Of the Murri people, and born at the Cherbourg Aboriginal Reserve in Queensland in 1958, Lionel Fogarty is a leading spokesman for indigenous rights in Australia through a poetry of linguistic uniqueness and overwhelming passion. In resisting the colonising force of English, he has reterritorialised the language of the invaders and made of it a language that speaks for his people. John Kinsella argues that Fogarty is the greatest living "Australian" poet, forging a poetics that captures the orality of his people's millennia of song cycles and spirituality, and also engaging with codes and tools of international modernism. Fogarty is at once verbally affronting and celebratory of his identity. A deeply "political" poet, he is also a singer whose poetry seeks healing and redemption for the many wrongs done to his people. There is a rage in the work, and the murder of his brother Daniel Yock by police in 1993 (in a police van), as well as of his people in general, compels his poetic spirit. In a significant interview Philip Mead conducted with him in 1994, Fogarty said: "...Daniel was a Song Man and he used to make songs up from his own dreaming, and he knew a lot of different languages.
He was a really special person to my children. A very culturally talented guy, very dedicated to his culture." And it's that dedication to his culture that Lionel Fogarty carries into a poetry that is cyclical and declarative, deeply metaphoric and metonymic at once. The "timelessness", the dreaming, the conversations between story and land, between the totemic and people, are beyond labelling. A unique poet, he has effectively managed to confront the persistent attacks by imperialist language, and (still) colonial culture/s, on his people's voice, by preserving its identity, and also creating something entirely new (an extension of what existed before), to fight the invader. A liberator, an innovator, and a writer with a purpose as crucial as the existence of his people. As Kinsella has said: "Fogarty has de-hybridised his own language by hybridsing English with his people's language. It's a poetry that demands respect. In the poetry of the twentieth and twenty-first century, he is as essential and skilled as any. All of us should listen."
Lionel Fogarty was born in 1958 at Barambah (now called Cherbourg Aboriginal Reserve) in Queensland where he grew up. He has been involved in Aboriginal activism from his teenage years, mainly in Southern Queensland on issues such as Land Rights, Aboriginal health and deaths in custody. His brother, Daniel Yock died at the hands of police in 1993. His poetry, while in no way dismissable as simply 'political poetry', can be seen as an extension of these activities on another front. Common themes are the maintenance of traditional aboriginal culture and the everyday realities of European occupation. Among the most 'experimental' of contemporary Australian poetry, his work has sometimes been described as 'surrealist'. Certainly large amounts of Indigenous Language, which white Australians sometimes find confronting, are employed but in part as an attempt to further dialogue between Australian cultures.