Shake, shake the mango tree

The themes which stirred this poem into existence include the highly Christianised context of people’s lives in Papua New Guinea (PNG), juxtaposing with the injustice, oppression and violence experienced by many women and girls in their family, work and sexual relationships. The poem reflects informal discussions I had with a number of women in PNG about the broader context of national politics crashing into the intimately personal world of childbirth. Women in PNG often experience a lack of most basic of services- at time of writing, women in the General Hospital in Port Moresby were commonly giving birth on the cement floor of the maternity ward due to a lack of beds.

The recurring chorus of the children’s song ‘Shake, shake the mango tree’ is borrowed from neighbouring Solomon Islands where I have lived and/or worked on and off for over two decades.

I offer this poem as an intimate reflection- celebrating, fearing and revelling in my privilege of living in PNG.


The computers don’t work

But the people smile

The sun is hot

Warm hymns beguile

The road is unsafe

But the paths are raked

The kids climb trees and

The mangos shake


Shake shake the mango tree

Golden mango look and see*


What do I see

I see a white women

In a land of brown

Enveloped by the past.

Smiling ‘you go first’

Crashes with ‘I’ll take that’

While all the while hoping

It’s taking a new shape.


Shake shake the mango tree

Golden mango look and see


The boys fill holes

And ask for cash

The girls say no

But which boy cares for that?

The cars look flash

But cement floors are cold

As another mummy goes down

and delivers baby number four


shake shake the mango tree

golden mango look and see


you tear me apart-breezy PNG

land of the unexpected

and ‘watching-on’ me

I live in the minute

But fear the next step

I relish the laughter

And hold my breath


Shake shake the mango tree

Golden handshake

You piss me.


Big Men, you pray,

you swear allegiance

But care for just you

No longer corrupt?

We changed the law Sir

Thieving the ground

From on which we stand

I am feeling it shake


Shake shake the mango tree

Golden mango look and weep


I hear a new song

Of  justice, of peace?

Maybe just pain

Can’t see healing yet

Traim sekim diwai tasol**.


*A popular song sung to children in Solomon Islands

**Last line literally ‘just try shaking the tree’ in PNG Tok Pisin

Photo credit: Kerry Howard (my beautiful sister)



They still play with toy cars

We are currently working on a research project to support the resilience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children who have to go to boarding school, as there is no secondary school in their remote community. The students are very young when they have to leave home.

Silver trimmed, gleaming red,
Spinning, spangled wheels,
Our young boy plays, while we plot for them,
To take our children away.

They “taught us to read, to write and pray
Then they took the children away”*
Some might pray less, but still we miss
Our kids when they go away.

Red land surrounds soothing camp smoke
Big barra on coals of our Country
Gran’ma gives thanks, farewells our boy,
Ping! WhatsAPP? Sis’s Insta Snaps in.

Yeah, the kids learn, but not always good things
When sent to another’s County.
Without the right Welcome, no spirit from home
How will their hearts grow strong?

Our young fella spins the toy car’s wheels,
In dust, twists historic lines,
Teach them how to really live?
Will the children come back?

Will the children come back?
Will the children come back?
Back to their mothers
Back to their fathers
Will the children come back?

*Archie Roach ‘Took The Children Away’ 1990 Charcoal Lane


picture credit:, Aboriginal culture – Sport, retrieved 29 November 2016


There you are upon the wall
Stacked atop each other
small, medium, large
sterile, nitrile, examined.

My mind, latex-free,
stretches back to the
Land of the Unexpected
upon a mat we sit.

You tell of drawing out new life
onto cold, unwelcome floors
baby three, baby four
is there room for more?

The beds are full,
no pain relief
on this shift, as before
no gloves.

There you are upon the wall
Stacked atop each other…

photo credit:

A night in Normanton

Dogs bark, guitars whine,
a whisky-inspired shout,
punctuates the footsteps
beyond a bristly fence.

The past bristles also
the ‘Dog House’ now defunct,
what human deprivation
were trackers forced witness?

‘It’s too late’, Hank Jnr sings,
tonight red dust alights
on both the just and unjust
will a new dawn break?

Moon-bathed Ancient Land,
cools my darkened night,
I lay aside my lament
and rest in Her grace.


photo credit:

Creating Futures

On your country

Saltwater healing

Embodied hope.


Culture ‘right way’

Resilience strong

New futures create.


For us (and Dingo*).
*Dingo was an allegory shared by Dr Marshall Watson during the opening plenary of Creating Futures 2015