It was with shock and sadness that I learnt of the death of Billy Marshall-Stoneking late last week. I first meet Billy sometime in the late 1970s when I was just starting out in poetry. At the time he was living and working in the Papunya Aboriginal settlement in the Northern Territory, where he worked with local Pintupi and Luritja people to try and retain and expand the use of their local language. From memory he was reading at the Art Gallery of NSW during a short trip to the “big smoke” and he read some of his own work together with the work of some of the Aboriginal people he was working with. I remember being impressed with the scope and importance of the work he was doing, along with a sense of frustation that it took an American to bring such important Australian work to our attention. As I found out more about him, however, I realised he was more “Australian” than most of us, he had an intense respect for country and a understanding of what it means to live here.
In 1982 Billy undertook a screenwriting program at the Australian Film, Television and Radio School in Sydney and has pursued a career as a a playwright and scriptwriter and editor, stage, film and radio producer, and teacher and mentor. I reconnected with him in 2012 when I worked with Rae Desmond-Jones to publish The Selected Your Friendly Facist which contained work by Billy and we have since had a number of lengthly discussions about writing, film and performance.
Rochford Street Review would like to express its sympathy and condolences to Billy’s partner, Christina Conrad, his family and his many friends.
A detailed biography, together with samples of Billy’s work, is available at the Australian Poetry Library http://www.poetrylibrary.edu.au/poets/marshall-stoneking-billy.
– Mark Roberts