Thursday 2 January 2020

I Am the Road | Claire G Coleman #AWW

The Peter Porter Prize is a literary prize for a new poem run by the Australian Book Review. It's an annual prize, running since 2005. It's worth a total of $9,000. This year, the judges – John Hawke, Bronwyn Lea, and Philip Mead – have shortlisted five poems. The winner will be announced on 16th January. For anyone living in Melbourne, the award night is a free night where the shortlisted poets will present their poems to the audience in the led up the announcement.

The Longlist and Shortlist:
  • Lachlan Brown (NSW), 'Precision Signs' – Shortlisted
  • Claire G. Coleman (Vic.), 'That Wadjela Tongue' – Shortlisted
  • Diane Fahey (Vic.), 'The Yellow Room' – Longlisted
  • S.J. Finn (Vic.), 'A Morning Shot' – Longlisted
  • Ross Gillett (Vic.), 'South Coast Sonnets' – Shortlisted
  • A. Frances Johnson (Vic.), 'My Father's Thesaurus' – Shortlisted
  • Anthony Lawrence (QLD), 'Zoologistics' – Longlisted
  • Kathryn Lyster (NSW), 'Diana' – Longlisted
  • Julie Manning (QLD), 'Constellation of Bees' – Shortlisted
  • Greg McLaren (NSW), 'Autumn mediations' – Longlisted
  • Claire Potter (United Kingdom), 'Of Birds' Feet' – Longlisted
  • Gig Ryan (Vic.), 'Fortune's Favours' – Longlisted
  • Corey Wakeling (Japan), 'Drafts in Red' – Longlisted

All five shortlisted poems can be found here at the Australian Book Review.
I was particularly struck by Coleman's poem, That Wadjela Tongue, and I hope you take the time to duck over to read all five.
But for today, I will share one of Coleman's earlier poems.

I Am the Road | Claire G Coleman
              Highly commended for the 2018 Oodgeroo Noonuccal Poetry Prize.

My grandfather was the bush, the coast, salmon gums, hakeas, blue-grey banskias

Wind-whipped water, tea-black estuaries, sun on grey stone

My grandfather was born on Country, was buried on Country

His bones are Country

I am the road.

I was born off Country, in that city

I hear, less than two-weeks old I travelled Country

A bassinet on the back seat of the Kingswood

I remember travels more than I remember a home

I am the road.

My father is the beach, the peppermint tree, the city back when, before it was a city

My father is the ancient tall-tree country, between his father Country and that town

My father is World War II, his father was a soldier

My father wandered, worked on rail, drove trucks

I am the road

Campgrounds up and down that coast were the childhood home of my heart

Where my memories fled, where my happiness lived

Campgrounds in somebody else’s stolen country

I am the road

The road unrolls before me

My rusty old troopy wipes oily sweat from its underside on the asphalt

Says ‘I am here, I am here’

The engine breathes in, breathes out, pants faster than I can

Sings a wailing thundering song

Wraps its steel self around me and keeps me safe, a too large overcoat

I am the road

I slept, for a time, on the streets of Melbourne

No country, no home, as faceless as the pavement

I was dirt on the streets, as grey as the stone, as the concrete

I am the road

We showed explorers where the water was

They lay their road over our path, from water to water

Lay a highway over their road, tamed my country with their highway

I am the road

My Boodja has been stolen, raped, they dug it up, took some of it away

They killed our boorn, killed our yonga, our waitch, damar, kwoka

Put in wheat and sheep, no country for sheep my Boodja

My Country, most it is empty, the whitefellas have no use for it

Except to keep it from us

Because we want it back, need it back, because they can

I am the road.

People ask where I am from, I cannot, simply answer

To mob, I am Noongar, South Coast. I am Banksias, wind on waves on stone

To travellers, whitefella nomads, I am from where I live – that caravan over there

To whitefellas from Melbourne who see how I drink my coffee

I must be from Melbourne, I am not Melbourne

I am the road

One day wish to, hope to, dream, buy some of my grandfather’s country back

Pay the thieves for stolen goods

Theft is a crime, receiving stolen goods is a crime

Until one day

I am the road. 

Claire G. Coleman is a Wirlomin Noongar woman whose ancestral country is on the south coast of Western Australia. She has written two novels, Terra Nullius and The Old Lie.

Jennifer @Holds Upon Happiness posts a lovely Poem for a Thursday each week. I enjoy sourcing poems from my recent reads to join in with her whenever I can.


  1. I think of Coleman, and Kim Scott, when I'm down that way. Sandhills bound by accacia scrub - look up Fitzgerald River National Park - country that is really marginal for wheat farming, just getting by on coastal showers. I don't know the history of land rights in that area, but "My Country, most it is empty, the whitefellas have no use for it/Except to keep it from us" makes you think, doesn't it.
    Bill H.

    1. It certainly does. It was the line that caught my attention too.

    2. I hope you read That Wadjela Tongue too Bill, it was powerful -
      Words are weapons and those colonisers have disarmed me; they have stolen
      The language from my family; killed who still spoke it and
      Stilled the Country’s breath – that wants to pour
      From my tongue; They banned the speaking of language, made people
      Too scared to speak, frightened the breath from them. I cannot
      Speak the sacred words of country, I cannot speak to my love of
      My ancestors; the bones in the land, the land
      In my bones; in the language they understand.


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