Manilamen: the ‘Outsiders’ within

A Broome pearling lugger

Bones lay buried forty fathoms deep,

oh, if only the turquoise ocean can speak!

The wizard wind carries lonesome melodies

echoing memories of the past hundred years —

of schooners, luggers, pearl shells,

and waves of settlers called Manilamen,

washed ashore in the Torres Straits and Broome,

their descendants and offsprings

of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders

and new arrivals on their trail

sing songs that graft new tunes into old,

the ancient song lines, their tracks on rocks and soils

of mixed identities fused,

the red grainy soil stirs up old memories

that honour forebears who dived

into the depths of the continent’s soul

with black women who took the lead,

embracing mixed traditions,

and their gaze never quite turned away

from their roots, the distant islands of a dreamtime

from where once their ancestors sailed away.


Photo (pearling lugger): Tom McDonough, c1930, Broome;  Peta Stephenson (2007) The Outsiders Within: Telling Australia’s Indigenous-Asian Story.

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