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LEN KENNA - Anthology

Updated: 4 days ago

Poetry © Len Kenna August 2023

Illustrations © Crystal Jordan 2023

INTRODUCTION


I wrote this small anthology of poems because I was struck by the lack of empathy towards the Aborigines and English Convicts transported to Australia, but secondly and more importantly the lack of analysis of crimes committed on the frontier and its impact on Aborigines, has not been properly explained.




This anthology was not written from inspiration, but it was a deliberate attempt to paint a picture using words to show the suffering and anguish that occurred in the early days of Settlement. And the criminality that formed the White population of Australia and as a consequence the writing of this anthology was more like a bricklayer building a brick fence, putting one brick on top of another, in the same way the facts were compiled and sorted. As the right phrase was arrived at it was placed in the right order on the page until the poem was complete. As a result, it was a long, slow, and trying process until the anthology was completed.


There was little attention paid to metre and line length in the poems, because I was more concerned with painting verbal pictures, albeit very dark and at times, confronting pictures.


As mentioned in Volume 1 of ‘Are Indians An Ethnic Minority?’ There are a large number of similarities between the development of India and the development of Australia by Europeans. One of these differences which was not discussed previously is the conquest of both countries by English invaders.


The conquest of India by the English was carried out by fighting European countries who had interests in India and then England taking control of these territories in India. There was no open conflict between India and England, it was a slow and gradual takeover of most Indian Principalities. This was achieved with the aid of compliant Indian Maharajas who in many ways facilitated the transfer of power to England without open conflict between England and the people of India.


Two hundred or so years later England claimed the Australian Continent and proceeded to take possession of it in an unusual way. The difference between the conquest of India and the conquest of Australia was that England introduced English Convicts into Australia in large numbers and overwhelmed the local population of Aborigines without open warfare.


When the Blue Mountains in New South Wales were crossed the wealthy classes in the Colony and many ticket-of-leave prisoners crossed the Blue Mountains into the interior of the Colony and greed and avariciousness ran riot and, as a consequence, they ran roughshod over the rights and properties of the Aboriginal people. The Aborigines were left with no economic means to sustain them and their families: they drifted aimlessly or were placed in missions to be controlled by White people.


In the 1880s there was a rise of nationalism in the Australian Community which was no longer English, but many Australians considered themselves to be British, as was seen in the arts such as painting and poetry. Politically there was a strong movement to have all the existing Colonies of Australia to be formed into the Federation of Australia this was achieved in 1901. It was into this social economic political and racial malaise that Indians found when they arrived in Australia.


I am publishing these poems so that Indian people living in Australia can appreciate the social and economic hardships and living conditions of the Aboriginal people that the early Indian arrivals experienced.


GENESIS


Dirt – Cruelty – Poverty and Hate,

Strange fruit hanging by the prison gate,[1]

Stray dogs feasting on flayed flesh.[2]

A living hell for the rest.


Covered in coal and sooted grime,

Being poor is their only crime,

Boys and girls crawling across factory floors,

Enslaved by draconian laws.


Animals have no feeling or rights,

Sleep wherever these winter nights.

Murder, theft, and petty crimes rife,

Hunger and starvation caused this strife


The Church is implicated too;

Feasting on poor men’s toils.

Bloated by distant wars and ill-gotten spoils.[3]

They serve but a privileged few.


England is ruled by force and fear.

Those two Englands heading here.

There only concern is wealth and power,

This is England’s finest hour!


So fill up the boats; wait not a day

Send them away; come what may![4]

Long live the King!

Long live this mad and glorious King![5]

[1] “Strange Fruit”, a protest song sung by Billy Halliday written as antilynching poem by Abel Meeropol under the name Lewis Allan. [2] Dogs licking up flesh and blood from floggings of the previous day. [3] The bounty from wars in India were donated to the Church of England. [4] The start of transportation to Australia. [5] King George III suffered from a mental illness.


Pen sketch by Crystal Jordan 2023.


NOBODY HEARD MY BABY CRY


What’s troubling you there; young Jackaroo?

Here alone and quietly drinking,

The sun is setting over there in the west,

And no birds sing.


I met a girl out there in the bush,

Dark - beautiful - she was a child;

Her hair was long, her teeth were white,

And her eyes were wild.


I put her on my speedy horse,

And we happily flew away

Sideways she would look at me,

Laugh – sing, and gently sway.


She took me to her special place,

Native food, berries, nuts, and honey too.

And in her native tongue she whispered,

I love you true.


We lingered there for quite a while,

I’ll never forget that loving smile,

And she moaned a special moan,

I held her tight and fell asleep.


We slept that night a special sleep,

And then I dreamed an awful dream,

The worst dream I have ever dreamt,

On that cold hillside.


I saw brown boys - brown girls too;

Zombi like - drunk - dirty - they cursed and swore,

They staggered and swayed and came my way,

“Money” - “Give me more.”


And they laughed a terrible laugh,

And appeared again and again,

Columns of tortured people - all brown,

It burnt a hole in my brain.


We lingered there for many a day,

And days moved leisurely by,

A child added to our bliss,

We departed there with a saddened sigh.


And entered the real world,

It caused such a fuss!

The Protector was called.

I was chained - covered in dust.


We were cast aside - shunned by all.

Thunderbolts of hypercritical fury,

She was sent away -

That - disgraceful - awful day.


She left in a daze - she went alone,

Walked all the way home.

They danced and sang and pointed the bone.

Frightened - confused - alone.


Hungry - tired - footsore -

She laid on a patch of grass

Pressed him to her breast and slowly died.


BUT NOBODY HEARD MY BABY CRY.


And that is why I am sitting here,

Alone and quietly drinking,

The sun has set in the west,

And no birds sing.


DISPOSSESSION


Breaking through the haze that summer day,

Strange sights far out to sea,

It slowly comes our way.

It is an omen – it frightens me.


We gather on the beach in fear.

It comes nearer and nearer,

And arrived on the incoming tide.

Fear spread far and wide.


White ghosts floated our way,[1]

Strange wet animals struggled onto the sand.

Eleven ships arrived that way,

This is how they entered our land.


We ran for the trees and waited,

Frozen in thought and anxiously anticipated.

They are many – we are few.

This is all so new.


We waited for them to go away,

Some did [2] – most stayed.

We watch trembling – and then,

They are men – mere mortal men.


They met us with gun and sword,

Subjugated – our pleas ignored.

They said they had the right.

Might is always right.


You are British Subjects now – they cried.

You have the protection of the King – they lied.

You must pay allegiance to the King,

Why? We cried. What is a King?


The two Englands arrived that day,

And it remains so to this very day.

The reign of terror began.

It is England over and over again.


They introduced the ball and chain,

Hangings too! And flayed flesh flew,

Backs cut – Bleeding – Inflamed.

The agony – the suffering – it’s nothing new.


My poor bloodstained land!

Domination became the order of the day.

They marched – saluted – followed the band.

Cruel – despotic – sadistic men – this was their way.


They chopped – they dug – killed and burnt,

Left nothing behind except bare dry dirt.

They hunted for food and ate what they brought.

They didn’t share – we constantly fought.


A drought is raging – it hasn’t rained for weeks.

We compete for food along dried out creeks.

We gather all day – fish at night,

Guided by our fires and the bright moonlight.


They shed their ball and chain,

Rose above their station with greed and hate.

We are alone now – dishonoured – disdained –

Condemned to wither and die or assimilate.


Our only crime; we were not like them,

Cruel – nasty – sadistic men.

They said we were all God’s creatures.

We were condemned by our dark black features.


Gone our meeting places – our sacred sites -

Our Paradise Lost – our Garden of Eden.

Persecuted – abandoned – gone our freedom.

We are faced with cold empty nights.


We wander across this strange foreign land.

Hungry – sick – don’t understand –

Because of this attrition –

Tribes disband - no one listens.

The evil spirit spread its wings,[3]

We don’t understand this thing,

It moved on and on.

No more dance – no more song.


It spread across mountains and plains,

So much sickness - so much pain.

My baby is lying over their crying,

While my culture is slowly dying.

[1] White is a symbol of death and ghosts for Aborigines. [2] La Peruse arrived a short time after the First Fleet and did not stay long. [3] Disease.


Elizabeth Fry, social reformer 19th Century on a ship with female prisoners to be deported to Australia. Courtesy of Alamy.com


CONVICT WOMEN


The convict ship approached the newly built wharf,

The wind shifted a little - it moved off course,

But moved forward again as ropes were thrown ashore.

The men on the landing called for more.


The ship came to a stop and gear carefully stored,

The men on the landing ensured it was correctly moored.

The mast was lowered - but flags kept flying,

The journey had been long - cold - hot and tiring.


This journey is over a new one will now begin,

Now they will pay for that awful sin,

The women assembled as required by regulation;

They stood sullen, defiant in expectation.


Unwashed- unkempt - dressed in rags,

Dirty, smelly, rotten rags.

They were scantily clad,

in petticoats, and underwear - it was truly bad.[1]


The Provost Marshall came aboard.

"I am here on orders as required by law.

Do you have complaints against Captain or Crew?"

"No" they lied - he knew.


Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor,

Rich man, Poor man, Beggar man, Thief.

All standing on the landing erect, alert.

All alone in their pornographic dirt.


They lowered the gang plank.

The women's hearts collectively sank,

As the men rushed from the landing

To where the women were sullenly standing.


The pretty ones were taken first.

They screamed, pleaded, then cursed,

The fate that awaited them,

At the hands of these vile, despicable men.


They were forced ashore with shouts and whip,

Into wagons for that long lonely trip.

Tied so they could not run.

Or forced to walk in the hot summer sun,


Condemned to prostitution,[2] by a brutal law.

A life of slavery - servitude and much, much more.

Nervous, unsure of what the future held for them

At the hands of these vile, lecherous men.

[1] Clothing was in short supply and there were no dresses for the female convicts and they had to wear petticoats and underwear and on arrival walked through the streets in their underwear. [2] At that time prostitution was a broad term for women who were considered to be of low morals.



Elizabeth Fry, social reformer 19th Century on a ship with female prisoners to be deported to Australia. Courtesy of Alamy.com 


THE WALK OF SHAME


Anklets fastened and joined by a chain,

The women flinched and cried out in pain.

They were the sick, infirmed, social outcasts.

They were bewildered, agitated, and downcast.

 

They moved forward in a trance,

As if in some hypnotic dance.

We watched in horror as they came ashore,

They slipped and struggled, blasphemed, and swore.

 

Their ankles bleeding as flesh tore,

Land legs failing; embarrassed by what they wore,

They swayed and stumbled and occasionally fell.

Forced forward towards a living hell.

 

A group of children ran their way,

The guards chased them away.

A shopkeeper stopped what he was doing,

The women’s eyes downcast - they kept moving.

 

A woman made the Sign of the Cross

As they passed. Why God why? She asked.

They shuffled over a water course,

Past a Smithy and a man shoeing a horse.

 

It struggled but was finally subdued,

The Cobbler removed his hat and put down a shoe,

A washer woman dried her hands and picked up her Rosary Beads

Tears running down her face – she knew.

 

My brothers and sisters on the edge of town,

Passing the bottle around,

They stagger and sway and roll in the dust.

Supping off White Men’s lust.[1]

 

Further to the right down a bush track

Chain gangs are working – whips are cracking.

Backs are bleeding – ball and chains are dragging.

The women stare – the men look blankly back.

 

Late in morning they passed the parade ground,

Guards standing to attention – not a sound.

Soldiers marching away in the distance,

Nobody here gave a second glance.

 

The sun was high when they passed the orphanage,

Currency lads and lassies sadly watched their passage,[2]

Unaware of the crimes and sins

Perpetrated in the name of the mad faraway King.

 

Coming into sight, the noose swung lazily,

The treadmill turned ever so slowly,

The triangle: dogs licking flayed flesh away.

That was the punishment yesterday.

 

They turned the corner. “Hell!” It came into sight,

Big, ugly, stark – it engendered fright,

Half the building destroyed by fire,

They shuffled forward; it got higher and higher.

 

Standing there solitary – barren – alone,

It was blackened – smoke stained – falling to the ground.

The yelling – the screams – the unwelcoming sound.

This was the place they would call home.

 

They passed through the gates of hell into the room,

The dirt – the smell – the gloom.

Imprisoned in that awful sinful room.

No priest – no Sacraments – they were doomed.

 

But they knew what to do – it was not new.

They had been there before;

Crawling around a factory floor,

Because they broke rich man’s laws.

 

Now they must do it all again - and more,

No comforts – no privileges – sleeping on the factory floor,

Exiled – victims of that draconian law

Picking okam – treading the wheel – continually sore.

 

Carding – weaving – sewing by day

Clothing convicts – paying their way.

Enclosed – confined – smothered in lint,

They do not stop  - tired – exhausted – totally spent.

 

Its night time and bedlam ensues

Only convict Guards guarding the prison doors.

The women are chained – unable to fight.

No rest on these horrible horrible nights.

 

When daylight comes those murdering hordes

Unlock the prison doors,

They have had their way

And the women must face another day.

 

As time passed by they started to appear

They were used – abused – falsely accused – sad – alone

Their babes placed in a Protestant Home

The yells – the screams as others disappear.[3]

 

They cry for their stolen babies

Those lost wee small new born babes

They pray for their lost souls – their religious Rites

Their lost Catholic future – their long lonely nights.

 

They cry every morning, noon, and night,

Distraught – out of their minds – It’s just not right.

Tortured by their own kind,

An Inquisition of another kind.

 

It’s a travesty of a mother’s natural justice,

Babes torn from their Mother’s breast.

So that Protestantism could reign supreme

In that faraway southern land, unseen.

 

We saw all those childless mothers

Their suffering – their pain.

Unfortunately it happened again.


[1] The men sold their women to the White men so they could buy alcohol.

[2] Currency lads and lassies were Australian born boys and girls.

[3] When a woman became pregnant to her master he would return them to the Government and be given another woman and when the baby was born regardless of its religion it was placed in the Protestant Orphanage to be raised as Church of England.



Aboriginals attacking a shepherds hut. Samuel Calvert The Illustrated Melb. Post 1860.


AGAINST THE ETERNAL FLOW

 

I wander along each muddy creek,

Fighting against the eternal flow,

And studied every face I meet

Signs of sorrow signs of woe.

 

In every word from every man

In every baby’s cry of fear,

In every voice, in every ban[1]

The sound of rejection is all I hear.

 

How the childless mothers’ cry.[2]

The silence of the Church appals.

And every hapless victim’s sigh,

runs in blood down homestead walls.

 

In every country pub I hear,

How the twice rejected curse,[3]

the pussy sores, swelling and fear.

And blights with plagues the racial hearse.


[1] Informal denunciation or probation by public opinion.

[2] Their babies removed by White government “Stolen Generation.”

[3] Rejected by her people and White Society.


GONE FOREVER

 

Politicians, white, brown, and black,

Are trying to get our culture back.

It vanished when the last initiated warrior died.

That is when our totems cried.

 

Gone forever – a different age.

The uninitiated bellow – scream in rage.

Man without a culture is like a body without a soul.

A casket of flesh, bone, and blood – that’s cold!

 

Looking backwards, imagining the past,

Tripping, stumbling, eyes downcast.

Hurt, angry, accusing, recriminations, over and over again!

They are still winning! Forget them! Win the end game.

 

White society has changed except for a few;

They know the hurt, suffering the dispossession too.

Onwards and upwards, don’t look back,

We’ll walk together along that exciting track.


I REMEMBER

 

I remember that time well

Our lives turned into a living hell.

It was a cruel England that came our way,

Anger, greed, and despair paved their way.

 

Their animal instincts free to roam.

They had no place to call home.

They charged down the mountain like an army of angry ants,

Flattening tracks, destroying trees, grasses, and plants.

 

They spread out over the valley floor,

Out of reach of the law.

They were the most dangerous, callous men of all time.

They were criminals of the very worst kind.

 

They murdered, raped, and stole with impunity,

Away from civilised scrutiny.

They were hardened by servitude, degradation, and cruelty,

Floggings, exile and the ball and chain.

They were drowning in a sea of futility.

The privileged few inflicted their pain.

 

Men who worshipped a Christian God on Sunday

And Mammon on other days in every single way

Joined the race

To find water, grass: that special place.

And the frontier became a dangerous place (3)

We became too afraid to show our face. (4)

 

They killed our animals and birds

We killed theirs and scattered their herds.

They got angry and murdered us,

And raised such a fuss.

 

They built houses and fences to contain their stock.

Then hunted ours till they killed the lot.

Their sheep, their cows, and their horses

Trampled native grasses and fouled water courses.

 

The nulla nulla and spear,

Against poison and gun; we had everything to fear.

Black velvet became their favourite sport,

The mountains and swamps became our last resort.

 

Rivers of blood flowed over our land,From the mountains to the desert sandsThe screams, the calls, can still be heardFrom my people, my animals and my birds.

Its echoing down through the agesBut no records of displacement and numerous outrages.And with the guns; poison, mayhem and all that was rotten.Because of elitism, social Darwinism and racism, it was easily forgotten.


William Lanney, Maryann, Bessy Clarke & Truganini. Ph. Henry Albert Firth 1864. SLNSW.


TASMANIA

 

Danger! Danger! Looms tonight

In the forest this very night.

What immoral act or word?

Put those people to the sword?

 

In what hell or faraway skies?

Burnt that hatred in your eyes?

What cruelty or what devious art?

Drained compassion from your heart?

 

And when your heart began to beat

You embarked on this evil feat,

To what earthly heights do you aspire?

Forged in that eternal fire.

 

I look to heaven with dread and fear

and water the bush with earthly tears.

Hark! Did I hear those children cry?

From where their cold and battered bodies lie.

 

Rushing blindly through the bush,

Keeping ahead of the constant push.

Did he smile his work to see?

Did he who made the lamb make thee?

 

Danger! Danger! Looms tonight.

Hungry! Tired! It’s just not right.

What immoral act or lie?

Caused this act of genocide?



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