Black Velvet and Precious Pearls


There’s a history of silence full of secrets and of lies
and there’s few left now to tell it and long gone the alibis.
No need to keep the secret now, time’s negated the surprise.
It’s an ancient story- one that’s burned by flames.
There were many who were stolen and who spent their lives as slaves
forced to work the pearling luggers, forced to dive beneath the waves
in the search of the wild oysters. Many found a watery grave.
Simple innocent young black girls who died shamed.

There were none who knew who took them, they were spirited away
from the beaches where young children came to fish and hunt and play
and their families mourned for them, tore their hair as was their way.
For they knew those stolen had been easy prey.
There was market for black velvet back in those old pearling days
and the girls were soon indoctrinated into white man’s ways-
cowed by cruelty and vice and dying from a slow malaise.
Forced to pander to men’s lusts at work and play.

There was retribution called for. Tropical Cyclone Mahina
came ashore to cleanse bad spirits and make the black taint cleaner.
Helped to abrogate the pain and negate the misdemeanour
as her surge swept clean the sands of Bathurst Beach.
There are still a billion lights above in the indigo sky
and the sight will leave you breathless as its beauty you espy
but the history will touch your heart. Listen you’ll hear their cry
on the breeze, as if they still try to impeach.

Their hopes and dreams have faded like the wattle blossoms bloom.
and the shores of Bathurst Bay rest somnolent beneath the moon,
scarce acknowledging the ones who rest deep in their watery tomb.
And this innocence is part of the mystique.
There are still those silvery sands that bracelet turquoise Bathurst Bay;
beaches clear of any footprints, save of gulls, now flown away.
The sand dunes wait, pristine and white. Spinifex grass dip and sway
pushed aside by wraiths, who still their clansmen seek.

© Maureen Clifford, 2015 (poem and photo)

Author’s Note

In Australia on the 4th March 1899 Cyclone Mahina hit Bathurst Bay and the surrounding area with a massive storm surge, which killed over 400 people – most of them Aborigines.  The storm surge was reported to be 48 foot high and swept inland for 5 kilometres.  Thousands of fish, shark and dolphins were found several kilometres inland. The settlement was abandoned after this and today there is a memorial at Cape Melville naming 11 Europeans but only citing over 300 coloured men.