Hello! Please tell us about your childhood.
I grew up at Cherbourg, an Aboriginal reserve in Queensland. It was formerly known as Barambah, and was a place where the government herded Aboriginal people off their traditional lands and imprisoned them. If anyone stood up to the authority, their husband, wife, mother, father or their children could be separated from them. So it is known as a ‘punishment’ reserve. I grew up with my grandparents and both my parents. This was the best part of my childhood, having them close in my young life and learning from them. But I ran away when I was fifteen years of age.
What according to you is Aboriginal Literature?
Aboriginal Literature is attendance at protest rallies, community meetings and demonstrations. But I must say it was family and personal that held the contents of literature, from their oral mouths. Present-day Aboriginal literature has been trying to widen the dimension of storytellers who were mainly symbols and art. So using the academic philosophy of the structural universal language, through books, we overcome the differentiations of legislative censorship which we have been subjected to.
How do you look at your identity as an Aboriginal poet?
I use English to my advantage in my reality, my present-day causes. At the same time, I am holding dreamtime stories or story-telling as a cover whenever I find it difficult, uniting everyone’s causes together using the tool of English, with bits of languages which we have in common.
My role is to make others proud of their aboriginality in the written form, be it intellectual or unintellectual, like storytelling.
How do you revisit your stories in your writing?
When I do national and international travels it helps me to revisit the stories of my life, like seasonal change. Today I write more in a mosaic general sense. In my early writings I wrote more specifically about my personal and the political wrongdoings that were affecting me.
Would you like to say something about Native Title?
Well,Native Title is like a ‘tea and biscuit’ handshake, or like a Shakespeare performance around our campfires, a stage act that does little to benefit my people. It is an intricate web of negotiations and compromise. Changes are paramount yet apologies by Prime Ministers and their partisans cloud the factual change that should be used as legal points (every tribe has a white man in the tribunal).
Who are the major authors who have influenced your writing?
I would say Anita Heiss (Wiradjuri) and Kim Scott (Noongar). Anita gave me another flow to influence commercial writing but still with the dos and the don’ts as means to our struggle. Second in line would be Kim Scott because of his historical approach to writing our story, giving healing to modern day readers. Really I don’t like to be biased to any Aboriginal writer, author or poet.
Recently I was influenced by a South Australian writer that took sadness around the world, that made other writers and readers sad but on the spot healed. This shows professionalism under the rainbow literature growth. She has translated languages which shows me that I can change my writings for the benefit of those literacy leaves falling from the branches of the universal tree. Her name is Ali Cobby Eckermann.
You had mentioned about the American Indian Movement in your talk at Jadavpur. Could you please enlighten us on that a bit?
Well in the 1970’s, we (the Black resistance) were getting a lot of African-American Black Power ideology of protest movement and left-wing papers. And then a soother [sic], a comfortable alliance came in from the Native Americans because the struggles seemed so similar. We were introduced to reading like the Akwesasne Notes, which gave us spiritual literacy and a wider understanding of sovereign rights.
I visited there in 1976 at Wounded Knee, Sioux City and Pine Ridge Reservation. It was at the same time when the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) pigs were clamping down on native peoples doing their cultural dancing, such as the sun dance. At the same time in Australia Vincent Lingiari and others were under resistance with the Gough Whitlam government under the Land Rights legislations. I saw many parallels between the two, and still do today.
How do you look at Indigeneity from your location?
Well my indigeneity was furnace after coming from a mission of detribalizing and not knowing some of your blood lines; this was kept in hearsay. Now over the years, facts and dreaming stories, traditional songs and familiarizing myself with some of the language is who I am. Wherever I am I have an affiliation with the Land, even if it is a town or city built over, because my grandfathers and grandmothers had what we call a yumba, -a kind of church before the white men came.
What are the major themes of your works?
I feel that the themes are historical yet cutting into the programs that’s been consumed by society’s elitist educators. My main themes are to introduce young people to read and write in our own language, yet with the significant importance of advancing their English written style to all human beings. My main theme covers all themes because poetry is not politics, but can be used as a criteria to change political systems.
How do you respond to the tag “Literature of Resistance”?
It is like saying English was once a barrier to people. Now we have used the barrel of the gun and its powder to show them that our ancient weapons are still alive. The message stick shall never die, it is a passed on from family to family. Wherever you are in Australia anything that happens in communities and families affects the homeland movement and has to be written to resist the economical strain. Defining resistance means I resist their law, their censorships, their editing.
Are you aware of the critical reception of your work?
Critics and addicts are very selfish to fix Aboriginal writers. I think that whenever indigenous people have written in English to explain their double standard, using pictures and images, have been written up by thesis, dialectics and conservative critics just to catalogue those who could be commercial sellers. Yes I am aware of critics, but none have come up to my black face!
Do you connect with other Indigeous artists at the gatherings? How?
By attending some of the festivals and through protest marches and rallies. If you got the money you can gather with well-known performing artists. If you got no money there is no gathering together until there is a free community event. Most of the time literature is a registration of economical divisions.
How do you look at the translation of your works?
Because I can’t read the other languages when my words have been translated, I have great confidence in the translators because of the revolutionary ideal contact with them. But I still feel that no translator in English language can translate indigenous language.
Mention some of your major works which you would like to revisit?
I would like to revist some of my political writings, such as The Making And Breaking Of ABlack Militant, Do Not Hate Educate, and unrhymed writings that seem to be poetical kind, which gives me the feeling to think fluent spoken languages take up the challenge to translate my writings out of English. To hear my writings in an international language other than English brightens my progress into solidarity.
What are the other modes of expression you would like to explore apart from what you have been doing?
It would be my vision to see many of my writings woven into a stage play enhanced by other artforms including dance and song,Asking a dramatist to put together a stage play with all my poetry, my written words, and then a film, a script writer. And to put music on a cd with my poetry, spoken word singing and so forth.
Tell us about the stolen generations.
Well I came from a reserve that practiced in the exploitation of mothers and fathers, for cheap labour and to cause hysteria and depression. Once they started taking the children away the people already had a loss of land and their cultures. This was another heavy blow to their identity, because it is caused by bias and all the diseases of racismthat they try and breathe into our own peoples.
How do you associate the idea of land with Aboriginal spirituality?
In short, being told the creation story of seawater rushing up to the creek / river waters and splashing, seeing a little bird drinking some water out from where the two waters meet, the sunshine shining through the mountains as rainbow colours came and started to travel through the land. This was told to me when I was a young boy around the campfire. Over the years I have started to affiliate with significant creationist stories, which gives me the beat of my pulse today.
How did my land treat you?
For a start I didn’t see no land at all. All I saw was degradation. But smelling and seeing the experience of the poor so organized gave me the sense that virgin land is as sacred as our virgin land. I felt the affectionate. The passion that came from the hospitality once we were known as indigenous writers was so appreciated and allowed me to be open and tell my story like it is.
Would you like to come back again?
Might ‘communist’ (??) again because collective energy in community is better than state and international complications. It would be good to return to have other indigenous authors and a culture group to do a tour together, and I can’t wait for the translated (Bengali) book.
But what India has given me as a writer is to take their language printed book and influence the stuck-up, coconut Indians in Australia, who are living as British subjects.
Maybe a line for our students?
Let the house be built with indigenous literature with song dance and music. No bridges no war. More love will get rid of the law of the western style. Mother Nature grows with maturity; maturity grows with Mother Nature.