In this episode of Australian Book Review's States of Poetry podcast, Jeanine Leane reads her poems 'Lady Mungo Speaks' and 'Whitefellas' which feature in the 2016 ACT anthology.
Lady Mungo Speaks
For Garry Papin and the Muthi-Muthi People of Lake Mungo
Lady Mungo heard the white scientists trampling
on her people's sacredness and she began to surface –
While you archaeologists are stomping on
our graves arguing about the depth of your
new Pleistocene layer my people already know
the story that always was.
They stumbled on my head in five hundred
pieces – they said – no bigger than the postage
stamps they placed on the letters they wrote to
their colleagues around the world to
come and see me too!
They spread me out like a jigsaw –
each piece an important part of their
puzzle of landscape and history.
But my people knew the story.
First time I left my Country was
in a suitcase bound for a university to
be studied by the experts.
Why are you still stealing us –
dead and alive?
My people heard me crying across the
miles in that cold collector's box and
told the whitefellas to bring me home.
They said we thought Aboriginal people
would be happy that we are discovering
their past. My people said she's our first
lady and wasn't yours to take.
For over two decades I cried.
When I came back to my Country, my
people came together to see me rest
where I'd always been.
When I heard the white scientists disturbing
my people's graves I rose forty thousand years
You didn't find me – I came back to tell you
that I didn't come out of Africa!
This is my home, and my people's Country!
We buried our dead in peace and with respect.
I rose to the surface to tell you to
stop desecrating the sacred sites of Australia's
first ladies, our men and our children!
Listen to my children's children and their children
Whitefellas have a license to stare in
car parks, foyers, forums and gatherings at
anybody else who doesn’t look white.
They’re famous for asking Blackfellas
where we come from even though they
belong to the oldest diaspora of all.
Whitefellas are experts on
Aboriginal affairs and have ready opinions.
In particular white men in the academy
seem to know a lot about Aboriginal women.
Sometimes Aboriginal people amaze
whitefellas if we finish school and go to university.
Then we’re encouraged to be more like them –
but whitefellas are surprised if we are
too much like them and say;
Why do you call yourself an Aborigine
when you live just like us?
Whitefellas know Aborigines are good at sport –
it’s all about natural ability and intuition.
But whites succeed through hard work,
preparation and structure.
Aboriginal sports people can be a challenge
for white coaches because we lack discipline.
But white people are happy to say that
rugby league has done a lot for Aboriginal people
even though Aboriginal people have done a lot
for rugby league.
They are happy too that they created sports that
Aboriginal people excel at like boxing – then
they are happy to call us Australian
Whitefellas hope that the gap in health,
education, housing, income and life expectancy
between black and white Australians will close soon.
But they still put shopping bags on
bus seats between themselves and the nearest Aborigine –
maybe that space needs to close first.
Perhaps the biggest gap of all is
across the grey matter between Whitefellas ears
when they think of us. Maybe they need to
build a bridge or a road to transverse that
chasm – because they like building things – don’t
they – Whitefellas! And when they’ve built that
bridge, they should walk back over it to
make sure it’s solid – not just tell us that it is
because we’re over promises.
Whitefellas feel sorry for us because we have
‘lost’ our culture over time and apparently age
doesn’t weary theirs. They call change progress.
Whitefellas like to study true Aborigines in the bush and
bring their knowledge back to cultureless urban mobs
like me – but we’re a pain – us
urban mobs – too many questions and
Whitefellas know that real Aborigines
don’t ask questions.
If we go to university we should take courses in
Aboriginal studies because whitefellas know that
with their guidance we’ll be good at it –
maybe we can even help other Aborigines.
Some say that Aborigines don’t work in Australia!
Truth is Australia doesn’t work without Aborigines!
This country would be broke without Blackfellas.
Advice is a one-way street in colonial Australia and
Whitefellas never seem to tire of that well-worn track.
'Lady Mungo Speaks' and 'Whitefellas' appear in 'States of Poetry - ACT'. You can learn more about States of Poetry and read the full anthologies here
Read Jeanine Leane's biography in 'States of Poetry - ACT'