Tapestries of Poison

(Towards Nurture Writing)


  • Ellen van Neerven


Cuz and I are talking about how our ancestors used poison to score a feed. I have questions about nyannum. How do you poison a fish and not be affected when you eat it? Wouldn’t it make you sick? Stun sometimes, not kill, Cuz says, and sometimes things are left to rise, to sit in the water for a while so that toxins are released. We both getting hungry, sitting by the water, talking about fish. Nyannum contains poison that only affects fish. Stunned in a small rock pool. Perfect for a grab bag. Nyannum leaves are heart-shaped and shiny. Fish also stunned in a trap. Our people are known for making beautiful traps. Our architecture is destroyed for other architecture. A light rail takes precedence over the ancient traps that have been there for thousands of years. Under neo-colonial rule, they can’t both co-exist. The ghosts surface in the new city. Is nature writing a white-settler literature? Perhaps you would think so if you browsed the genre. It is only recently we’ve seen First Nations names come up in discussions of the Australian canonistic spectrum of nature writing, environmental literature and ecopoetics. A few names, cherrypicked to be on reading lists and citations. This inclusion seems to be a tokenistic gesture rather than a recognition of sovereignty, or a reading and writing … and storytelling … and a knowing … that has always been present.