February 2022

The Living Dead

Dry strips of barren rock beaten by treacherous seas

high cliffs topped with sparse vegetation

No humans live in the spinifex

or fish the wild waters

wallaby, bandicoot, mouse exist alone.


Chief Protector came with wide and ponderous views

sent police ’round Carnarvon to Wyndham way.

With ever-pervading wisdom:

collect the ‘diseased pariahs’

isolate on Bernier and Dorre islands.


Were they really sick? Was their illness real?

History tells a tale, natives with no say;

chained by the neck in a boat

across the terror of the sea

to an unknown land.


You can live traditional, alfresco in the bush

You can hunt and fish, live your own way.

Our hospital, white doctor and nurses come

give you hope and sunshine,

make you whole again.


In this gaol no fella from my tribe

I can’t understand that man’s tongue, he is not my kin.

This is not my country, my ancestors are not here.

I cry, my grief is real

for my home is across the sea.


Wards are clean, view over dunes and grass

Doctor has wonder drug to cure your disease.

Those men that died yesterday

and the ones who passed last week:

they are no concern of yours.


That fella needs to go to his ancestors, you must send him home

His spirit cannot rest in this strange land.

I see so many die here, their graves are all around

I am frightened, I am scared –

Will I soon be one of the lost?


Kabbarli Bates comes to see – tombs of the living dead

Natives herded as animals, conditions unfit for humankind

Isolated and alone.

Families wait over the water

staring out to sea.


History tells the truth of men and women suffering here,

those who survived, found their way home,

many who died and were buried

far from ancestral lands.

All that is left … graves on barren islands.


Have we learnt from our past, found a better way,

where is the social justice now?


Vickie Walker

Vickie Walker writes short stories and poetry, many based on her love of Australia. She has been published in several anthologies including: A Nice Boy (2017 ed. David Vernon), Longing for Solitude (2016 ed. David Vernon), Mosaic (2018 Birdcatcher Books), Flourish (2015 Morrison Mentoring).

If you would like to republish this article, please contact the editor.