Poetry Sydney is an independent literary organisation committed to a presence for poetry in our culture.

Bronwyn Eather launches: I am magpie

Bronwyn Eather launches: I am magpie, a short lyric novel of historical fiction published in a series of audio-podcasts.

Poetry Sydney and Bronwyn Eather would like to invite you to join the digital event launch of I am magpie.  Simply view the live broadcast and stream the live event with Poetry Sydney on this page.

Welcome to Country delivered by Uncle Greg Simms, with a launch address by Professor Jakelin Troy.  Poetry performance by Bronwyn Eather, and an in-conversation with Angela Stretch, Creative Director, Poetry Sydney.

Poetry Sydney partners with Sydney Underground Streaming Sessions (SUSS) to present the first live digital event.

Please join us HERE online on Sunday 18 July 2021
3.00pm – 4.00pm AEST

The orated collection reimagines the first three years of colonisation through the eyes of a young widow Eliza Collins née Swift, who is a student of the enlightenment and a mystical dreamer.

The story draws on Bronwyn’s love of songwriting and poetry to construct stanzas of dreams, imaginings and endeavour. Written with three major threads using first-person narration and the Yura (Eora) language, we listen and watch as Eliza takes centre stage. We become her audience.

“I love the taste of words and how they roll and flow from mind to mouth into the world.” Bronwyn Eather

I am magpie podcasts are released semi-weekly, as 20 episodes over 10 weeks. Each episode is a selection of chapters from the audio-book and can be accessed on the author’s website or from any podcasting app. The spoken word is set to music and soundscape composed by the artist. The book includes a glossary of Yura words used in the story.

XXX. Water-worn stones (Episode 7)

I fall into the notebooks. Reading every page. I will absorb his method. His way of
recording. Before I begin my copy. His words. The key to my redemption. They will
renew my spirit, fill my dreams with richer, bolder, brighter colour and intent.

There is no order. Nothing is clear on this palest of blue paper. There are names and
dates and scrawling in his hand. Yes. His symbols are mostly clear to me. The pages
are divided in half with a vertical fold. Is there method in these notebooks?

These words are upside down. These are sideways on the border. These are creeping
along the inner margin, fighting for space with the fastenings. I must read them. I
must write them. Again. I must say them aloud. Again and again.

I go to my trunk to retrieve paper. There, the parcel. Paper and string. Mud and blood.
Unopened. I see also my journal of the sea voyage. Untouched. Unread. I breathe in.
Out. And bend. I take it out and place it with the parcel on the table.

I undo the string and fold back the stiff wrapping. I lean in to smell the paper. Past.
Future. I finger Thomas’s bound notebooks. Thick covers of water-worn stones. His
wound bundle of pens. His bottles of blue ink. Thomas. I abandoned you.

I take out his sheets of thick paper. One by one I fold and fold and fold them over
again. Carefully I tear each page into segments. I pile them up. Many dozens of cards.
Calling cards. All blank. Spilling across the table. Falling onto the floor.

LXXIII.  Forged in love and desire  (Episode 19)

Sometimes we feast on oysters. Gathered. Chipped from rocks. Themselves like rocks.
This precious flesh. Roasted on coals. They open, steaming. Plump and sweet. We sip.
We sup. We laugh. We sing. We sing the oyster song. 

Ngaya ngáranawínya. Wínima márraga yánmabawu ngárabawínya
Ngáliya yánmangun márraga. Ngáliya márraga djiyádimangún
Guwágu márraga baráyamawu ngyíniwaguláng.

*

I can hear you. I would come to understand you.
We could walk and talk and I would sing for you.

*

Some nights on the point we sit, when the moonlight is just so. On the water below
like glittering constellations, all the canoes float with their cooking fires burning.

They tell me of wugan, who covets fire, chases and charms it from the women, then
flies high, out of reach, perched alone, a sentinel. Wugan, high in an old dead tree.

A strong wind blows in from the south and the coals flare, burning to black the
feathers of wugan. Flying ever higher until he reaches the great emu, múrawung.

In the darkness of the sky his feathers burst into flame and he can fly no further.
There he stays, cleansed by the storm, next to emu, as the second brightest star.

When his lover visits, in all her majesty, she shares her fire with him. They perch, high
on an ever-upward-growing tree, reaching from the earth to beyond the stars.

He shares with her his prescient knowledge of many lifetimes. They cast their spells.
She warms him with her desire. She holds her fire. Then she leaves.

The raven’s black coals tumble and fall to the earth. To our land. Thereupon we find
charcoal of the highest quality. Pure and everlasting. Forged in desire.

*

XXIII.  I find my grace again  (Episode 6)

The sounds are shifting. Tremors. Almost imperceptible. My scraping and
scratching is bringing something through. Coiling. Through from mystery.

The women. I think they have a name for me.

They call dja rra wu nang.
They laugh and call my name.
Gu-waa-dal luu-dal laa-dal waa-dal duu-dal

Ngyi ni dja rra wu nang
They sing my name
Ngyini djárrawunang

Ah! I am magpie.
Ngaya djárrawunang
I am magpie!

We laugh. We call. We are magpies all.
Gu-waa-dal luu-dal laa-dal waa-dal duu-dal
Gu-waa-dal luu-dal laa-dal waa-dal duu-dal

Then the man of stars is standing behind me. He asks if we can speak.
I would kiss your sleeping lips … my magpie silently sings a dreamer’s musing.

‘Duty calls me away more often during the days,’ he begins, ‘and I am concerned
that my language notes may become lost or damaged.’

I blink into his earnest face. There is something in his eyes. Sparks of defiance.

‘Could you do me the great favour of taking each of my notebooks and making fair
copies. I would supply fresh books and ink, whatever you might need.’

‘That would be an honour and my pleasure,’ I flush. ‘I already have paper and ink.’
‘Very well. I thank you. I will bring the notebooks for you to make a start.’

Aah. Your warm body folded against mine.

My heart softens and lifts. Thank you! How I thank you. Thank you, kind and
clever star man. I find my grace again. Green tendrils of envy surrender and retreat.

I.   I take your little hand  (Episode 6)

I find my place in high castle towers, shrouded in star dust.
I roll and fold in giant nests lined deep and soft with silvern spider silk.
I race the wind on a white stallion, my hands gripping his mane,
his legs galloping in luminous air, his feathered wings whispering in flight.
I dive deep into pools of glittering liquid stars, bursting around me,
I twist and tumble, frolic and gambol as a mermaid in the waves.

I take your little hand
and lead you
through the forest
to a cave of tangled fireflies
twinkling in the dark

I take you to the mountain top
we sit and gaze at lightning
dancing for us across the sky.
I take you where
no child has gone before.

And at the end
I turn my hand,
palm open to the stars and
project the journey’s shape
across the sky.

Lines. Tracks of light.
Tracks of my love.
A flower. A star.
A scorpion. A centaur.
A wolf. A bear. A bird.

Every night a shape
from point to point.
A multitude of maps.
My painted journeys
strewn across the sky.

These are my lines of flight.

Dr Bronwyn Eather is a linguist, writer and musician. She was drawn to linguistics early in her education. An adventurous spirit took her from Tasmania to Canberra and then to Arnhem Land for a decade, where she conducted pioneering field research on unrecorded indigenous languages. After careers in academia and commercial language technology in Sydney, Bronwyn combined her love of language, music and performance to begin writing songs and poetry. She released an EP in 2015, then albums in 2017 and 2020. Bronwyn then turned her attention to writing this lyric novel, I am magpie. She composed instrumental pieces for each chapter, then recorded the music and narrative to create this podcast series.

Introducing Uncle Greg Simms, who will deliver a Welcome to Country.

My name is Greg Simms. Everyone knows me as Uncle Greg. We don’t own the land. The land owns us. We come from mother earth. We are of the land. I am one of the Aboriginal elders of Western Sydney, and also one of the Aboriginal elders on the Advisory Committee of the University of Western Sydney. It’s an honour to be an elder. To share all the wisdom and the knowledge that the old people taught me many years ago on the eastern shores of Botany Bay at La Perouse, where I grew up, a place I classify as my university campus and my playpen.

The old people taught me to always show respect, to acknowledge elders, never be greedy and always share. Today I live that life. The old people said to me, take these values and stories into the next generation and share. We can’t add to or take anything out of these values and stories. 

My mob are the Gadigal tribe of the Dharug nation based in Sydney. I also belong to the Gundungarra nation in the Blue Mountains, where I belong to the water dragon people, my grandmother’s country. On the south coast, my mum and my great-grandmother, are of the Yuin nation, the black duck and beach plover. I belong to the Burabung tribe around Bateman’s Bay and Ulladulla.

Every time we take a next step, remember the ones that walked this sacred land before us. This is Aboriginal land. Always was. Always will be.

Professor Jakelin Troy is the Director of Indigenous Research, University of Sydney and the Editor in Chief, ‘ab-Original: Journal of Indigenous Studies and First Nations First Peoples’ Cultures’, Penn State Press. She is also a Life Member of Foundation for Endangered Languages. Her research interests are currently focused on documenting, describing and reviving Indigenous languages.

‘I have a new focus on the Indigenous languages of Pakistan, including Saraiki of the Punjab and Torwali of Swat. I have two Australian Research Council Discovery Projects one with Prof John Maynard on the history of Aboriginal missions and reserves in eastern Australia and the history of Aboriginal people who were not institutionalised. The other DP is about the practise of ‘corroboree’ by Aboriginal people in the ‘assimilation period’ of the mid C20 in Australia. I am interested in the use of Indigenous research methodologies and community engaged research practises.  I am Aboriginal Australian and my community is Ngarigu of the Snowy Mountains in south eastern Australia.’

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