Forgotten People [poem by Rex Ingamells]

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

Forgotten People

I

As the sun leaps up behind the range and throws
His radiance round the gums upon the crest,
All earth, it seems, remembers — all earth knows
A pang whose bitterness cannot be guessed.

As the sun swings up and over in the sky,
Each moment bears the smart of memories,
Although the creeks go brimming, brimming by,
And the cockatoos fly, screeching, in the trees.

Though magpies in the bush call all the day,
From dawn until the sunset hills are gold,
Their ringing beauty does not charm away
A pang whose tenderness cannot be told.

How can a stranger hope to understand?
Dark ghosts go with me all about the land.

II

With half-closed eyes, I saw by an old gum
Black, gleaming-bodied men stalk shadowily
To trap the kangaroo — and others come
Loud with the zest of wild corroboree.

I saw men flashing in the fire’s weird glow,
Painted and decked with the white down of birds,
Stooping and crawling and leaping, row on row,
Shattering the night with charmed fantastic words.

Under that gum I saw bark wurlies stand:
Beside them, in the noon, the lubras sat,
While piccaninnies tumbled on the sand,
And warriors hunted wildfowl on the flat.

I caught the echo of faint coo-ee crying;
I glimpsed a vision of a people dying.

III

Before white men made wurlies out of stone
To loom like tnatantjas against the sky,
The wandering black, in bushlands all his own,
Rubbed fire, speared fish, and watched the eagle fly.

After the white man came, the black man lost
His hunting-grounds and camping-grounds. He went,
Lonelier and lonelier, pitilessly tossed,
By fates he knew not, into banishment.

His waterholes-were stolen or defiled,
And all his sacred tjurungas were tainted:
He went not stalking when the wan dawn smiled,
And came not to corroboree, weird-painted.

He lived not in reality but dreams,
A stranger to his tribal lands and streams.

IV

Long strips of bark are hanging from the gums,
Long strips of bark . . . And on sun-withered grass
Long strips of bark are trailing . . . A bee-swarm hums
On an old mossed-over stump . . . Bees pass and pass.

How keen and sweet is the wild honey smell!
With wary glee the black folk robbed the bees,
Oh, long ago . . . And their delight how tell?
Delights like that were theirs for centuries.

I see a well-timed spear glint in the sun,
And the small rock-wallaby killed on the jump,
Then hear the laughter, watch the white-teethed fun
Of black folk feasting by that wattle-clump. . .

The magpies in the leaves above my head
Sing joy to-day, but the black folk are dead.

V

No more the smoke-wisp signal climbs; no more
The boomerang glints, arching, in the sky;
The bush hears not the swinging-stick’s low roar,
Nor mountainsides the echoing coo-ee cry.

Things one with a forgotten people these.
Where black men roamed, our towns and cities stand:
Disrupted are their tribal mysteries;
Wheat, wool, and grapes are produce of their land.

How can a stranger tell the way they felt?
At best, sincere imaginings are mine.
I find the old bark places where they dwelt,
See stars above an empty bushland shine.

I can but guess their pain, and guess the white
And exquisite laughter of their lost delight.

VI

Though to the west — where once the bushland plain
Stretched primal from these ranges to the sea —
The white man’s city has, in spreading, slain
Nature and hardly left a memory,

This hill is just as rugged now as when
No white man’s eye had seen it; these gaunt gums
And rooted rocks look seaward now as then;
And still the magpie’s ringing beauty comes.

Yet spirits of lost laughter and distress
Seem here to change even this spot of the ranges,
Lending trees, rocks, and song a wistfulness
For vanished folk; but nothing else here changes.

The young leaves of the gums burn like real flame —
And so it was before the white man came.



Source:
Rex Ingamells, Forgotten People, F. W. Preece & Sons, Adelaide, 1936, pages 9-12

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