with many Aboriginal rights organisations. These organisations included the National Tribal Council, the Aboriginal Arts Board, the Aboriginal Housing Committee, and the Queensland Aboriginal Advancement League. 

Her work is recognised worldwide. The theme of many of her works is the hope for understanding and peace between black and white Australians. 

But I'll tell instead of brave and fine
when lives of black and white entwine. 
And men in brotherhood combine,
this would I tell you, son of mine." 

Oodgeroo began writing poems when she was young, but it wasn't until she was in her forties that a well known writer encouraged Oodgeroo to publish them. "She said something to me that I've never forgotten. I said I didn't think they were good enough and she said 'girl, these are not your poems. They belong to the people. You are just the tool that writes them down'. " 

Oodgeroo kept writing, and became recognised around the world as an outstanding poet. Her Aboriginal upbringing was her main inspiration. Oodgeroo grew up on North Stradbroke Island, near Brisbane. Here, surrounded by the sea and the bushland she'd wander off for hours exploring. Nature became very important to her. 

"Whenever my Mother used to rouse about me being a wanderer and going off on my own looking for shells and feathers and things like that she used to say you'll have to stop her from wandering and Dad used to say 'leave her alone, she's different'." 

Oodgeroo used to say she got her stubborness from her father. It came out at school when the teachers forced her to write with her right hand, even though she was left handed. Young Oodgeroo suffered many blows across the back of her left knuckles before she finally gave in. Her father also taught her to be proud of her Aboriginality. 

"Dad always said to me 'you're black, you're Aboriginal, always be proud of it, but always know this, that if you're going to do anything in this world you've not only got to be as good as the white person, you've got to be better'." 

In the 1960s, Oodgeroo campaigned for Aboriginal rights. Until then Aboriginal Australians didn't even have the right to vote. Oodgeroo fought for equality. She travelled across Australia, giving as many as ten talks a day. The campaign was successful. In 1967 Aboriginal Australians could finally have an equal say in how their country was run. 

Oodgeroo Noonuccal continued to fight for her people. She travelled the world, telling others about the dreadful conditions Aborigines were living under. But Oodgeroo felt people weren't listening to her, conditions weren't improving. Frustrated, she decided to go back to the place she loved, her tribal land on North Stradbroke Island. The Noonuccals call their land Moongalba, which means 'sitting down place'. It's very sacred to them. 

"At night time you can hear the old people talking lingo down here, especially on a calm night, you can hear it, the spirits are all around here."  But the Government said it owned Moongalba and Oodgeroo wasn't allowed to build anything there. She wanted to turn it into an Aboriginal museum. The only way she could stay on her land was to camp there, in a caravan and tents. 

Oodgeroo invited children, both black and white, to share her land and learn the Aboriginal ways. "Over thirty thousand children have been here in the last twenty years...if they only come once it's embedded in their mind because here no one passes judgement on them, they have to be their own judge and jury." 

When Oodgeroo Noonuccal died hundreds of people mourned, but that's not what she wanted. Oogeroo wanted people to celebrate her achievements and to continue working for true understanding between all Australians. Oodgeroo's memory stands today as a shining role model for all Australians as someone who strived for true respect and understanding between both the white and black communities.

For more information:

We Are Going 

They came in to the little town 
A semi-naked band subdued and silent 
All that remained of their tribe. 
They came here to the place of their old bora ground 
Where now the many white men hurry about like ants. 
Notice of the estate agent reads: 'Rubbish May Be Tipped Here'. 
Now it half covers the traces of the old bora ring. 
'We are as strangers here now, but the white tribe are the strangers. 
We belong here, we are of the old ways. 
We are the corroboree and the bora ground, 
We are the old ceremonies, the laws of the elders. 
We are the wonder tales of Dream Time, the tribal legends told. 
We are the past, the hunts and the laughing games, the wandering camp fires. 
We are the lightening bolt over Gaphembah Hill 
Quick and terrible, 
And the Thunderer after him, that loud fellow. 
We are the quiet daybreak paling the dark lagoon. 
We are the shadow-ghosts creeping back as the camp fires burn low. 
We are nature and the past, all the old ways 
Gone now and scattered. 
The scrubs are gone, the hunting and the laughter. 
The eagle is gone, the emu and the kangaroo are gone from this place. 
The bora ring is gone. 
The corroboree is gone. 
And we are going.'

Understand Old One 

What if you came back now 
To our new world, the city roaring 
There on the old peaceful camping place 
Of your red fires along the quiet water, 
How you would wonder 
At towering stone gunyas high in air 
Immense, incredible; 
Planes in the sky over, swarms of cars 
Like things frantic in flight.

Municipal Gum 

Gumtree in the city street, 
Hard bitumen around your feet, 
Rather you should be 
In the cool world of leafy forest halls 
And wild bird calls 
Here you seems to me 
Like that poor cart-horse 
Castrated, broken, a thing wronged, 
Strapped and buckled, its hell prolonged, 
Whose hung head and listless mien express 
Its hopelessness. 
Municipal gum, it is dolorous 
To see you thus 
Set in your black grass of bitumen-- 
O fellow citizen, 
What have they done to us?



Geoff Page

Australian poet, novelist, editor, and biographer Geoff Page was born in Grafton, on the north coast of New South Wales, and educated at the University of New England. His poems frequently make use of rhyme and meter as they explore faith and cultural memory. Page is the author of more than a dozen poetry collections, including Small Town Memorials (1975), Selected Poems (1991), and Seriatim (2007). He is the author of the novels Benton’s Conviction (1985), Winter Vision (1989), and The Scarring (1999) and the biography Bernie McGann: A Life in Jazz (1997). With Loredana Nardi-Ford and R.F. Brissenden, he translated a selection of poems in Italian poet Salvatore Quasimodo’s Day After Day: Selected Poems (2002).

Page has edited several anthologies, including The Indigo Book of Modern Australian Sonnets (2003), 80 Great Poems from Chaucer to Now (2006), and 60 Classic Australian Poems (2009). He is also the author of A Reader’s Guide to Contemporary Australian Poetry (1995).

His honors include the ACT Poetry Prize, the Robert Harris Poetry Prize, the Christopher Brennan Award, the Grace Leven Prize for Poetry, the Patrick White Award, and the Queensland Premier’s Prize for Poetry. In 2001 Page retired from Narrabundah College, where he had taught since 1974.

Christ at Gallipoli

This synod is convinced that the forces

of the Allies are being used of God to 

vindicate the rights of the weak and to 

maintain the moral order of the world.


Anglican Synod, Melbourne, 1916.

Bit weird at first,

That starey look in the eyes,

The hair down past his shoulders,

But after a go with the ship’s barber,

A sea-water shower and the old slouch hat

Across his ears, he started to look the part.

Took him a while to get the way

A bayonet fits the old Lee-Enfield,

But going in on the boats

He looked calmer than any of us,

Just gazing in over the swell

Where the cliffs looked black against the sky.

When we hit he fairly raced in through the waves,

Then up the beach, swerving like a full-back at the end

When the Turks’d really got on to us.

Time we all caught up,

He was off like a flash, up the cliffs,

After his first machine gun.

He’d done for three Turks when we got there,

The fourth was a gibbering mess.

Seeing him wave that blood-red bayonet,

I reckoned we were glad

To have him on the side.

Geoff Page, Christ at Gallopoli” text from Small Town Memorials, University of Queensland Press, 1975;


Arthur Phillip

Admiral Arthur Phillip (1738-1814) was the first governor of New South Wales, and founder of the settlement which became Sydney.  His friendly attitude towards the aborigines was sorely tested when they killed his gamekeeper, and he was not able to assert a clear policy about them.

Why is it dreams are like our history,
two parts pride and two parts shame?
First in the world with secret ballot,
slow to give murder a working name.

Can it be we’re still a dream
disrupting Arthur Phillip’s sleep.
Inside that eighteenth century head
we’re convicts, whipped, who will not weep

or ‘Native Aboriginees’
too primal to salute the king — 
who greets us all with half a wave
and hopes that we’re not suffering.

Transported dreams bestowed the vote
and, later, all that kings can give —
but stories done with guns and flags
are where we find we still must live.



Maggie Emmett

Maggie Emmett is a English poet living in Adelaide South Australia. She read Classics and English at the University of Adelaide and during her post graduate scholarship worked as a Tutor/ Lecturer in Cultural Studies / Film & Media subjects. She is a professional editor and worked voluntarily as Publishing Officer before becoming the current convenor of Friendly Street Poets (FSP). FSP is the longest running poetry reading and publishing group in the southern hemisphere, operating continuously for 35 years. Maggie has been published in many Australian & UK journals and in  'Snatching Time' New Poets 14, Wakefield Press 2009.

The Mathematics of Poverty

The poor keep moving
as if relocation
could reframe the algebra.

They cannot see that repetition
traces patterns
in their life.

New beginnings become as hopeless
as stale finales
of debt and desperation.

Wishful thinking makes for certainties
gambling against the odds
of possibilities.

Whispered prayers and incantations
leaves no space
for reason’s compass to steady and settle.

If they stood still and mapped the moment
both sides of the equation
would simplify

and they might construct
a new geometry
of anger.


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