This painting by Vincent Serico shows the distribution of arsenic-laced flour at the Kilcoy massacre (Image via Qld Museum: leichhardt.qm.qld.gov.au)

In light of recent events, the threatened closure of Indigenous communities and the police attack on the “camp” on Heirisson Island, and especially Tony Abbott’s latest colonial outburst, it may be timely to share this poem I wrote for a university assignment where I was asked to read and absorb an article on the Kilcoy massacre and comment on the thoughts it brought to mind.

I believe I have honestly (as objectively as possible) expressed such in this poem, reproduced further down.

The article was an excerpt from chapter ten of a book by Bruce Elder (published in 2003): Blood on the wattle: massacres and maltreatment of Aboriginal Australians since 1788, and read as follows:

…When the groups gathered for the Baroon Bunya Festival in the summer of 1842 the Inwoorah and Tombarah people had a tale to tell but, instead of one of the elders standing and simply recounting the events, they acted it out. ….

They entered the ring and, in a group, they acted out a scene which started with people finding some food, some ‘white man’s flour’, and preparing a damper over the fire and then everyone sitting around and starting to eat it. ….

…slowly the image of the massacre unfolded. The people held their heads as though they were swelling to a point where the eyeballs rolled and it seemed as though their skulls were about to explode. They coughed and mimicked foam and spittle coming from their mouths. Their bodies convulsed with agony and they mimed violent vomiting. They cried out for water and twisted with pain. Then their bodies started trembling uncontrollably, they jumped around like fish taken out of water until, exhausted from their agony, they fell prostrate and feigned death on the ground.

…they explained that one group who had always attended the festival were absent this time because they had been destroyed by the poisoned flour.

However, before moving on to the poem, just a few caveats, or definitions.

In this poem, where I use the term “native” it is not meant to be derogative, more so to mean the original or native inhabitants.

The use of the word “failure” with “native” is also not meant to be derogatory; I refer to the Indigenous people’s failure or inability to withstand despotic “invading forces”, not any Indigenous failings.

Also, where I refer to “fathers” it is gender neutral, in that I mean (white) “ancestors” collectively, or, to be jingoistic, forefathers.

Though I refrained from using the term “forefathers” as this tends to push “things” further back into the past, where here in Australia some of the crimes against the Indigenous people are within living memory, while many are within only a few generations; indeed many crimes are recent and ongoing.

More so, the use of the word failure here should in no way be taken as acceptance of defeat on the part of Indigenous people; I am in no position to be acquiescing for others.

Nor should it be taken as the confirmation of the myth (victor’s history) that the colonial war is done, I am only discussing a skirmish in an ongoing colonial conflict; for me the Indigenous people have never bowed before the altar of defeat, but, I believe, they are willing to make a treaty.

White Australia

Now I gather on this land, enjoy the country seas and sky,

Yet, to enable me to do so, many had to die.

You see this land wasn’t empty, there were “natives” in the way,

And my invading “fathers”, came to end the “native’s” stay.

 

Of many places where I gather, there are stories to be told,

Of others here before me, that would probably send me cold.

But I do not know these stories, my “fathers” kept them hidden,

Buried in a colonial history, by the victors written.

 

For the “native” culture’s failure, under civilising forces,

It seems my civilising “fathers”, served up deadly courses.

Strychnine strudel and arsenic pie, a fare to make you cower,

Death pudding on the menu, in poisoned bags of flour.

 

Hidden from the history books, the poisoning of the water,

Along with guns and germs, the genocidal slaughter.

Driving cultural destruction, with alcohol and drugs,

The “civilising” machinations, of the colonising thugs.

 

So no more would they gather, nor their faces again be seen,

But it wasn’t me who did this, surely then, my hands are clean.

It was the hands of my “fathers”, and they’re not really me,

Besides it’s through their lens of history, that I am want to see.

 

Now this land that I am sitting on, today they call Australia,

And I would not be sitting here, but for the “native’s” failure.

Though ‘tis thanks to my “fathers”, who murdered “native” souls,

That it is now me and mine, gathered round the waterholes.

 

For I am white Australia, now the dominant power in the land,

My claimed right to be so, delivered by the civilising hand.

Yet my Indigenous brothers’ history, has a different tale to tell,

My white colonial “fathers”, brought an apocalypse from hell.

Creative Commons Licence
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License

Vincent Serico's 2002 acrylic dot painting, Kilcoy Massacre No. 2 (Image via theage.com.au)

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