Read at the Sydney Opera House, Australia Day 2011.
We killed them all when we came here.
The people came and burned their land
The forests where they used to feed
We burned the trees that gave them shade
And burned to bush, to scrub, to heath
We made it easier to hunt.
We changed the land, and they were gone.
Today our beasts and dreams are small
As species fall to time and us
But back before the black folk came
Before the white folk’s fleet arrived
Before we built our cities here
Before the casual genocide,
This was the land where nightmares loped
And hopped and ran and crawled and slid.
And then we did the things we did,
And thus we died the things we died.
We have not seen Diprotodon
A wombat bigger than a room
Or run from Dromornithidae
Gigantic demon ducks of doom
All motor legs and ripping beaks
A flock of geese from hell’s dark maw
We’ve lost carnivorous kangaroo
A bouncy furrier T Rex
And Thylacoleo Carnifex
the dropbear fantasy made flesh.
Quinkana, the land crocodile
Five metres long and fast as fright
Wonambi, the enormous snake
Who waited by the water-holes
and took the ones who came to drink
who were not watchful, clever, bright.
Our Thylacines were tiger-wolves
until we drove them off the map
Then Megalania: seven meters
of venomous enormous lizard...
and more, and more. The ones whose bones
we’ve never seen. The megafauna haunt our dreams.
This was their land before mankind
Just fifty thousand years ago.
Time is a beast that eats and eats
gives nothing back but ash and bones
And one day someone else will come
to excavate a heap of stones
And wonder, What were people like?
Their teeth weren’t sharp. Their feet were slow.
They walked Australia long ago
before Time took them into tales
We’re transients. The land remains.
Until its outlines wash away.
While night falls down like dropbears don’t
to swallow up Australia Day.