A Long way from the sea and salvation
They came from camps and homesteads along the Darling’s banks
wearing red, black and yellow with brown dust on their pants.
There were grey bushy beards and hair under wide brimmed country hats,
men with open faces who knew the bush and loved a chat
The secretary looked pleased at the Christmas spirit and crowd,
there were even city poets from Balmain who loved to read out loud.
Some came from coastal towns where poetry was art and glory
to the Brewarrina poets society where it simply tells life’s story
Luckily there was a cloakroom to check in all the beer
Until the meeting closed, though most were already in good cheer.
The women came to see the men pass their wisdom to the room
For it seemed that country sheilas rarely had the urge to pen a poem
They sat on chrome steel chairs that were modern in the fifties
But had survived time and the weather and fights at the outdoor movies
Now Laurie Green tapped the gong and shouted loud and clear
Alright you mob, we are here for fun but decent folks have no fear
For I will keep the order now and declare the meeting under way,
I welcome the town councilors and all the poets come to have their say.
First up we’ll have the youth, then first timers and such others,
then we’ll alternate the bush balladeers with our aboriginal brothers.
The pastors son read the “Bush Christening” by the Banjo, the Irish laughed out loud,
But the young lad needed disciplining before initiation, said the indigenous crowd.
Young Archie Bullant recited about the initiation ceremony of his becoming a man,
One of the bush poets replied with Kipling’s “If” and said think about that if you can.
The hall was crowded now and noisy the chairman steadied them with his gaze
Then called for Bluey Grant’s “The scoundrel from Sydney” and bills he never pays
Fair enough Bluey, now let’s hear from brother Willie Goanna, on a protest bent
“Two hundred lost years”. There were murmurings of approval and grumbles of dissent.
Now the poets from the city started putting up their hand
And the boys from way outback wondered what they knew of the land.
The Balmain boys got going with their urban zeitgeist stuff
Including falling in and out of love ,oh! their life could be so tough.
Their writing seemed intense and had references back in time
Vigorous lines that jumped off the page but they often forgot to rhyme
Then the aboriginals withheld their anger of men losing contact with the bush
And looked for common ground with the bush poets and the anguished city push
The aboriginal poets cried for the loss of their youth to the sins of the town
And said that the city poets didn’t know what it was like to be really down.
The bushmen thought that the simple life of pastoral bent was best
And the protest poets and the city poets should return to the land to find rest.
Laurie Green tapped the gong several times and shouted ,”Listen here”
But all agreed it was time the cloakroom opened and handed out the beer
Tyler Frogman summed it up saying, there are many lives within our nation,
The city poets said yes , but Brewarrina was a long way from the sea and salvation.
I counted fifty black cockatoos
swimming through the air lazily
calling like whales on migration
supporting the bush footy team
Hey, we are here, we are here,
a kind of noisy passeggiata
gathering to look at each other
before going off to nest somewhere.
There is a teacher leading the flock
to the next trees, choose, cocky, choose,
and as the school excursion moves on
there is a quiet pair bringing the stragglers in.
The Farmer’s Hat
A farmer’s hat is part of his daily life
sharing his troubles like any good wife.
Without it dogs and horses wonder if it’s him
when his eyes aren’t peering under the brim.
Part of him is there wherever it is sitting
with its eagle feather and crown well fitting
better than the fishing hat he bought in Cairns
spending time drinking beer and spinning yarns.
The Akubra usually hung in the mud room
always dusty, spidery and needing a broom
next to his stockwhip and dryazabone
the hook with his boots underneath was its home.
This was the last thing he grabbed on his way
as he called to his wife his plan for the day.
He reached for the empty space, frozen in time
trying to remember, searching his mind
where had he left it? Was it in the shed
next to the charger near the little mouse dead,
or near the cattle marking and drenching stuff,
in the outside dunny full of thistle seed fluff,
with the old magazines and the faded stories,
pictures of Ealsey and Tubby in world cup glory.
He looked near the woodpile on the verandah
making the lizards and spiders scamper,
underneath the old canvas squatters chair
where he sat dreaming of having a good year.
Next to the telephone where he kept his list
of farm jobs needing doing , none to be missed.
He looked on the chair near the desk where he sat
and paid his overdue bills, but there was no hat.
Then he saw the note, ‘remember the grapes’,
it was harvest time , with help from his mates.
He disturbed the swallows in the rafters nesting
past the barrels, tanks and equipment for testing,
he saw the open vat ferment was on the go,
and there was a hook with the full vat below.
It was time and he plunged the must with a plank
and guess what he saw floating in the tank.
A hat very purple and now part of the brew
something he couldn’t tell the rest of the crew.
Like last year he found a snake in the mix
and silence was part of the winemakers tricks.
So reunited he is now with his hat in his hand
but shy about the aroma of wine where he stands.
The answer of course is to have hats a many
and no favourite! A kind of hat polygamy.
Swimming toward light and sound
So thirsty for love, learning
How to hurt a lover, finding
Organic chemistry in family.
Watching the clowns, real or mimic
Inorganic ecstasy lurks in silicon.
The trickle of information
The whirlpool of understanding
The curiosity of respect
Trying to condense knowledge
to those few trigger words
in the desert wind of ritual.
Desire like chemicals in the blood
Exploring the demi monde, how
Much neglect can the body take?
The privilege of knowledge,
The randomness of fortune,
Now you have it, motivation.
Fifty years on sentry duty,
Evolving, looking backwards,
navigating the sea of memory
where currents take you to latitudes
full of weekend colour supplements
and the gossip of the marketplace.
How deep is the well of the past,
Infinite combinations of words
Tell of the moment, the space,
between the shiver and the release…
Our lives are a palimpsest of unique layers on childhood clay.
culture is the glaze that reflects the sun in oriental splendor.
The potter knows not how the end result will fire,
but the pots are made from the same mud,
shaped and baked by life’s pounding and ancestral fire.
A faint hum can be heard as a breeze from palaces,
slums and monasteries passes across open mouths,
and a song can be heard as each one becomes a poem.
High Country Living
High on the great divide on a volcanic cap
the goldfields ghosts don’t need a map.
They followed the creeks now lined with pine
lying in the curves of the native dog syncline.
Out here the four seasons infiltrate our being
making us bedfellows to birth, death and seeing
the animal’s behaviour responding to their senses
and the bloody wombat dens sapping our fences.
The cattle settle and know what the weather holds
and the grey kangaroos become more bold.
The autumn dew shines upon moonlit grass
and the animals feel the seasons in their hearts.
Our fragile intelligence with a too thin skin
looks at the weather map and gets the wood in.
We meditate and ponder whether this is really home
and treasure the memory of friends when day is done.
The pines drip as they are enshrouded by the mist
and tremble and sigh like a young person kissed.
Seeming to be alive with natures breathing,
messages from the plains, is it joy or grieving.
The frost burns and fixes the dew to the grass
until the morning sun sets it free at last.
The old wood stove ticks away the hours,
in the house the radio buzzes and the fire lowers.
The warm surprise of springs first day
and trembling buds insist on nature’s way.
The first fly charts a course of discovery
with travelling as urgent as its arriving.
The thistles stiffen in summer’s midday
as the horses posture and canter away.
The eucalypt leaves hang thin edge to the sun
and the pools in the creeks forget to run
The hum of the hatch and the next generation
with the pollen release and the seed formation.
Sometimes our careful plans seem like vanity
looking at the face of natures obvious sanity.
There’s meditation in these thoughts pastoral,
perhaps life itself may seem like a cycle.
We love this country and still wryly smile
and test our wisdom against season’s guile.