Black Armband History
The dispossessed haunt
The margins of my childhood
Spent amid the seasons of the rivers
With brown floods and blackening fires
Scouring the town limits.
Today the still, eucalyptus scent
In a hot, summer afternoon
And the chirruping of the cuckoo shrike
Remind me of that place.
But in this dreamtime town
Black refugees found no welcome,
Camped in humpies by the riverbank,
While white children fished
For redfin in the billabongs,
And economic exiles
Wandered in from the ‘thirties,
Passing through on the dole,
Forgetting on flagon sherry.
The old Australia lingered there:
The Yorta Yorta without a name
The tramps from who knows where
(They had themselves to blame).
Children taunted Chinese men
While the drover left his dogs at camp
To join the shearers in the bar at ten,
And after dark when the clothes were damp,
Out of work and gripped by drink,
Desperation reached its brink
Hanging on a length of hemp.
6 March 2001