Black and white relation in Oodgeroo Noonuccal's poem 'Son of Mine'
Australian poetry analysis - 'Son of Mine'
Son of Mine (To Denis)
My son, your troubled eyes search mine,
Puzzled and hurt by colour line.
Your black skin, soft as velvet, shine.
What can I tell you, son of mine?
I could tell you of heartbreak, of hatred blind.
I could tell of crimes that shame mankind,
of brutal deeds and wrongs maligned,
of rape and murder, son of mine.
But I'll tell instead of brave and fine
when lives of black and white entwine,
and men in brotherhood combine.
This would I tell you, son of mine.
- by Oodgeroo Noonuccal (Kath Walker)
Analysis by Erwin Cabucos
Oodgeroo Noonuccal's poem 'Son of Mine' explores the black and white relation in Australian society, reflecting on the grim history within that relation and suggesting for a more optimistic future for the new generation. Written by an Aboriginal activist Kath Walker, in light of her concerns for the children with Aboriginal Australian heritage, especially her 13-year-old son Denis, 'Son of Mine' uses techniques of persona, imagery and rhyme to effectively highlight the message that embracing reconciliation is the most preferable option for brighter tomorrow.
The presence of a persona as a parent is evident from the onset, communicating her thoughts and feelings to another persona - the son. Through the parent persona, the son is given characterisation and identity being 'black skinned' which clearly alludes to the representation of Aboriginal person, and the added simile 'as soft as velvet shine' refers to the many Aboriginal children with such descriptions. The non-gendered identity of the parent is an intelligent technique to allude to the applicability of the position or status of the persona to an Aboriginal parent who might be expressing similar sentiments to their children.
It is also worthy to note the knowledge and history that the parent persona possesses as opposed to the learning-status of the child; with such information of the past, the parent is able to make a discerning decision with regards to the more appropriate response to the narratives of the history. The question "What can I tell you, son of mine" indicates the prerogative power that the parent possesses in deciding what stories he or she might highlight for the son. This symbolizes the vocation that parents have in inculcating what values and imaginations they can teach to their children for the future. They could tell them of the grim past but they could also highlight optimism for the future, as called upon by the wit of the poem, as evoked by this quote: "But I'll tell you instead of brave and fine."
Powerful descriptions abound that refer to the social and cultural destruction experienced by the Aboriginal People in Australia. "Heartbreak, hatred blind", "crimes that shame mankind", "brutal wrong and deeds malign", "rape and murder" are terms that aptly synthesize the loss of ancestral lands, annihilation of individuals, massacre of a tribe, removal of children from parents and other forms of atrocities. One only needs to read Kate Grenville's novel 'The Secret River' or see Noyce's 'The Rabbit Proof Fence' to understand the chilling events that comprise these dark parts of Australian history. However, the poem's underlying wisdom is contained within the words of the parent, likened to a parent-child conversation, that it is better to dwell on the positive future - reconciliation - to view it: "when lives of black and white entwine, and when in brotherhood combine."
The use of the rhyme softens the seriousness of the subject matter: racism, prejudice and black past. The rhyming occurs in each line: for example, "Mankind", "malign", "mine", "fine", "entwine", creating a sense of musical lulling to a child, like a mother with a lullaby to her child. This Madonna-like reading of the poem is demonstrated by the implied action at the start of the poem where the mother gazes her son as she speaks: "Your troubled eyes search mine." Furthermore, it is also worthy of noting the possible signification of the 12 lines of the poem, the three quatrains, alluding to the twelve apostles, the male companions of the Christ, as well as the repetition of the word 'Son' occurring three times, a stark reminder to the notion of the Trinity. These signs appear to be vignette symbols of the redemptive role of the overall theme of the poem: reconciliation, rather than vengeance.
Oodgeroo Noonucall's poetry 'Son of Mine' is a reflection of the difficult past that framed the relationship between the black and white Australians - the Aboriginal people and the white settlers. It invites readers to opt for a more human response to the inhumane past, deciding for a more positive future for Australia. It is a poem that seeks to relate to those who are in powers, tribal elders, including decision-makers who have powers to communicate with the new generation to value the spirit of reconciliation as the best way to move forward as a nation.
Oodgeroo Noonuccal recites 'Son of Mine' in the film 'Time to Dream', 1974
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