Span: Journal of the South Pacific Assoc for Cwlth Lit and Language Studies
Number 36, 1992
Postcolonial Fictions:
Proceedings of the SPACLALS Triennial Conference 1992
Edited by Michèle Drouart

Sunlight Spreadeagles Perth in Blackness: A Bicentennial Gift Poem

Mudrooroo reads Colin Johnson

In any passage of the sun or moon,
Fragments flutter,
The ancestors and children of this time.

Unable to escape the lying hands of the cop outstretching, I flee into the nightime dawning without hope of any but the thistle weeds of yesterdays fallings, dreaming of the outstretching body of a woman in those hands, letting them flutter me beyond the hills where the air turns away from the gasoline - still there are the straight roads dotted with landmines of sadness and the little mission a blot of snow upon the brown earth where once I dreamt to dream dreams away in Perth and its too many newspapers crying our distresses seldom heard though read as language not making it to line the square of television images which really matter.
Seeing is believing, yuh know!

In any passage of the sun or moon away from the soft dawning of the dusk, the Nyoongars of this city add their wailing to the Njamadji, Nanga, Koori and Murri. This Australia, a wrecked black body swarming with white termites.

Fragments flutter into Yagan's grave. He rises moving on the reincarnated ceremony north where the heat keeps them at bay and allows Pigeon and his band to survive the deluge of the grog echoing with more than the cry of a black swan floating in the airship skies and an emu weighing heavy as he puts his foot down and says no more!

The ancestors and children of this time fight to find a strand of dream arcing over the sunlight and the senseless meetings of the parliament brought into being by a blackman singing I'm proud to be an Aussie through sucking bottle lips and a long suffering guitar playing German chords passed on from a German father, sounding out words long dead and alive in his hidden ear.
Tali warruniwarruni
ngabangaba nunda,
ngamurkalba nunda, hou!
Tabaleua kurna kurnaangpirri
kurnaangpirri maguua kurna, hou!
(Oh, handsome you with your black tongue;
Oh, handsome you with your dark skin patterns.)

In the middle sun-sinking, this city brought to bay by an overgreedy exposure to imaginations redfaced with gin and lime and endless sermons against the pornography of sky and earth, though the stubby grey penis on the rise mocks their antiseptic cries and the suburbs curl like pubic hair around the base waving a fertility in the shopping arcades airconditioned into market boredom of material congealed into plastic wares.
Let the river flood away this abomination of a city;
Let the sand turn quick to eat away its bowels;
Here the blacks huddle drinking life away in others profits;
Here even the trees are amputated to prevent their roots from contradicting the tar and cement of how many lives moving along roads towards goals of less than great intent.

In the sunsetting, the river lies on its back warming its belly.
The last light stretches black shadows in an effort to recapture in an orgy of red and gold.

And this colonial outpost teetering on the world's edge;
And this metropolis of the Nyoongar people fills with a crowd lost in a haze of jet lag from Europe. Inert strangeness
moving etness with meaning only known to those adding meaning in some frenzied seeking by the crowd rushing home to homes barricaded into solitudes by walls and fences etching the city
into pools of lonelinesses in which a black man slinks his heaviness filled with a drunkenness better left hidden in some far suburb.
The city centre falls victim to American sailors famished for a
sight of home sweet home: the colonial outpost becomes San Diego, and even the women are white with English mouths gaping for the Yankee dollar.

And in this American city, in this European city bereft of the old,
in this camping ground grown into a faintness of what they used to know, the Nyoongar wander disowned and owning.
This crowd is tinted brown;
This crowd is islands in the stream of whiteness.
People moving without visible strains until the shrieks begin,
wither away into ugliness as they cry: Don't let the blacks remain!

In this disowning city the owners are ownless except for the clothing
picked out of the rubbish of the welfare agencies. They stink, they
mutter strange words of long ago intent.

Yagan's land, Yagan's land! Here is his tree, scratch it and it bleeds his ancient blood, scratch it and it bleeds the blood of a Nyoongar spitting out his teeth in a police station, coughing up his lungs in a charity hospital, vomiting his blood from a shattered skull in Fremantle prison just a short gasp and a death away.

In this disowning city, suffering under the constant sunlanguage of heat exhaustion, they cry as they erect a statue to their disembowelled leader, John Forrest, father of many a Nyoongar as it's told, or lied. He smirks a black beard at the street marked step by step with bronze heroes on the sidewalk and even Yagan becomes a doormat for shoddy hooves of disrupt patriotism.

In any passage of the sun or moon lies this lying city,
this pretty town, this arsehole of the universe.
Piles break quickly into sores leaking pus over the nice clean lawns.
Vengeance becomes heavy here!

In the rising of the moon a woman screams lost to the feminist wail.
A black man drags her down, parades her throughout the crowdless town.
Here is the garden where he raped her until she bled tears of remorse.
These red flowers mark her vagina; these dark patches are where his sperm
burnt into the earth and fused the sand into black glass, shining forth
under the moon as a tourist spot decorated by empty buses and clicking cameras.
A legend is born, to fall prey to the hungry dollar, and blood and sperm become framed in a tourist's lazy need.

In the bloated moon, given over to drunks and yet again those wandering sailors, fear stalks in blank faces of an end of the end of the world
elite grown fat and pale on stolen land not even paid for with a dollar.
The rich lie satisfied in their lairs, the poor lie sleepy in their hovels,
the Nyoongars roam the streets angry for a little speed gained
from a stolen car paid for at a later time.

In the high moon a dark face bends over a steering wheel.
A siren roars a challenge to the roving spear,
A rifle spits out its sullen despair and a wife curls up
and unclenches her last breath.

Unlovely city, unsleeping city all alight with crimes of sudden hopes and the splintering crash of a shop window destroyed for laughs and
an ill-conceived bragging.

Between sun and moon King Willy squats in the walls of his own red wine,
feeling out the sounds of sudden disquietudes. Left alone he'll finish
the sweetness; disturbed he'll die or seek to live a prison cell without
the taste of wine, though clutching close a Nyoongar song
Black girl, black girl
Won't you love me tonight,
Won't you come over darling
Make everything right.

In the park-darkened time, the shy Nyoongar girl lies sprawled between the mother thighs of a fig tree twisted in grief. A white boy pounds between her legs, driving home a miscoloured nail. His mates bend over and watch the broken moth crawling saddened from her mouth.
Her desire has been her downlying;
Her quest for adventure has been his penis throbbing;
Her very being watches her eyes eyeing the branches:
They bend and brush her face
As the dawn gives up a struggle
And lacks the urge to rise.

In this inbetween time the quietness begins to mark a pulsebeat, echoing and thudding into the whines of sudden erupting engines, fleets of sighs stir and create a morning seething with a manure warmth of lost night's passions. Light morning begins city highrise buildings moving sideways into the lurching of King Willy's dream-filled sweet wine sleep of dreaming the city into a shape nightmarish with drunken creations of wakey-wakey voices out of tune with breakfast rumblings of bad news thankfully not from Perth. Ignore them and they'll go away with the next ship sailing though not to commie shores.

And in his sleep King Willy gestures into the shadows privileged movements
mocking organized time. His sleeping feet stamp out a faint dum-dum
corroboree step into the plans of this glad tomorrow today
Kardubi jarrala murrawarnggana
Kuji jarrala karndapa-ungu.
(The hollow groans of his dancing;
The stamping bones of his dancing.)

His distant happiness creates the past of his misery times before he restores his dream. Straight rows of humped tin shacks; concrete platforms in the cross of a missionary eating out his soul for future gain in heaven in which never asking to be saved they save themselves in the darkening furrows of King Willy's soul until he restores again his dream into the light and settlement and white leeches of the drinking kind hesitate to follow through . . .

In this sun-rising King Willy shudders with the city's need to find satiety in greed-latched watching telephone wires arching out and re-entering his body sprawled alongside the Swan, river shallow with his dreams and muddy murky bottom thoughts.

Fragments flutter into the canoe bentover tin perhaps aching with the shape of the past pansies describe as never having been bark, entering the stream and wandering from side to side as the piece of board turned paddle dips as the water itches, touching through the bottom by nailholes badly caked with oozing mud. The sinking canoe begins to sink lower and lower into the mind searching to pray, finding a sudden prayer in the touching bottom oozing slime between the fingernails the ability to stand squelching toes and wondering why he has been saved at least in this dream, this dreaming dream-mind of King Willy suddenly turning over into a lurch gone into a far flashing of summer suns blazing and nights warm aching with quick releases. A westerly wind and overflowing cloud reaching down to touch the river with rain feathers; the river reaching up to touch the sky with earth-tasting tongue of distant salted ocean bitterness of cold far into the months of September past into a near December.

Presents and presents and a single present. In Sister Kate's a thin white doll is clutched in a thin brown hand. Lights and buzzers and rings and drunkenness while the children wait for a midnight loss of Santa Claus.

No Father Christmas reaches from the multiple stores with a flagon or two for King Willy resting on easily as a mission provides Christmas cheer and a Nyoongar family feeds him on to the place of Easter dying with a live and dead and rising Christ fixated on the crucifixion.
People come and people escape past King Willy with faces as long as the cross he bears - bears easily on his shoulder habituated to stoop to the pavement for a shilling spittle-stained, shiny bright and sticky with the snot of weary images.

Noon-sun corrodes the zenith of the daylight restless with motion and the stretching of his limbs in the first parasite of the day astride his favourite whore while roaming freely along William Street now spotted yellow with the hoodoo of Vietnam, later arrivers feeling the final shower of the harlot heaving with the word, father, muttering in King Willy's sleep as the teletypes news of an earthquake from a Roman nose someplace away in Sardinia, where the sardines come from. Where d'yuh think it got its name from, dummy!

King Willy pisses in his sleep erupting the Swan with sailboats in wistful thinking of that canoe was it or wasn't it from ancestral sons of the real times dragged out of a tree and set afloat as a sheet of tin bentover in the selfsame shape which pansies decree as never having touched the olden Swan of not the black swan totem bereft of front teeth gapped in a smile of never having braved the squall shrugging the boats hiccupping across to the zoo. Ancestors crawling in the wallaby's dream mating with the porcupine deciding on the day of the lion roaring out, calling elsewhere to other ancestors marking out this time in ever-present pastimes.

Fragments flutter as the screaming child forgets to scream his silence numbed into dumbness by the first initiation here performed as the north descends to bleed the south in holy ecstasy blocked with grains of sand pressed into backs cutting the foundations of empty office buildings rising vacant with the greed of ill intent and discontent fading away in that silent screaming child.

In any passage of the sun or moon
Broken promises flutter the death throes of morality
Together with the sudden desire of eating with the pope.

We lose this time,
We ignore this time,
We forget this agony
To find ourselves in a brother's tears
To catch at those tears
To create again a less than woeful
Sound of stamping dancing feet.

Waiba ngalia, jurruulu, ngurndaa?
Jaggarda nirimani kurdumani
malurarawilaba ngurndaanigu!
(How do we dance, oh mother-in-law?
Sweet Christ, cousins, you quiver like spearwood!)

Where do I find thee; where do I find me as I use an old time word to scan this place. African man, your drumbeat thuds rhymed words of cliche mocking lies and truth; Indian man what did you find in welcoming me?

What am I
But lampoons
In my words
They sing along
Without the unnecessary killing of a single man or woman or child to allow the birds to shriek out their agony for the reprieved trees.

I wish to remember the secret word dreamt at my initiation. I wish to feel again the burning of that burning yet again. I want the storm to renew my childhood. I want the river to return my canoe and the blue-skinned crabs from which I sucked the white meat from the claws of my undoing. I want to be more than a twitch in King Willy's arm. I want to say YES to the very leaf which aims its touch at my head making my totem tremble in some hidden space men know and keep alight until the time comes to be soaked in the sodden downpour streaking the red with the deadly white phantoms arriving to mingle with the Nyoongar people while mouthing out platitudes of awful spite in too many messages containing the promises of brickbats on King Willy's forehead.

I am to forget
The moaning sick body,
The dripping lips of vomit,
The sodden pants of acrid urine,
The cancerous breath of drunken lies:
I am to forget, I want to forget
Remembering them in my moving years of indecision sissions.

To escape, to run away, evade the law and flee into the east of the rising sun and stranger beliefs of King Willy dreaming out his dreams even to those Asian shores of quick and fretful crazes: the happiness of an eye disease becoming a fashion in the shapes of got-it sunglasses.

Run, escape, enter the actual flood of images hypnotic with the transparent longing of greed lost and desire gained and found -
I shall wander throughout this land;
I shall love the people as my own in this land;
I shall see the ancient glory rise,
Backbone lost Mount Meru gleaming
Constant fusion of Shiva's flowing sperm
Congealing the long vagina of the ocean,
Entering to mark the stomach with birth stretches.
King Willy bloated with his stomach gases,
Sour sick he belches out relief.

To return, to return, I shall return in the returning a little older, bent in the shape of that canoe, sinking down, down into the ooze of the Swan edged with the smudge of putrefaction termed Perth.
Indi-indi pala karrigu nguurrardadi
waiguru manddangugu turrgul naguru
ngaiin kurdunpuru widiwidi panni mandangu
(They stand eyeing this stranger;
They stand staring at this stranger,
Shamed at being a stranger in Perth.)

Now I have returned,
Yet turned to memories of the bowed head,
The shuffling steps,
The broken will,
The blackness everpresent against the whiteness
Of their signs and broken crosses
Marking out some place we used to call our own.

Is it all pointless,
Is it all King Willy
Bringing his fingers together in sleep?

In any passage of the sun or moon
Fragrances flutter
Bringing erect
The ancestors and children of this time
Without the right to make a point,
Without the finger yet to point
At me or you or I and we,
Without any objection in this last minute,
This second coming,
This returning
To drink of the fluoridated waters of the Mundaring Weir
where somewhere beside the tourist shelter Yagan stood
And felt a sudden calling from a broken dwelling in East Perth.

At any passage - this one now,
That sudden calling, Yagan failing
Falling in the quick slicing
Of his manhood scars aching
With the urge to strike the man
With strength to answer back the government.

Was there a triumph, or a treason written in the foreword of a book heavy with the heaviness of misunderstanding, the unknowledge better to be back than gone forever into the coolamon of a thousand lasting fears struck from playing in the dirt and refusing to answer back the scars of childhood fright. The law never the ass, but a great big white man with authority to beat and maim and hurt you into painful runnings away in any passage of the sun or moon to Sister Kate's, or Fremantle Prison close enough for King Willy to have shared a cell.

Marndamarangga tinangga ngadugu
summondingani Narroginanguru
turndinarila kurila pirdiningbapuru
tutukarnu parupuru kumbanaaniwalli.
(The handcuffs track me from Narrogin
With a summons in his pocket,
I duck my head into the bushes
When his face reaches my way.)

My name is Narrogin and Roebourne,
Mallawa and Fitzroy,
Pinjarra and Porte a Ville.

My world is a small cell,
Roses twine with my disbelief;
Kangaroo paws paw at concrete walls;
No one comes as my head batters me to death.

This man, this woman; this girl, this boy
Imprisoned, jailed; beaten and buggered
Inside for defying the whiteness,
Now governing this land and hiding
Their laws under false hair and red cloth.

These people
These people
Eaten by whiteness,
Threatened by whiteness,
Made mad by whiteness!


Coolamon: A wooden dish

Fitzroy: A suburb of Melbourne, capital of the state of Victoria. It has a large Koori population. May also refer to Fitzroy Crossing in the Kimberley region, N.W. Australia.

Fremantle: Port of Western Australia near Perth which is centred on the State Prison.

John Forrest: A European hero of Western Australia, premier from 1890-1900, an opponent of any form of protection for Nyoongar culture and territorial integrity.

King: A term bestowed on certain well-known Aborigines by Europeans which supposedly designated their importance within Aboriginal society. A brass neck collar came with the title.

King's Park (Gargarup): A park from which a fine view of the city of Perth may be obtained. Europe and Australia meet in the vegetation there.

Koori: The Aborigines of South-eastern Australia.

Mallawa: Town in Western Australia with large Nyoongar population.

Mount Meru: A mountain in Hindu mythology, the home of the great god, Shiva.

Mundaring Weir: Source of part of the state's water supply.

Murri: The Aborigines of North-easter Australia (Queensland).

Nanga: The Aborigines of South Australia.

Narrogin: Town in Western Australia, birthplace of the poet.

Njamadji: The Aboriginal nation to the north of the Nyoongar.

Nyoongar: The Aboriginal nation of South-western Australia. After the invasion and occupation of their lands by the Europeans, the decimated tribes began to see themselves as one people: The Nyoongar.

Perth: Capital of the state of Western Australia and of the Nyoongar nation, rest and recreation centre for the United States Indian Ocean Fleet.

Pigeon (Djangamarra): Aboriginal resistance fighter of the Bunabu people in the Kimberley region of W.A. He was killed in 1897 and his body was reputedly mutilated by the police.

Pilbara: Important place in Aboriginal history in the struggle for human rights and dignity. The languages used by the poet are from this area with the exception of Nyoongar words.

Pinjarra: Place in the South-west, scene of the massacre of the Nyoongar people in 1834 which effectively broke their political strength and social cohesion as separate tribes or communities.

Roebourne: Town in W.A., hometown of John Pat, a young Aboriginal man who was kicked to death by the police in September 1983.

Sister Kate's: A symbol of those Christian 'homes' or orphanages in which Nyoongar children where taken away from their parents to be educated, Europeanized and Christianized. These places have been responsible for many of the ills of modern Nyoongar life including their continuing Lumpen proletarianization.

Subi: Short for Subiaco, a suburb of Perth. The name reflects back to the missionary Salvado who tried to destroy Nyoongar Society and Culture with the aids of the lash, the separation of families, and even the exiling of children to Europe. Subiaco has a fine football stadium.

Swan River (Derbal Yaragan): The river which is straddled by the city of Perth.

Yagan: A hero and resistance fighter of the Nyoongar, murdered on the 11th July 1833, his body was subsequently mutilated by the Europeans.

This is only the first part (approximately a quarter) of Colin Johnson's unpublished poem offered to - and refused by - the City of Perth on the occasion of the Australian bicentennial celebrations in 1988. The poem has since been reprinted (with some omissions) in a Murdoch University course reader, and has been otherwise transmitted through the spreading of the word.

New: 7 January, 1997 | Now: 14 April, 2015