In the first three lines of the poem (“They came […] their tribe”), the speaker describes a group of Aboriginal Australians coming into a small town. The speaker notes that this group is "semi-naked," as well as "subdued and silent." The speaker then notes that this group of people is “[a]ll that remained of their tribe.”
By letting the reader know that this group of people are the only ones who remain from their tribe, the speaker places the poem in the aftermath of British conquest in Australia, and also strongly implies that many Aboriginal people have already lost their lives as a result of this conquest. Those who do remain, the poem implies, are now dispossessed of their land, since they are coming into a “little town” that is no longer their own.
Additionally, the speaker describes the group of people as “subdued and silent,” implying that they have gone through violence and suffering and are now withdrawn and quiet. The sibilance of /s/ sounds in this description, which evokes a kind of hush, emphasizes this silence.
The word “subdued” means to be withdrawn, solemn, or quiet. At the same time, it implies that one has been forcibly subdued, since the verb “subdue” means to conquer or pacify someone or a group of people by force. Both meanings are present and relevant in the poem, and the hush in these opening lines conveys a sense of overwhelming loss and violence that this small “band” of people has endured.
Interestingly, the speaker’s descriptions of this group of people, and the imagery the speaker uses, call to mind colonial descriptions of Aboriginal and Indigenous people. The speaker remarks that the “band” of people is “semi-naked.” Colonizers often emphasized the physical appearances of native people, including their attire or partial nudity, to make the argument that they were less “civilized”—and implicitly less human— than white Europeans.
By describing the group of people as “silent,” the speaker also suggests that they are voiceless or unable to articulate their experience. This, too, resonates with the ways white, colonial frameworks have depicted Indigenous people: as suffering, solemn, and fundamentally inarticulate.
At the start of the poem, then, the speaker alludes to the way that Aboriginal Australians have often been seen from a white, colonial perspective: the reader sees this group of people as a white outsider might see them, but the poem doesn’t yet fully show their own perspective or experience.