'We will decide who comes here'


The great push at the You Yangs

Every year we went to those hills —
Now rendered into strength by Williams —
To try and break through the rocks
And beat the opponents,
Just as those ancient people,
The originals,
Were pushed off the land
Into a nothingness.

There were invaders and defenders,
It was an uphill attack,
And small tags of yellow ribbon
Could be lost and lost,
Until suddenly you were redundant,
Taken out of the combat,
And reminded of loss.

'We will decide who comes here'

It might be an epitaph
On a tombstone,
Or the motto
Above the door
At a memorial bordello.

It glows in the dark,
Flashing its sign
Like an ancient call to prayer,
An anthem of certainty.

Forget the ancestral trespassers,
The heritage forbears,
The gin and bitters people,
They didn't ask,
They just used their guns
Across the waters,
Across the sands,
Across the plains,
Across the hills.

No decision-time then,
As the map was bloodied
To imperial pink.

Ancestral invitation

When you said one day,

'I long to go back to the hills
Where the old winds whisper and sing,
Where the stones are scattered into stories,'

I wanted to answer

'I'll come too
I'll join you.'

I wanted to walk between the trees
To finger pale scars on trunks
To see my parlour pallor shadow theirs.

You held your black hand out to mine,
Yet I couldn't go: my feet were too soft
And pain's strange discipline struck again.

The bark hung like snake skins
Some had crumbled into a carpet
Its texture made by a day by day decay.

My appetite would embrace the snake,
My sight the light's dance
Learned from shadow's rhythm.

I could say,

'We could change donations for gifts
And measure difference all round.'

'We could cede ourselves
In the hope of forgiving ourselves.'

The trouble is

Our diseases knew no duty
And time's tariff remains unpaid.


We acknowledge the hurt and pain
suffered by our fellow citizens, the
Indigenous people and, particularly, the
children of the Stolen Generation.
We acknowledge that injustices were
administered in the guise of justice and
that cruelty was camouflaged in compassion.
We acknowledge that many lives were
robbed of their ancestral birthrights,
that lives were robbed of their families,
and families were robbed of their lives,
that lives were robbed of their spatial
and spiritual landscapes, and that
lives were robbed of life.
We now speak to all those hurt and in pain.
As a nation, past and present,
we owe and give to those hurt
our collective and individual shame
and sorrow, forged in the hope of
a renewed journey in the company
and trust of one another.
For the past deeds we are sorry,
for the future we rejoice in the beginning
of the end of hurt. 

Peter GebhardtPeter Gebhardt is a retired school principal and judge. His most recent book is Black and White Onyx: New and Selected Poems 1988-2011.

Topic tags: new australian poems, Peter Gebhardt



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Existing comments

Peter, I had goosebumps reading your beautiful and ascerbic poems speaking truth to heart. Thank you.
Vacy Vlazna | 27 September 2011

Enjoyed the poems.
Totally Hilarious.
carol gleeson | 26 January 2012


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