For Yarmuk, Elder of the Ulupna Tribe

buried at Cummeragunja on the Murray, 14th August 1959

A worn-out body laid in quiet earth,
Attendant trees, a wattle’s throb of gold,
The unhurried river hollowing its path,
Wind in the grass – what more is to be told?

You, last of all that knew your tribal tongue,
Rest now with them in this ancestral ground.
Above your grave the towering ancient wrong
Speaks in a silence pregnant and profound.

For named and nameless ills your people bore
From us, who killed by bullet, axe, and pride,
For our stone blindness; for the day we tore
In kindness’ name your children from your side,

What could we answer if your ghost should rise
To curse our children’s children from the grave?
You rise, but with compassion in your eyes.
Before we knew to ask it, you forgave.

A fire of truth and love was lit in you
Who unembittered fought with bitter fate.
We took the land and life your fathers knew,
You never claimed your heritage of hate,

But poured your life unstinted for the sake
Of those you loved, caught in the world’s dark mesh.
Sleep well: but let your burning spirit wake
Till hearts of stone are melted into flesh.


Poems of Australia