False Claims of Colonial Thieves, Green & Kinsella

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John Kinsella is a notable West Australian writer and has been on my to-do list for some time, not that x-Mrs L was aware of this when she chose False Claims for me at our local indie book store, fortuitously across the road from our favourite pub. She also didn’t know or had forgotten that her brother had been briefly Kinsella’s teacher at Geraldton High when he was newly out of Teachers’ College. I would visit him when I was in town, in his share house of young teachers barely out of school themselves, strangers in a country town, clustered for warmth and protection, a scene multiply familiar to me after years of following my itinerant school teacher father around country Victoria. BiL doesn’t claim to have had any influence on Kinsella, though he is given credit by a later student, Kim Scott – a dedicatee in this book – for his taking up writing , for which we are all grateful.

About Charmaine Papertalk Green I know little, well nothing, but gleaned the following. She is a poet and artist born in 1962 at Eradu railway siding on the Greenough River between Mullewa and Geraldton on Amangu country and is a member of the Wajarri and Badimaya cultural groups from the Yamaji Nation of Western Australia. “Her books include Just Like That (Fremantle Arts Centre Press) and Tiptoeing Tracker Tod (Oxford University Press). Charmaine lives in Geraldton, rural Western Australia.” (ABR)

John Kinsella, born in 1963 in Perth, has achieved wider fame as a poet and writer generally and even a (short) wikipedia entry. Elements of his biography come up in this collection of poems, which are a reflection by the two poets on their experiences living in and around Mullewa, Geraldton, Western Australia. Kinsella’s father appears to have been a workshop supervisor on mines throughout WA before coming to “a millionaire’s farm” outside Mullewa as manager.

I know Mullewa well enough both from passing through on my way from Geraldton to the eastern goldfields and from visits as a tourist. It is a small town once an important railway junction and centre for farming, notable for its stone buildings and particularly its Catholic church, Our Lady of Mt Carmel.

Catholic church Mullewa
Our Lady of Mt Carmel, Mullewa

The church and its architect/builder Monsignor John Hawes (1876-1956) come up surprisingly frequently in the poems.

Hawes – God’s intruder:

Galloping in, bible and cross in hand/Hawes, God’s intruder/Altar stone of the earth/ Intruding on our barna/In the name of Catholicism/Bow your head and conform/For this is now the whiteworld. (CPG)

That priest, England in his veins,/converted the midwest diocesan vision/of souls gathered under one-roofs./A Spanish breeze drawn/under the arches. Mt Carmel. (JK)

It also helps in understanding the poems to know – from the Our Lady of Mt Carmel website above – that the Yamaji people didn’t attend the church but instead had services at a site outside town

Mass Rock is the intruder in our space
Mass Rock is not my significant site
My people’s campsite not Hawes’ space (CPG)

And it seems Papertalk Green shares my bemusement with the Catholic practice of praying to stone gods: A space for those to pray their sins away/Under the watchful eyes of icons and statues/Like civilised colonial pagans with gargoyle guards.

The back cover blurb describes the poems, which alternate irregularly between the two poets, as “call and response” but that is not completely accurate as they are more “variations on a theme”. Their main shared concern is the impact of mining on country

Grandmothers:

My grandmother was a mining town child -/Kookynie where her father was foreman/of the South Champion Mine. My father/worked for decades in Karratha and Kal -/so it’s not as if I come to the mines/without foreknowledge. But I can only/see them as the harrowing of Hell,/the opening of the land to release/what shouldn’t be released,/a desecration of spirit and place. (JK)

I am glad the only mining/She would have known was/From the rich ochre on her/Body and in her hair during/Ceremony time out on country. (CPG)

Papertalk Green writes also of things that are specific to her – the claims of pale skinned Indigenous people not being taken seriously: His skin is fair – no argument there/Lived as a Yamaji all his life/As a strong Wajarri man (CPG, writing about her father, I think), and words of warning to the Identity Police; drugs in her community, dealers, ‘needle teachers’. While Kinsella writes more generally about Western Australia – Mrs Dance cutting down the first tree; travelling with his parents; the Great Western Woodlands (the world’s largest remaining temperate forest); the tragedy of cutting down salmon gums which may predate white settlement.

Papertalk Green writes a jokey little piece about ‘yarning’ (telling stories) and Kinsella tops it, talking over her: How can I but take up the call,/Charmaine, and yarn right back at you -. Papertalk Green offers a space for reconciliation

Come on I dare you
Grab my hand
We can discard our
Protective robes of
Biases, superiority, stereotypes
Oh yes don’t look surprised
We both own those robes
You wear yours when you
Call me a black multhu, a gin, a black bastard
I wear mine when I call you a
White invading convict land grabbing multhu
Oh yeah we both got those robes
But that space over there
Will allow us to take off the robes
And stitch a new robe
To wear and heal together
On this land we both call home

There’s lots more. This is a lovely book, not just a new look at WA’s midwest, but a new attempt to define what it is to be Australian. I know I say I don’t like poetry but the truth is I mostly can’t be bothered concentrating long enough to read it, and this time I’m glad I did.

 

Charmaine Papertalk Green & John Kinsella, False Claims of Colonial Thieves, Magabala, Broome, 2018. Cover image: We Remember – Our Barna! by Charmaine Papertalk Green and Mark Smith. “This print tells the story of Geraldton’s foundation around colonialsim and its impact on the First Peoples – the Wilunyu of the Yamaji Nation.” 2016

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9 thoughts on “False Claims of Colonial Thieves, Green & Kinsella

  1. Enjoyed this post Bill … partly because I was a mining-town girl myself for a while (Mt Isa) and partly because I’m interested in poetry though don’t read anywhere near as much of it as I’d like. It’s time consuming to absorb and I often shy away from allocating that time.

    I think Kinsella is married to another poet, whom I heard at a Poetry event a few years ago now. Another event I’d like to get to but haven’t managed for quite a while now.

    There, that was a very meaningful, value-adding comment wasn’t it! Oh dear.

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    • You add value. You add joy and interest. Kinsella’s short wiki entry doesn’t mention a wife. You’d think the publishers would tell us if he had a wife and children and a dog, they always do – eg. “Michelle Scott Tucker lives on a small farm with her husband and children.” Anyway, glad to have you here, I’m getting fewer readers for poetry than I did even for anarchy.

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      • Why thanks Bill! As for poetry, yes, I’ve noticed that around all the blogs,

        BTW that wife business could be a gender thing? Ie they are more likely to describe family connections for women than men?

        Re Kinsella, if you check as I just gave, Tracy Ryan’s Wikipedia page it mentions her marriage to Kinsella! It may have been me who put it there from the reading I attended! And I found a blog titled MUTUALLY SAID: POETS VEGAN ANARCHIST PACIFIST, a blog shared between poets John Kinsella and Tracy Ryan. I guess that confirms it? There’s a post there on Terra nullius.

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      • I’ll follow up Tracy Ryan, she looks interesting.

        The first time I noticed “[the author] lives with a woman/dog/cat/children” was David Lodge – “David Lodge is married and has three children. he lives in Birmingham.” I was half-way through the course work for my degree, in which he was one of the theorists I was looking up to, and I thought, ‘How postmodern is that? Not.”

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  2. I enjoy books of poetry that are written by two people, either both poets or one a poet and the other a writer. They can then explore themes through different personal lenses and make the writing more meaningful. Just a head’s up, if you are quoting an entire poem, or a large chunk of a whole poem, anywhere in your review, you may be committing copyright infringement. It varies by country, but in the United States, we can only quote a few lines at a time.

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    • That’s certainly true of the two writers here. And thanks for the heads up. I don’t have the book with me but I think the long quote was a section rather than the whole poem. If it was too much I’ll just have to hope she thought it was respectful.

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  3. Tracy Ryan, (if she’s the same Tracy Ryan) writes beaut novels. I’ve read Claustrophobia, and just a week or so ago, her new one We Are Not Most People which I liked even more than Claustrophobia. (See https://anzlitlovers.com/category/writers-aust-nz-in-capitals/ryan-tracy/)
    I’ve never known anything about her, but I’m hoping to rectify that… she’s a friend of Nathan Hobby’s, and he’s going to ask her if she wants to be featured in Meet an Aussie Author.

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