We did not invent the wheel

One day when we were traveling in the Northern Territory  in the East Alligator Region of Kakadu, I visited the Ubirr Art Gallery.  It is not an ordinary Art Gallery.  It consists of a group of rock outcrops on the Nadab Floodplain where there are several natural rock shelters that have a collection of Aboriginal rock paintings some of which are several thousands of years old.

It was there I met Wayne, a young aboriginal boy, who was guiding a party of tourists through the park.  Wayne talked so exuberantly about the art that I couldn’t resist asking if I could join the party and offered to pay.  He was only too happy for me to come along but wouldn’t accept any payment.  I wrote this poem for Wayne.

We did not invent the wheel

We had to be content to travel by foot

But still managed to cover long distances

Through rugged lands in scorching temperatures

By walking in the early mornings and avoiding the heat of the day


We did not invent the telephone

But we know how to communicate with nature, the earth, the sky, the wind, the sun and the moon

And we can express ourselves in community with each other

And send messages to faraway places


We did not invent the aeroplane

But in our minds we often fly to other places and times

When we are walking along collecting our food for the day, fishing and hunting

Sometimes we can look down at ourselves from the sky


We did not invent the computer

But we have our ways of storing knowledge and passing it on through the generations

By the stories that our art communicates on rock faces

And the explanation of our laws which old men tell by the campfire

Or when they show the young boys how to fish and hunt


We did not invent the watch

Because for us time does not exist

And has no relevance to how we live

For it is the season that dictates what eat, where we sleep

And whether we stay or move on

And the sun and the moon who tell us when it is time to wake or sleep


We did not invent money

Because in our culture we share what we have with each other

With our family and our tribe

So we have no need for it


We did not know about a lot of things

But we have always known how to think outside the square

And look at things in other ways

We often see a different picture of how things are