spoken by Marion Kickett and heard by John Kinsella, who responds
‘Walking Together on Country’ was originally commissioned by The York Festival, under Artistic Director Will Yeoman, in 2022. It was first performed as ‘The River’s Alchemy’ on 29 July on Ballardong Noongar boodja. This commission was made possible with the support of Lotterywest.
We’re honoured to feature this dialogue between Marion Kickett and John Kinsella, published in Westerly 67.2, here on the Editor’s Desk.
Let’s walk together on country right now and look to see what there is to see. Wongborel (Mt Brown), Walwalling (Mt Bakewell) and Bilya Googalar (Avon River in York) too. Within my view is a Yongka or two (kangaroo), a Weitj (emu) and Nyingarn (echidna) but only a few.
Ballay (lookout), something running fast, too fast for me to see. Ah it’s a Karda (lizard) a Karda running way over there. Look, look again is that a numbat messin around? He chasin ants, ants, everywhere he’s sucking them up he don’t care.
It’s been raining and raining what do you smell? The dampness of boodja (land) and the eucalyptus trees, the aroma of Bilya Googalar (river) running fast further over there.
Nih Nih (Listen, listen) what’s that you hear? It’s Wardong (crow) and Kulbardi (magpie) talking somewhere over there as they sit watching Djidi Djidi (willy wagtail) play just there.
So, come with me and let’s walk on country the way my ancestors did. Let’s listen and see what we can see and learn as we walk on country.
I walk on your country, Marion, and say thanks. I see the river
and the mountain and the hill and I hear their names.
I walk on your country, Marion, and am grateful. I hear the Yongka
through the undergrowth and hear Nyingarn shuffling to its fallen
But I am sad I can’t see the numbats as you know them, Marion, because
they’ve been driven away.
I walk on your country, Marion, and listen to your words. I too hear
the Djidi Djidi having its say, playing with the times of day.
I walk on your country, Marion, and also see the heron looking beyond its
reflection in Bilya Googalar. What’s the heron’s name, Marion?
I will follow where you lead, Marion, and learn as I go. I will listen
and learn. I will feel the ground under my feet, the sky overhead,
hear the river flow.
The word for heron John that is most common to use is bull-ong John that’s the word my dad used.
Feeling and Healing, Country.
Now that we have walked together on country just now, let us see how we can heal our country heal this country right now. But first we must listen and listen to learn if we are to work together, we must listen to earn. The benefit of knowing what happened long ago, is important for you to learn and then to know.
In 1831 my people had heard, they had heard your people coming, and coming they were, not far now, not far now, just a little further a little further right now. They were heard they were heard they were heard just now.
Nih Nih (Listen, listen) what’s that they are saying? What’s that they got? What is it they want? Ahh, it is our water they want, and not just for them, for the animals too and some more to carry could this be true? Yes, it’s true it must be true, as they are not many just a few.
As time went by my people showed your people the way, they showed your people they showed them the way. We worked together your people and mine working together on country was fine. We cared we shared but not for long. Your people were different as they wanted to own. We don’t own country we belong we belong, and we have belonged to country for so, so long. We look after country for so long for so long. Your people damaged my country, and it didn’t take long.
Misunderstanding, misunderstandings. My people did not understand why your people came to their land, why they took their land. They believed you came in peace and shared with you not just their land, but their knowledge too. Where to find water and where to fish, where to hunt and how not to miss, yes, my people showed your people everything, everything as they had wished.
They watched your people build houses they watched as they built their barns. They watched more of your people coming more people coming to build farms. Your people building their homes, growing their food my people started to be rude. They burnt your people’s crops houses too also speared a sheep or two.
In 1833 the blood of both our peoples began to spill and spill until 1835 but we survived yes, we survived. In 1836 my peoples’ blood run quick, it was running on country so, so quick. In 1837 my peoples’ blood was soaking it was soaking our country I feel sick I feel so sick.
I know all you say is true, Marion, and I grieve for its truth.
I know all you say is true, Marion, and I want to help redress.
I know all you say is true, Marion, and I want to learn better how to share.
I know all you say is true, Marion, and won’t pretend this isn’t history.
I know all you say is true, Marion, and I am hoping to understand
how it happened and how we can find the peace
and let spirits rest in peace and learn that knowledge
isn’t something just to be stolen but to say thanks for
and use as we’re supposed to use if we’re to use it at all,
and give something back not just take and take and take.
I know all you say is true, Marion, and I want to respect the blood-soaked
earth I want the river to flow as it flowed and it should flow
I want to follow your trails and know the country
as you would have me know it, as you show me
I know all you say is true, Marion, and I want the history books
to be rewritten to tell the truths you tell and not to try
and reword it all so excuses are made when settlers
can’t make excuses but must face up to the truth
and try to make things right even if things can’t be made right
because so much wrong has been done—try to make right
because that’s what we have to do through generations
and generations of wrong.
I know all you say is true, Marion, and sorry is not enough—I vow
to work to help bring change to restore country
to let the river tell us rather than we tell it to listen
to your knowledge and respect your knowledge
to respect and protect the sacred places to hear the stories
and look back to how we came here and what we have to do
to bring peace to country.
I know all you say is true, Marion—from Walwalinj to Wongborel,
as the river flows between and the birds and animals
and river creatures confirm the stories and I follow you
across country, the salinity retreating back into the ground
and the wattles flowering with truth.
I am hoping we can work together, Marion.
I am hoping we can stand by the river and share words.
I am hoping you can trust what I say Marion.
I know all you say is true. I am listening. I am seeing. I am learning.
So let us together remember the past and together we must bring it, bring it with us and make it last.
Let’s acknowledge the mistakes that occurred back then and work together so together we can learn.
My country has been desecrated of this we both know so let’s work together yes let’s give it a go.
When we walk on country what do we see? I see terrible things; terrible things are what I see.
I see rubbish, rubbish is what I see. Left right there on our beloved country.
Whitegoods and furniture, trolleys too. I see old machinery rusting near, because it’s far more convenient to dump it here.
I wonder why people let their cats run on country, run on country as they do. I ask you John what must we do what must we do?
We must gather and talk with each other, Marion, about the best way
We must listen to the Elders and respect what they tell us—I must listen
We must not hide from the truth.
We must not let the last fragments of bush disappear.
We must join those fragments of bush together and hope the numbats
We must let the splendid fairy wrens find their way through the seasons
and bring blue out of eclipse. We must never let go, we must never
We must respect country and not rubbish and exploit it.
We must respect country and let it heal through learning
and heal through doing. I hope we can work together.
I follow you across your country, Marion, and hope I can learn, too.
I am willing, Marion… I am willing to do the work.
Come gather all of you and let us talk of the best way forward and so then we can walk. As it’s not just about talking but walking too as there is so, so much to do.
Let’s listen to the Elders, together let’s listen to them, so we may all hear, hear what is said. Together let us all show respect and listen to learn for there is much so much to learn.
Walk with us and feel country and learn as we do on our country. Kneel next to Bilya Googalar and feel kep (water) running, running through our country.
It is wise, yes, it is wise for all of us to try not to hide. Listen to the history, acknowledge it, and accept. Because it is a history we cannot forget.
Come with John and me and let’s all work together to see. We must not let the last of our bush disappear this is something we fear oh dear, oh dear.
We must join those fragments of bush together and hope our numbats return forever.
We must never let go, we must never give in. Let’s all work together to repay the last sins.
If we share our knowledge which is real yes, it is real, and work together and help our country to heal.
Marion Kickett is a Noongar woman from the Balardong language group. Born in the wheatbelt town of York, Marion spent her early years living on the York Reserve. After completing two bachelor’s degrees, Marion completed her PhD at The University of Western Australia on ‘Resilience’ from an Aboriginal perspective, using an Aboriginal methodology. She previously worked in the areas of Public Health and Academia for thirty years.
John Kinsella’s most recent works include the first volume of his collected poems, The Ascension of Sheep (UWAP, 2022), the short story collection Pushing Back (Transit Lounge, 2022) and Legibility: an antifascist poetics (Palgrave, 2022).