Into the Royal Bush
Balga grass trees greet me
in a row, in their royal black suits,
their heads saluting, donning crowns
of imperial strands, saying Kaya,
Hello in Noongar.
Wandju, the wetlands welcome
my Borneoan feet into their kingdom
of bulrushes and banksias. The sun
sends glorious hugs, warmer than
my body’s temperature.
lit up in yellow green smiles, standing upright
and sometimes shy, hiding behind
their leafy dresses. Their relative, Bull banksia
caress my vision with their curled leaves
and big eyes, cones opening
My steps, drawn deeper into the bush
unaware of snakes, towering red river gum trees
assure me I am safe. Their smooth, sovereign arms
peel fear off the air. Paperbark chimes in,
pushes away layers of doubts, underneath
our skins. We are kin for a moment.
Christmas trees nod with orange
ornament flowers, cheering me on.
Christmas spirit is everywhere
on and off the trails, with jingles
of chirps from fantails, merrier
My rainforest soul rests
at Bibra Lake, my humidity absorbed
by the lone white egret swooping
above the black swans bowing in unison
to the regal waters, humility abounds. My body bends
and rises too. I am no longer
My “Narma Kullarck” Experience
My days as a Poet-Artist in Residence at the Wetlands Centre Cockburn
By Angelina Bong
The Birak sun was exceptionally hot that week, extending hugs to my Borneoan soul that had just caught a cold from going Christmas swimming in the sea. I have been to Perth a few times before but this was my first poetry-art residency in the city. The offer was a pleasant surprise. I accepted it like a kid, excited and giddy, all ready for an adventure, coughing away. No, it was not Covid!
Bull Banksia beamed at me with its yellow and orange flowers, as I reached the centre’s façade. I was ushered into a room of visiting nature enthusiasts who were gathered on a picnic spread. We chatted over sticks of veggies, tea, and crackers while I waited for the resident poet whom I had been in correspondence with. It was a welcome warmer than coffee.
Soon, a bubbly lady in a vibrant dress came my way. Laksh! Tucked underneath her umbrella (a fine protection against the sun), she introduced me to the walking trails. Balga or the native grass trees were lined up in a row. I felt like a visiting princess on a red carpet. No heels, just sandals. We bonded over our love for nature, me a budding explorer, encountering a different environment for the very first time.
The next day, I decided to take a solo walk into the bush. This time, I had my sneakers on. Awestruck by the beauty of plants and trees native to Western Australia, my curiosity led me to stare with no inhibitions. Peeling paperbark trees and rustling bulrushes fascinated me so much that I just wanted to sit and paint. I gawked instead at the cobwebs and bird droppings making home in the nooks of the bird hide. At the patterns and designs occurring casually in nature. The heat was barbecuing me after three hours of walking in the summer sun, so I opted to walk back and have lunch at the cool confines of the Centre instead.
My days were also quickly filled with poetry get-togethers. Lovely Perth poets came to visit. And there were conversations galore over quiche, fruit cakes, salad, coffee, masala tea and homemade goodies. Chatting about poetry propelled me to write more. I found my sweet spot, on a bench overlooking a pond, where the ducks would come and paddle. Dragonflies and magpies were frequent visitors too.
Over the last two days of my residency, we delved into haiku and haiga. I connected with two budding poets over a virtual haiku jam and workshop. Their enthusiasm enthralled me. The very next day and the last day of my residency, I facilitated a Haiku & Haiga workshop for participants. My cough had miraculously lessened by that morning and I felt blessed and cured by nature.
During the workshop, we took a stroll through close by bushland, observing flora with new eyes, and spotting colours, shapes and fresh perspectives. We had a range of participants—A few of them were first-timers who hadn’t tried their hand at haiku before; few others had never drawn anything in their entire lives; there were some who had never been to the Wetlands before; While others were haiku experts with in-depth knowledge of the wetland flora and fauna. I was a learner too, absorbing information and taking in inspiration.
The gathering echoed the spirit of one of the boardwalks, “Narma Kullarck”, which means ‘family place”. We were a family of haijin, each one from a different background, knowledge and belief system, everyone gathered here to learn and create together. The residency was more than just a space. I felt at home, with all the critters I did see and the microbats and snake-necked turtles that I have yet to see.
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