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2 Poems by Oodgeroo Noonuccall aboriginal poet & activist, Stradbroke Island Tribe

February 16, 2009

// back last summer I asked Queensland poet and blogger Paul Squires to recommend to me a poet from his part of the world that he thought I’d appreciate.

He responded in an email right away:

“Oodgeroo Noonucall is one of our best poets,” Paul raves.  “Oodjeroo Noonucall, Aboriginal poet and activist, winner of many prestigious poetry awards all over the world, taught in High Schools, of the Stradbroke Island tribe, a wonderful poet and a wonderful human. She is the poet you are looking for.”

So today for the Monday Poetry Train, instead of posting one of my own poems, since I am busy swimming toward my new job as caretaker on the Islands of the Great Barrier Reef, I bring to you a ballad  and a poem by Oodgeroo Noonucall:

Ballad of the Totems

My father was Noonuccal man and kept old tribal way,
His totem was the Carpet Snake, whom none must ever slay;
But mother was of Peewee clan, and loudly she expressed
The daring view that carpet snakes were nothing but a pest.

Now one lived right inside with us in full immunity,
For no one dared to interfere with father’s stern decree;
A mighty fellow ten feet long, and as we lay in bed
We kids could watch him round a beam not far above our head.

Only the dog was scared of him, we’d hear its whines and growls,
But mother fiercely hated him because he took her fowls.
You should have heard her diatribes that flowed in angry torrents
With words you never see in print, except in D. H. Lawrence.

‘I kill that robber,’ she would scream, fierce as a spotted cat;
‘You see that bulge inside of him? My speckly hen made that!’
But father’s loud and strict command made even mother quake;
I think he’d sooner kill a man than kill a carpet snake.

That reptile was a greedy-guts, and as each bulge digested
He’d come down on the hunt at night as appetite suggested.
We heard his stealthy slithering sound across the earthern floor,
While the dog gave a startled yelp and bolted out the door.

Then over in the chicken-yard hysterical fowls gave tongue,
Loud frantic squawks accompanied by the barking of the mung,
Until at last the racket passed, and then to solve the riddle,
Next morning he was back up there with a new bulge in his middle.

When father died we wailed and cried, our grief was deep and sore;
And strange to say from that sad day the snake was seen no more.
The wise old men explained to us: ‘It was his tribal brother,
And that is why it done a guy’ – but some looked hard at mother.

She seemed to have a secret smile, her eyes were smug and wary,
She looked as innocent as the cat that ate the pet canary.
We never knew, but anyhow (to end this tragic rhyme)
I think we all had snake for tea one day about that time.

Oodgeroo of the tribe Noonuccal
(formerly Kath Walker)
Available from


Here, at the invaders talk-talk place,
We, who are the strangers now,
Come with sorrow in our hearts.
The Bora Ring, the Corroborees,
The sacred ceremonies,
Have all gone, all gone,
Turned to dust on the land,
That once was ours.
Oh spirits from the unhappy past,
Hear us now.
We come, not to disturb your rest.
We come, to mourn your passing.
You, who paid the price,
When the invaders spilt our blood.
Your present generation comes,
Seeking strenght and wisdom in your memory.
The legends tell us,
When our race dies,
So too, dies the land.
May your spirits go with us
From this place.
May the Mother of life,
Wake from her sleeping,
and lead us on to the happy life,
That once was ours.
Oh mother of life,
Oh spirits from the unhappy past,
Hear the cries of your unhappy people,
And let it be so.
Oh spirits- Let it be so.


Read on the steps of Parliament House Canberra
Friday 27 March 1970.

“Reproduced with permission of John Wiley
and Sons, Australia”.

I may be sharing a few more of her poems in the next few days–watch for them!

And soon I will share some music I’ve been finding for my Island caretaker application video like “Island Time” by Wambari Brothers, which Paul recommended.

Because of copyright issues, however, looks like I will be making my own soundtrack–time consuming but fun! Although Jeff Kaiser may be my knight in shining armor here…

For more poetry, ride the train!

6 Comments leave one →
  1. February 16, 2009 10:51 pm

    What a champion lady.

  2. February 17, 2009 12:14 am

    Like ’em both, but I was singing along to Ballad of the Totems – wonderful!

  3. February 17, 2009 12:54 am

    I’ve always been fascinated by the Dreamtime…I’ll take the links to read more – thanks!

  4. February 17, 2009 1:28 pm

    Thank you for sharing these poems…I absolutely loved the cleverness of the first one! Although I can’t imagine living in a house with a snake slithering around freely…*shudder*

    Best of luck to you in your new job…it sounds incredible!

  5. June 21, 2009 9:50 pm

    Ohh Good news, AP. Another great Autralian indigenous writer, Sam Watson has written a play about Oodgeroo. It’s on soon, woohoo.

  6. Dan permalink
    August 15, 2010 9:22 pm

    Powerful direct expression of the truth which lies within the heart of this lady and her nation.

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