Posted by: Lisa Hill | July 10, 2020

Ruby Moonlight (2012), by Ali Cobby Eckermann

I haven’t read many verse novels, but I still think I can say that Ruby Moonlight is stunning.  In 74 pages, Eckermann paints a vivid picture of massacre and survival in the colonial era…


the ambience of the morning is ruined
the stench of death fills the air
love will exist here no more

a young woman sits like rock
staring at her husband and mother
their bodies turned tombstone

arid eyes slit with sand
tears will no longer flow
life is doomed to drought

And yet she survives:


her new life starts
this young woman of sixteen years

she washes herself in the stream
scrubs her skin with handfuls of coarse sand

with a stone knife she razors her matted hair
it burns acrid on the embers

the knife slices into her thighs
one sorry mark for each family member

blood mingles in the shallow pool
dissolving the pain and the past

This lone survivor of the Shadow Tribe is terrified of the strange animals and the pale men but she yearns for a guardian spirit and is drawn to human contact when she comes across an unsuccessful miner eking out a living by trapping pelts.


she is glad Jack is
a man of few words

Jack is glad she is
a woman of few needs

in their remoteness
they are heaven

in their remoteness
they are earth

remoteness is essential
in their merger

it is forbidden for Europeans
to fornicate with blacks

Ruby Moonlight is a beautiful work of art.  It was awarded both Book of the Year and the Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry in the 2013 New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards. In the same year Eckermann was awarded the Queensland Indigenous Writing Fellowship, and in 2017 she was the winner of the prestigious Windham-Campbell Prize.

Sue at Whispering Gums has reviewed Ruby Moonlight too.

Ali Cobby Eckermann identifies with the Yankunytjatjara / Kokatha people from the north west desert country of South Australia.

Author: Ali Cobby Eckermann
Title: Ruby Moonlight
Cover design by Jo Hunt
Publisher: Magabala Books, 2020, first published 2012
ISBN: 9781921248511, pbk., 74 pages
Source: Personal library, purchased from Readings, $22.95



  1. I’m glad Lisa that you had a great reading experience with Ruby Moonlight. I also read this novel-in-verse a few years ago. I didn’t get a full sense of the visual nuances captured in the book review. Lisa, you inspire me to re-read this book.

    Ali Cobby Eckermann is a woman to be admired for her rich collection of books and her activism, giving voice to the lives of Aborigines silenced by evasive government policies and erased in national history. I highly recommend Eckermann’s Too Afraid to Cry: Memoir of a Stolen Childhood.


  2. A verse novel is such an achievement, and this sounds very special from the quotes, Lisa.


    • I think the hardest part would be linking the poems together in a way that flows, and also choosing a title for them.
      Though a way, calling this a verse novel is a misnomer…it’s not even a hundred pages long, and a lot of those have very little text on them. In prose, I wouldn’t even call it a novella, I’d say it was a short story. But of course reading it, as verse, makes you linger over it, and to read between the lines, and especially about the character of the girl, and that makes it more like a novel with its emphasis on character.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Verse novels are not often in my stacks either (I think the last one I read was one of Jacqueline Woodson’s) but sometimes it’s so striking how “right” the form seems for very powerful stories. (Still, it made me giggle, the line above, about his being a man of few words, for in verse, that’d make him a man of ever fewER)! I’m sorry to be late in reading for your week; I’d thought that I’d be able to get something new from the library but have ended up turning to a volume on my own shelves that has lingered for a long time because I knew it would be difficult, which is only going to delay me further.


    • No need to apologise, any contribution is welcome, however late, and your contributions in comments have been most welcome too.

      It’s a romantic idea, a meeting of minds despite a language barrier. How many relationships have foundered on it, I wonder, when they discover that a love interest needs to be a companion first and foremost?


  4. As you know, I loved this book too … it’s beautiful, and, for me. unforgettable.


  5. If I read more poetry it will be Indigenous. I don’t know why, perhaps it is that ‘voice’ thing that Sue and I were discussing recently, perhaps the Indigenous voice suits long form poetry. One of the strengths of Benang for me is the way the prose rises into poetry.
    On a different point altogether – so many Indigenous women were taken by single white men, it’s cited as a major cause of Indigenous retaliation, which of course led to massacres, that it is interesting that Eckerman seems to be positing a consensual relationship.


    • It might have been in ‘Tasmanian Aborigines: A History since 1803’, by Lyndall Ryan that I read that there were consensual relationships among the women and the sealers in Tasmania…


    • You raise an interesting point Bill. There were consensual relationships, just as there still are now, between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, but your point that this is what Eckermann CHOSE to posit is something I hadn’t thought about.

      She shows a massacre, she shows racist attitudes and behaviours in some of the people they meet, she shows the indigenous community’s discomfort with the relationship. She must have wanted to tell a more nuanced (to use that now cliched word) story not only about indigenous history but more broadly about “outsiderness”?


      • I think she wanted to show just how catastrophic massacre was, when there was no one left from Ruby’s world, and the need for human companionship made her choose a relationship that she otherwise wouldn’t have.


        • Yes, I think that’s a fair interpretation Lisa.


        • I can see I’m going to have to read the book. Though, Lisa, I’m sure you’re right.

          Liked by 1 person

  6. This sounds beautiful. A story told in verse can be so powerful. Somehow they’re able to tell so much with so few words. A talent, for sure.


    • I’ve only suggested a small taste of it, Naomi. Reading it, you hear, see and smell the bush:)

      Liked by 1 person

  7. […] Ruby Moonlight (2012) by Ali Cobby Eckermann (poetry) […]


  8. […] Cobby Eckermann, Ruby Moonlight (2012) (my post, and Lisa’s): this is particularly interesting because it is a First Nations historical fiction verse novel. It […]


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