The Power of Perceptual Positions - Oodgeroo Noonuccal (Kath Walker)

kath walker_blog

The scrubs are gone, the hunting and the laughter.
The eagle is gone, the emu and the kangaroo are gone from this place.
The bora ring is gone.
The corroboree is gone.
And we are going.

(We are Going, 1964)

Oodgeroo Noonuccal (Kath Walker)

Born Kathleen Ruska on her people’s traditional land of North Stradbroke Island, working as a domestic servant and then in the Australian Women’s Army Service during WWII, Kath Walker was an unlikely poet.  At this time and in this country being aboriginal meant you were not an Australian citizen – officially your legal status was that you had never existed in Australia, in fact the Australian constitution still states that Australia was empty of human beings when the British arrived. 

The consequences of not recognizing the first Australians still haunt us today but in the 1960’s these consequences were dire indeed.  Aboriginal people were not allowed to vote, their ownership of land was not recognized, and they had their children taken away so they could learn to live like white people and “be civilized”.  Government policy was designed with the specific goal of dominating and destroying aboriginal culture swiftly to ensure the establishment of a united strong white Australia. 

Kath Walker grew up in this Australia, knowing the pain of a stolen generation from hearing the cries of mothers who would never see their children again. Kath picked up her pencil so the world could share the horror of Aboriginal life in Australia in the 1960’s. 

Kath Walker contributed to Australian life like none before her.  Kath honed her keen powers of observation and learnt to see what others saw. She heard their words, their reasons, their plans, and their justifications and felt the power of their beliefs and then she wrote. Whilst other poets wrote about wide brown lands and bush characters and rollicking rides of glory, Kath wrote about the pain of her people, she also wrote about the dream of a united country, big enough to embrace all -

I could tell you of heartbreak, hatred blind,

I could tell you of crimes that shame mankind,

Of brutal wrong and deeds malign,

Of rape and murder, son of mine; 

But I'll tell instead of brave and fine

When lives of black and white entwine

And men in brotherhood combine--

This I would tell you, son of mine.

(Son of Mine, 1960)

The power of Kath’s words shook the conscience of a nation.  For, perhaps the first time and on behalf of her people Kath spoke using her mastery of white man’s language, and white Australians heard.  She showed us clearly that even though there was reason for her writings to contain bitterness, vengefulness and hatred for the deeds perpetrated against her people that she still found the inner spirit to focus instead on hope and head toward a peaceful solution. She described in gripping detail the sometimes brutal reality of Aboriginal life, but led her countrywomen and men to dream instead for the day where black and white reconciled and created a shared destiny for all.

Her extraordinary mastery of language provided Kath with the capacity to hear, feel and see from the perspective of others. Her challenge was to communicate her insights in a way that would connect with deep compassion both black and white experience and unite the disparate parts of our nation. 

Kath said, “I felt poetry would be the breakthrough for the Aboriginal people because they were storytellers and song-makers. It was more of a book of their voices that I was trying to bring out, and I think I succeeded in doing this.” 

Australians were hungry for these voices and Kath’s writings sold – with her 1964 collection of verse, We Are Going, selling out in 3 days and requiring 6 reprints within the following 12 months to keep up with this unprecedented demand.  Throughout her time, Kath Walker wrote and worked to win social justice for Aboriginal people.  Her words and her work was instrumental in the success of the 1967 Australian Constitutional referendum which saw the highest YES vote ever recorded in a Federal referendum, with 90.77 per cent voting for change to recognise and include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as Australian citizens, truly uniting the nation.

In 1970, Kath returned to Stradbroke Island with a plan to fulfil her passion.  She purchased a property and established the simplest of educational facilities - her school under the tree.  Kath welcomed over 30,000 people, many of them children to learn about Aboriginal culture and society.  "White kids as well as black.  And if there were green ones, I'd like them too ... I'm colour blind, you see.”

Kath Walker brought her people’s plight into the mainstream consciousness, and sought to lead her countrywomen and men to her dream of a country undivided, with all the parts fully integrated. A dream that continues to be sought as Aboriginal communities struggle for the right to educate their children “under their own tree” keeping both their culture, heritage and connection alive. 

Being successful in changing what needs to be changed, creating the life you want to have and connecting to others in ways that truly make a difference depends on you having the language to hear, see and feel not just your own reality, but also the reality of others.  Because without language to convey our message we know that you cannot connect with deep compassion to others across the gulf of misunderstanding and conflict. Through NLP training we can study and learn from people such as Kath Walker, who stand out as models because they have mastered the art and language of change, so we, too, can lead and serve our children, our families, our community and ourselves even more.

Make today your day,

Cheers Joanne


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Joanne Clark

Joanne Clark is an Internationally accredited Master Trainer of NLP who has been delivering NLP training since 2011.  Being on her feet in front of training rooms is where Jo loves to be and her passion for inclusive and immersive training that delivers outstanding learning outcomes is apparent to everyone in her training rooms.  On average Jo delivers 140 days of training per year in addition to online webinars, guest speaker events and group coaching. 

“NLP is at the core of all my training and coaching, it is at the core of who I am, how I interact and connect with people.  I am absolutely passionate about spreading the NLP tools across the planet as I endeavour to support Robert Dilts’s vision of Creating a world to which people want to belong.” Joanne Clark

Certified Master Trainer of NLP; Master Practitioner NLP, Hypnotherapy & Matrix Therapies; Performance Coach; Cert IV Coaching; Advanced Practitioner in Coaching; Cert IV in Business; BA(Hons); Majors in Sociology and Psychology; Parent Education Leadership Training (PELT) Certificate; Mother of four children; Private Pilot (PPL); Diploma in Life Coaching