As an ally and supporter of Charles’ PhD (aka ‘Supervisor’), I was requested to prepare a small creative contribution to celebrate his PhD journey. I turned to the Australian genre of the bush ballad popular in the late 1800s. These ballads would regale with stories of colourful characters in the bush setting about life on the frontier, hardship, and relations between White settler and Indigenous Australians. When the Spencers (my kinfolk) gather from the rural parts of Queensland and NSW, it is not unusual—in the traditional fashion for ballads to be composed and read by men—for an old fella or young lad to recite a bush ballad.
The archetypal bush ballad framed a particular Australian identity in the collective imagination. But critiques levelled at this distinctive Aussie genre, suggest that bush ballads contributed to the process of Aboriginal dispossession. In acknowledgement of this, I purposely re-appropriate the bush ballad tradition, as a small act of resistance. I—being a woman—write and perform an ode to Charles in the simple rhythmic genre of the bush ballad; I intentionally centre dispossession at the heart of this bush ballad, tracing his decolonial PhD research journey.
In Tok Pisin: The graun insait long holim pas long wantok Charles
In English: The world according to Charles
Charles, he’s a fella from Buntine
a country lad, with an activist dream
he viewed the intelligentsia
as highfalutin academia
But in the ivory towers
we saw sprouting eager passion
for decolonial inquiry, ‘bout relationships of power
ideas were explored, accumulation by dispossession!
Now it’s fair to say, well this Charles,
he’s a cracking wheatbelt Marxist!
in his quest for mining justice
befell a nascent socialist
Fighting corp’rate greed-n-wealth
for activist Charles, a burgeoning
rabbit warren, to explore himself!
eudaimonia, wellbeing, and human flourishing
Then the inquisitive Charles
he sought new ontological possibilities
buen vivir, sumaq kawsay and
gutpla sinduan opportunities
The folk along the Watut River
they await the mine of Wafi-Golpu
development and all its glitter
they ask, “what we expect from Wafi-Golpu?”
Sharing kai-kai and stori, Charles
learnt of all things gutpla sinduan
environ, tradition and religion
mining does not feature in this yarn
Thus, a study with a method that was wholly reverent
of their stori’s of connection, to environment and place
yarning might serve well—listening with respect, hearing with intent
but yarning is Indigenous, from another race
What this lad needed, was to seek and he shall find
a Melanesian tok stori, method of exchange
relationality and mutuality
could this be the cultural interchange?
Resting by the Watut, one balmy afternoon
with a group of Strongpla Meri, they gave to Charles wise counsel
‘you boy should take a tok stori/tok ples approach’
you tell our stori to the mine—experiential and existential
This fella from the northern wheatbelt, activist cum scholar
he has travelled with the Watut folk as they face the mining magnates
they seek, intentional—not immanent—developmental outcomes!
his research, rendered in tok pisin, is shared along the river hamlets
Communities who were ill-informed and ill-prepared
to understand that mining never cared
might they ever thrive alongside mining actions?
for Charles, a ‘plural mining ethic’, is what he sanctions
his research journey is a stori of unequal mining outcomes
a quest for local justice, is for what the Watut welcomes!