Good poetry plucks at the heartstrings; it speaks to the emotions as well as to the intellect.
Book cover image: False Claims of Colonial Thieves by Charmaine Papertalk Green and John Kinsella via Magabala Books.
Good poetry plucks at the heartstrings; it speaks to the emotions as well as to the intellect. It can also pierce the armour of resistance to the way things are usually perceived. The words of Charmaine Papertalk Green and John Kinsella do all of that and more.
If you are a non-Indigenous Australian you will come away from reading False Claims of Colonial Thieves with a better understanding of what non-Indigenous Australians and their forebears have inflicted on Indigenous communities. You will have a better understanding of what happens today that is still not right.
Both Green and Kinsella come from Western Australia, Kinsella being non-Indigenous city-born and Green, Indigenous country-born, but yet they share a sorrow for the wrongs of the past and the present. They also share a love of country and a longing for the preservation of Indigenous cultures and languages. Here are some words from the chapter headed Grandmothers:
My grandmother was a mining town child –
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.
My grandmother washed
White town fella’s clothes
To feed her kids and survive
I don’t think mining would have
Meant much to her when
Trying to survive on the fringes
Of the Mullewa township
She had passed on by
The time Western Mining
Started destroying the country
While Green and Kinsella are joint authors of the book, with the exception of the epilogue, each poem is the work of one of the authors and is identified as such. Their collaboration consists of the way the poems are presented by theme and complement each other. There are many poems in the section referring to the well-intentioned Monsignor Hawes, who is referred to as ‘that priest, England in his veins’ and who built a beautiful church totally unsuited to the local Indigenous people. Other sections only have one or two poems.
The poems largely reflect the title of the book. While they convey affront, loss, misery, outrage and blame, and do so convincingly, they somehow mostly come through as bittersweet rather than antagonistic. There are exceptions, such as: ‘In his racism…seeing the world/As two-toned shoes designed/For stomping.’
Three of Green’s poems are written in response to paintings by Shane Pickett, Julie Dowling and Ben Pushman respectively. These pictures can be seen on the City of Joondalup’s excellent website and are worth looking at to enhance the experience of reading the poems.
It is not possible to undo the mistakes of the past but many things can be done in the present to improve the future. But what should be done has bedevilled governments and Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities alike. These poems, by enhancing and spreading the understanding of the past, may not just be powerful to read but may also point to a better future.
Rating: 5 stars out of 5
False Claims of Colonial Thieves
Author: Charmaine Papertalk Green, John Kinsella
Published: Mar 2018
Size: 203 x 133 mm
First published on