Journalism In Verse

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Terror Nullius

in Australia/World by

I grew up in white Australia; where milk and honey flowed;
Where every daddy had a job and every child was fed and clothed;
Kneeling at the altar, skipping home from school,
Singing in the choir and swimming in the pool.

I went to Catholic school, learned his-story by rote;
How a brave English explorer came here on a leaky boat.
Stepped ashore and planted a flag – at Cooktown by the sea,
And claimed Terra Nullius on behalf of our Majesty.

I learned about ‘settling’ our nation and forming colonies;
Then there was a bit about convicts, some sheep and some Chinese;
Explorers conquering mountains, Ned Kelly and his thieves.
But history gets quite blurry when it comes to Aborigines.

I didn’t know First Nation people own the land where I was born;
There wasn’t a single mention of how every life was torn.
No talk of free people herded, whipped, raped and locked in chains;
Nor the theft of precious languages, or of stolen rightful names.

No mention of smallpox in blankets, poisoned flour or forced starvation;
No history book recorded the decimation of each nation.
In 1938, 28 people were murdered without warning.
People forced off cliffs at Myall Creek at two o’clock in the mourning.

No talk about murders at Upper Palmer, or why Atherton is Atherton.
We still glorify these murderers – name towns and rivers after them.
Names like Murdering Creek, Boundary Road and Battlecamp are a source of mystery;
So many stories with no homes, blacked out by White history.

Silence blankets more than this, it’s not all in the past;
The symptoms of invasion are in the nets we cast;
Diabetes, tuberculosis, heart dis-ease – hypertension;
Gifts that keep on giving that barely rate a mention.

Invasion is like a tsunami; not just one wave upon a shore.
The first one is a little one, then come more and more.
Kids still being stolen; generations locked in jail;
Systematic genocide on a massive scale.

I say with a grief filled heart that I didn’t know, I wasn’t told;
And I’m so very sorry your history’s been left out in the cold.
It’s time Australia faced the truth about what happened ‘way back when’;
So together we can heal and claim our shared history again.

I am so very, very sorry.



Colonial Frontier Massacres in Eastern Australia 1788-1872 [The University of Newcastle]
The Mapping of Massacres [The New Yorker]

MaryBeth Gundrum was born in Ayr, North Queensland, Australia in 1963, the last of ten children. Dirt poor but didn’t know it. She works with first nation Australians to redress the historical wrongs committed in the name of ‘settlement’. Her highest desire is to do herself out of a job by educating and capacity building Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to take her role.

Image is a screenshot of the map of Colonial Frontier Massacres in Eastern Australia, 1788-1872.

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