Colonization [poem by Rex Ingamells]

[Editor: This poem by Rex Ingamells was published in Forgotten People (1936).]


I stand upon this height that Flinders named
And charted during his great voyaging
From Leeuwin to Sydney. Out there flamed
Upon the Gulf, with shrouds and sails a-swing
In radiant hues of dawn and evening,
The sturdy ship Investigator; there
She dashed the waves into the noon-day glare.

Pacing the poop-deck, Matthew Flinders saw
The ruggedness of bushland that swept down
From range to plain and met the sandhill shore.
That stalwart sailor, weathered lean and brown,
Beheld the bushland where I look on town;
And foliage and smoke-wreaths of the blacks,
Where I see roofs and spires and chimney-stacks.

For ages without name and without number,
The southern hills had viewed the sail-less seas;
Aeons had passed by like an easy slumber . . .
Seclusion wrapped the aborigines;
No more ingenuous people lived than these;
For they had known no other world than theirs,
No other laughter and no other cares.

They watched the Investigator moving past;
Watched from a hundred high and rocky places,
Or where huge gumtrees by the coastline cast
Sun-glittering leaves across their startled faces;
Watched, as in noon, in dawn and evening’s graces,
That ship went by . . . Yet they, though gripped with awe,
Guessed not the doom that hung upon their shore.

They could not, in prophetic vision, see
All their familiar tribal customs fade;
The spear-shaft broken; the corroboree
No more; and, where tall massive gums gave shade,
The buildings and the streets of Adelaide.
They could not sense the triumph and the gloom
Of white man’s destiny and black man’s doom.

A few more years now joined the golden years.
The tribes were masters of the hunting-grounds;
They chipped their boomerangs and scraped their spears;
They fished along the strand where ocean sounds;
And there was fighting at the tribal bounds.
The simple round of life the blacks had known
Since time began was yet awhile their own.

When Flinders’ ship was but a story told,
To be imagined like a cloud or tree;
When the young bucks who saw it had grown old,
And wondered at the lifelong mystery;
The marvel bloomed more urgent on the sea;
For many ships came on the ocean swell.
The white men’s axes rang; the great gums fell.

Far-distant, Dover’s mist-wrapped cliffs of chalk!
At hand the inlets of the Southern Main —
Strange anchoring places for the Duke of York,
Pelham, John Pirie, Cygnet, Africaine!
The Rapid came with masts and shouds astrain:
Light yet all zeal for his uneasy duty . . .
The Buffalo came with her strong white beauty.

About the shores of wild Nepean Bay
And Holdfast Bay, the white men’s dwellings rose —
Not like old homes forsaken, far away,
Set comfortably in the English snows;
But walled and roofed with bark and sapling rows,
Then lined and thatched with leaves and river-reeds;
Crude unaccustomed homes to meet new needs.

Beside the placid coastal billabongs,
The settler’s shot-gun cracked: wild duck and hen
Rose, clamant, ruffling the waters; magpie-songs
Ceased suddenly, and then dreamed on again;
The kangaroo leapt faster; native men,
Crouched close in scrub, beheld some totem-bird
Killed by the fire-stick whose sharp sound they heard.

Hindmarsh, staunch gentleman, first Governor,
Read South Australia’s Proclamation by
A gum near Holdfast Bay’s white hillocked shore,
On a day of azure sea and azure sky,
While cockatoos and parrots screamed on high,
And magpies, utter virtuosos, poured,
Uublushingly, sheer beauty all abroad.

The pioneers had England in their veins.
Theirs was the heritage of Drake’s emprise,
Of Shakespeare’s verse, of Marlborough’s campaigns;
The emigrants who left the northern skies
Brought English hearts to where the Southland lies:
Wakefield and Wellington knew of their worth,
Who planted England on a primal earth.

New, unfamiliar spirits webbed their souls:
Dark silhouettes of grotesque trees at night
Against clear-burning stars . . . bent, fire-scarred boles
And twisted gully-boughs in shadow-light,
At moonrise, under solid overheight . . .
Red furnaces in darkness, streaked with whitened
Natives shrieking, while all the bush cringed frightened.

Through arduous days they shaped a dream-made world
To their strong purposes. The boomerang,
Curving through windy dawn, by hunters hurled,
Drew back from settlement. The lumber-gang,
At work, beheld the circling glitter hang
Amid gold-misted bush, and knew that they
Were driving that magnificence away.

The bronze-necked, strong-armed lumbermen clove hard
Into the knotted gums with sharpened steel;
And, though the ’possums fled them and they marred
Much pristine loveliness, they yet could feel
The urge to build not break, and, in their zeal,
Visioned a nation new upon new soil,
With proud traditions flowering from their toil.

I see Hack’s ships from Hobart reach the Port,
Sheep bleating and stock bellowing aboard;
And Hawdon and his party, who have brought
Three hundred head of cattle from the broad
Pastures of New South Wales to southern sward,
On the first overlanding venture . . . By
The southern streams those cattle low and cry.

I see the Company’s wise Manager,
David McLaren, watching workmen make
The road he planned — while each Crown officer
Must side and wrangle for conviction’s sake . . .
Grey strives and stirs the colony awake . . .
And Tolmer drills the police, both foot and horse,
On barrack-grounds by Torrens watercourse.

Good pastor Kavel earns his people’s love,
At Klemzig, where the Germans one and all,
With bluer skies than Germany’s above,
Industriously till. There is no call
For police at Klemzig or at Lobethal;
And Hahndorf is a village where none shirk,
And rich-voiced women, singing, join the work.

At times, as sunset gilds some rocky crest
Above an old hill-road, while grave old trees
Catch fire and fiercely burn towards the west,
The air seems charged with myriad memories
Of pioneering . . . Lonely families,
Who toiled amid the rugged hills, arise
And go about their tasks before my eyes.

Amid the rain’s unending sweesh and thud,
While sodden branches bend between the spokes,
The bullock-team advances through the mud,
With jerks and jolts . . . The dinning downpour soaks
The driver and the freight . . . Resounding croaks
Rise from the logs and swamps beside fresh streams
That rush with hard and shivering glints and gleams.

Or, when a day of January heat
Blazes upon the bush-tracks, powdered thick,
The bullocky pulls up in Rundle Street . . .
And he and all his beasts are red as brick
With risen dust . . . The heaving oxen lick
Spittle-caked mouths . . . The teamster from the tiers
Goes in to join loud comrades drinking beers.

I vision the hardships that the squatter knew:
Clashes with blacks; vain efforts to define
The white man’s law to them. I vision, too,
The roaring days of Burra: rum and wine;
Reverberent rock-blastings at the Mine;
Blasphemy; mirth; sweat-and-tobacco reek;
Life, in a shanty-town beside the creek.

Along our coast swim the leviathans,
The sperm whale and the black whale. Each look-out
Upon the Bluff and Nob, with keen eyes, scans
The far grey waters for the seething spout,
And warns the headman with a wind-borne shout.
Anon the boats are ready and shove off,
And rival crews race over crest and trough.

The streets of Adelaide are emptied; shops
Are shut; and commerce ceases at the Port;
There are no labourers to reap the crops;
Not wheat or wool, but eastern gold is sought.
Then Young sends Tolmer with the Gold Escort,
To find far scenes and hitherward make flow
Rare wealth from Forest Creek and Bendigo.

Through mallee lands and shimmering deserts press
Intrepid explorers. Eyre and Wylie tramp,
Half-crazed, across the western wilderness:
Heat-blistered are they, and beset by cramp . . .
At Cooper’s Creek gaunt Sturt and party camp . . .
And Stuart reaches Darwin. Soon the blacks
See telegraph men build upon his tracks.

I can but in imagination hear
The black man’s coo-ee on the citied plain,
And but in dream behold the bush appear
On acres of brown soil and yellow grain . . .
I’ve seen tall gumtrees, lonely in the rain,
Remembering branches thrusting the wet air,
Above a homestead strangers fashioned there.

Amid our new white nation’s lustihood,
I can but in imagination find
The bark-built, leaf-lined wurlies that once stood
In ways long vanished, days long left behind . . .
I resurrect the past but in the mind.
To no one can I say, “Just there you see
A black man make his campfire by a tree!”

To no one can I say, “A black man comes,
With wallaby, or wild duck, or strung fish,
Across the read leaves fallen from the gums,
While parted wattle-saplings sway and swish.
He’s had as good a day as he could wish,
That rippling-muscled hunter. Thus he brings
The supper home on all his evenings”.

A happy folk who loved the wind and sun,
The rain, the wide-eyed stars, the bushland flowers
A merry folk, who liked to leap and run
Amid the gumtrees and display their powers,
Or lie in shade to laze away warm hours
In height of summer; these glad folk are gone
Forever from the earth they roamed upon.

This is the sadness of a splendid thing,
The undertone of sorrow in a tale
Of a most marvellous accomplishing.
It is an ugly mist that cannot fail
To dim the dawn and make the rock-flames pale.
It is the saddest memory of our State
That white man’s destiny meant black man’s fate.

Again upon this height that Flinders named,
I look across the plains so changed since then.
On gully-sides, and under gum-boughs framed,
Fast limousines glide by on bitumen;
But near me are the ghosts of tribal men . . .
The gumtree trunks stand up like solid gold,
As the sun drops seaward and the day grows old.

Rex Ingamells, Forgotten People, F. W. Preece & Sons, Adelaide, 1936, pages 23-32

Speak Your Mind