Bottom of the globe, Terra Australis Incognita, Unknown Southern Land. Northerners gaze down from the giddy heights of their atlas maps, conjuring hypothetical continents inhabited by headless hairy ferals with eyes in their bellies who inhabit quinzies and live on blubber they rip apart with their bare hands. Explorers on the look-out to expand empires for kings, queens, and country are ignorant of the fact that the largest southern island continent has been peopled for over sixty millennia, its deserts and plains criss-crossed by quadrivial song-lines and trade routes. Or that the quiddity of the land and its culture, its inhabitants’ Dreamtime, is deeply rooted in care and reverence for country. Landing on an unknown shore after months at sea, sailors encounter not Brobdingnagian monstrosities with clutching quobbled witchy fingers but beings as human as themselves. This isn’t enough to mollify the arrivistes or stem their colonial ambitions. They quickly declare the land to be Terra Nullius. Nobody’s Land.
in a barque
with billowy white sails
there be sea monsters
It doesn’t take the new arrivals long to querl ships’ hawsers around gibbet arms and massacre entire communities and language groups. Sweeping away Dreaming stories, they carve up the ancient land and import convicts, sheep, and rabbits. Today, bronze statues raised to these early European notables (mass murderers, some of them) loom in manicured civic squares and parks. The Victorian-era tributes are moral minefields for local aldermen who profess to being in a quandary about whether or not all should be torn down. At council meetings in small towns and cities there’s always one delegate voting for demolition who will querulously lodge yet another complaint about the ongoing cost to ratepayers of removing red paint and graffiti. Someone else will decry what they call a “black armband view” of history and quibble about the literal meaning of the word “genocide.” The vote will be tied, meeting closed, demolition deferred. Again.
still up for grabs
Fiery Cross Reef
—One of 12 Finalists in MacQ’s
“Triple-Q” Writing Challenge
is a retired botanist and science journalist who has lived in Canberra, Australia with her family for more than four decades. A photography enthusiast and keen world traveller, she is a late-comer to haiku. Her poetry and artworks appear in international journals, have been featured on Japanese television, and have won awards in Australia, Japan, the United Kingdom, Europe, Canada, and the United States.
To learn more, see Ms. McGregor’s
Poet Profile at The Haiku Foundation.