Guwayu – For All Times

Magabala is the Broome, WA based publisher of Indigenous books, so when I picked this up at my local indie bookshop it was in expectation that this was Indigenous Western Australian poetry, but of course Magabala is Australian not just Western Australian and so Guwayu – For All Times (2020) is a compilation from all around. In fact the commissioning body, Red Room Poetry is located “on Gadigal country of the Eora Nation” which I guess makes it in or near Sydney.

Editor, Dr Jeanine Leane, begins her Foreword with:

Guwayu – a Wiradjuri word – means still and yet and for all times. Guwayu means all times are inseparable; no time is ever over; and all times are unfinished.

[Wiradjuri – central southern NSW (here)]

Red Room Poetry is a national not-for-profit which “has commissioned, published and provided platforms for First Nations poets, artists, students, Elders and communities to celebrate, strengthen and share our culture.”

The Australian literary landscape needs this bold, brave intervention to wake it up from the 232-year slumber and the dream of the settler mythscape. Guwayu breaks the silence-feel the beauty-hear our words. Feel the texture of the sublime vessels woven within this living, breathing archive of us crafted from the living literature of our words.

Dr Jeanine Leane

Let me start from the middle of the collection with a favourite author, Western Australian Wirlomin/Noongar woman Clair G Coleman who has an Aboriginal flag tattoo to make up she says for her skin being ‘you could pass’ pale

I wear a flag
I have it needle-stuck and inked
Up in my skin
My skin is a flag
Without the ink
Not flagged enough

Forever, Flag

Not all the poets are famous or even poets, Red Room have writing programmes for ordinary Indigenous people and for (ordinary Indigenous people who are) prisoners. There are no bios (there are bios, they’re up the back), so I don’t mean to imply the writers who follow are either ordinary or in prison. Many of the poems are written in Language with interpretations to English included or following.

Dyarrbabangunbuni ngimay
We will never grow weary or let our fire burn out
Burawangunla, naminmawawingun dara
Let’s move upward and show our teeth

The Wounded Brave, Joel Davidson, writing in Gadigal

The next piece, Bigger than School Stuff, is longish, six or seven pages plus three pages of “Author’s note” which begins: “I’m still not 100% sure if this is the proper way to publish this. It is not really a poem. It is a piece of oral history. And right now it is incomplete… I first told this story at Mparntwe (Alice Springs) in 2018. I told it sitting beneath a very old and sacred tree in what is known as Todd Mall.” Near the end the author says disarmingly: “I am pretty sure the spelling of some of these Central Arrente words are wrong; and the translation needs editing with my Aunty Ali Furber and perhaps others, but it feels like a good start.”

Everyone’s sitting on the carpet
except Latoiya, who’s sitting under a desk
holding her hair over her face

Ampe mape arle-le aneme
Latoiya anyinte
aneme desk-le akwene
ingerre artelemele artele

The story is that Latoiya speaks Arrente in class and Tyrone, a town kid, speaks gibberish back at her, shaming her, and ends with the author giving Tyrone a ticking off

Bruss, you not in trouble. Not like school trouble
This is bigger than school stuff
You got … we got responsibilities here
We gotta look after that language. Best we can. Ok?

Declan Furber Gillick

Australian singers Stiff Gins are in there, one short poem which wasn’t my favourite but here’s a sample

Long, Wanting
My edge, a blade
Slice through air, slice through air
No breath, no rain
Stay in wait and wait to fade away

Longing, Wanting

Another ‘famous’ author is Ellen van Neerven, who is I think the current Red Room Fellow. They have a couple of poems in this collection. I’ll skip over them but Brona has reviewed their poetry (here and here). Ok, there’s also Bruce Pascoe.

Let me finish with some (non-contiguous) excerpts from an anti-government rant, because that was always going to grab my attention

Big house, big lies, gubbna, white gubbament
Contorted melaleuca
Conveniently furnished with second-hand decadence

I have retained my identity, of that I am sure
Inheritance; dispossession, pain and poverty
Against the calls of a mixed-race progeny
While you were left to inherit the bounty of the colony

Architects of this great nation, nothing but glorified thieves
Terra nullius – no one here so we can do what we please
Genocide, massacre, they all hide behind the wall

Your monument to a foreign power and foreign queen
Built on land that was never yours and never will be
Peaceful settlement an even bigger lie to hide their crimes
How many dead, how many more sacrificed?

Dripping with Decadence (Big House, Big White Lies), Lorna Munro


Jeanine Leane ed., Guwayu – For All Times, Magabala, Broome, 2020. 166pp.

see also:
Alison Whittaker, BlakWork (here)
Charmaine Papertalk Green & John Kinsella, False Claims of Colonial Thieves (here)
my Aboriginal Australia page (here). Book reviews are down the bottom
Lisa’s ANZLL Indigenous Literature Reading List (here)
Sue/Whispering Gums, Red Room Poetry Object competition 2014 (here)
Sue/Whispering Gums, Recovering Australia’s Indigenous Languages (here)


27 thoughts on “Guwayu – For All Times

  1. Sounds like a very important publication. I like the line-by-line mixing of the original language and translated English, forcing the reader to look at the original as well.


    • My guess is that the great majority of Indigenous people don’t speak Language naturally. It is only well away from urban centres that English is a second, third or fourth language. But, efforts are being made to recover Indigenous languages, from records made by early settlers and from recordings of the last known speakers etc. Joel Davidson’s poem is probably part of this process.

      The school poem is more complex because, as Latoiya demonstrates, there are communities for whom Arrente (or a version of) is their first language. Though the poet may be a townie himself, needing an Elder to check his translation, This poem, in the book, begins with English in one column and Arrente alongside, which I was unable to reproduce within a quote block, though it concludes entirely in English (but then, as the author says, it is a work in progress).

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Red Room Poetry are initiating a Poetry Month for August. I’ve been wondering about taking August as a month to read more poetry, especially Indigenous poetry. This collection has certainly been on my radar, but I’m in the middle of a slim collection by an eco-poet (Louise Crisp) based in the Gippsland/Monaro/Alpine regions. It is beautiful and upsetting at the same time.

    A heads up that Ellen now prefers to go by the they/them pronouns. I’ve adjusted the language in my post for Throat.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think I have fixed EvN’s pronouns.
      I’m finding Indigenous poetry as interesting, exciting even as Indg.Lit. Which is to say, very. You are educating me with your regular poetry and if you want my participation I am happy to look out for another collection for August. Are you finding any resonances between Crisp and Eve Langley?


      • Not yet, but I probably should have said the Snowy region to be more accurate, but that noun was evading me this morning!! I’m being reminded of Miles Franklin instead and All That Swagger. Crisp often uses fragments from old diaries or journals or surveyors reports to bounce off a poem. I keep waiting for one from Danny or Johanna.

        I’ll keep you posted about Poetry in August. Thanks 😊


      • The Brent of Bin Bins are set in the high country too; and part of Patrick White’s the Twyborn Affair (he was on a family property up there for a while as a jackaroo); and The Man from Snowy River of course. Sue/WG goes up there for summer holidays, we should insist on a literary tour.


    • I noted Bill’s use of that pronoun and thought, I didn’t know that, he’s really up with Ellen Van Neerven, but now I see it’s you who’s up on Van Neerven.

      We do have such a wonderful flourishing of Indigenous writers at present.

      I have read Jeanine Leane’s novel and heard her speak a couple of times. She’s strong.

      BTW I have written about Red Room a couple of times, including a Monday Musings back on 2014 on a competition they were running, and in 2020 I mentioned them in a post on recovering Indigenous Australian languages.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m really up with all that stuff (non-gendered pronouns). Not. You guys will just have to keep an eye on me. I’ll provide links to your posts when I get home (from afternoon tea).

        Liked by 1 person

      • It’s hard to keep up with, but important to follow what people want once you know. I’m not sure I’d go back and fix the past, but once I know I will follow their preferences.


      • I get the impression Ms is struggling to gain traction but I still wish there was a (new) non-gender specific pronoun other than ‘they’ etc. Americans are lazy with grammar anyway and I think they got away with a con job here by hijacking the plural pronouns.

        But, that said, I think specifying my own gender is intrusive, and it should be left off forms altogether. The way forms are set up now – Mr, Ms/Mrs/Miss, X – trans people stand out more not less. So I’ll do my best to keep up.


      • Do you Bill? That’s interesting because I thought that while women retaining their names after marriage hasn’t – disappointingly to me – gained traction , but that Ms had. I had a (divorced) friend from library school back in the seventies who wanted letters addressed to her as FIRST NAME LAST NAME with no Ms, Mrs, etc. I’m a bit inconsistent. If I write to a couple I’ll just address it to Mary and John Smith , but if I write one person I’ll often put the form of address in, but not always. Interesting how much of what we do is a conscious (or unconscious) political act.

        BTW, the plural pronoun was common in Jane Austen’s England for non-specific gender, and is much better than writing he/she. In my posts I often write s/he when I don’t know the gender but perhaps I should use they there too. The problem of course is ambiguity isn’t it – not about gender but about singular/plural. And this causes a double-take that can slow the reading. Some languages don’t have gender… Can we go that far? We have “it” for inanimate objects and often for animals. Should we use “it” for humans too? It’s always been regarded as rude, insulting, to use “it” for humans but perhaps not?


  3. What would we do without the indie spirit, whether through bookshops or presses, to showcase works and writers like this. Do publishers from the corner of the world that you inhabit have subscriptions? I think only one indie publisher in (the land currently called) Canada offers a subscription model, but I see it quite often in European and sometimes American small presses; it sounds delightful to me (but I depend very heavily on the library myself, for the near future anyway) and likely offers substantial support to them at the ground level.


    • I don’t generally keep up with publishers though we have three very good indies in Western Aust. – Magabala, Fremantle Press and Margaret River. I follow Magabala on Facebook but have never managed to persuade them to give me advance warning let alone review copies. Anyway,I don’t generally like to commit to new releases because I struggle to make time to review them.
      Perth has lost a lot of bookshops over the past decade, chains, indies and second hand, but that seems to have stabilized now. Hope so! My daughter has discovered a very good children’s bookshop in Fremantle specializing in Magabala so that will keep the grandkids going.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This sounds like a fantastic collection. Red Room Poetry is indeed based in Sydney, does some really fabulous work and is (or at least used to be, when I knew more about these things) financially underwritten by its founder, philanthropist (and poet) Johanna Featherstone. Because these days, the only way an arts organisation can survive, let alone thrive, is via philanthropy…


    • A poet with money – there’s a contradiction, but good on her. I suppose the Libs look longingly at the US model where arts and unis get their money from donations (or at those sensible countries where artists can be shot). Great too that Red Room commissioned this work and have programmes taking writing to the people.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I enjoy the Magabala published books. I’ll look into the fb page. I get Fremantle Press newsletters but was unaware of Margaret River. Will look into their website. Such interesting books.


    • I sometimes wish this blog were more ‘local’. I try and read new WA fiction in preference to the rest, but I rarely hear about it first. More often Lisa or Kim review it and then I go looking for it. That is of course all my fault because I rarely pay much attention to what I do see of publisher publicity.
      But Magabala is definitely worth following on fb, they always have something on the go.


  6. This one sounds like a real winner, and I am fascinated by this idea that “Not all the poets are . . . even poets…” because it opens that conversation about what makes a poet, a writer, a storyteller. I find that people who are smart and observant who write poetry often kick me in the guts in a good way because their artistry isn’t soured by someone telling them what poetry “is.” And in my experience, whomever leads a writing program truly leaves his/her mark on the students’ writing and what is considered good. I recall a professor changing my phrase “crunch, squeak” — a sound eating for popcorn — into “crunchsqueak.” I remember that stuck with me because it was such a small change, but it spoke words about what a writing program teaches is “right” or “preferable.”


    • Hi Melanie, a late reply I’m sorry. Luckily I have arrived in (Covid-locked-down) Victoria a day early and am having a day off in a bush truckstop. I struggle with non-writers producing books as I do with ‘naive’ painters – I think there is too much learned craft involved for it to be done successfully. Poetry is more interesting, though not doggerel! I think the short form is more conducive to amateur attempts, and often too, the real feelings involved make up for shortcomings in writing skills.
      Crunch, squeak is interesting – the two words separated by a comma have a much different meaning to one composite word. I would never use right/wrong in this context. Does popcorn make one sound or two? Does the sound it makes need a new word? Should we judge popcorn on its crunchsqueakiness?


      • Also, your last question made Nick laugh quite a bit, but also says you’re correct that training shouldn’t be about making a choice for the novice writer, but training them on how to make choices with good reason.


      • Yes, you took my response there Bill. I wouldn’t have used right/wrong in the context of “crunchsqueak” either. I would use right/wrong in terms of how the teacher discussed it though. Did they just change it, or did they discuss/tease out the implications for meaning, rhythm, tone, etc?


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