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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Journal: 004, Up the Coast

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Kalbarri Gorge, Murchison R.

My second trip, earlier this week, was to Karratha again, but with two trailers rather than three I was able to run up the coast road – so called though it’s sometimes 100 km inland – returning via the inland road, the Great Northern Highway, with old conveyor belts from the BHP iron ore mine Area C (I think they ran out of names) back to Perth (map).

On the coast road it’s desert or near desert country almost right from Perth with farmland shading quickly to hilly coastal heath, which will be alive with flowers in three or four months, to Geraldton (430 km), more hills through Northampton to the Kalbarri turnoff (100 km), 200 km of mallee scrub to Overlander Roadhouse and the turnoff to Shark Bay, then flat, open red dirt, anthills and straggly acacia scrub for the remaining 800 km, broken only by a few km of irrigated mango plantations around Carnarvon on the Gascoyne River, and gums in the river beds as we cross the mostly dry Minilya, Yannarrie, Ashburton and Fortescue Rivers.

Coming home inland is much the same, though with more trees, white trunked eucalypts as we cross the Fortescue flood plain to Munjina and then up over the hills at the edge of Karajini to Newman.

I’m just starting to learn the names of the peoples whose country this all is. The wheatbelt, which stretches up to and narrowly past Geraldton is mostly Noongar country, and the inland, centred on Jigalong near Newman, belongs to the Martu, a Western Desert people. But if you click on ‘Aboriginal Australia’ above, you will see that there are at least another two major groups on the coast between Geraldton and Port Hedland.

I get a clue from False Claims of Colonial Thieves by Charmaine Papertalk Green and John Kinsella who both grew up in Geraldton and its hinterland. Green’s home town was Mullewa, 100 km inland of Geraldton, a rail junction on the now disused Northern Line to the gold mining towns of Mt Magnet, Meekatharra and Wiluna, with lines south into the wheatbelt, to Toodyay and Northam and thence to Perth, and a branch line for the Mid-West iron ore mines –

I saw the rail wagons as a kid/Rolling on by Maley Street/Carrying Koolanooka iron ore (CPG)

And we as kids, outsiders,/jumping from one side of the tracks/to the other. The Mullewa,/train to Perth, discontinued/a few years earlier (JK)

I got distracted by ‘trains’. I meant to say Charmaine Papertalk Green is a Yamaji woman, as I guess were the (fictitious) Comeaways in The Fringe Dwellers (review). “Yamaji Country is in the Mid West region of Western Australia and stretches from Carnarvon in the north to Meekatharra in the east, to Jurien” south of Geraldton (Yamaji website).

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As I drove I listened to two remarkably similar books, Philippa Gregory’s The King’s Curse, about Henry VIII, and Geraldine Brooks’ The Secret Chord, about (the Old Testament) King David, inadequately separated by four hours of Raymond Chandler. Both kings are athletic womanisers who come to the throne as young men and become increasingly murderous as they age, but the most striking of their similarities is that they both  have fair, reddish hair! Brooks is a middle of the road American story teller with a better reputation in Australia, where she was born, than she deserves, but what is she suggesting here? That God’s favourite people couldn’t possibly be brown skinned north Africans? Hard to avoid the R word.

On the other hand I am increasingly impressed by Gregory. Although I originally came to her expecting light romance in an historical setting, she’s in fact an academic historian with an impressive grasp of the Tudor period, and as I said in my review of The Taming of the Queen, is clearly bent on highlighting women acting with independence and initiative. The King’s Curse is an account of Katherine of Aragon’s marriages to Henry VII’s sons Arthur and Henry as seen through the eyes of Margaret Pole, the last of the Plantagenets. I recommend it – a fascinating account of Catholic opposition to the Reformation in England.

Recent audiobooks

Phillipa Gregory (F, Eng), The King’s Curse (2014)
Raymond Chandler (M, USA), Playback (1958)
Geraldine Brooks (F, USA), The Secret Chord (2015)

Currently reading

Green & Kinsella, False Claims of Colonial Thieves, Magabala, Broome, 2018
Cixin Liu, The Dark Forest, 2008 (translated Joel Martinsen, 2015) – I wish I’d finished it while I was on holidays, it’s taking forever now and I’m starting to lose track.

Volvo, second load Yandi (Rio) (3)
Heading home (first trip) with used conveyor belt