Municipal Gum by Oodgeroo Noonuccal

In ‘Municipal Gum’ Oodgeroo Noonuccal, an Australian aboriginal activist explores themes of subjugation, displacement, and injustice. The poem’s mood is mournful as the speaker delves into the struggles and pains of the tree, as the connection to the poet’s life and the lives of aboriginal Australians becomes clear. 


Summary of Municipal Gum 

‘Municipal Gum’ by Oodgeroo Noonuccal is a simple, moving poem that uses an extended metaphor to speak on the treatment of aboriginal peoples. 

The poem is addressed in its entirety to a gumtree, forced to grow in amongst the bitumen of the road. It is displaced, mournful, and like the cart-horse that it’s compared to, hopeless. The speaker uses the tree as a metaphor for her people who have been similarly displaced and 

You can read the full poem here.


Structure of Municipal Gum 

Municipal Gum’ by Oodgeroo Noonuccal is a sixteen line poem that is contained within one block of text. The lines follow a rhyme scheme of AABCCBDEEFFFDGGD. There are a few moments where the poet uses half-rhymes rather than full rhymes. For example, “cart-horse” and “thus”. 


Poetic Techniques in Municipal Gum 

Within ‘Municipal Gum’ Noonuccal makes use of several poetic techniques. These include metaphor, alliteration, apostrophe, and enjambment. The first, metaphor, is a comparison between two unlike things that do not use “like” or “as” is also present in the text. When using this technique a poet is saying that one thing is another thing, they aren’t just similar. There is one overarching metaphor at play in the poem. It is extended from the first lines to the last. 

The poet compares herself, and all those of aboriginal descent, displaced from their homes to a gumtree solicited in the pavement of a road. There is a secondary metaphor later on in the poem when the cart-horse is used as a metaphor for the tree, and therefore for the speaker as well. 

Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. There are examples throughout the poem, including the transition between lines three and four as well as six and seven. 

Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same letter. For instance, “hung head” and “hopeless” in lines ten and eleven. Apostrophe is an arrangement of words addressing someone who does not exist or is not present, in the poem’s immediate setting. The exclamation, “Oh,” is often used at the beginning of the phrase. The person, object, or creature, is spoken to as though they can hear and understand the speaker’s words even if they can’t. In ‘Municipal Gum’ the gumtree is addressed this way throughout the poem. 


Analysis of Municipal Gum 

Lines 1-5 

In the first lines of ‘Municipal Gum,’ the speaker begins by noting the “Gumtree in the city street”.This is a reference to a specific kind of tree, such as eucalyptus, that exudes gum. It’s there, as is the “Hard bitumen around your feet”. Juxtaposed against the gumtree is the “bitumen,” a material used to pave roads. The “you” in this line is directed at the gumtree. It is the subject, and intended listener of the poem. This is a technique known as apostrophe. 

Rather than in amongst the “cool old of lady forest halls / And wild bird calls” the tree is in the city. It is out of place. It feels as though it’s been wronged in some way. 


Lines 6-11 

In the next few lines the speaker adds on to what they were saying about the gumtree’s place in the world. As a symbol for those who how been disrupted, displaced, and misused the tree is further compared to a “poor cart-horse”. While looking at it the speaker feels as though it is “Castrated, broken”. It has been “wronged” in some way that is hard to speak about. 

The horse, now a metaphor for the tree, is having its hell and pain prolonged by the men who drive it. It is controlled, belittled, and made use of without regard to its well being. 

There is hopelessness the speaker can interpret while looking at the horse. It is desperately sad and worn out. 


Lines 12-16 

In the final lines of ‘Municipal Gum,’ the speaker addresses the tree again. She tells it that it is “dolorous” or sorrowful to “see” it this way. They hate the pain the tree is going through. It is “Set” in the road’s bitumen, consumed and eternally displaced from its natural habitat. 

The last lines see a connection solidified that was only hinted at by the speaker in the previous lines. She sees a relationship between the tree and themselves. They are “fellow citizen[s]” each suffering in a similar way. The poem concludes with a rhetorical question, also directed towards the tree. The speaker asks, “what have they done to us?” 

By using the undefined “they” in this line the speaker is implicating a group in this specific outcome. Considering the poem’s larger context, the poet’s background, and her history as an activist, the “they” is clearly a reference to any who stamp out aboriginal rights. 

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