Poets of Australia – 4: Kerry Reed-Gilbert

Reed-Gilbert was born in central NSW, Wiradjuri country, and became a prominent poet and Aboriginal rights activist. Her works were translated into multiple international languages including Korean, Bengali and Dutch. She won two awards for her poetry and prose and coordinated writing workshops both within Australia and overseas. The Reed-Gilbert poems explore contemporary politics, the European invasion and the themes of family, culture and land.

“Not our fault if some settlers kill the native born

with a shotgun placed between their eyes.

Shoot their families dead.

We wipe our hands of the mess we do

and look the other way.” 

Just Leave Your Mark Here, Kerry Reed-Gilbert 

This is a powerful poem which carries the story of Indigenous persecution to a level of new interpretation. Although short in length, the verses explore the mentality by which British “guberment men”  justified their actions, such as stealing the land of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait people “by one stroke of the mighty pen.” 

“Wiradjuri country,

Spirit of the earth.

Red dirt, dignity.

Truth and justice.

Lores of the land.” 

Wiradjuri Country, Kerry Reed-Gilbert 

One of my personal favourites, this poem describes a truly beautiful part of the Australian landscape. It is the land on which multiple Charles Sturt University campuses are found and is home to one of the most vibrant Aboriginal language programs. From it’s “eagles, angels, sunbursts” to it’s whispering wind, this country holds an invaluable treasure as a “pocket full of poetry” and as my home. 

“They say a person is only given

in one lifetime what they can endure

That the will to live and the spirit will get stronger” 

The Old Rugged Cross, Kerry Reed-Gilbert 

This poem is about burden and hardship, personal wounds and a broken spirit. It portrays a sharp sense of suffering that moves the reader to almost feel the “tears roll down… cascading like a roaring river”. The poem is brought to an abrupt end with a statement I feel we can all relate to; “I want the world to stop and let me off.” 

Kerry Reed-Gilbert passed away in 2019 but continues to touch hearts and souls through her inspiring literary works.