Three Works dedicated to the First and Last Australians
The Ghost of Bennelong
This work was written to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the death of Woollarawarre Bennelong, a warrior of the Sydney based Aboriginal Eora people at the time of British colonisation. Bennelong was initially kidnapped and later befriended by Governor Phillip who built him a hut on what is now the site of the Sydney Opera House at ‘Bennelong Point’.
The anniversary was on January 3rd 2013 when extracts of the poem ‘The Ghost of Bennelong’ were read by the author, showing the Opera House in the background. The reading and video formed part of a news item that night on both SBS and National Indigenous TV.
There it is. I see it now, a shadow buried ‘neath the sails, pressed into this timeless earth
The outline of my white man’s hut, twelve foot square and built so I could prove my worth
Feel the wind, smell the fire, see the thin, grey, curling smoke, hear the firewood crackle
Lend an ear to darker days, cast an eye on wicked ways... and hear the dead men cackle
Come step into my nightmare; crawl beneath my skin and tremble at my life put on the line
For I was warrior, wild and young; Eora savage bold and stout; proud in seventeen eighty nine
Through fear we’d hidden in the trees, watching, sniffing distant safe, cautious tongues unheard
Then in a trap the men in red threw a rope around my head... in the name of George the Third
The tall ships danced their rock and roll, creaking, leaking in the cove, watching with a shiver
Sad-faced men in stripes and iron stole a glance ‘n’ took the lash, beside the Parramatta River
They dragged me to the Governor, keen to know and understand our customs and our tongue
With noble chin and eyes ablaze I buckled to the white man’s ways... for fear that I’d be hung
They kept me under lock and key; a prisoner of the King’s desire, to teach them of the native life
I was a blackened beast on show; studied hard but given grace, especially by the Governor’s wife
One night inside this fancy house the tribal blood within my veins chose its time to boil in rage
An angry voice upon the breeze; a black man bent upon his knees... ordered me to leave my cage
The koori stamped into the dust; blew the didge, clapped the sticks and sang a line of songs
But little did the redcoats know about the cost of kidnap; Eora fee for all the white man’s wrongs
They lured the Governor to a trap; ‘Seven Miles from Sydney and a Thousand Miles from Care’
Then on the way back came the payback; when down at Manly Bay... they speared him there
He took it in the shoulder and he took it on the chin; a lesson learned on customs of the blacks
Wise man, good man, he forgave, then put his mind to learning of the culture that he lacks
I was a free man, safe to hunt with nulla nulla, boomerang and courage beating in my chest
Then Governor Phillip called again, to be his friend and find out when I’d work at his behest
He wanted me to go between the British and the nervous mobs, to play their middle, fiddle man
And never since the Dreamtime dawn was a braver soldier born of the fearsome Wangal clan
He taught me words from distant worlds, of gods and kings, lands, riches and of empire strong
He showed me how to use a fork, to wear a suit and how to talk... yet still I got things wrong
I was pampered as a prince; food and liquor sweeter than the wretched souls who lived in chains
I learned to eat the white man’s meat, drink the rum til I was numb, then wash away the stains
So on the rocks at Tubowghule they built my hut of brick and wood, my penthouse with a view
There I lived not black or white, walked the line by day and night... and did what I was told to do
There’d been disease in Sydney Town; buried where the town hall stands; victims of the pox
It didn’t care what rank or class; convict, sailor, koori mob; countless redcoats from The Rocks
By November ninety two; an ailing Governor, summoned home, had set his sights and sails
From First Fleet fears in five tough years... he’d sown the seeds of fledgling New South Wales
He wennalong to Bennalong, Yemmerrawanie too; samples of the species to put before the king
“You are my son, my doorow, so come with me to London Town.... we’ll show you everything”
“Yes I will beanga, for my father you have been; please dress us fine in ruffles, silk and lace”
And so it was; to Greenwich Meantime from the Dreamtime... frilled with smiles upon my face
There’s the Tower, there’s St Pauls; take a walk down Pudding Lane and feel the London Fire
See the Bailey old ‘n’ cruel; weigh the measures and the truth; just assume that everyone’s a liar
In those docks I saw the ships of innocence and guilt; broken people outweighed by the scales
Seven, fourteen, twenty one, life when life had just begun; better than the rope when all else fails
Meet Lord Sydney, meet the king; cruise the murky Father Thames and see a Shakespeare play
Twas British culture in its nest; honour of the lion crest; empire at its very best, every single day
But in the blood flows all the truth; pumping through the veins to find its way back to the heart
The shock of curiosity; the sense of what I’m meant to be, tore my spirit and my soul apart
For culture has a vicious bent; and what’s been borrowed’s also lent... and has to be returned
I heard the call of didge ‘n’ sticks, smelt the charcoal and the dust; thought of what I’d learned
Yemmerrawanie passed away and I fell sick another day with English chill upon my lung
And so I wept Eora tears; trembled for Eora years... and summoned all the songs I hadn’t sung
Was time again for Dreaming; for living wild within the bush; for hopping mad with kangaroo
For stamping stick-legged in the dust, for speaking secret Wangal words; known by chosen few
My friends the Phillips heard my cry; set me on the waves again; brought my lonely world alive
With much delay and some decay I sailed with Governor Hunter... in early seventeen ninety five
Spirits raised and spirits drunk; howling winds around our ears, we sailed from Plymouth Sound
Old England with its British kind and gilded cage were left behind... for I was Sydney bound
The music of Eora; of Wangal, Wallumedegal; of whispered words of Bunjil in my ears
Kept me dreaming, kept me sane, drove my spirit home again... damaged by the alcoholic years
My Seven Sisters Dreaming; my aching nights of Muggadah, of Meenhi, Wimlah, Gunnedoo
Sent me home like boomerang, to sing the tribal songs I sang... and start my drunken life anew
But I had changed as had my life; my daughter dead, a missing wife, an empty hut upon the rock
The timeless clock of timeless land had lost its timeless second hand... a silent tick without a tock
The clan of Wallumedegal was happy I should lead; a warrior brave and wordly at its head
Once again I toed the line ‘tween black man and the white; telling what the other one had said
They called me ‘interlocuter’; filled my head with fancy, pumped my body full of food and grog
And bit by bit I didn’t fit; I lost my health and lost my soul... I spent my life in vomit like a dog
As the farmers stole the land; gripped the throat with upper hand, my organs faltered with abuse
Weakened limbs, broken heart; vision blurred and bloodshot, in one Eora man with good excuse
I drank away my dignity, chewed up all my tribal pride and swallowed all my noble self respect
In my hazy Dreamtime dreams, body bursting at the seams... everybody knew a life was wrecked
Twice I almost perished in a battle ‘gainst the clans; fifty times in fighting ‘gainst the devil drink
Then in eighteen thirteen, west of Kissing Point, Bunjil turned me into dust, January third I think
They buried me ‘neath orange trees, in orchard ground of convict mate, the brewer Jimmy Squire
They mourned me with a payback war; bloodied spears of tribal law; and danced around the fire
Marrow, muscle, sinew fed the grubs and fed the worms; bones decayed six feet beneath the stars
A shattered man with broken heart returned to Mother Earth, in the ‘Parish of the Field of Mars’
And now I float in Pleiades; watch the Seven Sisters play, a weeping spirit spinning out in space
I cry to Bunjil in my grief; I scream in total disbelief... and beg for pity for the human race
It almost took two hundred years to purge the guilt; to honour truth and wipe away the shame
They built the towering, pointy sails, tiles ‘n’ wood and all things good, to wash away the blame
They come to lose themselves in time; unaware what’s neath their feet... they drift into a trance
They come to hear a hundred strings, marvel at a thousand things and watch the black men dance
They come to dine at Bennelong’s, crustaceans take the centre stage, the dollar signs are missing
The patrons puff their chests in pride, hug their loved ones by their side... at the point of kissing
This way madam, this way sir; the opera starts at eight o’clock... we know you can’t be late
Enjoy the didge below the bridge; taste the view and kangaroo... yams ‘n’ eels upon your plate
I hear the music of the ships; slapping seas ‘n’ flapping sheets; creaking, cracking timbers yawn
I taste the grubs and honey ants; see the shadow ‘neath the sails and burn alive with every dawn
Hush my friends; tiptoe soft in ancient steps; close your eyes and sniff the charcoal burning
Dream ahead two hundred years; wipe away a million tears... and pray the white man’s learning
Feel the wind, smell the fire, see the thin, grey, curling smoke and hear the clink of shackle
Lend an ear to darker days; cast an eye on wicked ways... and hear the dead men cackle
Buy your tickets for the show; park your cars way down below, within the shadow of my song
It’s time to dream, to fade away; to waken to a better day... and toast the ghost of Bennelong
Turn the Boats Around
By the thousands did they come, bound in line by fate and chains
We heard the clanking, heard the cussing, saw the angry veins
We watched them from the forest and we smelt them on the breeze
We tip-toed through the bush to see the monsters from the seas
They brought their boats into the cove and trudged across the sand
In sickly skin with nervous eyes they squinted at this land
We thought they’d be here just a while and soon be heading back
But then the fearsome men in red had raised the Union Jack
‘I’m frightened Dad. They seem so strong. I think they’ve come to kill’
‘Don’t worry son, if we must fight ... I promise that we will’
‘I’ll help you Dad. I have my club and you have got your spear’
‘It’s alright son. You just stay calm. There’s nothing we should fear’
‘But what if they have come to stay and force us to be slaves?’
‘Don’t cry my boy. This is our land. We’ll send them to their graves’
‘I’m scared they’ll try to steal our food and everything they’ve found’
‘Then we will cast them to the sea. We’ll turn their boats around’
The tall ships rocked at anchor with their sails tied to the mast
The prisoners all were locked away, the dye had now been cast
An island filled with convicts, brought by boat to find their fate
A fear-filled future for the souls of seventeen eighty eight
The convicts chiseled at the rocks beneath the bloodied tails
They carved a future from the stone and called it New South Wales
They won their leave and tilled their land and taught their kids some grace
But eight short generations on, a few forgot their place
Secure and safe they watched the news to see more boats arrive
They watched them flounder on the rocks and saw a few survive
They called out ‘send the bastards home’ and ‘turn the boats around’
They saw the children drown as leaky vessels ran aground
‘I’m worried son. They’re not like us and we don’t want them here’
‘I know Dad, cos they mean us harm. There’s so much we should fear’
‘They’ve come to find a better life, to take our jobs away’
‘It’s alright Dad. They’ll hate the camps. They’ll never get to stay’
‘They’ve jumped the queue, lied through their teeth and broken all the laws’
‘You’re right Dad, so we’ll fly them back to all their stupid wars’
‘Why should we pay our taxes for these cheats from overseas?’
‘My bloody oath. There’s no way they are really refugees’
They brought their boats and risked their lives and used their mobile phones
The lucky ones were rescued just inside our Aussie zones
With nervous eyes and anxious hearts they all were locked away
And there on Christmas Island they would sew their lips and pray
With guns held high the men in blue would guard them day and night
They did their best to shut them up and keep them out of sight
And when the tv crews had gone they’d fly them to Nauru
And there they’d serve their sentence... as our ancestors would do
By the thousands did they come, tied in time by cruel fate
We heard the cries and saw the kids and knew they had to wait
We watched them from the living room and smelt them on the breeze
We tip-toed to our tv screens.... to see the 'monsters' from the seas
The Voice of Bunjil
Listen children. Lend your ears to this ancient earth ... and listen.
Beyond the modern murmurs hear your mother’s wailing womb, crying happy in creation; bubbling, gurgling pangs of birth; sighing with splendid, stretching pain. We are the sap of every tree, re-born with blossom-face. We are the core of every rock, the heart of each and every cave; we are the ochre hands our elders spat when time began. We are the blood of every beast, pumping, crawling, breathing, pouncing, padding through the gum tree bush. Hear the thump, thump, thump of your heart beating downwards through the dust, in tune with life itself.
Touch your world. Place your hands on sacred soil ... and touch.
Through the trembles of the pipes and drains, feel the shudders of timeless feet, stamping, dancing stick-legged in fear and rage; pounding glory to our Creator Beings.
We are koala, dozing sick, soft, playful, drugged. We are snake, red belly, king and brown, sliding deathly, deftly as we spit our poison and our pain.
Feel the slithers and the shivers and the rattles of our bones pushing downwards through the earth, pulsing with the universe in harmony and rhythm.
See the wonder. Gaze through 400 years of light into the face of forever ... and see.
Beyond the ploughed vapour trails shines all beauty; the winks of a billion stars floating through the nebula; the billowing birth and death of fluffy nimbus, bursting with smiles or tears.
We are eagle, parrot and cockatoo, squawking, bouncing, talking on the winds. We are kookaburra, lorikeet, lyre, galah; laughing loud, plucking tunes and acting dumb, plumed and groomed by almighty Bunjil. Watch our Seven Sisters as they play among the Pleiades; squint to see them flee Orion towards the safe, celestial arms of glowing Atlas and Pleone.
Smell your land. Inhale your past, fill your lungs with Dreamtime ... and smell.
Through the film and layers of white-man’s waste, black pores puff and pant for life, pleading for renewal, craving aromas of this rugged land, gasping for Gondwana.
We are redgum, fig, lily pilly, banksia, casuarina; spraying the bush with scents so sweet to cover up the stench. We are wombat wobbling blind and slow; echidna crawling spiky safe.
Suck-in the eucalypt and pine; breathe the wattle and the must and dust of damp, seeping, weeping caves. As roos and dogs and emus do, raise the nose and sniff the wind.
Taste your country. Sip the springs and fill your belly with the beasts ... and taste.
We are the pebble-clicking creeks, the tumbling falls and thirsty bongs. We’re wallaby, goanna, roo and possum; rich and royal banquet fare that’s fed us full since time was born.
We are the wriggling, flapping trout, the yam and yabby, bass and eel. We’re flathead, grunter, pygmy perch, swimming to self-sacrifice, ever keen to be devoured so man may stay alive.
Savour gurgling creeks and falls and relish loins that hopped and crawled across this unforgiving earth. We are these living, dying things and we shall be devoured.
Dance children dance. Clap the sticks, bend the knees and cast your voice unto the breeze.
We’ve waltzed the white man’s tune so long; stood in line to sing his song; and like koalas, grogged and gagged with eyes diseased, we’ve settled in our sleepy trees to watch the blurry nightmare pass. Fingers stenched with guilt and greed have passed the food we didn’t need. Our honey ants and nuts were fine and humpy homes with bark and twine were all we’d ever asked from birth and given by our Mother Earth. It’s time to build our line of stones, to point our sacred pile of bones and dance along with Songline tones towards a better day.
Dream children dream. See the sand pour through the glass and watch the precious hours pass. Bunyip, yowie sit and wait; they know the time, they know the date and understand it’s not too late to tell the world of all the cost and stand and fight for what we’ve lost.
The emu burning in the sky will never know the reason why our hearts have all been broken.
He weeps to see the rape and theft but hangs on hope for what is left and screams aloud for all to know that Bunjil’s voice has spoken. Chase the Dreamtime every night and in the meantime, in the Screamtime... fight for what you know is right.