It is interesting to read Brenda Saunders' Inland Sea in the poetic landscape that created a new generation of female Aboriginal poets such as Evelyn Araluen, Jazz Money, Ellen van Neerven, Natalie Harkin, Jeanine Leane, Alison Whitaker and others.
Saunders is much closer to the work of Oodgeroo Noonuccal (1920-1993) where the tradition began.
Araluen and her companions tend to be consciously postcolonial and intertextual; more angry too.
Saunders is quieter, more descriptive and content to make her points through details of degraded landscapes and cultural losses.
Saunders, part of the large Wiradjuri nation, has also travelled widely around Australia (partly through her interest in birding).
She has looked for bush tucker with a variety of aunties.
Her knowledge of Australia's difficult history is substantial. Though hardly an apologist, she is prepared, nevertheless, to acknowledge also her "British heritage" on the back cover.
The result is a restrained collection of four parts, covering different aspects of Aboriginal history and experience.
The first is the ironically titled "Dead Centre". Its key poem is "Inland Sea". Of course, that "sea" was an obsession of successive colonial "explorers".
In fact, as Saunders implies, it had once existed - but the expeditioners, with their ludicrous boats, were just a few hundred million years too late getting there.
She goes on to make a telling play between Sturt's journal and the imagined views of the Aboriginal people who lived en route and, unsuccessfully, tried to help them.
"At the Dead Heart", wrote Sturt, "... a blood red sea, the gibber lay before us, weirdly horribly solemn, a sea over which the ghosts of ships and men might revel for eternity."
The book's second and third sections, "Dry Run" and "Right Season" are mainly concerned with the paradoxically prolific flora and fauna of the actual, rather than the heroic, "Dead Centre".
The final section, "Dark Harvest", examines Australia's shared history more directly.
The most subtle poem here is probably "Figures in a Landscape", based on a Charles Conder painting of 1888.
It features two speakers - Conder himself and an Aboriginal narrator who is watching, rather than painting, a group of (white) ladies about to be caught in a storm: "I smell rain on the changing air, salt fresh / it blows in from Dharawal Land, drives / wind over water, the party soon lost / from view in the wind and spray."
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