Long Memoried Women: Oodgeroo Noonuccal and Jamaican Poet, Louise Bennett

Jackie Kay's country is Scotland but she can be demonised within it because she is black. The poem's narrator has to assert her right to the land which does not itself erect barriers (the river shakes hands with the sea) in the face of a woman who wants to enclose her within the familiar bars of the old wheel that has been rolling since the first colonial encounter. The weary final line suggests the familiarity of the situation, and reminds the reader of the ambiguity of the title of Sally Morgan's My Place, as both assertive and alert to the implications of knowing one's place and what others assume it to be. Oodgeroo encapsulates it in a phrase in her poem about Willie Mackenzie, whom she describes as a "Displaced person in your own country" (My People 12). Kay claims her own space by writing herself into it, as Oodgeroo claims her people's unassailable right to their ancestral territory and their place in contemporary Australia in her poetry. The British preoccupation with hierarchy, race and class, which was part of the mental baggage of the first invaders of Aboriginal land, is still alive and well where it began.

The full text of this essay is available to ALS subscribers

Please sign in to access this article and the rest of our archive.

Published 1 November 1994 in Oodgeroo: a tribute. Subjects: Aboriginal oral tradition, Aboriginal women writers, African literature & writers, Australian literature - Comparisons with overseas literature, Caribbean literature & writers, Jamaica, Women writers, Oodgeroo Noonuccal.

Cite as: Smith, Angela. ‘Long Memoried Women: Oodgeroo Noonuccal and Jamaican Poet, Louise Bennett.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 16, no. 4, 1994, doi: 10.20314/als.21eec7f142.