Saturday 28 November 2020

Kindred | Kirli Saunders #Poetry


2019 was the International Year of Indigenous Languages:
It is through language that we communicate with the world, define our identity, express our history and culture, learn, defend our human rights and participate in all aspects of society, to name but a few.

Through language, people preserve their community’s history, customs and traditions, memory, unique modes of thinking, meaning and expression. They also use it to construct their future. Language is pivotal in the areas of human rights protection, good governance, peace building, reconciliation, and sustainable development.

A person’s right to use his or her chosen language is a prerequisite for freedom of thought, opinion and expression, access to education and information, employment, building inclusive societies, and other values enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Many of us take it for granted that we can conduct our lives in our home languages without any constraints or prejudice. But this is not the case for everyone.

Part of the shameful role of colonial behaviour in Australia since 1788, is the conscious and unconscious effort to create a White Australia that only spoke English. This required new immigrants to forget their native language and assimilate by only speaking English, but more significantly, it completely denied Aboriginal Australians the dignity or right to speak their own languages. 

I grew up in an Australia that was almost empty of Aboriginal words.

Many rural towns and suburbs retained names derived from an Indigenous term to describe the local area and some of our plants and animals have a similar history. As a teenager, in particular, an Indigenous word would enter our language colloquially, but there was no systemic teaching, understanding or use of local languages.

Until recently.

Slowly, slowly, Indigenous languages are being revived, encouraged and celebrated. Dictionaries are being created, recordings are being made and Indigenous writers and artists are using their own words more often in their work.

Two of the poems in Saunders' collection, Kindred, caught my eye for this reason.

  • My Apologies (written on Dharawal Country with Dharawal translations informed by Aunty Jodi Edwards) finishes with a list of English words, followed by their Dharawal counterparts.
as I recite a monologue | of apology | on behalf of anyone | that has ever branded you | with a name that isn't yours

  • And Wirritjiribin: Lyrebird - The one who Remembers (written on Gundungurra Country with Gundungurra translations informed by Aunty Velma Mulcahy and Aunty Trish Levett) contains two stanzas that mirror each other. One is written in part English/part Gundungurra, the other is a full English translation.
arise wirritjiribin | tangara your truth

Saunders divides the book into three sections: Mother, Earth Child and Lover. Very delicately, she draws our attention to grief, loss and trauma new trees | old scars | there is trauma here

Nature and being on country is the healer. She reveals safe places, tender new growth and the journey back home. Home to country, home to culture, home to language.

  • Kirli Saunders is a proud Gunai woman, born on Gundungurra Country with ties to the Yuin, Biripi and Gadigal people.
  • Interview for Kindred in the National Indigenous Times 27th May 2019.
  • Saunders was made Gunai Woman NSW Aboriginal Woman of the Year 2020.
  • She developed Poetry in First Languages project for Red Room Poetry.
  • Inaugural winner Daisy Utemorrah Award 2019
  • Winner University of Canberra ATSI Poetry prize 2019
  • Shortlist ABIA Award Small Publishers' Adult Book of the Year 2020


  1. Excellent! I read this review after I wrote my comments...and you did as I suggested! Amazing....must be telepathic. A mixture of one or two it made you feel
    how it showed how differently we view the same world.

    1. I remember seeing a number of Jonathan's poetry posts (Me fail?) where he focused on just one of the poems in a collection and did a kind of deep dive on it. Trouble is when you have a collection that moved you with almost every single page and you want to feature them all!


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