Alison Whittaker is one such poet and her collection of poems, Blakwork has provided me with non-stop provocation for several months now. Her poems delight me, confound me and unnerve me in equal measure.
My first read through was like a sucker punch to the stomach. I have loved Doreathea MacKellar’s My Country all my life, but suddenly seeing it through another’s eyes, was a shock. Seeing how something I loved – my country, my land of sweeping plains – was also the same land that had been taken away from others. Not only taken away but altered so much that it no longer looked like the country they once knew and cherished. Up until now, I had thought that love of country, was something that Indigenous and non-Indigenous could share. Something that could bring us together. Now I’m not so sure.
As Bill @The Australian Legend says far more succinctly, ‘Our love leaves no room for their love.’
Watching the spoken word videos that she performed for the Melbourne Visiting Poets Program at The Wheeler Centre in August 2018 (see below) have helped me to feel her rhythm and get into her space. I also like being able to hear her voice in my head as I read and reread the other poems for myself.
I’m still trying to understand why this collection of poems has had such a profound impact on me. I guess I need to keep reading and listening until I work it out.
However the NAIDOC About page reminded me that one of our roles is to listen, “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people want their voice to be heard.“
The true story of colonisation must be told, must be heard, must be acknowledged.
But hearing this history is necessary before we can come to some true reconciliation, some genuine healing for both sides.
And of course, this is not just the history of our First Peoples – it is the history of all of us, of all of Australia, and we need to own it.
Then we can move forward together.
Let’s work together for a shared future.
Perhaps that’s why Whittaker’s poems have had such a profound impact on me. I was open to hearing. Instead of feeling defensive or dismissive, I have heard and accepted the truth of what I’ve heard. Everything I thought I knew has been turned on its head.
As Atticus Finch says to Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird,
You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb in his skin and walk around in it.
Whittaker has shifted my point of view.