Dakota Feirer reflects on POEM FOREST 2021.

My name is Dakota and I only tell true stories.

My people are connected to the Clarence River region, that freshwater area encompassing part of south-western Bundjalung country and part of Gumbayngirr country. However, I have spent the majority of my life in Yuin country on the far south coast of NSW. Although I have strong ties to Yuin country, I still yearn for the place where my ancestors held custodial responsibility, as they still yearn for my return. She-oaked shores tells the story of the emotions and battles some of us may experience when spending prolonged amounts of time off-country.

Central to the story is the casuarina cunninghamiana, or river she-oak. I have always honoured these trees and found comfort within their presence. A prior unspoken affection, and a deep sense of safety on freshwater river bends. I have had many moments spent in conference with the wind, the trees and the old people at these places. This poem tells of one particular moment, of an experience I had whilst paddling up the Deua, upriver from a beautiful bend named Yarragee.

I was sung ashore into the company of a few old casuarinas. A displaced fresh-water Bundjalung-Gumbayngirr fella, fumbling around river bends looking for answers, and arriving at the feet of several towering she-oaks. I could feel them old grandmothers reaching out to me, but I couldn’t picture their faces, no matter how hard I tried. I laid down on the sandy earth that rolled in between each tree, softened by layers of the casuarina’s scale leaves. Overwhelmed by the magnificence and compelled to tears, I found myself healing. It was a time in my life where a realisation towards them old grandmothers as guardian overseers, became foundational to realising my own spiritual and cultural immaturity; and thereafter triggered a continued process of awakening, and connection to the authoritative matriarchs and their shapes as ancestors or as trees... Ahhh, the power of country.

I hope this poem, or this reflection rather, inspires people and resonates with the humbling process of deep listening. I hope it spurs on quests in self-discovery and incites questions of what might we gain in return, if we allow ourselves to pause and be judged on the course between beginning and end? How might we begin to re-dignify the human experience by honouring the mother (and all that is maternal)… again?