Finding Maureen Watson.

It was 1986. I was at Edinburgh Fringe Festival performing my first play with Leigh Drama Centre. After my play finished I read poetry to very small audiences. Very. Small. Audiences. An aboriginal woman and her son sat and watched as I ranted raved and rhymed. Her name was Maureen Watson. Her son was tall and strong and with digeridoo. She waited until I had finished to catch me. “I have a poem just like the one you read” she said and showed me a printed copy of hers. I was nineteen. That is the one and only time we met. We sat outside and talked and she told me of her people and of what I was to become.

Since then life opened, unfolded and became what it is. But I’d never been able to find that woman even though I visited Australia a few times for work – her name escaped me. But on this visit and after conversations with Australia’s first people, over twenty years later, I found her. She is of Birri Gubba descent, and a recognised Elder in the south-east region of Queensland. A storyteller she was awarded both the Red Ochre and the Global Leadership prize in 1996. She died two years ago. Here she is. And that same poem is quoted in remembrance of her passing here. The first lines are

Black Is …
Black is my mother's loving arms
Black is my father's hair
Black is the deepest shades of night
That soften the white day's glare

And here are the first four lines of mine

Airmail To A Dictionary
Black is the pupil of the eye
Putting colour in the seas skin and earthen sky
Black is the oil of the engine
On which this whole world’s depending

So here we are digitized. Together again over twenty years later. Throughout life there are signals to “keep on keeping on” as Grace Nichols once said to me. Maureen Watson was a signal, a beacon, a burning fire on the hilltop. This refrain “Black Is…” I later discovered in other poets work. It is in a poem by The Last Poets whom I would come to know in a similar way as I did Maureen.

3 thoughts on “Finding Maureen Watson.

  1. I had the honor of nursing aunty maureen in the last few years of her life and had come to know a truely beautiful woman. At first she wouldnt have anything to do with me as i am a blonde haired blue eyed woman and she treated me with caution but after a while i saw that lovely smile of hers which melted my heart . Although she couldnt talk due to astroke she had we managed to conmunicate with each other quite well. The day before she died she called me close to her and took my hand in hers and said in a clear voice thank you. I was devasitated the next day when i went to work to be told that she had died during the night of a heart attack. It wasnt until a while later that i typed her name into my computer and found what a truely wonderful woman she was and how many people she had touched including me and i only regret no knowing her better. I often think of her and i am sure that she has helped me in my thoughts and dreams even after her death. I no longer work in nursing and only wish that i had met her 20 years earlier but i truely loved looking after her for the last few years of her life and only wish there were more people like her in this world. She is sadly missed by me and many others.

    • Yours is probably one of the most beautiful messages I’ve ever received on my blog. She said “Thankyou”. It makes me well up when I read it. I should say Thankyou too.

    • Thank you I say too. I’m her granddaughter who would pick her up and try take her home to live over and over. So thank you because I wasn’t there when my darling Gran left us. Thank you for remembering her both of you. So many people’s soul mate and Besty. She was mine since I was 2, with a presence as big and golden as Granny Mooks, she is always with us. Big love blessings and please feel free to keep in contact.

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