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Quandamooka Country. Courtesy Ellen van Neerven 2022.

Blak Beauty, Blak Ocean

Ellen van Neerven


An influential writer who has been important to my work and the work of many others is Dr Romaine Moreton. Romaine is from the Goernpil people of Tjerangeri/Stradbroke Island of southeast Queensland and the Bundjalung people of northern New South Wales. Romaine grew up in a farming family who moved to the South Coast town of Bodalla on Yuin Country in south coast New South Wales.


A writer of poetry, prose and film, Romaine’s words come alive on the page and on stage with rare quality that most do not reach. Her spoken word performance style is smooth and distinct, offering a lasting connection of music and story.


With the poem “Blak Beauty,” Dr Romaine Moreton demonstrates her power as one of our most important Sea Country poets. “Blak Beauty” first appeared in her collection Post Me to the Prime Minister (2004) published by Jukurrpa Books/IAD Press – an Indigenous-owned press, founded in the 1970s in Mparntwe. Along with seminal works by the beloved Lisa Bellear: Dreaming in Urban Areas (UQP, 1996) and beloved Aunty Kerry Reed-Gilbert: Black woman, black life, (Wakefield Press, 1998), Romaine’s literary contribution at the turn of the century opened a space for Blak women voices in poetry which can be deeply felt today.    


The poems evoke vivid images of mud crabs, moons, and sea birds. Poems in this collection were recently celebrated in Fire Front: First Nations poetry and power today (2020) edited by Alison Whittaker and an exhibition titled Blak Beauty: Poetic Itineraries of Aboriginal Australia (2022) held at La Chapelle de Clairefontaine, France.

“Blak Beauty” is an individual poem I return to often. The movement of the work itself mirrors the movement of the ocean, as lines flow like waves, some bigger than others. Romaine writes ‘my blood is both the ocean/and the tree,’, , asserting that there is no distinct separation between what is on land and what is on water, it is all Country, and it is all connected.¹ 

In Romaine’s poem, belonging and survival are entwined; ‘Blak’ is ‘the blood of the wallaby[,]’ it is the mother of pearl’ as well as ‘the shell of the oyster,’ ‘the paw of the warrigal’.² It is all these things and more. The lines of this text bring sharp focus to the specific localities of Goernpil and Bundjalung. Both mobs that Romaine Moreton belong to are situated in the easternmost parts of the coast of Australia—one island and one mainland.

To read a work by a First Nations poet from so-called Australia, it is useful to read with the poet’s Country front-and-centre in mind, especially if the work invites evocation of Country.  In the lines, ‘I hang like clouds/and promise nothing/I tamper like the cyclone,’ there is a suggestion that the poet is as awesome, unstoppable, unpredictable, and powerful as Country itself.³ A Blak woman who is aware of her sovereign power is a threat to Empire; ‘I shatter like the earthquake/ ripping to the core’.⁴

Romaine’s work holds powerful influences on acknowledging and honouring the nourishment of the collective power of community and the connection of Country through the assertion of a Blak spirituality. in. This poem taught me the power of finding a mode of expression that can feel both like an oceanic roar and a reflective silence.

Quandamooka Country. Courtesy Ellen van Neerven 2022.

Blak beauty


Romaine Moreton

this has been held in my lips

since time immemorial


there is blakness

beneath these nails


for I know this earth

and wear her well


she has been


strapped around my waist

woven into my scalp

tied ‘round my breast

poised in my hair


or dried

at the corners

of my mouth


she has been stomped

and torn

blessed and worn


this is my



she’s the colour of



my blood is both the ocean

and the tree


it can be whipped into anger

or move like tranquility


clay is my words

the stone my friend

the sea my market

and trees my weapon


this is my earth


she’s the colour of



blak is the blood of the wallaby

it is the mother of pearl

it is the shell of the oyster

it is the paw of the warrigal

it is the bark of turtles

it is the bark of dogs

it is the bark of birds

it is the bark

of logs


this is my earth

she is the colour of blak


I move like shadows

betray the mood of the sun

I hang like clouds

and promise nothing

I tamper like the cyclone

so that you do not recognise

the before

I shatter like the earthquake

ripping to the core


this is my earth

she’s the colour of blak

Bundjalung Country. Courtesy Ellen van Neerven 2022.

1. Romaine Moreton, ‘Blak Beauty’ in Post Me To The Prime Minister, Alice Springs: Jukurrpa Books, 2004: 95

2. Ibid., 96

3. Ibid., 98

4. Ibid., 97


Romaine Moreton, ‘Blak Beauty’ in Post Me To The Prime Minister, Alice Springs: Jukurrpa Books, 2004: 93-98.


Blak Beauty is reproduced with permission of the author Romaine Moreton.


© 2022 Ellen van Neerven. Texts and images may not be used without the permission of UQ Art Museum or the authors. Images courtesy of the author Ellen van Neerven. 

Ellen van Neerven circle_edited.png

Ellen van Neerven

is an award-winning writer of Mununjali Yugambeh (South East Queensland) and Dutch heritage. They write fiction, poetry, plays and non-fiction. Ellen’s first book, Heat and Light, was the recipient of the David Unaipon Award, the Dobbie Literary Award and the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards Indigenous Writers Prize. They have written two poetry collections: Comfort Food, which was shortlisted for the NSW Premier's Literary Awards Kenneth Slessor Prize; and Throat, which was shortlisted in 2021 for the Queensland Literary Awards and the Victorian Premier's Literary Awards, and won the Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry, the Multicultural NSW Award and Book of the Year in the NSW Premier's Literary Awards.

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