Ages: Recommended for 8+, addresses confronting topics
Writing poetry is a process that can heal, reveal, or clarify thoughts, ideas, and feelings.
Unsettled is a powerful exhibition where First Nations voices reveal the untold history of the foundation of this country and themes of invasion, resistance, identity, and healing.
*This resource contains names and images of deceased Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Due to the AM’s temporary closure during the Winter 2021 school holidays in accordance with NSW Health advice, the below poems and images have been included in our online resource so you are able to complete the activities in the downloadable activity book while at home.
Explore the Unsettled exhibition themes and topics below with additional poems to read or listen to…
At the white man’s school,
what are our children taught?
Are they told of the battles
our people fought,
Are they told of how
our people died?
Are they told why
our people cried?
Australia’s true history
is never read,
But the blackman
keeps it in his head.
By Bill Day
- What could we do differently at school to learn Australia’s true history?
- Do you think Aboriginal peoples' voices are important in telling their own stories? Why?
- What is 'truth'?
To believe or assert something is not enough to make it true. For some thinkers, something can only be true or false if it is open to verification.
The truth of something lies at the end of our inquiry, using evidence available and its strengths, weaknesses, and biases.
As new evidence arises, that ‘truth’ can change. Finally, truth is constructive and adaptive, while lies are destructive and self-defeating.
- Write a poem for the future inspired by truth-telling. Begin each line with the letters
Tip: Brainstorm words or phrases that describe your idea, then place these on the lines that begin with the same letters. Acrostic poems don’t need to rhyme and each line can be as long or short (even just one word!) as you want it to be.
Explore the Signal Fires space in Unsettled.
- How do you feel when you see fire or smoke?
- What can fire and smoke represent or symbolise?
Yúya karrabúra (Fire is Burning)
By Alice Eather
I’m standing by this fire
the embers smoking,
the ashes glowing
the coals weighing us down
the youth are buried in the rubble
my eyes are burning
and through my nostrils the smoke is stirring
I breathe it in.
I wear a ship on my wrist that shows my blood comes from convicts
On the 2nd fleet my father’s fore fathers came
whipped, beaten and bound in chains
The dark tone in my skin
the brown in my eyes
Sunset to sunrise my Wúrnal mother’s
My Kikka who grew up in a dug out canoe
in her womb is where my consciousness grew
I walk between these two worlds
a split life
Everyday these worlds collide
and I’m living and breathing this story of black and white
Sitting in the middle of this collision
My mission is to bring two divided worlds to sit beside this fire and listen
Through this skin I know where I belong
it is both my centre
and my division
My ancestors dance in the stars
and their tongues are in the flames
And they tell me:
“You have to keep the fire alive
between the black and the white
there’s a story waiting to be spoken
in every life there’s a spirit waiting to be woken”
Now I’m looking at YOU with the stars in my eyes and my tongue is burning flames
And I say
The sacred songs are still being sung
but the words are slowly fading
the distant cries I’m hearing are the mothers burying their babies
the elders are standing strong
but the ground beneath them is
Now I welcome you to sit beside my fire
I’m allowing you to digest my confusion
I will not point my finger and blame
‘cause when we start blaming each other
we make no room for changing each other
and we’ve got to keep this fire burning
with ash on our feet
and coal in our hands
teach barrarodjibba - them young ones
how to live side by side
‘Cause tomorrow when the sun rises
and our fires have gone quiet
they will be the ones who reignite it
And these flames - us will be their guidance.
- Why do you think the author chose this title?
- Can you find where Alice uses poetic devices such as alliteration (repetitive letter sounds), rhyme, and repetition?
Use a line from Alice’s poem to begin a new poem of your own about fire, For example;
- You have to keep the fire alive…
- There’s a story waiting to be spoken...
One of the myths of colonisation was that Aboriginal peoples did not resist. But they did resist.
- Can you find the Death Spear, made by Joel Deaves and Raymond Timbery in the Fighting Wars space of Unsettled?
- What materials were used to create the sharp barbs?
One of the makers of this spear wrote the poem below.
Banggang Cūndū (Old Tree)
By Joel Deaves
This poem is written partially in Gumea Dharawal, with interpretations by Joel.
Nandhirra ngundāmurrajāng ngala walbūgging ngia
Nandhirra ngundāmurrajāng ngallaēnmarri māndijāngwūlunyun ngia
Ngaradha yanggamarri ngūranyaga ngia
Wadgamānya ngundāmurrajāng būlwūlpa galina
Ngaradha jerralali yagiabilla ngia
Būwnj ngurajāng dharundharung gilinya ngia
Nandhirra burungalaligū gūdjielalinya ngia
Nandhirra murrawal garangama ngūrajang ngia
Ngaradha bulwarinya ngia
Ngaradha būlmbillanya ngia
Būwnj dūgeri ngia
Nandhirra ngundāmurrajāng daran:ba djillnadjānnya ngia
Nandhirra ngundāmurrajāng būlwūlwiliabilla ngia
Nandhirra ngūrajāng dharandharung gillinya ngia
I see the people live at peace
I see the people share their meat
I heard the singing on the land
That made the people strong and dance
I heard the stories told again and again
I remember the country always the same
I see the boats come towards the camps
I see other people steal the land
I heard the falling
I heard the fighting
I remember crying
I see the people go through the pain
I see the people become strong again
I see the country always the same
- Create a poem in first person (“I”) from the point of view of an old tree. What do you see, fear, smell, taste, and feel?
- Find a handmade object in the exhibition to draw. What do you think it was used for?
- The process of drawing makes you notice things that you’d never otherwise have noticed. What are three things you notice?
Optional: Shape poetry
Shape poetry, sometimes called ‘concrete poetry’, is where the words form shapes which illustrate the poem’s subject as a picture.
- Write a poem about your object inside your drawing. Simple is best, so stick to between 2-6 lines.
- You may need to make your writing bigger or smaller in certain parts of the drawing. Finally, erase the outline, so that it is just the words from your poem left creating the image.
Mudjis and Yiliman (Friends and Spears)
By Lyndsay Urquhart
Written with Dharawal, Dhurga and Darumba interpretations provided by Vikki Parsley and Jodi Edwards
Dharawal, Dhurga and Darumba
Reach to the birrung, if you dare
for our ancestors they live there
232 years of bugiya have failed you
Ngaa mujis, guwin in a garawanga,
Jumping into the dilwan
Gurguma, barnun, yilma, marwdi yabun yukon guwin
Gagamari, bidiga, buldayn, djaja, gurbin, mudji
Ngaa nabu now on the gayan garabang
Ngaa nabu, mujis yangga-na, and gali for you
Ngaa gadu bana from their mabura
Ngura duduwa calling, waiting
Under the cross
Ngaa ganbi burning, and the yiliman sharpening.
Reach to the stars, if you dare
For our ancestors they live there
speak up spirits of the dead
I hear yesterday
232 years of yesterday have failed you
I see friends, spirits of the dead in a dream
Jumping into the sunset
Westerly wind, north-easterly wind, southerly wind, easterly wind speak up for the spirits of the dead
Cleverman, grandmother, grandfather, cousin, friend
I see your family now all on the big rock
I see your family friends singing and dancing for you
I see the ocean water from their eyes
I hear the whip bird, calling, waiting
under the cross
I see fire burning, and the spears sharpening.
Questions & activities:
- Find the Remembering Massacres space in Unsettled. Were there massacres that happened near where you live?
- Like Lyndsay, write a reflection through poetry on what this means to you. Guilt is a banned word.
- How do you remember your ancestors? Where did they come from? What did they do? What stories do you hear about them?
- Write a poem dedicated to your ancestors, remembering the lessons that they shared with you.
Explore the Stolen Generations space in Unsettled.
The forcible removal of children under government policy saw many Aboriginal children taken from their families, raised in Children's Homes, adopted or fostered.
They were isolated from their parents, siblings, community and Country, and weren’t allowed to practice culture or speak their language. Aboriginal children are still being removed from their families at an alarming rate today, and some individuals are unable to find their families.
- Find the painting One Way Ticket to Hell by Aunty Fay Moseley. What is happening in the picture?
Listen to Aunty Fay as she describes her lived experience of being part of the Stolen Generation and what her painting depicts.
By Kirli Saunders
Gundungurra interpretations provided by Trish Levett and Aunty Val Mulcahy
nga gamiri ngyini mundu
for gummuang words to fill
and stretch your guri
for the pialla and their voices
nga gamiri your
trembling limbs ache to shake
and hear your lungs as they gasp yoongaba
nga feel your
and know that
it has been grown
with roots wrenched
from the daoure that cradled them
and nga taste the hunger
to know the parts of yourself
to feel yurwang
Duwi has been taken
I see you mouth empty spaces
for a mother’s words to fill
and stretch your ears
for the stories and their voices
I watch your trembling limbs
ache to shake
and hear your lungs
as they gasp with songs unknown
I feel your
and know that
it has been grown
from the earth
that cradled them
and I taste the hunger
to know the parts of yourself
to feel at home
Dreaming has been taken
- Why do you think the author uses words in Gundungurra language in the poem?
- What does ‘culture’ mean?
Culture is the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society. It encompasses language, religion, ritual or beliefs, laws and knowledge systems, shared traditions, cuisine, social habits, music, and arts. Culture is learned and shared. A strong sense of identity, belonging, and connection to culture helps us become confident and resilient individuals.
- Describe some of your family or community cultural practices?
- Draw a picture of your home or a favourite place, where you feel you belong.
Explore the Healing Nations space in Unsettled. In your perspective, what is something that your ‘community’ needs to heal?
- What are some of the ways we can walk together?
The Wounded Brave
By Joel Davison
Poem written partially in Gadigal, with interpretations by Joel Davison
We are all wounded, we all fear
Ngabay midyungngunbuni ngaliya
Together, you and I, we will heal
Narangla ngaramila, ganunigang bayawurra ngalawabuni
Be humble and listen, old wounds be still
We have forgotten our friends
their names hidden from us
manawariwawingunla gurra wugulgu
let us find them once more
Buraga! Baya, buruga!
Rise! Voices and hands!
Yanma baru, yanma bulbuwul
Move fast and move strong
naminmamila nugbady, dunga ngyinigai migal
Show your love and shed your tears
Yilabara, badjamibuni, midyungmibuni
Today, do not harm, but mend
We are all wounded, we all fear
We will never grow weary or let our fire burn out
Burawangunla, naminmawawingun dara
Let’s move upward and show our teeth
Yanangunla, barayangunla mari bula
Let’s move together and sing out loud
Naawala, mimugurubuni, yanagn un, ngyinarigai gana manuwi
Look, do not close your eyes, we walk together, with feet on fire
- What might the title ‘The Wounded Brave’ mean?
- Write a poem about compassion and leadership. Be brave like Joel.
- Circle all the words in Joel’s poem that you like. Use these words to make a new poem about healing.
Find Danie Mellor's sculpture Red, White and Blue in the Healing Nations space.
Listen to Danie Mellor talk about his sculpture and how it is contextualised in the exhibition space.
- What body parts are the kangaroos covering with their hands?
- What message is the artist trying to convey?
We all carry unconscious biases about other people. A challenge for us all is to understand where our stereotypes come from and how they are formed.
- How do you come to know people at a deeper level?
Yugambeh and Proud
By Ellen Van Neerven
Yugambeh interpretations provided by Shaun Davis, Yugambeh Library
Minyang ganngahla mambi ngalingah
Yili ganngalehla wahlu?
Jengu juluhnah, ngi?
Jinggi ganngahla nguy?
Mijung ngali, yaway
Nga gannganyun wahlu
Ganngaleh wunga gawal?
What you know about our people
Where you hear it from?
Is it from the gecko’s mouth
How you know it’s right or wrong?
Do you know why we’re proud
Can you make a leap?
And when you really listen
Is your listening deep?
Make your way to the Winhangadurinya space.
- What does this Wiradjuri word mean?
Sit and listen to First Nations voices as they guide us toward a rebirthing of Australia, and a better shared future.
- Once you've found all the words in the puzzle, choose three to use within a poem that reflects on your experience or issues and themes from Unsettled that you feel strongly about.
- How could you share your poem with others to continue the conversation about truth-telling?
Read artists bios...
Alice Eather was an Indigenous poet, teacher and environmental activist from Maningrida in the Northern Territory.
Joel Deaves is a Gumea Dharawal man and Dharumba Dhurga descendant from the Yuin people. Joel began learning language from his uncle and, with his cousin Jacob, set a path on which he hasn’t looked back.
From the learning of his language, Joel’s passion grew for continuing and returning his culture, not just for him but for his family as well.
In his spare time Joel is with family, speaking and restoring the Gumea Dharawal language with Jacob Morris and Adrian Webster or walking on Yuin Country with his cousins, continuing their connection to the land just as their old people did.
Joel has been commissioned for the Poetry in First Languages project for Red Room Poetry.
Lyndsay Urqhuart is a Koori Munkata Yuin woman growing up in the Dharawal community of western Sydney.
Passionate about remembering and sharing her cultures with her family and as a teacher of Indigenous arts, Lyndsay is a public education guide.
As a practising Indigenous oral historian, Lyndsay works as a documentary filmmaker as a way of preserving and sharing important information and perspectives.
Lyndsay works as a curator and as a multidisciplinary artist in the area of communications, so as to share and help educate communities about the world’s oldest continuing cultures.
Lyndsay is currently employed at Red Room Poetry as Manager of First Nations programs.
Kirli Saunders is a proud Gunai Woman and award-winning multidisciplinary creator and consultant. An experienced speaker and facilitator advocating for the environment, gender and racial equality and LGBTIQA+ rights, Kirli was the NSW Aboriginal Woman of the Year (2020).
Kirli’s books, The Incredible Freedom Machines (2018, Scholastic), Kindred (2019, Magabala) and Bindi (2020, Magabala) have been celebrated by the Prime Minister’s, WA and Victorian Premier’s Literary, ABIAs, Kate Challis RAKA, ABDA and CBCA awards. Her work is published in anthologies and public art. She has 8 forthcoming titles.
Kirli’s art has been exhibited in Shoalhaven and Wollongong Galleries and commissioned for public art across a range of sectors. With the support of Australia Council for the Arts, Kirli will hold her first solo poetic arts exhibition Returning at the SHAC Gallery in 2021.
Her first Solo play, Going Home has been commissioned by Playwriting Australia, and will take the stage in 2022. Kirli is a board member for Merrigong Theatre, and an esteemed Judge for the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards.
Joel Davison is a Gadigal and Dunghutti man from Sydney, working to revitalise his family's language he joined Red Room poetry to explore his connection to language and country. In his 9-5 he leads technology projects at Commonwealth Bank.
Ellen van Neerven is an award-winning writer of Mununjali Yugambeh (South East Queensland) and Dutch heritage. They write fiction, poetry, plays and non-fiction. Ellen’s first book, Heat and Light, was the recipient of the David Unaipon Award, the Dobbie Literary Award and the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards Indigenous Writers Prize.
They have written two poetry collections: Comfort Food, which was shortlisted for the NSW Premier's Literary Awards Kenneth Slessor Prize; and Throat, which was shortlisted in 2021 for the Queensland Literary Awards and the Victorian Premier's Literary Awards, and won the Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry, the Multicultural NSW Award and Book of the Year in the NSW Premier's Literary Awards.
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