not my place

It was a pretty brutal place, but there was no slavery in Australia.

The Hon. Scott Morrison, MP,
Prime Minister of Australia
on Radio 2GB, 8 June 2020

it’s not my place
there are others here 
with grounds

& claims unpaid
cousins, aunties
family in living memory. 

it’s not my place
I’m one of those settler ppl
late comers full of optimism
& skin cancers
dumb as they come 
about what I see — 

— but your ppl 
sailed through the heads 
with Phillip and his crew
so your fore-mums 
and your fore-dads knew
and so do you.  

it’s not my place
but ppl hang on your words 
made grand by office
and braggadocio
your cuff-less musings 
(signals to your base)
become tomorrow’s 
curricula in a thousand 
muddy-kneed classrooms
across this wide brown. 

it’s not my place 
but when you deny
the iron tree, say 
the clamp and chain 
was just roughhouse by 
blokes like you and me

I have to say no

this photo
shows what it shows: 
our brothers and sisters
in lines in chains
in questions 
from the sepia past.  

it’s not my place
but deny them
& straight up 
even the stones
and mulga rows
will cry out. 

so now your days 
drag, your suits are
tailored rags
your eyes down
full of regret
for the hurt 
you’ve caused
with words
like whips.   


Image: Chained Aboriginal prisoners wearing riji (carved pearlshell) as they stand in the mangroves of Broome, c. 1910. (c/- Broome Historical Society, Courtesy Freney Collection.)

In June 2020 the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison stated on 2GB  radio in Sydney that “Australia when it was founded as a settlement, as New South Wales, was on the basis that there be no slavery…and while slave ships continued to travel around the world, when Australia was established, yes sure, it was a pretty brutal settlement… but there was no slavery in Australia”. After attracting reproach by Aboriginal activists and other sectors of the community, Morrison apologised for any offence caused and said that he was talking specifically about the colony of NSW.  

Slavery did exist in Australia. Aboriginal Australians were enslaved in the pearling industry, on cattle and pastoral industries and in domestic service across Australia. In addition, Pacific Islander people were also enslaved to work in Queensland agriculture a practice that continued until 1908. The Australian Parliament conducted an inquiry into modern slavery in Australia which reported in 2017 and lead to the establishment of The Modern Slavery Act 2018.

A poem of protest written for Dverse where Grace is hosting and asks us to protest.

And here’s A.B. Original teaming up with Australian music legend Paul Kelly singing ‘Dumb Things’.

19 thoughts on “not my place

  1. Staggering in its piercing indictment. It reminds me of when I learned Africans were placed in an American zoo as an exhibit at one point. The music you chose is good yet understated. Something more strident and screaming on this reality would fit better.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Words like whip…. Your verses hit right inside me and that photo just made it all the more brutal. In Canada, we have our own history & clashes with the First Nations too and our government have tried to make amends. But it is never enough when as a usurper of the land, you got something from them without their consent. I continue to learn about my adopted country’s history with the First Nations.

    Your backgrounder notes, put the slavery times upfront, with the government even trying to deny them. This is a fine example Peter. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Did they wear these chains as they were working? How could they possibly do anything chained so closely to each other? How could any man, ever, believe he had the right to commit another man to slavery? I’ve never been able to understand this.

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      1. And how in the world could they dive unchained? My God. I guess it was just a mind set that they were animals. Some still have this attitude. Evolution of the human race has by no means occurred across the board. But you’d go to jail for treating an animal this way… even in Mexico.

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  4. I can feel the anger in your words of protest and in the repetition of ‘it’s not my place.’ I think repetition is a powerful tool in songs of protest. You have wielded it well here.

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  5. Placing ourselves in discussions of race and place as one whose primary indictment is my skin color — the whole spiritual bafflement of racism – one can only be circumspect — “It’s not my place” — to be part of a history whose truths are whitewashed by power and yet apart, not shared — leads one to a ledge of critique and blame one cannot be absolved nor victorious. We drag it with us in the shadow rot of suburban indulgence. White colonialism is the poison which returns to scotch the maker, as Shakespeare said. Deny its sins and we get sicker. You carve your way through this with an offhand conversational economy which never strays from the moment and the import. Scott Morrison treats slavery like he does climate change: With the same which makes flames roar. – Brendan

    Liked by 1 person

  6. You’ve reminded me that when we visited the National Museum in Sydney (couple of decades ago, admittedly), there was a sign saying “Welcome” in dozens of languages, but nothing in any Aboriginal language. Aboriginal culture wasn’t valued then. It takes a long time to turn that round. Great poem. strong and calm.

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  7. I recently read a book by Kim Kelly which touched on the plight of the pearl divers. I’ve always been interested in Aboriginal Australian history and culture, and have read about terrible things white land owners did to them, including, among other novels, Rabbit Proof Fence. Undoubtedly, slavery existed in Australia. You’ve used the voice in your poem and the repetition of ‘It’s not my place’ to great effect, Peter, and the message is loud and clear. I like the way you portray the ‘settler ppl’ as:
    ‘late comers full of optimism
    & skin cancers
    dumb as they come’
    and the lines:
    ‘this photo
    shows what it shows:
    our brothers and sisters
    in lines in chains
    in questions
    from the sepia past.’
    Your poem tastes of Australia.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. dumb as they come
    about what I see —

    Seems this is the case in every colonization that took place. I call it the atrocities of being right! Looking back, it is shameful what our forefathers did to native people!

    Great and passionate poem that should speak to us all!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. kaykuala

    it’s not my place
    but deny them
    & straight up
    even the stones
    and mulga rows
    will cry out.

    A very comprehensive eye-opener Peter! And truly said, denials seem empty with glaring episodes seen in writings and images

    Hank

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Yes Peter, seems every nation of peoples, who left Europe, to settle in foreign lands, exploited or enslaved the native peoples of the lands they were occupying. As history reports, we here in the States not only systematically engaged in genocide of the original inhabitants, we also imported and enslaved the African peoples — and essentially enslaved Chinese to build our railroads. These are not the only atrocities committed in the formation of what is now the USA. What strikes strongest is that many of these Europeans that migrated in the early days to this land, were themselves fleeing persecution or imprisonment. Apparently they had forgotten what drove them from their ancestral lands. There are “sins of the forefathers” aplenty in this world, and abuse, persecution, and exploitation still exists in far too many forms and places. We humans are capable of unspeakable brutality. Your piece here expresses this reality well. BTW, really enjoyed Paul Kelley!

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