Chorus of Crows by K A Nelson is quintessentially both difficult and classically beautiful to read. To distinguish the writing from the subject matter is impossible, however the meter and language of this powerful piece means it is indispensable viewing: such as putting a hand to the forehead and looking bewilderedly into the distance.

As for the content: to have people living in such profound deprivation in our wealthy country, is, by anyone’s measure, an indictment. The reason for it, of course, lies in the history of an invaded continent – history many close their eyes to. After existing in such proud circumstances for so many millennium in Australia, the finger of blame for situations such as the poem depicts, is often pointed back at the peoples in those situations. But blame must be accorded to the hand of racism, theft, abuse and short sightedness from a wealthy-based governance. For in the short span of less than 250 years, means without conscience, power without intelligence, and dispossession without recompense has and continues to wreak havoc for those who possessed the land we now know as Australia, before it was invaded.

Presently, for the most part, we no longer see (unless we look closely) the destructive forces that Australian Aboriginal people endured. Those forces, along with the laws, language and knowledge that people lived by before Europeans came, have been eradicated. Thanks to resilience of indigenous peoples, semblances have risen in their place, and we are starting to learn things we thought lost. In locations where dispossession is more evident (often in the north of the country, but in fact in pockets everywhere if one looks carefully) there seems only two responses. Either ennui or full-fisted authority that shows little nuance, little respect and little will to make any real difference. Even patience is missing as programs run by Aboriginal people for Aboriginal people – often after finally finding their legs – are disassembled, and others hurriedly implemented. This is why we should never forget. And why, other than its exquisite structure, this poem is extremely important.


Chorus of Crows


When she saw Top Camp

(humpies made of corrugated iron/slabs of bark

people and dogs living together

children   discharge running from nostrils/ears

like sewage seeping from the broken pipes next door)

she didn’t wince.

She learnt to overlook the rubbish

caught on broken fences

blown by westerlies that brought the dust

and the haunting sound of crows through

every crack.


When she met Topsy

(her husband used a star picket

punished her tribal way even though everyone knew

thatwhitefella contractor got the better of her)

she didn’t faint.

It wasn’t the first time she’d seen human flesh

open to the bone or held the hand of a woman

being stitched up.

Outside the clinic the crows seemed to sing

that white man

long gone.


When the Land Council mob

said no to a drink in the back bar

(the publican would only lace

their beer with Worcestershire Sauce

customers would stare/whisper behind cupped hands)

she bought a carton.

They sat in the yard yarning and laughing

at the crows as they burnt their beaks

scavenging for scraps

on the barbecue

hot plate.


When she walked across the Harbour Bridge

arm in arm with friends

(black/white and brindle

as her Nana used to say)

mothers pushed babies in their strollers

fathers shouldered children waving flags

people carried placards

and a breeze billowed out

that ‘sorry’ word above the crowd for hours.

Not a crow in sight!


Well into the New Millennium

it wasn’t the daily press releases

of suicides/sniffing/stoushes

or claims the ATSIC experiment

had failed (miserably)

but another order from a minister

and a mandarin

carried out by men in overalls

that did her in.


When they took the dotted/cross hatched worlds

off all the office walls to hoard them

in a secret storeroom somewhere


when each piece of art and artefact was placed

(without bubble wrap or due regard)

in Woolworths shopping trolleys

that lurched along the corridors

their wobbly wheels protesting to the last

when workers sat transfixed to telephones

and screens (like crows on a carcass pecking

pecking unperturbed by passing cars)

she hurried to the women’s toilet

locked the door/flushed

and wept.


Later she stared at her blank wall

where Rover’s Universe used to hang.

Without him she felt so far removed

from Top Camp

Topsy and the mob

from the fly speck she said she was

in a far flung corner of his print

near one of five gold dots

(or sacred sites)

and as she stared

she thought she heard him say

Gardiya* might like ’em

might learn ’em

might read ’em right way

one day.


But beyond the blank space/concrete wall/double glass

it seemed to her the crows guffawed

(as if they foresaw

the NT Intervention).




3 thoughts on “Week #12 Chorus of Crows: a poem

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