In order to understand what the poem "Time Is Running Out" by Oodgeroo Noonuccal is about and how it challenges Australian dominant ideology, it is important to know some details about the poet's background. Noonuccal is of Australian Aboriginal descent. She was born Kathleen Jean Mary Ruska, and after she married Bruce Raymond Walker, she initially published her poetry under the name Kath Walker. She changed her name to Oodgeroo Noonuccal in 1988 to highlight her Aboriginal heritage. Throughout much of her life, the Australian dominant ideology was white supremacy. The concept of White Australia meant that immigration was discouraged, and Aboriginal people—the original Australians—were considered lower-class citizens. Noonuccal became a political activist to fight this white oppression, and her poetry reflects her political viewpoints.
In the first stanza of "Time Is Running Out," we encounter a stark vision of a miner violating the earth "for the sake of greedy trade." The second stanza goes on to explain that the miner destroys the earth for "the sake of the filthy dollar," knowing that the destruction that he causes will be long-lasting.
In the third stanza, however, Noonuccal refers to the "Dreamtime folk," which means the Aboriginal people. They are rising up to defend the earth that they value. In the fourth stanza, she encourages "gentle black man," the Aboriginals, to stand up against the way that the white people are destroying the land.
We can see, then, that Noonuccal challenges the Australian dominant ideology of white superiority and the exploitation of the land that Aboriginal people hold precious.
This poem is about the mistreatment of the indigenous, or aboriginal, Australian peoples. It is specifically about how their land and their culture have been exploited.
The first stanza of "Time is Running Out" is about how aboriginal land has been metaphorically raped by the miner's "violent spade." The land is personified as pulsing with "black blood," which is bottled by these miners and sold for their own financial gain. The "black blood" here refers to the oil which is extracted from aboriginal land, but the image also alludes to the fact that a spiritual connection to the land is central to aboriginal culture. Therefore, it is not only the aboriginal land that is being exploited, but also the culture.
The "he" referred to throughout the poem, who is criticized for "his greedy lust for power," might be interpreted as a personification of the dominant, largely white Australian ideology. This is an ideology which condones the exploitation of the aboriginal peoples on the racist pretext that the aboriginal peoples are savage, uncivilized, and inferior.
In the third stanza, the speaker warns that "the Dreamlike folk," meaning the aboriginal peoples, will fight back and "take a stand." The speaker warns that "time is running out" for those who continue to persecute and dehumanize the aboriginal peoples.
This poem is about the mindless destruction of natural landscapes for the resources hidden within them – oil, ore, minerals – all in the greedy name of profit and with no concern for the damage inflicted upon the land, nor upon those living things, humans included, dependent on the land. The first two stanzas speak of a miner, who “rapes/The heart of earth/With his violent spade.” At the beginning of the second verse, the speaker states that, “In his greedy lust for power/He destroys old nature’s will.” Man – specifically the European-Australians – seeks to exert his dominance over the land for his own lusty gain, and impoverishes his own habitat “for the sake of the filthy dollar.” This era of wanton destruction will soon come to an end, however; the speaker asserts that “the Dreamtime folk are massing/To defend their timeless land.”
The Dreamtime folk are the Australian Aborigines, who live in peace with the land and understand the sanctity and importance of all life. Wealth and trade are less important to them than preserving nature as it is, for each living being contributes to the balance of an ecosystem. In the final verse, the speaker appeals to the Aborigines:
Come gentle black man
Show your strength;
Time to take a stand.
Make the violent miner feel
Love of land.
The speaker exhorts the Aborigines to rise up and take violent action against these injustices of the white Australians, their thoughtless destruction of the lands which rightfully belong to the Aborigines. The speaker urges them to protest the evils of big industry and the wasting of natural resources. Blinded by greed, the only way the white miners will be able to see the folly of their ways and the desolate fruit of their industrial ventures is through a violent protest.