Living on Stolen Land (Ambelin Kwaymullina, Magabala)
From the title alone to the direct and unabashedly confrontational language, Living on Stolen Land does not equivocate on its message, which is to reiterate the history of settler colonialism in Australia and the ensuing sociopolitical fallout that still affects Indigenous people. In prose poetry the narrative speaks of settler arrival as an ‘apocalypse’ and a ‘land grab’ over Country that was certainly never ceded, was never terra nullius. Deliberately provocative—‘You are living on stolen land/what can you do about it?’—there’s no doubting the passion of Living on Stolen Land. However, the argument occasionally becomes repetitive, as the references to frontier and structural violence allude to a history that readers might—or should—already be familiar with. Aimed at a general readership, Ambelin Kwaymullina’s words work better when they’re educating, especially in the second half of the book. For example, Kwaymullina reminds the reader how Indigenous kinship systems believe everything is connected and how, unlike the settler concept of linear time, for First Peoples it’s cyclical. The book ends on a hopeful note by considering what measures can be taken by settlers to help and build respectful relationships.
Thuy On is a freelance arts journalist and reviewer, and the books editor of the Big Issue