Australian Poets: Oodgeroo Noonuccal

This week we will be talking about an aboriginal poet Oodgeroo Noonuccal, also known as Kath walker, who lived from 1920 until 1993. Oodgeroo came from the Noonuccal tribe in Queensland. Once she had completed primary school she left because she believed that even if she stayed in school there wasn’t the slightest possibility of getting a better. Oodgeroo travelled the world telling others about the dreadful conditions the aboriginals were living under and campaigned for equal rights across Australia. Oodgeroo has published many poems including: Understand old one, Municipal gum, Namatjira and We are going.

Although she did not begin publishing her poems until she was encouraged by a well known writer, when she was in her forties. Oodgeroo expresses her opinions on how life has changed for aboriginals through her poetry. This is evident in the poem Understand old one. In this poem Oodgeroo compares what Australia was like for her ancestors to what it is like for her. This poem expresses how life in Australia has changed especially for aboriginals.

In the first half of the poem Oodgeroo is talking about how life was for her ancestors. It was calm and serene ?

there on the old peaceful camping place of your red fires along the quiet waters’. She uses the soft drawn out words such as ? peaceful’ and ? place’ to help this image. Then she explains what life is like now. The busy cities, cars everywhere, ? towering stone gunyas high in the air’, ? planes in the sky’. It is now noisy and busy.

She uses quick short sentences in this part of the poem to help bring across the idea of busyness. Her world is the complete opposite of the world that her ancestors lived in. Oodgeroo uses a metaphor of bees.

She compares the swarms of cars in the city to bees to give the image of fast, paced, hustle and bustle of the city. She also uses alliteration to help emphasise the imagery used. She uses the alliteration of ? p’ sounds in the first half of the poem to help bring across the image of serenity and peacefulness. She then uses the repetition of ? s’ sounds (sky, swarm) to give an almost buzzing sound to help with imagery of bees. Finally she uses ? f’ sounds of ? frantic’ and ? flight’ to give the impression of speed. Oodgeroo also expresses her view on the way aboriginals have been treated in her poetry.

An example of this is municipal gum. This poem compares the image of a gum tree in a city street and an overworked animal to what has happened to the aboriginal people. Oodgeroo compares the aboriginal people to the gum tree when she says ? o fellow citizen what have they done to us’. She likens the tree to herself giving her and the tree a sense of unity. She does this to help give a picture of how aboriginal people have been treated. She also compares the gumtree to a cart-horse.

The gumtree has been removed from the forest and placed in the city with hard bitumen around it just as the poor cart-horse has been abused, ?castrated, broke, a thing wronged’ and ripped out of its habitat and is now depressed and miserable. She uses imagery throughout this poem. Firstly she gives the image of the ? cool world of leafy green halls’ where the tree should be.

Then she says ? set in your black grass of bitumen’ giving the image of the tree imbedded in bitumen rather than in green grass. ?Whose hung head and listless mien express’ is giving the image of this animal that is broken, sad and wishing for death because it is so miserable. At the end of this poem Oodgeroo asks the rhetorical question ?

What have they done to us? ‘ This gets the audience thinking but it also suggests that this image of a gum tree is just like what has happened to the aboriginal people. It compares the aboriginals to this gumtree stuck in the city instead of its natural place, the country. Oodgeroo often uses language that is spoken by aboriginals rather than proper English in her poetry. For example in municipal gum she says ? here you seems to me’ which breaks grammatical intentionally so that the language is closer to aboriginal spoken language.

Another example is in Understand old one when she uses the word ?gunya’ to describe modern buildings. Gunya is the aboriginal word for houses. She purposely uses aboriginal language to create empathy and contrast and make it more aboriginal. Oodgeroo’s many works have been recognised for a number of awards including the Mary Gilmore medal (1970), The Jessie Lynchford Award (1975) and the Fellowship of Australian Writers’ Award. Oodgeroo was inspired by her aboriginal upbringing and heritage to write this poetry. Her father was a major influence. He told her to always be proud of her aboriginality and she was.

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