Footnotes on a timeline – Ellen Van Neerven – Commentary

Footnotes on a timeline

Burnt in blue to circumnavigate the strange land of
evanescence, the blue line they call time moving all forward,
blueing the blackfellas they dared call savage –
you can’t steal from savages. There was infinite wealth to steal.
Do you understand what it means to be a beneficiary of
colonisation? Can we creep through the timeline and draw
against the ancient-modern binary?

I can point on one side of the wave to my ancestors’ story,
I trace it through. They thought they cleaned it up but they
built the shallowest grave. They sold their soul for gold and
coal and oil and we line our stomachs with water, it will
be our armour, we are the people that can live inside our
dreaming, live inside the sea, live inside a turtle’s heartbeat,
live inside the sun on the sand, warm this country for
centuries because we are the real entities.

Don’t turn a blind eye, please, all we need for you to see is
that climate is our only bank. If we don’t have healthy water,
air, earth, we got nothing. So where does your money go,
where does your time go? My time and your time are on this

There’s time for us to read out all of the footnotes, go over
the fine print. They burnt records of us in fires, they stole
the evidence of our survival. But check my blood, I’m from
here. This country is a haunted house, governments still
 playing cat chasing marsupial mouse. How many lies on
your timeline? Have you ever felt like you’re just killing
time? We’re still smoking sores. Let’s carbon date it, baby.
We have time to read out all the footnotes of a timeline in
Reckitt’s blue .

Ellen Van Neerven (1980 – ) from her book ‘Throat’

Ellen van Neerven is an Aboriginal Australian author, educator and editor. The timeline refers to the colonisation of Australia in the eighteenth century.

Reckitt’s Blue was a product used in hand washing as a whitener, to help delay the yellowing effect you can get when cotton gets older.

It is also an ekphrastic poem as there is a painting of the same name. See this link … Wall Composition in Reckitt’s Blue (detail) 2017 – The Drawing Room – ABC Radio National.

The poem is based on the colour blue and the product ‘Reckitt’s Blue’ in reference to the clash of cultures and the destruction occurred by the white invasion of the country. And as you can see Reckitt’s Blue was an appropriate product in connection with the whitening of Australia that took place against the indigenous culture.

The title is very apt as Aboriginal peoples associate so strongly with the land. Bare foot walking gives a sense of home. These notes is the vein of a poem come straight from the heart of Aboriginality.

Looking at each stanza –

S1 … Well, it is all to do with the ancient-modern binary; the coming together of two very different peoples due to the journeys across the blue. And in a different understanding of blue, the blueing of the blackfellas. And the infinite wealth to steal is not the wealth from mining exploration. And we have the reference to the Reckitt’s Blue painting with that verb draw. And this is the big question – what are the benefits of colonisation?

S2 … The painting has a wave of blue and this is used to portray two different sides of the story. The selling of the land for what it contained; gold, coal and oil within the shallowest of graves. Implying a loss of Aboriginal life. Against this that which is impossible to steal articulated using Aboriginal culture such as the living inside the dreaming. And the deep association with the land and nature with that metaphoric statement to live inside a turtle’s heartbeat.

S3 … A telling statement on the environment for we are all on the same timeline – my time and your time are on this timeline. Care of environment is paramount to survival.

S4 … Here the timeline of the colonisation years is shrouded in the lies of non-recognition of what happened in those years of destruction; the stealing of the evidence of survival. Often a timeline is a continual statement across time denoting a whole list of events. This might not be a true representation from a white interpretation; but the poem ends providing that marvelous metaphoric footnote in terms of Reckitt’s Blue.

It seems appropriate to include this poem as last week was NAIDOC (National Aborigine and Islanders Day Observance Committee) week which is always the first full week in July.

And here is a link to a poem from Oodgeroo Noonuccal famous for promoting acceptance many years ago – We are going – Oodgeroo Noonuccal (Kath Walker) Comments | my word in your ear– with similar sentiments on the nature of the impact of  colonisation on the indigenous peoples of Australia.

And Ellen Van Neerven on WordPress – Ellen van Neerven | Mununjali author (

On Wikipedia … Ellen van Neerven – Wikipedia

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