The Gumsucker’s Dirge

Joseph Furphy
Australian
1843 – 1912

 

Sing the evil days we see, and the worse that are to be,
In such doggerel as dejection will allow,
We are pilgrims, sorrow-led, with no Beulah on ahead,
No elysian Up the Country for us now.

For the settlements extend till they seem to have no end;
Spreading silently, you can’t tell when or how;
And a home-infested land stretches out on every hand,
So there is no Up the Country for us now.

On the six-foot Mountain peak, up and down the dubious creek,
Where the cockatoos alone should make a row,
There the rooster tears his throat, to announce with homely note,
That there is no Up the Country for us now.

Where the dingo should be seen, sounds the Army tambourine,
While the hardest case surrenders with a vow;
And the church-bell, going strong, makes us feel we’ve lived too long,
Since there is no Up the Country for us now.

And along the pine-ridge side, where the mallee-hen should hide,
You will see some children driving home a cow;
Whilst, ballooning on a line, female garniture gives sign,
That there is no Up the Country for us now.

Here, in place of emu’s eggs, you will find surveyors’ pegs,
And the culvert where there ought to be a slough;
There, a mortise in the ground, shows the digger has been round,
And has left no Up the Country for us now.

And across this fenced-in view, like our friend the well-sung Jew,
Goes the swaggy, with a frown upon his brow,
He is cabin’d, cribb’d, confin’d, for the thought is on his mind,
That there is no Up the Country for him now.

And the boy that bolts from home has no decent place to roam,
No region with adventure to endow,
But his ardent spirit cools at the sight of farms and schools,
Hence, there is no Up the Country for him now.

Such a settling, spreading curse must infallibly grow worse,
Till the saltbush disappears before the plough,
But the future, evil-fraught, is forgotten in the thought,
That there is no Up the Country for us now.

We must do a steady shift, and devote our minds to thrift,
Till we reach at length the standard of the Chow,
For we’re crumpled side by side in a world no longer wide,
And there is no Up the Country for us now.

Better we were cold and still, with our famous Jim and Bill,
Beneath the interdicted wattle-bough,
For the angels made our date five-and-twenty years too late,
And there is no Up the Country for us now.

Song

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 215th birthday.

06-26 Tompson
Charles Tompson
Australian
1807 – 1883

My Sylvia frowns on her love:
Ah! hope from this bosom is fled,
That syren that o’er my fond heart,
So lately her influence shed.

And must I for ever despair
To own the dear girl I adore?
And will the bright day-spring of love
Ne’er brighten my hemisphere more?

‘Tis past!—on the heart that is her’s
She frowns with contempt and disdain,
And seems to exult in the cause
That gives my fond bosom such pain.

Yet, trust me, dear Sylvia, this lip
That sighs nought but mis’ry and you,
Is the harbinger pure of a heart
That will ever—yes, ever prove true!

Drowning in Wheat

We present this work in honor of Western Australia Day.

06-06 Kinsella
John Kinsella
Australian
b. 1963

They’d been warned
on every farm
that playing
in the silos
would lead to death.
You sink in wheat.
Slowly. And the more
you struggle the worse it gets.
‘You’ll see a rat sail past
your face, nimble on its turf,
and then you’ll disappear.’
In there, hard work
has no reward.
So it became a kind of test
to see how far they could sink
without needing a rope
to help them out.
But in the midst of play
rituals miss a beat—like both
leaping in to resolve
an argument
as to who’d go first
and forgetting
to attach the rope.
Up to the waist
and afraid to move.
That even a call for help
would see the wheat
trickle down.
The painful consolidation
of time. The grains
in the hourglass
grotesquely swollen.
And that acrid
chemical smell
of treated wheat
coaxing them into
a near-dead sleep.

The Young Men

We present this work in honor of ANZAC Day.

04-25 Zwicky
Fay Zwicky
Australian
1933 – 2017

Made ghosts in all their country’s wars
they come, the young men in my dreams
with shattered skulls, intestines trailing
in the sand, the mud, the stuff the TV doesn’t
show unless it’s Africa. Or someplace else where
colour doesn’t count, democracy a word
they carted like a talisman, a passport
to the candles, bells of sainthood.

Restored to wake indoors alive, blanketed,
dreams fallen away like ash in birdsong,
sun filtering the blind slats, I’m reprimanded.
My ghosts keep talking: “You thought you knew
it all. Tonight maybe your book and candle,
night light burning infantile, shoes tucked
neat beneath will douse your eyelids closed
with ash, shut them down for good. Our dreams were yours.

You’ll sleep all right with us
and never never wake. Night lights,
books and candles lost the war against our
childhood, growing, long ago, their power
to charm away the everlasting dark a myth:
silence lasts forever. Listen, while you can,
to unseen saplings somewhere falling.
Young men, you dear young men, I’m listening.

The Good Soldier

In honor of Canberra Day, we present this work by one of contemporary Australia’s most notable poets.

03-14 Mansell
Chris Mansell
Australian
b. 1953

On someone else’s place
it seems to him the land
slings distance way out
the dirt is dead and
the sky seems twisted
the beat of the stones is wrong
he doesn’t know how to say it
there are no words no opportunity
and anyway
what would you say
that you’re a stranger
and this doesn’t say it at all

he walks with his weapon through the town
and from time to time he sees the luscious curl
of intimacy the uncommon common life
it’s dressed differently he can’t understand
the language rasping and gargling
another time he’d be an interested tourist
now he’s a hunter and the hunted

soon they say
he’ll be freed to retreat home
where the earth is vein deep
and when he puts his hand on the ground
he’ll feel it beating but now
he can’t remember home
though he knows the words well enough
back paddock Steve’s paddock the yard
it’s just words but now the imam calls
and winds a veil around his senses
and sometimes he thinks he’ll never
get back to where he belonged

At the River Crossing

We present this work in honor of the 120th anniversary of the poet’s death.

02-27 Morant
Harry ‘Breaker’ Morant
Australian
1864 – 1902

Oh! the quiet river-crossing
Where we twain were wont to ride,
Where the wanton winds were to sing
Willow branches o’er the tide.

There the golden noon would find us
Dallying through the summer day,
All the waery world behind us –
All it’s tumult far away.

Oh! thoe rides across the crossing
Where the shallow stream runs wide,
When the sunset’s beams were glossing
Strips of sand on either side.

We would cross the sparkling river
On the brown horse and the bay;
Watch the willows sway and shiver
And their trembling shadows play.

When the opal tints waxed duller
And a gray crept o’er the skies
Yet there stayed the blue sky’s color
In your dreamy dark-blue eyes.

How the sun-god’s bright caresses,
When we rode at sunet there,
Plaited among your braided tresses,
Gleaming on your silky hair.

When the last sunlight’s glory
Faded off the sandy bars,
There we learnt the old, old story,
Riding homeward ‘neat the stars.

‘Tis a memory to be hoarded –
Oh, the follish tale and fond!
Till another stream be forded –
And we reach the Great Beyond.

The Meeting of Sighs

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 150th birthday.

02-22 Neilson
John Shaw Neilson
Australian
1872 – 1942

Your voice was the rugged
old voice that I knew;
I gave the best grip of
my greeting to you.
I knew not of your lips—
you knew not of mine;
Of travel and travail
we gave not a sign.

We drank and we chorused
with quips in our eyes;
But under our song was
the meeting of sighs.
I knew not of your lips—
you knew not of mine;
For lean years and lone years
had watered the wine.

Where the Pelican Builds

We present this work in honor of Australia Day.

01-26 Foott
Mary Hannay Foott
Australian
1846 – 1918

The horses were ready, the rails were down,
But the riders lingered still
One had a parting word to say,
And one had his pipe to fill.

Then they mounted, one with a granted prayer,
And one with a grief unguessed.
“We are going,” they said, as they rode away
“Where the Pelican builds her nest!”

They had told us of pastures wide and green,
To be sought past the sunset’s glow;
Of rifts in the ranges by opal lit;
And gold “neath the river’s flow.

And thirst and hunger were banished words
When they spoke of that unknown West;
No drought they dreaded, no flood they feared,
Where the pelican builds her nest!

The creek at the ford was but fetlock deep
When we watched them crossing there;
The rains have replenished it thrice since then,
And thrice has the rock lain bare.

But the waters of Hope have flowed and fled,
And never from blue hill’s breast
Come back – by the sun and the sands devoured
Where the pelican builds her nest!

Old Botany Bay

01-03 Gilmore
Dame Mary Gilmore
Australian
1865 – 1962

I’m old
Botany Bay;
stiff in the joints,
little to say.

I am he
who paved the way,
that you might walk
at your ease to-day;

I was the conscript
sent to hell
to make in the desert
the living well;

I bore the heat,
I blazed the track-
furrowed and bloody
upon my back.

I split the rock;
I felled the tree:
The nation was-
Because of me!

Old Botany Bay
Taking the sun
from day to day…
shame on the mouth
that would deny
the knotted hands
that set us high!

Cliffs

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 80th birthday.

11-18 Rankin
Jennifer Rankin
Australian
1941 – 1979

 

Where the cliff cleaves up
clean into the sky
I see my day cut through

and again another cliff

and again

cleaving up.

Then it is the faulting
the falling in folds
the going back into the sea.

And this day and again this day
and again days.

Birds fly in formation.
They jettison space
while at the cliff line
a twigged bush thinly etches away
the hard edge.

Cliffs heave in blue air

heaving and faulting
rising and falling
bird flight, twig etching,

cleaving up and folding back.