False Claims of Colonial Thieves is a poetry collection that weaves together two unlikely, and some may even think oppositional, Australian voices. First Nations poet Charmaine Papertalk Green is a member of the Yamaji Peoples of Western Australia; John Kinsella is of anglo-celtic heritage, descended from settler-invaders who made their wealth through farming and mining, practices that alienated Indigenous people from their land.
Yet neither voice dominates this collection. Instead, readers witness a yarn—which Papertalk Green describes as “putt[ing] us on common ground”— where each poet delves into the colonial history of Australia, and the contemporary consequences of colonialism. From their righteous indignation toward a false narrative of Australia’s history, to a joyous celebration of the Indigenous peoples, their culture and the land, Papertalk Green and Kinsella weave a new story about Australia’s identity; one forged in mutual respect, collective solidarity and a common love for Country. Importantly, both authors reshape this colonial mythscape by unraveling and unwriting the false claims concocted and promulgated by colonial settlers.
Mythscape: a discursive realm where discussion takes place. Here, myths, stories and narratives of a nation are forged, reconstructed and negotiated constantly.
Yet they still have their differences. Papertalk Green largely writes her story, and the stories of her people, back into country that was written over by false claims of settler history. Kinsella, as a descendant of these colonial thieves, largely writes himself, and the stories of his people, out of Country. And while Kinsella
What are the main “false claims,” as mentioned in the title?
Terra Nullius: that the country was ‘no man’s land’, where settler-invaders deny that Indigenous Australians lived here for millenia. By pretending that no one lived in Australia, this supposedly gave the British ‘legitimacy’ to assume control over the land, and those already living on it.
The Stolen Generation: that Indigenous people were inferior to white people. This claim led to the forcible removal of Indigenous children from their families, so they could be raised by ‘superior’ white people and taught white cultures/languages. These children are referred to as the ‘Stolen Generation’ because they were taken away from their families without their consent.
Missions: that Indigenous people were heathenish, and for their own salvation, they needed to be converted under Christian doctrine. Hence missions would relocate Indigenous people off their ancestral lands to newer, smaller areas.
Structure of the poetry collection:
The poems are identified by the initials at the end, either Charmaine Papertalk Green or John Kinsella, and often respond directly to each other, so readers get the views of each poet in a kind of conversation between the two. Other poems stand alone and there will be a string of poems by one of the writers with no direct response.
Poems to focus on:
Don’t want me to talk
Undermining, part 1 and 2
Shopping center carpark
Shopping Centre Carpark response
Both poets unravel the discursive spaces that permeate our existence, and their role within politics. From the local conversation that arises within “simply yarning” and “yarning response,” to the international discourse in “undermining,” both poets simultaneously revel and lambast the way in which conversation is conducted. For both poets contend that genuine dialogue, fuelled by the desire to create change and understand viewpoints beyond our own, is a powerful source of reconciliation; it unearths disagreement and compels people to resolve conflict. Yarning, then, represents something more intimate; it is sourced from the Indigenous mythscape, and out of it births mutual understanding, collective solidarity, and more often than not, a chesty light-hearted laugh with a newfound mate.
In stark contrast exists the malign political discourse that both poets seek to expose. Pauline Hanson’s One Party Members protest without seeking to converse in “shopping centre carpark,” and in “undermining,” global actors refuse to listen to the elders that reside deep within the Earth; both the land itself and the Indigenous elders that live upon it. And in “don’t want me to talk” Papertalk Green scathingly critiques the white Australians who seek to silence her proud Indigenous voice. Ultimately, the poets invite the readers to not talk, but listen, as just as they listen to each-other in this collection, we are invited to hear a new story of Australia’s identity and past, and the concerns that plague the Indigenous people.
Don’t want me to talk.
Shopping Centre Carpark
Shopping Centre Carpark response.
Papertalk Green and Kinsella are frightened for the future of the land. Uranium reactors are being built. Stakeholders forgo the preservation of the environment to maximize profit margins. Mining companies plunder the land in an awful cycle of destruction; a devastating cycle that began with the colonists' invasion of Australia. In this collection, the poets seek to expose the horrifying environmental implications of plunder and exploitation, encouraging the reader to reconsider the importance of the land, one informed by an Indigenous perspective that departs from the colonial-invader status quo. At the same time, the poets celebrate the beauty of the natural world. Childhood innocence finds itself with “double gees.” Artistic beauty is sourced from the environment. And within it something ancient is stored, indelibly intertwined with the Indigenous mythscape. Notably, the spirit beings inhabiting the Dreamtime often became part of the natural landscape they helped to create, such as rocks or trees.
Family represents a return to the past; to stories that place us back into a time where we don’t belong. In doing so, we can view the present from another angle. In “grandmothers,” we see harsh destructive mining as juxtaposed to the splendid celebration of the environment, while in “epilogue,” sadness is stored in the very land itself, intertwined with the poets’ ancestry. At the same time, family enables reminiscence of a more tender age; of insouciant wonder in “shopping center carpark” and delicate beauty in “yarning response.”
Shopping Centre Carpark
Shopping Centre Carpark (Response)
Decolonisation (the process of unwriting false Colonial claims)
Colonization and its horrifying contemporary consequences charge the poets with vitriol and despair. In the present, the descendants of the colonial-invaders - literally and in spirit - ravage the land. They plunder it, and the only recourse provided to the Indigenous people is “native title.” Moreover, they disable meaningful discursive spaces for Indigenous people; reconciliation and the plight of Indigenous people are reduced, nullified and belittled by the beliefs fuelled by racial prejudice. The past too is effaced by the descendants of the colonial-invaders. The Indigenous cultural and spiritual narrative is built upon country, family and nature. Yet racism, colonialism and present day plunder threaten to erase the stories of the past.
The poets with harsh indignation seek to expose their ancestral stories; for Kinsella he unearths the persistent and gross mistreatment of the Indigenous people that has existed for centuries. For Papertalk Green, she largely unveils the beauty of her heritage, reforging a new tale that idealizes a different conception about the land.
Don’t want me to talk.
Sample analysis – Prologue:
The stakeholders want their environmental scientists to deliver flora and fauna on a platter, and they will do so for a price. Stygofauna speak up through the land; some listen, more don't. And so the mining companies reach into our schools, funding programs that make students in their own image, filling the holes they make in country with propaganda sold as learning, gatekeeping into the church of university.
The speaker’s loose and relaxed prose in “prologue” is implicitly juxtaposed to their lambast of the stakeholders and mining companies. With this, Kinsella unveils the intimate form of protest that encapsulates contemporary discourse between these “stakeholders” and those who genuinely care for the environment.
The speaker’s personification of “stygofauna [which] speak up through the land” heightens the mining companies violation of a living, conscious entity: “holes they make in country.”
Through the speaker’s shift away from the generic “the land” to the Indigenous vernacular “in country,” Kinsella struggles to preserve the sacred natural environment, interwoven in the Indigenous mythscape, amid the plunderous “holes” created by neo-colonial mining companies .
The “imago dei”: man as made in the “image of God,” in his divine likeness.
The speaker’s biblical allusion in “funding programs that make students in their own image” connotes the perverted sanctification of exploitative capitalism.