Racism in Oodgeroo Noonuccal's Poem 'Acacia Ridge'
Poetry Analysis by Erwin Cabucos, 2018
Oodgeroo Noonuccal’s Acacia Ridge is an emotional poem that calls for an evaluation of the moral conscience that concerns the racism and injustices committed by the white settlers on Aboriginal People. Writing as an Aboriginal activist for social justice and equality, Oodgeroo Noonuccal, also known as Kath Walker, employs the technique of using a speaker to highlight and point out the contrast that exists between blacks and whites and the extent of injustices endured by the former. The setting is also used to vivify and contextualise the imageries and references to the crimes set in Acacia Ridge.
Noonuccal’s Acacia Ridge uses a speaker or a persona to add a human voice to the poem’s concern, thus highlighting its emotive purpose and theme, which is to call for a moral evaluation of racial acts directed towards the Aboriginal People. The speaker gives instructions to the white people in an ironic or sarcastic way to instil a sense of guilt or shame. In the first stanza, for example, almost all lines begin with commands: ‘White men, turn quickly’, ‘Hide the evidence’, ‘Cover up the crime’, ‘Call it progress’ – verbs that lead to recalling the forms of racial vilification committed by the white settlers towards the Aboriginal people. The speaker tells the white settler the opposite of what they are supposed to do: turning their attention away from the problems, hiding the evidence and covering up the crime – a highly effective emotive device to make the intended audience feel guilty or shameful of the acts.
Furthermore, the speaker’s identity may serve as a representation of anybody who shares a similar sentiment against the crimes committed by the whites to the First Australians. While the target of the confrontation is distinctly identified as white, evident in the final two lines: “You whites… who committed the crimes…,” the identity of the speaker, the source of the confrontation is not clearly identified. Although it can be easily assumed that the speaker identifies with the blacks by way of dichotomy principle, the poem is written by an Aboriginal poet, and the persona privileges the concerns of the Aboriginal people, the speaker does not employ a pronoun such as ‘we’ or ‘I’ to easily link with the blacks. Therefore, the speaker in the poem may be used as a symbol or a metaphor for anybody who fights for social justice issue of Aboriginal Rights and Recognition. It is the poem’s invitation for the audience and those significant anonymous people to stand up against the injustices to Aboriginal Australians.
Moreover, the use of setting ‘Acacia Ridge’ is an avenue to vivify the imageries and allusions to the concerns of the poem. One can only research the dispossession endured by the Jaggara people who lived, camped and hunted in and around the Acacia Ridge in the south of Brisbane. When industrial companies had swarmed Acacia Ridge and its neighbouring suburbs of Coopers Plains, Rocklea and Willawong at the turn of the 20th century, Brisbane City Council approved the construction of railways and the airport in the next suburb of Archerfield, attracting more production and distribution companies to establish and operate in the area. Adversely, the Aboriginal concept of owning the land through communal and geographical association and recognition, as opposed to the white’s way of using land titles, had led to the dispossession in the Aboriginal population. The rise in real estate prices over the years also caused homelessness among the Aboriginal people. Areas of cultural significance such as burial and corroboree were converted to industrial sites. The upheaval to retain their cultural land, and the fight to continue to use the land as their home for thousands of years had failed. Is this really ‘progress’ as the speaker asks sarcastically in the first stanza when the ‘black race is evicted where their fathers were’? Perhaps, it is, for white men.
The setting provides a vivid and a concrete idea of a place for the narrative of dispossession and displacement. The Aboriginal people have been driven away for being unable to produce valid land titles – a proof of ownership the white’s way. The blacks have been settlers in Acacia Ridge who were ‘evicted’ - the veritable term used twice in the poem: in the first and 3rdstanzas. The narrative in the poem employs a motif – the ‘bulldozers’ which also appears twice: in the second and third stanzas, as well as the haunting command of the narrator: ‘Turn quickly the earth of Acacia Ridge’’ also appearing twice, in the first and third stanzas. These repetitions mirror the comparison in the narrative between the dispossessed blacks and the privileged white that hauntingly climax in the image of a ‘pregnant black woman’ in her ‘bitter tears’ and her ‘children clinging to her, terrified’, and ‘bulldozers, huddle the crime scene’. The setting has indeed paved the way to tell a sombre narrative and tone of the poem to convey a sense of guilt and shame.
Oodgeroo Noonuccal’s Acacia Ridge is a national treasure in the way that it highlights the pertinent call for moral recognition and evaluation of Australia’s conscience on racism and injustices committed towards Aboriginal People. The poetic techniques of using a speaker, symbolism and setting are highly effective in showcasing the intent of the poem to invite the audience to share and sentiment that may lead to black and white reconciliation.
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