The Aboriginal Mother [poem by Eliza Hamilton Dunlop, 13 December 1838]

[Editor: A poem by Eliza Hamilton Dunlop. Published in The Australian, 13 December 1838. This poem by Eliza Hamilton Dunlop was later set to music by Isaac Nathan; however, there were some significant differences between the poem and the song.]

Songs of an Exile. (No. 4.)

The Aboriginal Mother,

(From Myall’s Creek.)

Oh! hush thee — hush my baby,
I may not tend thee yet.
Our forest home is distant far,
And midnight’s star is set.
Now, hush thee — or the pale-faced men
Will hear thy piercing wail,
And what would then thy mother’s tears
Or feeble strength avail!

Oh, could’st thy little bosom
That mother’s torture feel,
Or could’st thou know thy father lies
Struck down by English steel;
Thy tender form would wither,
Like the kniven on the sand,
And the spirit of my perished tribe
Would vanish from our land.

For thy young life, my precious,
I fly the field of blood,
Else had, I for my chieftain’s sake,
Defied them where they stood;
But basely bound my woman arm,
No weapon might it wield:
I could but cling round him I loved,
To make my heart a shield.

I saw my firstborn treasure
Lie headless at my feet,
The gore on this hapless breast,
In his life-stream is wet!
And thou! I snatch’d thee from their sword,
It harmless pass’d by thee!
But clave the binding cords — and gave,
Haply, the power to flee.

To flee! my babe — but whither?
Without my friend — my guide?
The blood that was our strength is shed!
He is not by my side!
Thy sire! oh! never, never,
Shall Toon Bakra hear our cry:
My bold and stately mountain-bird!
I thought not he could die.

Now who will teach thee, dearest,
To poise the shield, and spear,
To wield the koopin, or to throw
The boommerring, void of fear;
To breast the river in its height;
The mountain tracks to tread?
The echoes of my homeless heart
Reply — the dead, the dead!

And ever must their murmur
Like an ocean torrent flow:
The parted voice comes never back,
To cheer our lonely woe;
Even in the region of our tribe,
Beside our summer streams,
’Tis but a hollow symphony —
In the shadow-land of dreams.

Oh hush thee, dear — for weary
And faint I bear thee on —
His name is on thy gentle lips,
My child, my child, he’s gone!
Gone o’er the golden fields that lie
Beyond the rolling cloud,
To bring thy people’s murder cry
Before the Christian’s God

Yes! o’er the stars that guide us,
He brings my slaughter’d boy:
To shew their God how treacherously
The stranger men destroy;
To tell how hands in friendship pledged
Piled high the fatal pyre;
To tell — to tell of the gloomy ridge;
And the stockmen’s human fire.

E. H. D.

The Australian (Sydney, NSW), 13 December 1838, p. 4

Also published in:
The Sydney Herald (Sydney, NSW), 15 October 1841, p. 2
Australasian Chronicle (Sydney, NSW), 16 October 1841, p. 2
The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (Sydney, NSW), 19 October 1841, p. 2
The Clarence & Richmond Examiner (Grafton, NSW), 14 February 1891, p. 2 [an almost identical poem, entitled “Aboriginal Mother’s Lament”, with the author given as “J. C. Laycock”]

Editor’s notes:
The author’s husband was James Sylvius Law (1794-1863), who was the police magistrate and protector of Aborigines at Wollombi and Macdonald River.
[See: Niel Gunson, “Dunlop, Eliza Hamilton (1796–1880)”, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University]

clave = past tense of “cleave” (to split, part, or divide, such as by a cutting blow by an axe or sword)

haply = by accident, by chance, or by luck

kniven = (Danish, Norwegian, Swedish) knife

koopin = (also spelt as “koo-pin”) a wooden instrument “used for warding-off spears, and also to hinder the flight of an opponent” [see: R. H. Mathews, Notes on the Aborigines of New South Wales, Sydney: Government of New South Wales, 1907, pages 20-21]

o’er = over (pronounced the same as “oar”, “or”, and “ore”)

Old spelling in the original text:
boommerring (boomerang)
shew (show)

[Editor: Corrected “pire” to “pyre”.]

Speak Your Mind