Poets Dakota Feirer, Samuel Wagan Watson and Luke Patterson weave histories and stories, at once immensely personal and radically political, into poetry visualisations that poignantly subvert and reshape the ‘archive’. These works enter into a dialogue with the pervasive forces that have colonised and dehumanised Australia's First Nations people. Forces that continue to this day.
The poets first took their inspiration from Australian plant specimens held in the National Herbarium of New South Wales. The poems that emerged from the aged parchment provide the pressed specimens with a new life, a new narrative, a new story. A story that imaginatively includes what has been denied a voice. Until now.
Commissioned by Prudence Gibson and Amanda Lucas-Frith, Managing Editor of Plumwood Mountain Journal, these poems are part of a suite of poems commissioned to respond to plant specimens in the herbarium collection. These films, funded by AIATSIS, are the result of those commissions.
'Arts and narrative have the capacity to mediate difficult issues around plant naming and classification. Poetry can evoke the deepest beauty of plants, while also addressing questions of Indigenous erasure and the long process of decolonising collection institutions.' Prudence Gibson
Filmed on Gubbi Gubbi, Jagera and Turrbal lands, and with creative direction from the poets themselves, these poetry visualisations are powerful statements of Blak sovereignty.
When you talk to Country, Country talks back.
Brachychiton acerifolius by Dakota Feirer
‘A red flowering Kurrajong. Sergeant Clark writes:
- seeds from this tree have been sown on many occasions but
…there from invariably produces a white flower.’
Bloodstained pages frame
an imperial game
executioners, knighted by
on sacred land and paperbarks.
depth is absent
above the deepest
of stolen knowledge
a terra nullius.
both raped and erased
your name now.
Under the guise
of a blind Latin
seeds and leaves
crushed between leather
of boot and journal
now mere shadows
songlines are no less dismembered beyond these cells
roots thread deeper than introduced infrastructure
when belly holds water and hands bleed rivers
holding memory and babies. women’s business tree.
Old Man Banksia
Old Man Banksia by Luke Patterson
here is the wind
that brings life to the flower
chalky cliffs resembling
those of old england
inflorescence bees and honey
antiquities lumpy bark
an opening appearing
like a harbour
this ardent sentry guards
a roughened coast
of highest fertility
the flower golden
browns the myth that nature
conspires against us
our boat proceeded
seed in a bunker
wailing for fire singing
for rain elementary
in the distance
small smoke rising
Italicised lines are drawn from the diaries of Joseph Banks.
An Illumines-cant Transmogrification of Being: Encountering the Ghost Gum
An Illumines-cant Transmogrification of Being: Encountering the Ghost Gum by Samuel Wagan Watson
It unfolded on a dark and stormy evening…Lost in the sheer-fright of night-fire…Echoes of
thunder-clap ebbing, the lightning smashed against the virginal and slender lure of its
Myrtaceae Eudicots shining in the wilderness of empty screams, the composites of such
alluring skin a mystery, in an Albert Namatjira water-colour affinity to glow forever,
caught…The leaves in mortal hands rub caustic eucalyptus cologne…How the old-ones
collected trail of its blood to render resins so strong…The unique smell of bush-fire would
be so lost without its burning demise…
Possessed by incarnate passion the solace of the bush screams with mute insanity…
The Herbarium Tales poetry project was curated by Amanda Lucas-Frith, Plumwood Mountain Journal and Prudence Gibson, project director of The Herbarium Tales, an Australian Research Council project at the University of New South Wales.
The project was funded by AIATSIS and premiered at the House of Oz during the 2022 Edinburgh International and Fringe Festivals.
Video production and editing by Article One.