LIFESTYLE | ART

Deborah Wall immortalises historic moment with poetry

Michelle Baltazar

Talented Filipino Australian artist and long-time advocate of Aboriginal reconciliation, Deborah Wall, has received a commendation for a poem she wrote about the day Australia said 'Sorry' to the Aboriginal community.

Wall impressed the judges in the Spirit Life In Marrickville Community Arts Project with her photograph and poem about Aboriginal reconciliation. Her work was one of the entries from art submissions that provoked dialogue within the community about mutual understanding, respect, acceptance, diversity, values, beliefs and social justice.

Her submitted work will be part of an exhibition to be held today and tomorrow (for public viewing) at the Seaview Gallery Dulwich High, Seaview Street, Dulwich Hill in Sydney. 

The poem, written in 2008, was first published in other publications and reproduced here with Wall's permission.

Eight months on, still sorry

Day of atonement
a blip in empty space,
a wilderness that held us in awe,
a paradise to steal from the ‘noble savage’

so we poisoned their waterholes, used their women,
took the ‘half-caste’ away, worked them for rations,
their outreached hand yearned for understanding
with their tales writ on the land, painted on canvas
with symbols alien to our eyes,
so we sent the anthropologists and musicologists
to the bush to find the translation,
then we harvested their art designs for a profit,
ignoring their meaning … we gathered the smoke of the gum leaves
onto our faces, usurping their ritual blessing with hardened hearts,
and still we turned our heads away, biding our time,
their stories of pain falling on deaf ears,
but behind the façade was a cry
from the depths that rang in our ears,
disturbed our restful slumber,
left us no peace until we turned around,
and listened …
some of us struggled to retrace our steps
and remember where we stumbled whilst in the throes
of founding a nation, where in the groove of history
we could pick ourselves up, and begin to set things right,
and so it was, in Canberra,
alongside screens from across the globe,
where many eyes focused on this fateful day to witness
a new national leader seize the first opportunity
to begin his regime with one word
offered to those who were hardly a blip in empty space,
and bound to be bred out and consigned to oblivion!
on this day, our peace offering began with one word
that reverberated from beyond the grave to the living.
what past, what present, what future
could be conceived
with a simple acknowledgement
that realises, that to trample on our first people’s rights
would sow the seeds of our own destruction,
for they are at the core of our collective soul —
theirs was the gift of oneness with the land;
oneness with the Spirit.
with one word that creates a ray of hope,
that respects their sacred presence in our midst,
we say,
—’SORRY!’—
oh what a mighty word this has become
to begin Australia’s healing;
their song lines now await
our spiritual re-birth.

Asked why Aboriginal rights mean so much to her, Wall said that the cosmology of the first people of this country is deeply connected with the land.

"Their Law is interconnected with creation and nature. We, the new arrivals in this Continent, have much to learn from our Aboriginal traditional owners and custodians. Yet paradoxically, they who still welcome us to Country end up being marginalised in the main by a settler society like Australia."

She said that the nation's prosperity as Australian people (not to do with material wealth but with our collective well-being) is sustainable in the long term only if we learn to tap into their deep spirituality and respect their human rights.

For more information on the exhibition and the awards, go to http://mmrarts.blogspot.com.au/.

Photo credits: Deborah having Aussie fish and chips (Photo: Clarinda Ruiz); Black and white pic of Deborah (on the left) with her niece, Rebekah Araullo; Filipino and Aboriginal story sharing in inner city Sydney (photo with Deborah and award-winning novelist Merlinda Bobis. Three of the Aboriginal elders in this photo, Aunty Sylvia Scott, Aunty Betty Little and Aunty Joyce, have since passed away).

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