Municipal Gum was written by Oodjeroo Noonecaal. Municipal Gum is about the changes in society and the tendency of people to want to control everything. Oodjeroo uses various techniques to convey this idea.
At the beginning of the poem, Oodjeroo is addressing the tree. This immediately creates empathy for both the tree and her people. By the last line, she has emphasised this with the pronoun “us” to show that they suffer a similar fate.
This poem expresses how life in Australia has changed, especially for Aboriginal people. In the first half of the poem, Oodjeroo is talking about how life was for her and others. It explores the changes in society and the displacement of the Aboriginal people from their land.
“Whose head hung…Its hopelessness”, the author uses this as further re-iteration of the immorality of the situation and by the use of analogy comparing the tree to her people to further emphasise the shame and lack control of that the Europeans have inflicted upon her and the environment.
Oodjeroo uses extended metaphor technique in the very first line of the poem ‘Hard bitumen around your feet’. This means that the gumtree has been placed in the cityscape where it is suppressed and not allowed to spread out and be unique in its own way. This is a clear and immanently direct link to the pain and suffering endured by the Aborigines post-European settlement.
Oodjeroo uses vivid language to present these ideas. For example, the use of the word castrated is very effective. The connotation of the word is very demeaning. With castration often comes to a sense of a loss of pride and power. The word castration is symbolic of how Oodjeroo feels the European have treated Aboriginal people and the environment. Castration also refers to the fact that what is done is done. Nothing can undo what they did and the damaged they have caused.
Other symbolism includes the title “Municipal Gum”, municipal meaning community, implies that the gumtree belongs to the community. One of the vast differences between European and Aboriginal law is that Aboriginal people did not believe in the ownership of land or of animals and plants. Municipal Gum is a reference to the Europeans assumptions that everything is theirs to own and control.
The rhetorical question, “O fellow citizen, What have they done to us?” is the conclusion of the implications that have been made throughout the poem. Oodjeroo is advocating for her people and all things wronged by the controlling behaviour of the Europeans. Rhetorical questions are used to provoke thought and to stimulate a pre-determined response. “What have they done to us?” They have “castrated, broken… strapped and buckled” and ultimately changed things to a point that they cannot be fixed.
In conclusion, Municipal Gum is a poem about the constrictions and change that the European invaders forced upon the Aboriginal community and the environment she believes that the Europeans have deemed themselves ever powerful and practice their power in a manner that is immoral.
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