We have the song, so we have the land

Phillip Hall

 

for Borroloola’s DanceSite, Marlene Karkadoo Timothy and Lia Pa’apa’a

 

This fighting town is in remission

for tonight pride is torch lit by stars

as DanceSite shakes-a-leg and stomps

a country whole. Assembling on blankets

in a dusty football ground our goals

have been transformed into outdoor cinema

as Chooky Dancers raise a storm

with Gurrumul and Blue King Brown.

And as the bardibardi and malbu make ready, collecting

players of clap sticks and didj, the dancers and kids

flicker excitedly between blankets, all painted

and dressed in their tribe’s colours. Tonight

everything is sacred by degree and in Language

as purple Garrawa perform the Nanny Goat Dance

and everyone cracks it. The golden Gudanji bosses

of the Nuwalinya cycle sing next in descending scales

their metamorphic visions of white-ochred munga-munga

as mermaids dancing with plaited

wet bark and windmill blades as feathers – striding

in a loop from bore to bore; dancing

and singing across country still; and then there’s hush

as Yanyuwa men fly in red and white ochre, anklets

of leaves, bi-plane headdresses and wings

as arms spread wide for strength

stomped through the pelvis to ground in remembrance

of war’s search and rescue service. When a spirit

passes on, it returns to country. This is our inherited

fight, to sing the song back to our land.

 

Phillip Hall is a poet working as an editor with Verity La’s “Emerging Indigenous Writers Project” and as a poetry reader at Overland. In 2014 he published Sweetened in Coals. In 2015 he published Diwurruwurru, a book of his collaborations with the Borroloola Poetry Club. He is currently working on a collection of place-based poetry called Fume. This project celebrates Indigenous people & culture in the Northern Territory’s Gulf of Carpentaria.

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