Skip to main content

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

Dakota Feirer is a Bundjalung and Gumbaynggirr storyteller threading his voice through innovative and interdisciplinary mediums which explores Indigenous cultural sovereignty in the 21st century.
  • 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
    rules of
    an imperial game
    executioners, knighted by
    precious appellatives

    Each stroke
    of ink
    on paper
    on sacred land and paperbarks.

    Though true
    depth is absent
    from inkpot.
    a royal
    above the deepest
    of stories.

    waltzing matilda
    through their
    curated gardens
    of stolen knowledge
    dancing above
    a terra nullius.

    Botany has
    both raped and erased
    your flame
    your name now.

    Under the guise
    of a blind Latin
    seeds and leaves
    crushed between leather
    of boot and journal
    now mere shadows
    across spreadsheet.

    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

Luke Patterson is a Gamilaroi poet, folklorist and musician living on Gadigal lands. His poetry delves into the entangled ecologies of language and history, moving towards a future in the post-colony.
  • Old Man Banksia by Luke Patterson

    here is the wind
    that brings life to the flower
    cream yellow

    chalky cliffs resembling
    those of old england

    inflorescence bees and honey
    honey-eaters perch
    antiquities lumpy bark

    an opening appearing
    like a harbour

    this ardent sentry guards
    a roughened coast
    weathered autochthonous

    the appearance
    of highest fertility

    the flower golden
    browns the myth that nature
    conspires against us

    our boat proceeded
    along shore

    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

Samuel Wagan Watson was the 2019 recipient of the Patrick White Literature Prize. Coming from a Wunjaburra/Germanic ancestry, his entire process is a meshing of cultures and mediums to achieve his artistic outcomes.
  • 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
    smooth body…

    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…


Listen to interviews with each of the poets.
  • Dakota Feirer

  • Luke Patterson

  • Samuel Wagan Watson


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.

Partners include The Royal Botanic Garden Sydney, Bundanon Trust, University of New South Wales and Open Humanities Press.

Video production and editing by Article One.

Last updated: 23 November 2022