oodgeroo    Oodgeroo Noonuccal: Biographic Note & Poetry

Noonuccal indigenous people

The southern end of Moreton Bay has been home to the Noonuccal people for thousands of years. The most famous member of this clan was Oodgeroo, formerly known to the world as Kath Walker. The Noonuccal recognise Quandamooka as the principle creator spirit of the area.

There is certainly a strong spirit of place pervading the bay. It draws people from far and wide. It may be presumptuous of me to say that I commune with the Quandamooka spirit by loving the bay, and that this communion has built a bridge between myself and the indigenous people in the sense that we are communing with the same spirit of place.

I say this as a gesture of reconciliation towards all indigenous Australians whose past is so troubled by the mistreatment of the colonial settlers. Oodgeroo herself earnestly wished for reconciliation:

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 instead of brave and fine 
When lives of black and white entwine 
And men in brotherhood combine-- 
This I would tell you, son of mine. 

Son of Mine, 1960

The following biographic note was written by the University of Queensland's Fryer Library ( http://www.library.uq.edu.au/fryer/ ). Its origins are gratefully acknowledged.

Noonuccal, Oodgeroo (1920-1993). "My name is Oodgeroo from the tribe of the Noonuccal, custodian of the land that the white man calls Stradbroke Island and that the Aboriginal people call Minjerriba."

Known for most of her life as the writer, painter and political activist, Kath Walker, Oodgeroo in 1988 resumed her traditional name and returned her MBE in protest at the condition of her people in the year of Australia's Bicentenary celebrations. Oodgeroo shared with her father the Dreaming totem the carpet snake (Kabul) and his sense of injustice.

Leaving school at the age of 13, Oodgeroo worked as a domestic servant until 1939,when she volunteered for service in the Australian Women's Army Service. Between 1961 and 1970, Oodgeroo achieved national prominence not only as the Queensland State Secretary of the Council for the Advancement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders (CAATSI), but through her highly popular poetry and writing. With her 1964 collection of verse We Are Going,Oodgeroo became the first published Aboriginal woman. Selling out in three days, We Are Going rivalled the previous record for a publication of Australian verse set in 1916 by C. J. Dennis and his Moods of Ginger Mick.

The Dream Is at Hand (1966) was her second volume of poems. My People (1970) represented verse from the earlier editions as well as new poems, short stories, essays and speeches. Stradbroke Dreamtime was published in 1972. Oodgeroo also wrote a number of children's books - Father Sky and Mother Earth (1981), Little Fella (1986), and The Rainbow Serpent (1988) with her son, Kabul Oodgeroo Noonuccal (Vivian).

Oodgeroo was involved with many Aboriginal rights organisations. These organisations included the National Tribal Council, the Aboriginal Arts Board, the Aboriginal Housing Committee, and the Queensland Aboriginal Advancement League.

Oodgeroo spent her last days on Stradbroke Island where she established a cultural and environmental education centre known as Moongalba (resting-place).

We Are Going 

They came in to the little town
A semi-naked band subdued and silent
All that remained of their tribe.
They came here to the place of their old bora ground
Where now the many white men hurry about like ants.
Notice of the estate agent reads: 'Rubbish May Be Tipped Here'.
Now it half covers the traces of the old bora ring.
'We are as strangers here now, but the white tribe are the strangers.
We belong here, we are of the old ways.
We are the corroboree and the bora ground,
We are the old ceremonies, the laws of the elders.
We are the wonder tales of Dream Time, the tribal legends told.
We are the past, the hunts and the laughing games, the wandering camp fires.
We are the lightening bolt over Gaphembah Hill
Quick and terrible,
And the Thunderer after him, that loud fellow.
We are the quiet daybreak paling the dark lagoon.
We are the shadow-ghosts creeping back as the camp fires burn low.
We are nature and the past, all the old ways
Gone now and scattered.
The scrubs are gone, the hunting and the laughter.
The eagle is gone, the emu and the kangaroo are gone from this place.
The bora ring is gone.
The corroboree is gone.
And we are going.'

Understand Old One What if you came back now To our new world, the city roaring There on the old peaceful camping place Of your red fires along the quiet water, How you would wonder At towering stone gunyas high in air Immense, incredible; Planes in the sky over, swarms of cars Like things frantic in flight.
Municipal Gum Gumtree in the city street, Hard bitumen around your feet, Rather you should be In the cool world of leafy forest halls And wild bird calls Here you seems to me Like that poor cart-horse Castrated, broken, a thing wronged, Strapped and buckled, its hell prolonged, Whose hung head and listless mien express Its hopelessness. Municipal gum, it is dolorous To see you thus Set in your black grass of bitumen-- O fellow citizen, What have they done to us?
Kabul Oodgeroo Noonuccal From the Rainbow Serpent rainbow_serpent Perhaps she will come again when the sprits of men and the spirit of this land are once more together as one
Publications We are Going : poems (1964) The Dawn is at Hand : poems (1966) My People : a Kath Walker collection 1970) Stradbroke Dreamtime (1972) Father Sky and Mother Earth (1981) Quandamooka, the Art of Kath Walker (1985) Little Fella (1986) The Rainbow Serpent (1988) The Spirit of Australia (1989) Towards a Global Village in the Southern Hemisphere (1989) Australian Legends And Landscapes (1990) Australia's Unwritten history : more legends of our land (1992) Oodgeroo (1994)

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Date: 1 January 2007
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