Poetic Justice

Poets have long expressed art through verse to accentuate discontent, shame and hope. Words coalesce to pen an artists purpose. From this expressive practice of social justice, lyrics have the potential to call us to action.

Take the life of Judith Wright,  a poet, environmentalist, social activist, and a formidable force in progressing Australian conservation and Aboriginal land rights. Her daughter, Meredith McKinney said of her mother’s conservation polemic;  “In the beginning it was just really because she could see the destruction happening to the natural habitat, she could see it was happening everywhere and nobody seemed to be doing anything. She said, ‘This can’t go on.’” Meredith lamented that Judith realized many people shared the same feelings yet there was no action because nobody knew what to do. 

Many accounts of Judith’s life point to her natural inclination to retreat. Against these odds, and out of a belief of pure necessity, Judith became a persuasive catalyst for change. Judith exemplifies the “creative ethical and ecological dialogue” discussed in the Conservation Biology paper “Promoting predators and compassionate conservation”, Wallach, Bekoff & others (2015). Her poetic legacy, calls those who are willing to listen, to continue to act for the protection of our natural habitat. 

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‘Sounds for Social Justice’ can be heard in Judith’s poem as she laments on the sacred life of lyrebirds in her respect for conservation. 

Lyrebirds – Poem by Judith Wright

Over the west side of the mountain,
that’s lyrebird country.
I could go down there, they say, in the early morning,
and I’d see them, I’d hear them.

Ten years, and I have never gone.
I’ll never go.
I’ll never see the lyrebirds –
the few, the shy, the fabulous,
the dying poets.

I should see them, if I lay there in the dew:
first a single movement
like a waterdrop falling, then stillness,
then a brown head, brown eyes,
a splendid bird, bearing
like a crest the symbol of his art,
the high symmetrical shape of the perfect lyre.
I should hear that master practising his art.

No, I have never gone.
Some things ought to be left secret, alone;
some things – birds like walking fables –
ought to inhabit nowhere but the reverence of the heart.


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  1. qc16

    wow another amazing post, and with the use of visual art/ photography. Images can speak allot of words, and can reach people in ways words cannot. They can take you away to another place, and through imagery can take you into a moment in time, the lines on someones face and how that may convey hardship, pain or joy. The use of colour also sets the tone, creating a mood and message. I really love art, your posts have opened my mind to creative expressions in raising social justice issues. It can be a healing medium and can reach a wide audience.

  2. Fiona

    Thanks Cindy! I appreciate your time in sharing.
    The “Gurindji Strike” is proof that social justice prevails through the spirit of the people even in the face of powerful adversity.
    Such a shame this phenomenal song has been abused in its use for ‘Industry Super Funds’ advertising – this is where my kids & many others have become most familiar with it, what an ironic twist!!
    What a privilege it is to pass on the true history/origins of those events that shape our nation, that we get to be proud of. Fee VN

  3. Cindy

    Hi Fiona, am impressed with your article on written voice and its ability to increase and inform the general public of the injustices of today. Song as an agent for social change is a powerful force. Exampled that we often forget in Australian History include; From Little Things Big Things Grow – by Paul Kelly and Kev Carmody
    An Indigenous rights poem/song, It is based on the story of the “Gurindji Strike”, a strike by 200plus Gurindji stockmen, servants and their families in August 1966 at Wave Hill cattle station in Kalkarindji, Northern Territory. The strike took place mainly due to work and living conditions but ultimately became about the return of Gurindji peoples’ land. The words of this song are amazing….


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