On History, Poetry and the Official Past
Patrick Allington • 29 April 2022
I look to the past – events, people, objects – to help me try to see my biases about the present and future (emphasis on 'try'). Historian Anna Clark’s Making Australian History, published earlier this year, shows official and embedded versions of the past as contested and subjective. In a recent short essay, Clark cited the influence of Tony Birch’s 2016 poetry collection Broken Teeth on her work, including her response to the contents of official archives.
Birch’s work makes Clark think of Wiradjuri woman Jeanine Leane’s poem 'Cardboard incarceration', the searing opening poem in her 2018 collection Walk Back Over. As Ellen van Neerven’s introduction to the book puts it, Leane leaves readers with ‘no place that is benign’.
Narungga woman Natalie Harkin also challenges the assumptions of the colonial archive in her poetry collection Archival-Poetics and in a moving essay about 'weaving a basket from a selection of letters from the State’s Aborigines Protection Board and Children’s Welfare Board files'.
To end, a beautiful Tony Birch essay that looks at the past in another way, by reflecting on the comfort of objects in times of grief.
Patrick Allington is a writer, editor and researcher. His books are the novels Rise & Shine (Scribe) and Figurehead (Black Inc.) and the textbook Making the Grade (OUP). His essays, short fiction and criticism have appeared widely. He has taught and researched politics, communications, writing, and editing. He is an Adjunct Senior Lecturer in Creative and Performing Arts at Flinders University.