Author's Note: Boorimbah is the Bundjalung word for what is now known the Clarence River. It is in the region known as Far North Coast of New South Wales. It was the border between the Bundjalung people, who lived north and Kumbainggari people, who lived south of it. As a generalization, Australians are ignorant of their shocking colonial history although it is becoming more widely known. The perpetrator of the worst crimes referenced in this poem was Thomas Coutts, who arrived in Sydney in 1817, claimed over 50,000 acres of Kumbainggari land and in 1847 paid them for work done with flour laced with arsenic. He has a town named in his honour.
Boorimbah winds through its rocky gorge
and then surges down the mountain,
carrying its story in rock-filled steps.
It tells of boundaries and belonging,
of Kumbainggari, Bundjalung and Yaygirr,
of their 60,000 years of belonging to country,
of belonging not in title deed or fenced boundary
but of belonging like the platypus swimming
in the clear water of Kangaroo Creek belongs
or the red-crowned eastern rosellas
in their surging, dipping speed of flight belong
or the mob of kangaroos emerging at dusk
to feed on the tender grass belong to the land.
There are stories it cannot tell
as travels first through cliff-lined canyons
and then finally in meandering patterns,
curling around its ninety-nine islands
before flowing through Yamba’s high dunes.
The water birds rise and circle in raucous lament
but they have no sound for Boorimbah’s saddest stories.
Boorimbah cannot speak of one hundred Bundjalung
massacred near the white sands of Evans Head.
Boorimbah cannot tell of twenty-three Kumbainggari
lying dead on the banks of Kangaroo Creek,
poisoned from flour laced with arsenic.
All’s changed since those killing days
yet the river that flows to the ocean
still rises in the distant mountains.
and travels through country that once
was Kumbainggari, Bundjalung and Yaygirr land,
but now passing under long bridges,
passing towns with jacaranda lined streets,
passing cattle grazing in lush pasture,
passing the dense tangled green of cane fields,
passing fishing trawlers and timber trucks
and the speeding cars on the highway.
Everything changes but the river flows,
still carrying its old unreconciled stories,
still flowing past obstacles of denial and guilt,
still seeking an irresistible flow of truth,
still seeking to gouge a path of acknowledement
straight into the heart of national conscience.
©2020 Neil Creighton
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