As a new century dawned white Australians were urged
to feel comfortable and relaxed about their history.
'Shake off that irksome black arm band – legacy of radical
lefties who can't leave well enough alone – and their
tiresome chant that white Australia has a Black history and
we all have blood on our hands.
We've got a new song to sing now!'

Right wing historians hummed the new tune
and set about to write Aboriginal massacres out
of the record, out of the history books, out of the classroom.

There weren't really fifteen thousand Palawa people
in Van Diemen's Land before the arrival of
white Christians. They said.
There weren't even five thousand!
Only a few hundred naked savages roamed here
and a meagre hundred or so killed –
in self defence – of course.
Or perhaps they were stealing?
On the darker side – they were cannibals –
weren't they ? Think about it!
What happened to the rest? Who knows?
Nobody wrote it down – no history of
massacres here.
Perhaps they were saved by Christian charity
and blended in with the rest of us – or
maybe they died of natural causes
or just perished because they couldn't adapt.
The rest is mere hearsay – oral history –
words in the air!
Nothing on paper – so who remembers?
The Aborigines didn't count in numbers –
so why bother now?

Nobody recorded those other syllables in time –
full of sound and fury, punctuated by
blows, blood and screams.

But wasn't their blood red?
And didn't their loved ones cry?

Late in the twentieth century, with a population
of eighteen million the shootings of
thirty-five settlers went down in Australian history
as the Port Arthur Massacre prompting a
Prime Minister who denied Black massacres
to buy back the nation's firearms to minimise
the chance of another white one.

But wasn't their blood red too?
And didn't their loved ones still cry?
What is the colour of massacre?

 

Jeanine Leane

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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 –
to speak.
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
to say:
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
first!

 

Jeanine Leane


Recording

'Lady Mungo Speaks' begins at 1:07

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For Patrick White (1976)

 

When the Badtjala people discovered Eliza Fraser,
her story of cannibals devoured a history.
A century later when the Badtjala people
rescued Ellen Roxborough on the fringes of paradise
White's imagination captured the Aborigine –
the Blacks – for the nation.
When she ate Badtjala woman's flesh,
she swallowed us all and we passed through the
bowels of colonial mythology all over again.
Who are the real cannibals?

 

Jeanine Leane

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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.

 

Jeanine Leane


Recording

'Whitefellas' begins at 3:38

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I dip my finger in its redness –
a little wild honey for you
& a little for me,
beloved.

Each letter bears
             the unmistakable scent,
the iron perfume,
the dreams of lung,
vein & the battlefield.

At the window,
trembling,
befriending trees & cats with my eyes,
whispering at the fences & the fennel.

I trace my finger on the page
& it leaves red marks:
             cursive, shaped like infant breath;
bold letters, a jumble of bones,
a shotgun shell & a slap of ink.

Blood poetry,
               the poetry of unease.

 

Omar Musa

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The desert dreams of harvest,
of holy writ & rain.

The city dreams of ruin,
of upturned cars
& vine-dressed churches.

The tiger dreams of freedom,
of shaking loose the stake & chain
& racing into shadows
large enough to hold it.

But me?

I dream of you.

There was a time we collected
dolphin's teeth
& smoked fish on atolls,
Do you remember?

We star-peeked and longed for more,
running our hands at the side of the boat,
reading the ripples,
looking for a green tinge
on the belly of clouds
because that meant land & trees.

You told me that
a sunlit lagoon makes a cloud above it
incandesce.

You called me by my true name
& kissed me like I was fireproof,
proof that we
could turn the seam between our bodies
into the equator of a world
conceived in a dream.

When at last we found land,
we swam to the shore,
tossing our heads like young horses,
shaking salt from our hair.

We turned back to look at the ocean
with its broken face & merciless boom,
reflecting in pieces
a private, blood-lit dusk.

 

Omar Musa

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I

Having narrowly escaped jetlag,
             I ate a mushroom omelette
             in Galata Square,
with wrinkled black olives
             on the side
                         like little black eyes.
             I washed it all down
             with coffee strong enough to wake the dead.

As I looked upon the ancient tower,
              the city came to life around me:
              tourists and cats and drunkards
              made their way across the square.

Over the next few hours,
I did edits on my novel,
              listened to an American family talk too loudly,
                           heard the cafe's Gypsy Kings CD
                                        mix with the call to prayer.

I updated my Facebook:
            'Hello Istanbul. What a city!
            I love this place sooo much.
            It is rainy & muddy & musical & full of life.'

When I got back to the hotel,
            the man at reception
            asked me what I was doing tonight.
I grinned and mimed drinking – rakia.
He smiled sadly, shook his head,
            and said, 'be careful.

The police killed a little boy.
He died yesterday.
The government does what it wants.
The police do what they want.
I am a Nationalist. I am supposed to be on the Right.
The Communists are supposed to be on the Left.
             But we have both joined against this government.
Do not go up Istiklal Street tonight,
             my friend.
Last night, it was like a war.
             Tonight again.
There will be nearly a million people.
Taksim Square will be like a war.'

His eyes were green and steady.

My hotel room smelled
of the cleaning woman's cigarettes.
I looked across
the rooftops and satellites with their faces to the sun,
and saw two minarets
               and the dome of a mosque
across the Bosphorus.

As the city readied itself for
               protest and mourning,
               I burned my lips
               on the sunset.

 

II

I got lost looking for a trendy cafe,
ended up near Karakoy Port,
drank homemade lemonade in a side street,
climbed through an aristocratic neighbourhood
              and found myself in Taksim Square.

There were students with pictures
of a young boy,

              Berkin Elvan,

pinned to their lapels.
People in beanies and ballies
               thronged,
dressed mostly in black.
Shellfish and chestnuts
               were roasting
               on portable braziers.

There were choppers in the sky
              and so many sirens,
              and the whole place seethed
              with thousands of legs in fast forward.

Istanbul wasn't this cold last time.

I turned a corner and came
face to face with riot police,
close enough to see the scratches on their
semi-automatic weapons.

               Close enough for one to blow smoke in my face.

 

III

When I got back to the hotel,
there was a new guy behind the desk.

He told me that he had worked in Taksim Square
                a year ago.
'You should've seen it.
How exciting it was.'

                His eyes shone.

'I like the smell of teargas.
Sometimes, it is necessary.'

 

IV

20 minutes later,
cops swarmed out
from every side street
                        like termites,
and opened onto civilians
with water cannons and tear gas.

 

V

Something drew me back to Taksim Square.

As I walked up Istiklal,
life seemed to carry on as usual:
                       Men sipped Efes from the can,
                       women with high cheek bones were smoked by cigarettes,
                       lamb cutlets smoked on grills,
                       mint tea steamed,
                       trinkets winked in the market.

Shops were still open, full of bored faces.
                      (I swear, the look of someone who hates their job
                                   is universal.)

I started to see wet footprints,
                        becoming denser and denser on the concrete.

Then I heard a stamping, a chanting,
a banging on roller doors,
            the voice of a mob
like the bunching and unbunching of a fist.
It was up near Galatasaray High School,
where everything always kicks off (supposedly),
a square that leads north,
                                      south,
                                      east,
                                      west.

Then there was something
             like fireworks
             a phosphorescent scatter,
             the clatter of riot shields,
             the twack of baton on flesh,
             then a cheer,
             and the stampede of feet,
             and I was running with the crowd,
             unsure of where I was going,
             and there was danger, and fear,
             but also arms around shoulders,
             and laughter.

Istiklal had turned into a river,
but there were people
swimming upstream,
towards the maelstrom,
camera phones held aloft,
             shining beams,
                           like little lighthouses
                                         above the crowd.

 

VI

On the way home,
a kid tried to sell me a mask
to protect me from the teargas.

Just a few blocks away,
             things were quiet.
I passed wall upon wall of graffiti, thinking
             'Whoever DSK is,
              they run shit around here.'

The guy behind the counter
              was more sombre now.

'I do not like protests.
            I voted.
My best protest was at the election.'

 

VII

The news tells me
            that two people are dead.

I lean out the window
and the wind is cold and fleet-footed,
             as if it is being chased.

 

Omar Musa

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One day,
after it has died,
we will hold a vigil for the moon.

We will burn candles,
cheap mimics of its light,
& utter prayers we forgot to utter

while it still lived.
And we will say,
'Remember how it
spoke to us its bone-coloured dreams?
Remember how it gave us hope
when all else seemed savage?'

And some will say it was carved
from whale bone,
while others will swear it was a coin
flicked from the thumb of God.

And Death will come down the alleyways,
ringing its bells & swearing its oaths,
singing its story through
the windows of a ruined world.

And the executioner will cry silently
for those he has slain.
He will caress their shadows
& tell them to run.

But he, they, us,
will have nowhere to go,
no final memory
but a taste of the moon,
who once so sweetly told us
of what we might dream.

 

Omar Musa

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 Life, like climbing, is best
accomplished if you don't look
down. Pressed up against the rock,

rock-face to face, one is safest.
Hands like to be busy, little nest-
builders, hunting for hand-

holds in the crevices and creases,
they work best in the dark,
by feel; creatures of tactility.

Feet too, like to work unhindered
by the head; plodders, doers, dour
followers of simple commands, the

dogs of the body; 'come' 'go' 'stay'.
The toes curl instinctually, toe and
ledge communicate directly. Spread-

eagled thus, we are strangely calm,
a flayed skin, stretched and pinned
at our four corners. Each hold hard

won, each inch fought for. Our centre
magically transported as each point
moves, tacked and re-tacked.

Always look the grey granite in the eye,
stare it down to its components, to bits
of black quartz and white quartz, to its

mineral heart. Look to the basest element.

Sarah Rice

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They said,
'be afraid.'

And the people became afraid.

I stood,
              a dwarf in a petrified forest,
              watching them dance the ancient dance —
              there seemed joy in their terror,
              & laughter, too.

People baked bullets into their bread.
They chopped up newspapers
              & fried them
              with sliced onions & sizzling steaks.
They stroked surveillance cameras
              between their legs.
They treated TV screens like wells,
              dipping buckets into them,
              filling teacups
              & offering them to neighbours.

At times it held the shape of mirrors & men,
but mostly,
the fear spread across the waking earth
              as if it were gas

              & gas expands to fill
              whatever vessel
              it is put in.

Today,
A man would not serve me at the supermarket.
A woman crossed the street to avoid me.
An anonymous email wished death upon me.

I, too,
became afraid.

 

Omar Musa

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