Native-Born, according to Wikipedia, regularly appears in Australian anthologies. However I had never come across it until an article in The Conversation last year when Donna Mazza^ referenced it.
Mazza declared that,
Native-Born…is still startlingly relevant to contemporary ecofeminism by subtly linking the discovery and cremation of a dead female kangaroo to women and the nature of the Australian landscape.
I was intrigued.
The curious thing is how it relates to her 1942 novel The Pea Pickers. Or perhaps not. Much of Langley’s writing was
obsessed with focused on her time living and working in the East Gippsalnd area of Victoria with her sister in the 1920’s, so I shouldn’t have been surprised that her poetry was more of the same.
What struck me with this poem though, was the title and tenth line lamenting that she had ‘no native song’ with which to mourn the dead kangaroo. Eve was born in Australia and therefore, could say she was native-born. The kangaroo is an indigenous animal and also native-born. However, except for the mention of a ‘woomera’ later on the poem, no consideration is given to the Indigenous native-born. If there was a Gunnaikurnai dirge for a dead kangaroo, no white Australian knew it.
I read an interesting comment from Bruce Pascoe in his 2007 book Convincing Ground: Learning to Fall in Love With Your Country that said, The Pea Pickers:
…is set in the market gardens of East Gippsland and celebrates the Australian worker not in soft focus Empire glory but as it was, full of Italians, Germans and battling Australians. Dramatically different from how the Bulletin saw the iconic worker of the wide brown land… but [Langley] is colour blind. The pea, bean, maize, grape and fruit harvesters of that era were predominantly black…
The picking industry is dominated by Aboriginal families but [after one brief encounter between Steve and an Aboriginal man] Langley never mentions them again, preferring to concentrate on the Italians with whom she shares almost no language but does share the knowledge of European culture…(209–10)
Lucy Treep^^ has a lot more to say about Eve Langley’s approach to indigeneity and Indigenous people in The Pea Pickers and concludes by saying,
In The Pea-pickers, Langley depicts not so much an accurate picture of 1920s rural Australia, as an accurate image of common societal attitudes of that time. The novel works to consolidate most of these attitudes, while seeking to challenge prevalent gender constructions.
It would seem that her poem Native-Born works at the same level.
Native-Born | Eve Langley (1940)
In a white gully among fungus red Where serpent logs lay hissing at the air, I found a kangaroo. Tall dewy, dead, So like a woman, she lay silent there. Her ivory hands, black-nailed, crossed on her breast Her skin of sun and moon hues, fallen cold her brown eyes lay like rivers come to rest And death had made her black mouth harsh and old Beside her in the ashes I sat deep And mourned for her, but had no native song To flatter death, while down the ploughlands steep Dark young Camelli whistled loud and long, 'Love, liberty and Italy are all.' Broad golden was his breast against the sun I saw his wattle whip rise high and fall Across the slim mare's flanks, and one by one She drew the furrows after her as he Flapped like a gull behind her, climbing high Chanting his oaths and lashing soundingly, While from the mare came once a blowing sigh. The dew upon the kangaroo's white side Had melted. Time was whirling high around, Like the thin woomera, and from heaven wide He, the bull-roarer, made continuous sound Incarnate lay my country by my hand: Her long hot days, bushfires, and speaking rains Her mornings of opal and the copper band Of smoke around the sunlight on the plains. Globed in fire-bodies the meat- ants ran to taste her flesh and linked us as we lay, Forever Australian, listening to a man From careless Italy, swearing at our day. When golden-lipped, the eagle-hawks came down Hissing and whistling to eat of lovely her And the blowflies with their shields of purple brown Plied hatching to and fro across her fur, I burnt her with the logs, and stood all day Among the ashes, pressing home the flame Till woman, logs and dreams were scorched away And native with the night, that land from whence they came.
- A Poem For a Thursday with Jennifer @Holds Upon Happiness.
- ^ Gender-ambiguous author Eve Langley is ripe for rediscovery. A new biography illuminates her difficult life | 6 July 2021
- ^^ The Pea Pickers: An Introduction | Lucy Treep | Westerly Vol 60:2 | 2015
- This post was written on the traditional land of the Wangal clan, one of the 29 clans of the Eora Nation within the Sydney basin. This Reading Life acknowledges that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are this land’s first storytellers.