Poems from Borroloola Poetry Club: Diwurruwurru (Phillip Gijindarriji Hall)

Borroloola is remote town located in the Gulf of Carpentaria, Northern Territory. It has a population of around 600-700 people in the Dry Season; and approximately 800-1000 people in the Wet Season. The population of Borroloola is 95% Indigenous and is made up of members of the Yanyuwa, Garrawa, Mara and Gudanji peoples.

The Borroloola Poetry Club, Diwurruwurru (message stick), is an Indigenous writers’/storytellers’ group that meets at the local school, or at the local Warralungku Arts Centre, under the care of local teacher/poet, Phillip Hall. The club is made up of both adult and school student members and meets every Friday afternoon (and sometimes on camp out bush).

Diwurruwurru has established an annual poetry prize (with children’s, young adult and adult sections) as part of the Borroloola Show. This year’s prize attracted over 70 entries; and was a glorious testament to the club’s dynamism.

Diwurruwurru has also collaborated with The Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation, since 2012, to establish an annual poetry festival in Tennant Creek; to publish member poems electronically on The Barkly Poetry Wall and in the print publication, Coming to Voice. In 2013 the Club also worked with the NT Writers’ Centre to secure an Australia Council grant to host Lionel Fogarty (an award-winning Indigenous poet) and Amanda King (a digital artist) in a month long residency in Borroloola. This exciting program saw Borroloola school students writing poetry, learning to perform and then recording their efforts onto film. In 2014 twenty members from Diwurruwurru were invited to WordStorm, the NT Writers’ Festival, to launch the Borroloola poetry film onto the national stage – a wonderful celebration of creativity in the Gulf.

Diwurruwurru has secured many other publication opportunities in 2014-2015: we have been selected to appear in the new Donna Ward Inkermann & Blunt publication and in the Red Room Company’s new ‘Poetry Objects’ series.

Diwurruwurru writes group poems under the guidance of Phillip Hall. Our creative process is to meet around a meal where we share a lot of excited ideas/stories. Phillip gathers these together on a white-board where the drafting process begins with much discussion, debate and hilarious attempts to pronounce/spell Aboriginal English and Language words. Phillip continues to work on the poem over the following week before bringing it back to the group for approval. This process is sometimes repeated over several weeks.

Under the care of Phillip Gijindarriji Hall, Diwurruwurru is a lively creative place where family and friends meet to explore, experiment and assert Indigenous Culture and Story. The message stick that it generously shares is one of pride, respect and strength.

dance strong, dat country move en you
(Diwurruwurru with Mista Phillip. Here Diwurruwurru consists of seven lower secondary school students)
millad mob drive out bush long way
over dem hills to make bend like dis
an us mob see fresh tracks of big fulla
big an black an he biggest mob angry
he angry like wounded beast
with horns so wild an he growl us
but dis country ours an millad mob
know it good way so us drive on
all way to wandangnula
dem whitefullas call police lagoon
but us mob know it right way
an us see dem hills so biggest dry
an know where dat wurnamburna is
you know mista dat white ochre
it bend down like dis
an it hard but there biggest pack
ochre to mix with water an dig
millad mob dig like dis an fill
dem buckets right way dat white ochre
for dance an make us dance strong like tru
aboriginal an make dat country move en you
us mob paint dat ochre here
on the face like dis an on our arms here
sum mob paint it on dem chest here an on legs
here an here but not us mob
millad mob paint here an here an here
like dis you see do it good way
an den us line up an start to move swingin
our arms an stompin feet to kick dust
it dance for country swingin stompin
lit by ochre as dem singers breathe
da language only dem old people know
us mob just too deadly steppin singin
up da storm.
Da Barri Barri Bullet Train

(Borroloola Culture Camp)

we bin get up with mista an habim gooda one feed
we bin jumpin da mudika
an millad bin go lunga bush
mimi an kukudi bin come too
an dey bin singim kujika
dey bin learnim us mob
for sing im kujika
we likim learn for sing us mob kujika
wen us mob bin lyin down in da darkes
darkest night I bin look da barri barri
e bin movin really really like da bullet train
I bin hold ma mimi really tight
da fire us mob bin make next ta millad mob
poking tongue like a big one king brown
an millad mob listen noise one side na water
must e bin da buffalo drinkin water
den us bin listen da croc bin snap da buffalo
da gnabia out there too
an he bin make us mob so frightn
but ma mimi bin sing out
hey you mob stop all da noise
ma mimi bin start to sing
da song na us mob country
sing in da old language
dem old people did sing
an make millad mob so shiny an strong
an I bin lyin da listen na mimi
I bin feel really really safe
den I musta bin go sleep
Barri Barri: is Indigenous language in the Gulf region of northern Australia for ‘shooting star’
Mudika: is Kriol in the Gulf region of northern Australia for ‘motorcar’
Millad: is Indigenous language in the Gulf region of northern Australia for the first person plural pronoun: we, us, our
Mimi: is Indigenous language in the Gulf region of northern Australia for ‘pop’ or ‘grandfather’, on the mother’s side
Kukudi: is Indigenous language in the Gulf region of northern Australia for ‘grandmother’, on the mother’s side
Kujika: is Indigenous language in the Gulf region of northern Australia for ‘Songlines’
Gnabia: is Indigenous language in the Gulf region of northern Australia for ‘ghost’ or ‘spirit’

phillip hall (3)

Phillip Hall has worked for many years as a ‘wilderness’ expedition leader throughout NSW & Far North Queensland; but since 2011 he has worked in remote Indigenous education in Borroloola, the Gulf of Carpentaria. Phillip designs sport and Outdoor/Environmental Education programs designed to teach emotional resiliency, cooperative group learning, safe decision-making and respect for Country. He has been adopted into Gudanji family; where he is also known by the skin name of Jabala and the traditional or bush name of Gijindarraji (given to him because it was the bush name of his nana’s pop); he is a member of the Rrumburriya clan; and is a Jungkayi (custodian) for Jayipa (Catfish Hole). His Mother is the emu and goanna though his nana jokes that his real Dreaming is the curlew or ‘Worry Bird’. In 2012 Phillip established Diwurruwurru (The Borroloola Poetry Club). Diwurruwurru means message stick and is used by permission of the Traditional Owners.

These poems were first published in Diwurruwurru: Poetry from the Gulf of Carpentaria (Blank Rune Press, 2015).