Award-Winning Poet Melanie Mununggurr Shares Her Powerful New Work

by The M-POWERed Collective
Wednesday 5 July 2023

In our MECCA M-Powered interview series, fearless people from around the globe share their incredible stories – from overcoming adversity to following their passions and inspiring a future generation of changemakers. Here, we meet award-winning poet and Djapu woman Melanie Mununggurr as she unveils her thought-provoking new work ahead of NAIDOC Week.

NAIDOC Week is a celebration of the histories, cultures and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. This year, it falls from July 2 – 9, and to celebrate, we’re sharing the work of writer and poet Melanie Mununggurr – undoubtedly a prolific voice for this generation and generations to come.

There are many things you’ll want to talk to Mununggurr about: being named the 2018 Australian Poetry Slam Champion, her life as a Djapu writer from Yirrkala in East Arnhem Land, her performance with Jessica Mauboy for the Indigenous Fashion Projects runway, the two novels and two books of poetry she’s in the process of creating (one is already with a publisher and will be released later this year) or her thought-provoking poem ‘Stars. Light. Galaxies’, which she created in partnership with MECCA M-POWER.

But when you ask Mununggurr about her work, she always begins with her role as a mother – it frames everything she does in life. “I have two beautiful children. My son is 11, [and] my daughter is four, going on 14,” she says. “When I write poetry, I think of my daughter and the kind of world that I want her to grow up in. I also think of my son, who is autistic. He lives in the [Northern Territory], where, for many months of the year, the [largest] percentage of youth incarcerated are Indigenous boys. When my son turned 10, it meant that he was old enough to be incarcerated, and so I write for a world where he doesn't have to be fearful of being a statistic or a target.”

Adds Mununggurr: “I want to change the world one poem at a time. I hope that through my poetry, I am able to speak, perform and write in a way that people will listen and will actually internalise the messages that I’m trying to send. I want to help people to see the world from a different perspective. There’s so much power in being able to inject important messages into a poem.”

‘Double Threat’ – the poem that won her the 2018 Australian Poetry Slam – is one example: “[It’s about] about being Blak and a woman or a girl, and how being Blak and a woman is not about having two strikes against you, it's about you being a double threat in society,” Mununggurr explains. “As Blak women or women of colour, we experience the world so differently. The strength of Blak women that has been passed down through the generations, through all the intergenerational trauma, through all the beauty and the power, is something that needs to be recognised and celebrated. Writing for girls and women now hits differently for me as a mother of a girl.”

It also helps that she sees the world through words; poetry is her way of making sense of daily life and she finds “pockets of time” to document every experience, every challenge, every moment, in poems. Many are unfinished: “They will always be works in progress. As it stands, I probably have about a hundred unfinished poems. Some of them are one-liners, some of them are rough first drafts. Some of them are poems that have got the last line, the punchline. Some of them have got an idea but I haven't been able to execute it yet.”

Being named Australian Poetry Slam Champion “catapulted” her into the world of spoken word poetry. “I was able to travel across six countries in 2019. I took my daughter, who was eight months old at the time, with me, because I refused to choose between my career and my family,” Mununggurr reveals. “That’s a very big part of what I do. Obviously sometimes I need to leave my kids behind, but I would like to get to a point where I have somebody who is able to travel with me, to ensure that my kids are still getting educated. I feel they need to see the world with me. They need to experience it as much as possible.”

What makes Mununggurr feel empowered? “I feel empowered when I command a stage. Writing is empowering for me, especially when I produce something that I'm proud of. Also, watching my children achieve, watching them grow – that makes me feel like I am fulfilling my role properly as their mum.”

Adds the poet, “Everything I do, I do for my kids. All my inspiration comes from them, it comes from my identity as a queer Blak woman, from my culture, language, Country, Land, and my family connections. When I write, that's where my inspiration comes from. I can write for the rest of my life just on those things because they are never ending.”

Identity Through Poetry
Mununggurr’s father, Barayuwa Munuŋgurr, is a highly respected Djapu Elder who advocates for the rights of Yolngu people to live on their traditional homelands and stay connected to Country; he was awarded Senior Citizen of the Year in 2022 by the Northern Territory Government, and was the Northern Territory’s nominee for Senior Australian of the Year 2023. “I am a proud Djapu daughter of my proud Djapu father. We both understand the importance and urgency of maintaining our language, especially since there are not many Dhuwal speakers from the Djapu clan,” says Mununggurr.

When she was little, Mununggurr wanted to be a linguist (and, at one point, the Prime Minister). “I have always loved language. I wanted to be a linguist because I love the way that languages sound. I'm very, very big on the preservation of First Nations languages and Indigenous languages. I don’t believe that we should translate our language, because First Nations people particularly have been told to learn English and speak English and read English for generations and generations. This is everybody else’s opportunity to learn and speak and read. It’s really empowering when kids from my community see poetry written in their first language. ‘Still I Rise’ by Maya Angelou is a timeless poem – I love it.”

Her childhood was filled with music, and musicals. “It’s only in recent years that I’ve realised music is poetry,” she says. “There's a poem called ‘Adrenaline Rush’ by Rudy Francisco, and it's about police brutality in America. It was a turning point for me. It was around 2015 when I first heard it, and it was my inspiration for performance poetry.”

Spoken word is particularly meaningful for Mununggurr: “The thing I love about spoken word is when I perform a poem, the entire audience who I’m performing to hears the poem the way I hear it – there’s something so powerful in being able to perform my poetry. If you want to really examine the words, reading gives a different experience. They’re both beautiful experiences.”

Alongside the creative fulfilment she gains from writing and performing, Mununggurr also draws joy from being a role model for her children: “I love that when my kid’s friends and family say, ‘What does your mum do?’ They say, ‘She’s a poet.’ I love that I take my daughter to work she sits backstage with the other artists listening to Mummy perform. I love including my kids in this journey, because they’re our future, and they’re my future and I hope my legacy lives on through them. I want them to be proud. I want them to see me on stage or hear me on the radio and say, ‘That’s my mum and I’m really proud of her.’

Unveiling Her New Work, ‘Stars. Light. Galaxies’
Created in partnership with MECCA M-POWER, Mununggurr’s new poem ‘Stars. Light. Galaxies’ is set to music – composed by producer Kuya James – and explores “the current climate in terms of what it's like for women, particularly women of colour, queer women, trans women. I wanted to explore that intersectionality,” Mununggurr explains, adding, “I rewrote the entire poem on the plane and sent it to [Kuya] James at 1am with an audio message, ‘This is it. This is it. I got it.’ He sent it back to me the next morning with the music, the backing track, and I cried. I was like, ‘There it is.’

Following a roughly palindromic structure – where the lines and themes at the end of the poem reflect the beginning, hinging on a single line in the middle – the poem portrays both a dystopian current world “if things don’t change” and “the world that is possible if things are done the right way”.

To turn the poem and its music into a film, Mununggurr was filmed in front of a computer-generated green screen, onto which a creative team projected burning bushland – to represent the devastation in the first half of the poem – followed by a field of violet flowers, reflecting the more hopeful vision at the poem’s conclusion. Scroll down to read the poem in its entirety, or watch the film by clicking the play button at the top of the page. 


Stars. Light. Galaxies 

I am not stars, or light, or galaxies 

I am but your dust 

I cannot be empowered or elevated 

When I am broken 

             the way you have always wanted me 

My future is being 

Unable to be resurrected one poem at a time, Art 

Is being buried too 


And the world will always be under a patriarchal rule 


When my hair is silver and my face holds decades of stories, I will tell my children that 

Pockets of possessions 

Will transform this world before 

A mind of ideas And I, 

             will always be a second class citizen 

Belonging on the bottom rung 

A minority amongst minorities 

Hidden in the dark with trans women and intersectional feminism 

With accessibility and equality 

Where Melanin and divine feminine are denied 

             to be powerful forces 

Here, I am fragile and weak 

(Navigating) dystopia, where we exist only in the cracks and crevices of society’s failures 

Where our pain floods the oceans 

And our fear takes over the sky 

Where our bones bury soil 

And we are left broken 


But You underestimate me 


When we are left broken 

Watch us rebuild 

When our bones bury soil 

Watch us resurrect 

When our fear takes over the sky 

Watch it transform to fireworks 

We will restore hope and lead humanity 

Where we were seeds planted unwillingly 

In the cracks and crevices of the failures of society 

Cast away in the hope we might disappear 

We grew in darkness 

And blossomed in sunlight 

It is ignorant to presume that 

We are living in a dystopia, where there is no hope for the future of women 

The galaxies will align and we will see Girls 

             run the world, 

No longer can it be said that 

             we are fragile and weak 

Girls from every pocket of earth and sea, 

             will rise 

Educate a girl and her community shall thrive 

We will stand tall, voices raised in unity and fists raised in song 

I am not a second class citizen 

I have climbed from the bottom rung 

Step into the sun Arm in arm 

Trans women are women 

intersectional feminism is feminism 

And accessibility and equality exist abundantly 

Melanin and divine feminine energy are the most sought after powerful forces 


It’s foolish to believe 

Pockets of possessions 

Will transform this world before 

A mind of ideas 

Money might talk 

But souls weep and cry and feel and walk 


When my hair is silver and my face holds decades of stories, I will tell my children that 

The world will always be under a patriarchal rule 

Was a lie we were told too often 

My future is being resurrected one poem at a time 

Art will not die 

I can be empowered 

Even when I am broken 


I am the stars, and the light, and the galaxies 

I, am the one who will settle your dust. 


This film was a co-production between Wolftide Films, Enwick Films and MECCA M-POWER. Directed by Philip Enwick and Jonathan May, Executive Producer Liza Boston

This NAIDOC Week, consider engaging with First Nations organisations that support the work of creators like Melanie Mununggurr. Dedicated resources, support and spaces for First Nations creatives, particularly women and gender diverse folks, are so important and depend on community support. Melanie Mununggurr is represented by Awesome Black, a First Nations owned and operated creative agency dedicated to uplifting Indigenous creators. Find out more at