Poetry – Oodgeroo Noonuccal
In September, 30 years will have passed since the death of one of Australia’s, and Queensland’s, most celebrated poets – Oodgeroo Noonuccal. Oodgeroo Noonuccal was born on North Stradbroke Island/Minjerribah in 1920 and was buried there 1993. Her first book of poetry, published in 1964 and the first by an Aboriginal woman, was hugely successful; so much so that critics, to their shame, questioned whether she had written the poems herself. She was also an artist, a writer, an actor and ‘a persuasive and powerful political figure’. Noonuccal’s poetry often reflected her lifelong activism for Indigenous rights. She was awarded an MBE in 1970 for service to the community which she later returned in 1987. She was also awarded the Mary Gilmore Medal, the Jessie Litchfield Award, the Fellowship of Australian’ Writer’s Award, honorary doctorates from Macquarie University, Griffith University, Monash University, and QUT. Noonuccal won the International Acting Award and the Sixth Annual Oscar at the Micheaux Awards which are hosted by the US Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame in 1979, was named Aboriginal of the Year by NAIDOC in 1985, has numerous scholarships awarded in her name as well as an electoral district. She served as a signaller in the Australian Women’s Army Service during WW2. She was a member of the Communist Party of Australia and worked toward recognition of Aboriginal peoples in the Australian Constitution.
Extraordinarily, in 1974, she was on board a flight hijacked by the PLO who shot a crew member and another passenger while flying the plane to various African destinations. During her three-day ordeal, Noonuccal wrote poetry on an airline sickbag. One of those poems, along with another, is below.
Yussef, my son,
What do you do here,
With your dreamy eyes
That tell of moonlight
And the warm touch of a girl’s embrace?
The love you feel for children
Pours from your heart
And it’s easy to see
Since you wear it on your sleeve.
The soft lines around your mouth
Tell of endearments
You dare not speak.
Your tired eyes
Have seen blood and tears,
Fear and contempt.
I see you in the moonlight
Contented in a girl’s embrace.
But reality clouds my vision;
For there you stand,
A repeating rifle,
In your desert-strong,
Son of Mine (To Denis)
My son, your troubled eyes search mine,
Puzzled and hurt by colour line.
Your black skin as soft as velvet shine;
What can I tell you, son of mine?
I could tell you of heartbreak, hatred blind,
I could tell you of crimes that shame mankind,
Of brutal wrong and deeds malign,
Of rape and murder, son of mine;
But I’ll tell you instead of brave and fine
When lives of black and white entwine,
And men in brotherhood combine-
This would I tell you, son of mine.
by Oodgeroo Noonuccal