Remembering Tracey Banivanua Mar

Nadia Rhook shares a poem commemorating the life and work of Tracey Banivanua Mar, historian of colonialism and post-colonialism in the Australian and Pacific region, and Associate Professor at La Trobe University. Vale Tracey, taken from the world too soon on 19 August 2017.


you found the people; forgotten people, extraordinarily strong people
proud people who rest, in unmarked graves
and wrote them into history, and surrounded us with stories
we’d never even thought to look for

not because these stories belong in history

history should be so honoured to know these stories
history should be so honoured to have your name attached to it

cos you taught us that history is much like colonialism. patriarchal. full of itself. embedded in our daily lives; you taught us colonialism has not always been, and therefore, we can hope, will not always live in these cities and towns, in the national parks, in the roads. even, in the asphalt

cos you taught us that History with a capital H is much like colonialism. fucked up.
and still you gathered the archives, in shots, in folders, in reams
as if you knew all along exactly where the beating hearts of the real heroes have thrived

in the gaps of the grid, in shrub-lined camps, by a river, in institutions, in a suburb no politician or governor could ever destroy. even, in London, the belly of the belly of
the beast, himself

you wove imagination-blowing liberating stories from the scummiest of sources

from some deep reservoir you found the stamina to spend time with all these
pen-waving bearded white men who all looked pretty much the same to you
you knew you had to cut through a lot, I mean a lot, of dried-up-inky crap to get to the jewels, the Pacific Queens, the leaders, who rose, who rise, generation in, generation out

you fought the power structures with your mana and your
words; sharp, as razors, strong, as waves
you fought the power structures with
your determined marathon of a swim through the acid belly of empire
pushing narrative-boulders on their heads
turning the oceans, from borders, to bridges

and when I started to go down that path of white guilt that leads to “self-flagellation”
quote-unquote-of-scribble-in-the-margins, you never hesitated to let me know

you wrote stories to open a crack, of hope, wider, and we should be so privileged
to peer through the fault lines of colonial violence. sometimes, I know I failed to understand what I was seeing. always, you propelled me with undeserved assumptions that I would sooner, or maybe, later, understand

you taught us how to live, too, that
you can’t take down the master’s house using the master’s tools
but somehow, you can be in the system without being of the system
you did it

and then, as if teaching us all that wasn’t enough, you had to go and teach us profound lessons about the value of life itself, and how to make the most of
every, beautiful, day

Tracey! after avoiding clichés for so long you embraced them, and taught us to stop to smell the flowers; that it is, after all, the simple things that matter; you even found ways to laugh at your newfound-need-for-clichés. you literally, laughed, into the face, of death

no. history doesn’t deserve to have your name attached to it
it’s only by your generosity that it does, already, and it will, for eons

to me, you’re a role-model, a ‘devil’s advocate’, a path-forger
a giant of an intellect
Queen of wit and metaphors, story-weaver, weight-lifter, truth-teller

but mostly, you were my teacher
and this was always more than enough
and this was not time enough


Tracey Banivanua Mar with her 2016 published monograph Decolonisation and the Pacific.


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