1930s and onwards, sympathy for a vanishing race.

By the mid 1930’s, however, things were beginning to change. The element of hostile racism which is a feature of earlier verse begins to disappear.

E.R. Murray ends her 1946 anthology ‘Songs of the Road’ with one of the few sympathetic treatments of aboriginal people:

She was black and I was white-

The troop train started in the night-

But sorrow knows not class or creed-

Caste or colour – birth or breed-

Sorrow knows not pride of place 

Nor chill reserve’s unchanging face.[25]

The emphasis though is on the breaking down of a traditional barrier. A note of sympathy begins to creep in, but the race is still doomed. So, E.M. England, in begins her 1944 collection ‘Queensland Days’ with a piece called ‘Dark Girl Singing’:

Out in the orange twilight

We heard a dark girl sighing

An ancient song of an ancient

Race that is swiftly dying….  [26]

The first book by an aboriginal poet was not published until 1964, but even then the theme of vanishing continues both in white and in black attitudes. James Devaney says, in the introduction to Kath Walker’s We Are Going:

‘Kath Walker is not a full-blood, but though fully integrated into the white community, accepting and accepted, she puts her own race first and is a dedicated worker for them,’

But the theme of vanishing is notably prevalent in her title poem:

The scrubs are gone, the hunting and the laughter.

The eagle is gone, the emu and the kangaroo are gone from this place.

The bora ring is gone.

The corroboree is gone.

And we are going.’

The story of the next forty years is for others to tell.

Return to Old Qld Poetry home page 

[1]Wright, J. Because I was invited, Melbourne Oxford University Press, 1975, pp 138-150

[2]Ibid, at p143.

[3]Quoted in Smith, L.R.,The Aboriginal Population of Australia, Canberra, ANU Press, 1980, at p 14.  

[4]Ibid, at p 15.


[6]Ibid p133.

[7]Ibid p15, citing Henry Reynolds.

[8]Campbell, J. The Early Settlement of Queensland, Brisbane, Bibliographical Society of Queensland, 1936, at p20. See http://nla.gov.au/nla.aus-f1804.

[9]Ibid, p21

[10]Moynihan,C,  The Feast of the Bunya, Facsimile Edition, Brisbane, Watson Ferguson, 1985, p57.

[11]Urquhart, F.C., CampCanzonettes, Brisbane, Gordon and Gotch, 1891, p 8.


[13]Evans, G Essex, The Secret Key and other verses, Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1906, p15.

[14]Bayldon, A, The Eagles, Collected Poems, Melbourne, E.A.Vidler, 1921, p60. 

[15]Mathew, J. Australian Echoes, London, Melville and Mullen, 1902,  p 72. 

[16]Foott, M.H. Morna Lee and other poems, London, Gordon and Gotch, 1890, p10.

[17]Mrs Watson’s fate was a topic of contemporary and continuing interest. See for example, Douglas Sladen’s ‘Mrs Watson, a Queensland Heroine’ in Sladen, DBW, ed., Australian Ballads and Rhymes, London, Walter Scott, 1888 at p210. See also the poems The White Captive  and Song of the Black Captor in Mathew, op cit, at pp 17-19.

[18]Ibid, at pp 274-5.  Note also Brunton Stephens’ comic ballad on the extinction of the aborigines, ‘King Billy’s Skull’. 

[19]Campbell, op cit, at p 37 and 39.

[20]Favenc, E. Voices of the Desert, London, Elliott Stock, 1905, p23

[21]Coungeau,  E, Palm Fronds Brisbane, WR Smith and Paterson 1927, pp9-11.

[22]Bardwell, J.H., Silken Threads, and other Poems,  Brisbane, Watson, Ferguson and  Co, 1924, at p 13. 

[23]C. Bingham, Marcinelle and other verses, Brisbane, Carter-Watson, n.d., [1925].  Bingham came to realize his omission. Much later, in his autobiography, he wrote that ‘white Australians had failed in their duty to the real natives of the country’ (Bingham, The Beckoning Horizon (1983), p80).

[24]Coungeau, E. Rustling Leaves, Sydney, William Brooks and Co, 1920, p11.

[25]Murray, E.R, Songs of the Road and other verses, North Devon, Arthur H Stockwell, n.d.,p 64  

[26]England, E.M., Queensland Days, Sydney, Dymock’s Book Arcade, 1944, p7.