Poets of Australia – 1: Oodgeroo of the Noonuccal

Student writing an assingment in bed.

The Indigenous Australian activist from Minjerribah (North Stradbroke Island) was a 20th century historic and cultural figure. She fostered a reputation as a poet through the 1960’s, with some of her greatest works being published in that decade. Much of her literary work focused on the Indigenous culture, however I have included excerpts from a range of her works.

“ Let no one say the past is dead, 

The past is all about us and within.”

…But a thousand thousand campfires in the forest, 

Are in my blood.” 

The Past, Oodgeroo Noonuccal 

This poem is about reminiscing on days gone by, the sharp contrast between the past and the future. Oodgeroo mentions this takes place while she is sitting “in an easy chair” and dreaming about being with her people, “sitting on the ground, no walls about me, the stars above me.” 

“They sit and are confused,

They cannot say their thoughts.

We are as strangers here now, 

But the white tribe are the strangers.” 

We Are Going, Oodgeroo Noonuccal 

With an underlying tone of sadness, this poem is about the Indigenous peoples that were pushed aside after European settlement. Oodgeroo uses a beautiful phrasing technique to describe the Indigenous connection to the country; “We are the wonder tales of Dream Time, the tribal legends told… We are the past, the hunts and the laughing games.” The volume of poetry that included this poem was the first book by an Australian Aboriginal woman to be published. 

“They’re not interested in brumby runs, 

We don’t hanker for Midnight Suns. 

I’m for all humankind, not colour gibes; 

I’m international, and never mind tribes.” 

All One Race, Oodgeroo Noonuccal 

Oodgeroo pleads for the unity of the different races that found a home in Australia. She references the midnight suns of the Arctic, a natural phenomenon that results in the sun shining at the midnight hour. A light in a time of, normally, great darkness. 

“His hunts are over, And the songs he made; 

Poor lonely fellow, He will be afraid. 

When the night winds whispers, Their ghostly tune. 

In the haunted swamp-oaks, By the Long Lagoon.” 

Tree Grave, Oodgeroo Noonuccal 

This poem leaves much up to interpretation but is clearly describing the passing of someone or something close to Oodgeroo’s heart into the “shadow land”. She speaks of a burial “in bark we bound him” and writes of a sorrowful “weeping band” that may represent Oodgeroo’s family, mob, or all Australians. 

Oodgeroo won various literary awards including the Jessie Litchfield Award in 1975, the Fellowship of Australian Writer’s Award and the Mary Gilmore Medal in 1970. Due to her lifetime commitment to Indigenous rights and remarkable literary accomplishments, Oodgeroo was awarded three honorary doctorates from Macquarie University, Griffith University and the Queensland University of Technology. She is a shining example of creativity and leadership in the face of social adversity.