A “narrbong” of Indigenous Australian poems and paintings

Jackie Giles  (1935-2010)_Purrungu rock hole showing underground travel coils of the ancestral snake or jila_2008

Jackie Giles (1935-2010)_Purrungu rock hole showing underground travel coils of the ancestral snake or jila_2008

Oodgeroo Noonuccal
God’s One Mistake
“It repenteth me that I have made man.” (Genesis 6:7)
I who am ignorant and know so little,
So little of life and less of God,
This I do know
That happiness is intended and could be,
That all wild simple things have life fulfilled
Save man.
Without books or schools, lore or philosophy
In my own heart I know
That hate is wrong,
Injustice evil.
Pain there must be and tears,
Sorrow and death, but not
Intolerance, unkindness, cruelty,
Unless men choose
The mean and base, which Nature never made,
But we alone.
And sometimes I will think that God looks down
With loving smile, saying,
‘Poor child, poor child, maybe I was wrong
In planning for you reason and free will
To fashion your own life in your own way.
For all the rest
I settled and appointed as for children
Their simple days, but you
I gave the Godlike gift to choose,
Who were not wise – for see how you have chosen,
Poor child, alone among them all now,
Unhappy on the earth.’

. . .

Jonathan Hill
Light Years Away
My lifetime flickers
In the fading light,
I no longer have
The will to fight.

The battle continues
Till my dying day,
Forever forced to live
The white man’s way.

The songlines and stories
The laws of the land,
Deemed mythical nonsense
By those in command.

Now lost to eternity
Perished and passed,
Making way for modernity
A comical farce.

A culture bound
By desire not need,
Ruled by the wealthy
Infected with greed.

The unifying power
Of the setting sun
Is proof humanity
Is collectively one.

But such realisation
Is light years away,
There’s no profit to be made
Living the peaceful way.

. . .

Rover Thomas (1926-1998)_Rock Country on Texas Downs_1988_bush gum and ochre

Rover Thomas (1926-1998)_Rock Country on Texas Downs_1988_bush gum and ochre

Rover Thomas_Sydney Harbour_1991

Rover Thomas_Sydney Harbour_1991

Rover Thomas_Lightning_1995

Rover Thomas_Lightning_1995

. . .

Kevin Gilbert

Kill the legend
Kill the legend
Butcher it
With your acute cynicisms
Your paternal superfluities
With your unwise wisdom
Kill the legend
Obliterate it
With your atheism
Your fraternal hypocrisies
With your primal urge of miscegenation
Kill the legend
Devalue it
With your sophistry
Your baseless rhetoric
Your lusting material concepts
Your groundless condescension
Kill it
Vitiate the seed
Crush the root-plant
All this
And more you must needs do
In order
To form a husk of a man
To the level and in your own image


Kevin Gilbert (1933-1993) wrote “Kill the Legend” in 1971, while serving 14 years in jail for murder.

. . .

Gerry Bostock
Black Children
Prepare Black Children
For the Land Rights fight,
Our cause is true,
Our aim’s in sight,
Unite my people,

Come on, Black Children
Rise on your feet!
Get out of the gutter
And onto the street;
United together,
Hand in hand,
Heads raised, high we stand,
Then, march as one,
Surging forward and onward,
For justice
For freedom
And for Our Land.

. . .

Kevin Gilbert

I am the tree

the lean hard hungry land

the crow and eagle

sun and moon and sea

I am the sacred clay

which forms the base

the grasses vines and man

I am all things created

I am you and

you are nothing

but through me the tree

you are

and nothing comes to me

except through that one living gateway

to be free

and you are nothing yet

for all creation

earth and God and man

is nothing

until they fuse

and become a total sum of something

together fuse to consciousness of all

and every sacred part aware


in true affinity.

. . .

Zelda Quakawoot
Mossies roam

Sandfly’s home

Reds and blue

Keep them from you

Muddy banks

Our tummies thank…

Fire smells

Sweet mangroves
For secrets
. . .

Tutama Tjapangati
big one mutukayi
kulaputja katiku
bring em up here

big one
Tjukula, show em a you
my country

Mickini, mighty be we take em
Mayayana, my daught
Nolan, my brother
Kayiyu Kayiyu, Nampitjimp

Ohh, too much!
grab em big one you
ebbrything a tucker
kapi too/puttem a-drum

you right that’s ‘im
my country, piyu
Aladayi is a poem about a local schoolbus. It employs a mix of Pintupi/Luritja and English.
[mutukayi – motorcar; kulaputja – schoolbus; kayiyu – will bring;
Tjukula – a place in the eastern Gibson Desert; Nampitjimp –
shortened version of Nampitjinpa, a skin-name; kapi – water;
piyu – all’s well; kala – anyway, what next?]

. . .

J. E. Doyle
I sat and spoke to the Elders today
It is not so wrong in what they say

The times have changed as they well know,
But isn’t it time we had a fair go?

So let us all band together and clear the air
The Kooris* know that things are not fair

Their knowledge is known for thousands of years
Through hunting, healing, also tears
They have also survived hatred and fear

So let us all live together before it’s too late
And make this land a wonderful place.
. . .
*Kooris – the name that Indigenous Australians from what are now the states of New South Wales and Victoria traditionally have called themselves.
. . .
Gail Kay
My Sitting Down Place
I go down to the creek
Where the water gurgles
As it hurries along
Over the shining sand and pebbles
To its destiny
With the sea.
Dappled sunlight
Flits and moves
Across the water, over the creek bank,
And the birds sing happily
To the accompaniment
Of insects and crickets.
I sit in silence as I soak it all into my soul.
Peace flows
From the water
To my heart.
Whatever life brings me
I now can face
Because of this,
My sitting down place!

. . .

N. B. “Narrbong” means “string bag”.

We are grateful to Jens Korff of Creative Spirits for provision of the above poems, except for God’s One Mistake (via Australian Poetry Library); Kill the legend, Black Children, and Aladayi (Adam Shoemaker of Australian National University, Canberra); and Kevin Gilbert’s daughter, Kerry Reed-Gilbert, provided Tree.

. . . . .

Bill Tjapattjarri (1920-2008)_Rockholes near The Olgas

Bill Tjapattjarri (1920-2008)_Rockholes near The Olgas

Pepai Jangala Carroll, born 1950_Walungurru number 294.13

Pepai Jangala Carroll, born 1950_Walungurru number 294.13

Colleen Wallace Nungari_Body painting design

Colleen Wallace Nungari_Body painting design

Walangkura Napanangka_Women's Dreaming

Walangkura Napanangka_Women’s Dreaming

Emily Kam Kngwarry_Anmatyerr_Kam_yam pencil bark seed

Emily Kam Kngwarry_Anmatyerr_Kam_yam pencil bark seed

Indigenous Australian peoples (“Aboriginal” peoples) were making rock paintings and rock engravings many thousands of years ago. Later, Dot painting – whether on boulders, in caves, or on sand – involved four main paint colours: yellow (sun), brown (soil), red (desert sand), and white (clouds and sky). Legends and dreams have all been depicted. Aerial-view paintings of the desert, including bird’s- eye “maps” of animal tracks, or “rock holes” (where water may be found in the dryest places) remain standard subject matter, even today.

. . . . .