The Elder

The Elder by Patsy Jackson, Banyo, Queensland

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An Aboriginal elder with a white beard

I gazed into the depths of his dark brown eyes
And wondered what secret within them lies
I wished I had the knowledge they hold
But I couldn't ask, I'm not so bold.

Could he tell me how the sea birds know
There is water inland and its in full flow
Winding its way to Lake Eyre
And a myriad of birds lay their eggs there.

He can find food and water in the arid land
I look and all I see is brown dry sand
He knows the language of many tribes
And knows where the sand goanna hides.

The undergrowth is fired at a certain time
So the grasses next year will be prime
The seeds are crushed to make flour
Damper is made to eat at the evening hour.

The young like the music of the drum and the guitar
They think it is much better by far
But the Elders still prefer the didgeridoo
That fills the desert with sounds all through.

He is proud of the tribes people, who paint
Stories of the Dreamtime in lines and dots.
The stories that have been told by Elders
At night, by the glow of the fires' embers.

He knows that tribal living must move on
The kids must get an education
Literacy and technology has to be taught
Along with dance, art, music and sport.

The kids must cross that great divide
Tell the world the Indigenous race is alive.
With education a message will send
That this is the beginning—not the end. [1]

Explore the poem

  • Why wouldn’t the author dare asking the Elder (first verse)? What does this say about Aboriginal protocol?
  • What does the line “I look and all I see is brown dry sand” tell you about the new generation of Aboriginal people?
  • What is the “great divide”? How could it be overcome?


View article sources (1)

[1] 'The Elder', Koori Mail 497 p.23

Cite this article

An appropriate citation for this document is:,
Aboriginal culture - Arts - The Elder, retrieved 12 December 2018