Through Old Eyes, an anthology of poems by Uncle Wes Marne, a proud Bigambul man and community elder, recently celebrated his 100th birthday. To mark this milestone he released his first book, Through Old Eyes, containing fifty of his poems. This book is published by BLACKBOOKS a division of Tranby Aboriginal Cooperative Limited. These poems which were inspired by his grandfather reflect on colonisation, Australia’s history, family, dreaming stories, Aboriginal culture and connection to the land. These poems are about Uncle Wes’ experiences and what he has witnessed over the last century. These are stories that have been handed down from the first storytellers and knowledge keepers. It is through these poems that we can learn about Australia’s true history, acknowledge and respect the past, seek the truth and connect with First Nations People. These poems also empower us to honour the rich history and culture of First Nations People.

In the biographical notes at the beginning of the book the reader learns about Uncle Wes. He lived his early years in the bush with his extended family and later he lived tribally in Queensland by the river. When he was nine years old the government removed his family from the tribal lands and they were taken to Deadbird Mission in New South Wales. Speaking his Indigenous language and mentioning anything about Indigenous culture was strictly forbidden at the mission. Doing so resulted in harsh punishments. Upon leaving the mission, Uncle Wes moved to wherever he could find work and this saw him gain employment in different fields, he was a boxer, he worked in a tannery, in the mines, he also tried his hand at droving and he served his country in the Korean War. In the 1960s, while living in Sydney, Uncle Wes was forbidden to tell his stories in schools. Given this situation he invited the Aboriginal community to meet at his place to sit around the fire and share stories. This was short lived as the police arrested Uncle Wes for hosting an unlawful gathering. His “crime” – sharing his stories; his punishment – two days in jail. Uncle Wes continued to be silenced by the authorities when he was invited to talk in schools. He was under strict instruction not to speak about massacres, genocide or the Stolen Generations. He was told he was to share “Only Dreaming Stories”. 

I first learnt about this book while watching the Drum on the ABC (Friday, May 13, 2022) and was privileged to see Uncle Wes talk about his anthology of poems. One of the poems he specifically mentioned from the book is ‘Indigenous Ones’ which he said he wrote in response to Paul Keating’s Redfern speech. These are some of the words from his poem that he shared in this interview (below is part of the first verse and the second verse – this poem is made up of five verses in total):

Indigenous people from this earth’s lands

Now is the time for us all to join hands



Let the world know that our culture’s alive

Let the world know that we have survived

Let them all know that we are still strong

Let them all know that we still belong.

Each poem is a story about what has happened in Australia’s past and the Aboriginal way of life, precious knowledge that is vital to preserve now and into the future. These poems give readers the honour to listen to the knowledge and wisdom from the oldest continuing culture on earth; to listen, learn and reflect about the old ways and Australia’s true history.

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