Australian Indigenous Poetry

Photo- SA Weekend Tait Schmaal

I came across a heart warming story on the weekend about Ali Cobby Eckermann

An Indigenous Australian poet she was born  on Kaurna land  in South Australia.

Ali is a survivor of the stolen generation, as were her mother and grandmother. Adopted by a Lutheran couple, she was raised on a farm in mid-north South Australia. As a seven year old she was sexually molested by a family friend. Too ashamed to tell her adoptive parents, at seventeen she left home to live with a man who she eventually left due to his violence only to discover she was pregnant. Her baby was put up for adoption.

It took Ali sixteen years to find her birth mother, and another four to find her first born son.

‘I learnt to live in two different ways over my life. I learnt a good example of hard work and kindness from growing up with my mum and dad in my adopted family. And I’m extremely grateful that my traditional family welcomed me back with such love and honesty. I got a second chance to live in  honest world.’

She began to write poetry as a way of healing and sharing it with others in friendship and the hope that they too would find comfort in it. Her first volume of poems, Little Bit Long Time, was published in 2009. A further six books have followed along with plaudits, prizes and international recognition.

Her life  story of removal, adoption, abuse, and addiction changed markedly when Yale contacted her in February 2017.  She wondered why they would be interested in talking to her. It turns out she had been nominated for one of the world’s richest literary prizes, the Windham-Campbell Prize, $US165,000 (AU$215,000)  in recognition of her poetry. She will receive the award this month.

For her it is life-changing, bringing financial security where she had none before the phone call.

I’m living in a caravan now. I like my caravan, I live a very simple life. I am looking after my old adopted mother in Adelaide and I could not foresee that this would have happened……I like to think the prize recognises an honest truth around Stolen Generations, for writing around an emotional truth, not academic. I’ve learnt to embrace my emotional baggage and turn it into poetry. ‘


Mallets pound fence posts
in tune with the rifles
to mask massacre sites
Cattle will graze
sheep hooves will scatter
children’s bones
Wildflowers will not grow
where the bone powder

Every grain of sand in this
big red country
is a pore on the skin
of my Family.

Every feather on the ground in this
spinifex country
is a spiritual message
from my Ancestors.

Every wild flower that blooms in this
desert of red
is a signpost of hope
for my People.

Raili Tanska

Steps for Peace
True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice. Martin Luther King Jnr




8 thoughts on “Australian Indigenous Poetry

  1. That first poem is downright startling… I read a little some years ago about the Stolen Generation. And my friend from Perth, Kim, and I have had conversations about it. Such a bad business, that.

    1. It kinda hits you in the gut, doesn’t it! It was a horrid time. I can’t begin to imagine what the powers that be were thinking! Who in their right mind would think it was OK to remove babies from their parents. In the case of Ali the whole community was working to support her birth mother and ensure their wellbeing only to have her snatched away. So sad

    1. There is a greater acknowledgement and recognition but as often happens there is also a great anger and resentment. A middle ground of balance is yet to be found where all sides are respected and peace restored.

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