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Friday, 24 March 2017

Not Your Usual Australian Villains

This is an amended version: I have been lazily thinking of this as Not Your Usual Villains, but it's actually Not Your Usual Australian Villains!

I have rumbled from time to time about a planned series of e-books, using up my leftover notes to write some fun history. One of these is now ready to go, though some portions have already appeared here, like my tale of Moondyne Joe, a sort of bushranger,  a wicked publican, and others.

Now here's another taster from the collection: once I have done this, I will create the Facebook page for the book, and then set myself to work, getting Not Your Usual Australian Villains out on Amazon Kindle. (Update, March 25: it is now uploaded to Amazon, and awaiting their finishing touches; they say it can take 72 hours.)

The book is a set of essays adding up to about 80,000 words on topics that mainly relate to colonial history, though when I look at women wearing trousers, that story comes up to 1950 (which many young'ns already think of as "history"). My book, my rules, but it's an amusing read.

A wicked legal clerk

The management of the law in the earliest colonial days was something of a problem. The first Judge-Advocate, David Collins, lacked legal training, but he had common sense. The second Judge-Advocate, Richard Atkins, was also the fourth, and he served throughout Governor Bligh’s time. Unfortunately, he was a drunkard and a crook, and even John MacArthur called him “a public cheater living in the most boundless dissipation”.

MacArthur later wanted to prosecute Atkins for libel, but that may have been just a ploy: suffice it to say that there was no love lost between these two villains. Roger Therry describes the situation from hearsay, but it seems to match the facts:
The Governor [Bligh] was also placed in a position of great embarrassment from the want of competent legal assistance. The Judge-Advocate, Atkins, was a person of no professional mark, and was besides of a very disreputable character. There is no term of reproach too strong to apply to him, if what Bligh reported of him to the Secretary of State be true, — “that he had been known to pronounce sentence of death when intoxicated!”
With Atkins was associated one Crossley, holding no office nominally, but really performing the principal functions of the law department. He was a convict, whose true character is disclosed in the enormity of the crime that caused him to be transported. His case was this: Crossley had resorted to the ingenious device of putting a living fly into the mouth of a dead man, and then guiding his hand to trace his signature to the writing that purported to be the will of the deceased person.
Upon the trial, he swore, with audacious assurance, “that he saw the testator sign the will with his own hand while life was in him!” In passing sentence on his conviction for perjury, Lord Ellenborough took the opportunity of congratulating the profession in getting rid of such a pest. Moreover, he had been convicted of swindling in the Colony. Much should be pardoned to the erroneous courses of a Governor who was obliged to lean upon the support of such a worthless pair for legal assistance…
— Roger Therry, Reminiscences, 75.
Therry went on to outline some of the ways in which the activities of Atkins and Crossley served to push the Rum Rebellion forward. There can be no doubt that the real villains in that piece were the rebellious officers who would, in an honest world, have been convicted of treason, but Atkins and Crossley helped cause the trouble.

Just recall that if somebody swallows a fly, you can console them with the thought that they have life in them.

Don’t say it to a lawyer, though, or you may be seen as a villain.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

A judge of poetry

Any polite biography would have to list Barron Field as lawyer, poet and scientist. He was a passable lawyer, most of the time, and well-informed on matters of science. His poetry was another matter, though there were some in England who admired what others called mere doggerel.

Still, when he published his First Fruits of Australian Poetry in Sydney in 1819, these were the first alleged Australian poems to appear in book form. When Barron Field edited and published his Geographical Memoirs on New South Wales [1] in 1825, it included two chapters (chapters 6 and 13) by Allan Cunningham. So Field could mix it with the best when it came to the sciences.

Yet if he was a passable scientist, Field was less skilled at taking Australian animal life into poetry. I cannot bring myself to offer more than one verse of his Kangaroo, which surely eclipses anything written by Erasmus Darwin or William McGonagall. We would get good poets in due course, but it would take time.


To describe thee, it is hard:
Converse of the cameleopard,
Which beginneth camel-wise,
But endeth of the panther-size,
Thy fore half, it would appear,
Had belong’d to some “small deer,”
Such as liveth in a tree;
By thy hinder, thou should’st be
A large animal of chace,
Bounding o’er the forest’s space;-
Join’d by some divine mistake,
None but Nature’s hand can make-
Nature, in her wisdom’s play,
On Creation’s holiday.
— Barron Field

The problem for Australia’s earliest poets, Robinson, Field and Wentworth, at least, was that they were English-educated gentlemen, and their imagery had English roots. Still, Field did a decent job in two sonnets on Australian historical themes:


Note: In this sonnet, the barrack tow’r is the fort at Bare Island on Botany Bay.

I have been musing what our Banks had said
And Cook, had they had second sight, that here
(Where fifty years ago the first they were
Of voyagers, whose feet did ever tread
These savage shores) - that here on this south head
Should stand an English farm-hut; and that there
On yon north shore, a barrack tow’r should peer;
Still more had they this simple Tablet read,
Erected by their own compatriots born,
Colonists here of a discordant state,
Yet big with virtues (though the flow’ry name
Which Science left it, has become a scorn
And hissing to the nations), if our Great
Be Wise and Good. So fairest Rome became!
— Barron Field

On visiting the spot where Captain Cook and Sir Joseph Banks first landed in Botany Bay.
Here fix the tablet. This must be the place
Where our Columbus of the South did land.
He saw the Indian village on that sand
And on this rock first met the simple race
Of Austral Indians who presumed to face
With lance and spear his musket. Close at hand
Is the clear stream from which his vent’rous band
Refreshed their ship; and thence a little space
Lies Sutherland, their shipmate; for the sound
Of Christian burial better did proclaim
Possession than the flag, in England’s name.
These were the commelinae Banks first found;
But where’s the tree, with the ship’s wood-carved fame?
Fix, then, the Ephesian brass — ‘tis classic ground!
— Barron Field

One thing that people notice about Field is his name, which must provoke the question: what were his parents thinking? The answer is simple: they were thinking of his mother’s maiden name: she was born Esther Barron.

[1] Barron Field (ed.), Geographical Memoirs on New South Wales by various hands. London: John Murray, 1825.

Monday, 6 March 2017

Thinking about seasons

Well, the manuscript of Australian Backyard Earth Scientist has gone to the editor, so here's a small sample. I had a lot of fun writing this, because while it was on the slab, I played the role of "visiting scientist" at a local school, and I shared the progressively tweaked drafts with five Stage 2 (Year 3/4) classes. All of my best stuff comes when I write stuff to be read, and this is more polished than most.

I declare myself fairly happy with it, but till to come are the improvements the editor will make. Jo Karmel is my favourite and she knows my foibles, and this is nearly there. In essence, this little essay seeks to get kids thinking differently.

So this is an unpolished taster for people to savour. For more, you'll have to wait a while.

The PBI at the end is a 'Partly Baked Idea', an open-ended question for readers to play with. The book has lots of those.

In the northern hemisphere, away from the tropics, they have four seasons: spring, summer, autumn and winter, but is that number right for Australia? Much of Australia doesn’t have a real winter, leaving just three seasons, but there might be five or six seasons in other places.

The First Fleeters called Australia “a land of contrarieties”. The swans were black, not white; trees kept their leaves but dropped their bark; it was warm on the hills and cool in the valleys; the eagles were white; the bees had no sting — and the seasons were the wrong way around!

Telopea speciosissima or waratah,
a spring marker for Sydney.
Legend says the NSW Corps soldiers changed between winter and summer uniforms, using seasons based on the first days of March, June, September and December.

Those arbitrary dates worked, sort of. The invaders might have been better off with the natural calendar of the Dharawal people of Sydney. You can find the details on the internet, if you search on <Dharawal seasons>.

This chapter was written during Ngoonungi, which is cool, getting warmer, when the Miwa Gawaian (waratah) flowers.

 Ngoonungi is also the time of the gathering of the flying foxes. In my part of Sydney, just north of Dharawal lands, as dusk gathers each night, I see these fruit bats fluttering east along the valley below me, sometimes near my window, rushing to gorge on figs nearby.
Flying foxes over Manly Vale, as seen from Fairlight.
Seeing them, I know the time has come to work barefoot by day. It is my season of happy toes, lasting eight delicious months.

Far to my north, in Yolngu country, the stringybark is in flower then, as Rarranhdharr comes to an end. In the Anangu Pitjantjatjara country, which we call the north of South Australia, it is the end of Piriyakutu/Piriya-Piriya, when the hibernating reptiles come out. In Western Australia, the Noongar people call this time Kambarang, when the rain gets less, and the quandong is in fruit.

I notice the first blowfly, cicada or koel; the first magpie attack; the first funnelweb in the swimming pool or the first Christmas beetle. My children knew it was proper summer when the first Bogong moth started banging around on the ceiling at night.

Angophora costata, or Sydney Smooth-barked Apple,
shedding its bark, November, Forty Baskets area.
My high summer starts when the trunks of the Sydney smooth-barked apple, Angophora costata, turn orange-brown in mid-November. We take friends on mystery walks through a grove of these trees, just to watch their delight.

Sydney’s very first jacaranda comes out each year at Circular Quay, and I saw it the day I wrote this. The day I saw the first orange tinges on the Angophoras, I noticed that the Quay jacarandas were in decline. I also notice the first evening storms with warm rain that people want to run around in, and the first big electrical storm that people should not run around in.

But what do city folk use as season markers? I asked my friends, and we found these: the first time your breath comes out of your mouth like smoke, as the water vapour in your breath condenses in the cold; the time when parents stop nagging their children to wear a hat and have to start nagging them to wear a jumper, or when you wake up in spring and hate the thought of porridge, so you switch to muesli — and when you go back again, in autumn.

I really loved this thought from Anil Tortop, a Turkish-born illustrator in Brisbane: “The time I use/stop using the hair dryer. Or when ants start to invade the kitchen. Or when geckos start singing all together.”

A PBI: remember, all the PBIs are your play spaces!
What seasons would you like to use? There are no rules about numbers, but most Indigenous calendars seem to have six seasons.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Cocky Saturday

Oops! I accidentally deleted this, so here it is again.

Sulphur-crested cockatoo,
Cacatua galerita.

As a noun, Australians know three meanings for "cocky". It can be a cockroach, or a parrot-like bird, or a farmer. The second and third meanings are said to be related, and the farmer version goes back some distance: Elizabeth Ramsay-Laye encountered it around 1853:

    Further on we passed close to a very flourishing little farm, and on my pointing it out to one of the Miss R——’s, she said, “Oh! a cockatoo.” Thinking she had misunderstood me, I said, “I mean that pretty little farm.” “Yes,” she repeated, “we call that a ‘cockatoo;’ small farmers who settle themselves on another person’s run are so called here.” This perhaps gives the best idea of an Australian run, when such an intrusion is of no moment.
    — Elizabeth Ramsay-Laye, Social Life and Manners in Australia, 1861, 50.

Breaker Morant used the term "cocky" in one of his rollicking verses in 1894.

    It was a Western manager, and a language-man was he,
    Thus spoke he to the shed-boss*: “Send ‘The Rager’ round to me;
    I’ll hie me to the office where I’ll write his crimson cheque,
    Bid him roll his dusty swag up, or I’ll break his no-good neck.”

    So when the bell was ringing—when “smoke-oh” time was o’er,
    Says the shed-boss, “Mick, your services are wanted here no more.”
    Then “The Rager” hung his shears up, stepped from the shearing floor,
    And went a-swapping swear-words round at the office-door.

    For the boss began to language, and “The Rager” languaged back;
    Says “The Rager”, “There’s my brother, can’t you give him, too, the sack?”
    “Your brother? D—n your brother! Yes, send him round here quick!”
    “That narks yez,” Michael answered—”he’s a cocky down in Vic*.”

    — Breaker Morant (1856 – 1902), 1894.
Two points of translation here: the shed boss was a shearing shed supervisor and "Vic" is the state of Victoria.

wet cocky
wet cocky
There are two alleged and related derivations of cocky-the-farmer: either early settlers, sowing seed, found that the cockatoos came and dug them up, causing them to say "Look at me paddock — I'm just growing cockies," and the other is similar. Basically, a cocky is a small-scale farmer, and we speak of cow-cockies, wheat-cockies, and might discuss sheep-cockies.

My interest is with the feathered variety. This is Saturday, it's raining, and two cockies came to visit. They often perch on the light fitting, outside my study: see the picture above. Two wet ones sat on the balcony railing today, probably hoping for a feed, but anybody feeding them is asking for trouble. These birds are gangsters, and they move around in mobs, and feeding them is to invite an invasion of extremely destructive birds who can shred timber and rubber trims.

Some 30 years ago, a neighbour who was a bit of a fruit loop, had a cocky problem of his own making. He would run around his balcony, flailing at them with a big stick, but they liked it there, and just moved out of reach.

Somebody (and we all knew who) tracked them to their roosting tree, threw a string over a branch, and hauling up two sticks of gelignite, and setting them off at night. The police helicopter came around, suspecting thieves had been trying to "blow" a safe, but they found nothing: we found a few feathers under the tree, but there was no drop in the cocky population.

As they say, if cockies were any tougher, they'd rust, but they are definitely clowns.

This one was feeding on seeds, but got into an embarrassing position when the two stalks it was hanging onto, gave way under its weight, making it "do the splits".

We laughed, and it rewarded us with a dirty look and a scream: the thing our neighbour objected to most was their raucous screeching.

From my study window, I can see across a broad valley, about 3 km across, and sometimes, there can be a flock of 60 or so, racing back and forth, screaming. Take it from me: the sounds carry.

Still, cockatoos are part of the bush, and they even roost there: I caught this one popping out of its hollow tree one day, and this pic will probably go into the new book that I signed off on yesterday, as an example of how animals use resources.

One last picture, though, to illustrate a piece of vernacular which the British claim as their own, though I think it sounds more Australian. That is "as sick as a parrot", and to illustrate this, here is a cockatoo that was carrying "beak and feather disease".

This, I am told is a virus disease, first reported from Australia in the 19th century. This bird was a member of a flock, which means there was a risk of transmission, but I have seen no other cases in the area.

Anyhow, if you want to know what "sick as a parrot" looks like, this will show you.

Cockroaches, by the way, were a matter of shame:

And you should never own to a mosquito. I once unfortunately stated to a Queensland gentleman that my coat had been bitten by cockroaches at his brother’s house, which I had just left. ‘You must have brought them with you then,’ was the fraternal defence immediately set up. I was compelled at once to antedate the cockroaches to my previous resting-place, owned by a friend, not by a brother. ‘It is possible,’ said the squatter, ‘but I think you must have had them with you longer than that.’ I acquiesced in silence, and said no more about my coat till I could get it mended elsewhere.

        — Anthony Trollope, Australia and New Zealand, London: 1873, 67.

But it seems we had cockroaches quite early, going on this:

To repel the Cock-roach. — Take a small quantity of white arsenic finely pulverised, strew it on crumbs of bread, and lay it near their haunts; a few nights will suffice.
     Launceston Advertiser, 20 December 1830, 4,
And even earlier, in 1820, Lt. (later Admiral) King tried to deal with pests in the cutter he was using to map Australia's coasts:
The cutter was careened at a place appointed for the purpose on the east side of Sydney Cove; and whilst undergoing her repair the crew lived on board a hulk hired for the occasion. This offered so favourable an opportunity for destroying the rats and cockroaches with which she was completely overrun, a measure that, from the experience of our last voyage, was considered absolutely necessary for our comfort as well as for our personal safety, that, as soon as the operation of coppering and caulking was finished, she was secured alongside of the hulk, and there immersed in the water for several days, by which process we hoped effectually to destroy them.

    Upon the vessel being raised and the water pumped out, I was rejoiced to find that the measure appeared to have had the desired effect; but, before we left Port Jackson, she was again infested by rats, and we had not been long at sea before the cockroaches also made their appearance in great numbers. In sinking the cutter it seemed, in respect to the insects, that we had only succeeded in destroying the living stock, and that the eggs, which were plentifully deposited in the recesses and cracks of the timbers and sides, proved so impervious to the sea-water, that no sooner had we reached the warmer climate, than they were hatched, and the vessel was quickly repossessed by them; but it was many months before we were so annoyed by their numbers as had been the case during the last voyage.

    — Lt. P. P. King, Narrative of a Survey of the intertropical and western coasts of Australia.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

The True Opposite of a Luddite

Well, I've been flat-out getting two books out the door, mainly Australian Backyard Earth Scientist, which is going to be fun, so there has been little time for other writing. Here's something I put in the rainy-day file.

Although I am no longer all that actively involved in education (I just play at being the visiting scientist at a local school), old habits die hard, and I keep my ear to the ground.

This is just one of the things I have in common with dead wombats (that's a very dead wombat on the right). And, I suppose, dead teachers (and I used to be a member of the Dead Teachers' Society, but that's another story).

Over the years, I have become largely immune to the teacher-Luddites, the absolutely determined rejectors of technology. You can tell from a certain shrillness in their tone that their real problem is that they are terrified of what they see before them.

Well, I can relate to that. I have managed to take on board a number of the more recent inventions of the Web, but when I look at my Web pages, they lack a certain modernity. I could probably sit down and make them more funky, but one science site for kids pulls in half a million a year, so I just leave it alone. They ain't broke, so why fix them?

I download podcasts, but I don't use RSS, and I don't VOIP, mainly because it will take time away from writing, and I'm pretty busy right now. Colour me verging on the Luddite. Mind you, I don't think I'll ever be a real Luddite or even a good facsimile of one. Tradition has it that the Luddites, around 1810, took their name from a chap who may have been Ned Ludd or Ned Ludlam.

Or maybe he didn't exist, but if he did, he came from near Leicester, and apparently he broke two stocking frames in a fit of rage. The Luddites broke machines because they threatened people's work, which was a bit different.

The modern Luddites don't break machines, but when they try to use computers, they break the hearts of techies. "My computer's got a virus," they scream.

Techie: "Why do you say that?"

Luddite: "It won't open my file!"

Techie: "What did you create the file in?"

Luddite (long-sufferingly at this silly question): "Microsoft!".

Assorted deities including Erudite, the goddess of smarty-pantses, willing, I won't ever be like that.

But the big problem with some Luddites is that they ooze into management, perhaps by clerical error, and somebody tells them to mend their ways and mind their manners and get with the flow. All of a sudden, the Luddite becomes a fervent exponent of all things technological. In a way, they remind me of George Orwell's sheep in 'Animal Farm'.

Remember them? The animals, symbols of the proletariat, chanting "Four legs good, two legs bad," and later, other variations of that. The reformed Luddites, the anti-Luddites, have their own chant "Old ways bad, new ways good", and they target, in particular, that evil old technology, The Book. It's simple enough for them to think that they understand the concept. Books bad, machines good, they chant.

Now I always found it amusing that when Marshall McLuhan decided the book was dead, he wrote several books to prove it. The modern anti-Luddites seem, for some reason, to be somewhat illiterate, so they don't write books. They just attack them with a vehemence that would not have been out of place in the Opernplatz (now the Bebelplatz) in Berlin, one May night in 1933, when some truly charming people burnt books.

I need a new name for them, though. These people aren't really anti-Luddites, they are inverted, backward Luddites. If the Luddites are followers of Ned Ludd, then these people must be the followers of Ned Dull. Hereafter, they shall be Dullards.

The Dullards have two main lines of argument:

"We don't need books: you can get everything on the Internet."

"Books go out of date, and then we have to throw them out."

I answered the first of these silly claims in a talk on the ABC, some years back, in a talk you can find at  In essence, I argued that making a book involves a lot more than blogging or emailing does. There is an art and a craft to shaping a book, writing it, editing it and designing it. There is a huge difference between knocking up a web page or five, and creating the sustained narrative that is a book.

Well, I would say that, because I write books, quack the Dullards. I, on the other hand, have a first-hand knowledge of the research, the sweat, the tears, the revisions and the efforts of professional editors and designers that go into my books. I also own quite  few web pages with six-figure counts.

Yes, books can go out of date, or some of them can, especially computer manuals and the like, and the savvy reader checks for the date of publication, which appears on the back of the title page.

Very few web pages have a date on them (all of mine do), and there is no guarantee of quality in a web page. A reputable publisher normally will have done at least a cursory check for quality, so there is some sort of implied guarantee in a book, most of the time*. Look at and then look again more closely. Click on the link "For teachers" if you still don't get it. That's right, the whole site is dodgy, and while this one has been created as a warning, people get taken in.

I know. I invented the town of Cootaburra and put it on the web, and over the years, my tall tale of a non-existent town and its fanciful Giant Dung Beetle has been featured in newsletters, a government report, at least two books and one magazine, as well as a number of educational sites.

Just search on Cootaburra and see for yourself. Just stay clear of the ones at Tripod if they are still there, because they were flagged as attack sites that distribute malware. Yep, that's right, a few web sites can be downright dangerous. Books don't do that (except, perhaps, Marie Curie's lab notebooks at the Sorbonne, which even now are so radioactive that would-be readers have to sign away any right to sue, and those aren't published books).

So the Internet can be downright wrong, it's generally not self-correcting, you can't tell if it's up-to-date and it may even cause active harm, but does this upset the Dullards? Not a bit of it: they are hell-bent on getting rid of books and replacing the allegedly useless books with gleaming new technology. Only in this way can they demonstrate their incisive brilliance, their sterling qualities of leadership.

Given a choice between barbarians at the gate and Dullards at the gate, give me the barbarians, any day. You can reason with barbarians and even civilise them with time. Barbarians rape and pillage, but once they've gone, the pieces are still there, so you can start again.

Occasionally, a Dullard emerges who has slipped through the ranks to Senior Management and becomes a principal who can make educational decisions without being educated. They don't just do away with books, these special Dullards, they do away with librarians and leave readers bereft of guidance, at the mercy of any devious snake-oil seller with a glib yarn about giant dung beetles. I'm still working on a special name for that sub-class of Dullard.

No, not that name. Or that name. Or that. I want something I can use in a family-values blog.


* It was my then publisher who published and was caught out by the Helen Demidenko hoax. I recall this, because I had written a novel that was a transparent hoax at three levels, a literary joke that would have amused but never fooled, pretty much as detectable as Cootaburra. I submitted the ms just as the Demidenko business was coming apart, and got a frosty rejection which I only understood when the scandal all came out. The ms is still in my filing cabinet, and I take it out occasionally and whimper sadly at its unhappy fate.

Thursday, 2 February 2017

The sad tale of Jennings Carmichael

I mentioned Jennings Carmichael in passing, when discussing the convicts who came to Australia, but I think it's time to look at her experience in a bit more detail.

To save you jumping over to that link and fossicking through it, here is what I said about her there:

Workhouses still existed in 1904, when an Australian poet named Jennings Carmichael died after her husband deserted her. Her three sons were placed in an English workhouse until Australians found out about them in 1909, and took up a collection to pay the boys' fares back to Australia. (See Jennings Carmichael: Her Children in a Workhouse, The Argus, April 16, 1910, p. 4,  and see other articles in Trove which are tagged 'Jennings Carmichael'. You will see the tag when you go to the link above: click on the tag, and at last count, 103 other articles will be listed: it seems we volunteers who do the tagging have been busy).

Grace Elizabeth ‘Betsy’ Jennings Carmichael, otherwise known as Mrs Francis Mullis, lived from 1867 to 1904. She was born at Ballarat in Victoria, but died in Leyton Workhouse in England after her husband deserted her in Britain. All in all, her life was one of tragedy: her father died when she was three, and her mother then remarried, taking ‘Betsy’ with her to Orbost on the Snowy River. Her three sons, left in another workhouse were later brought by public subscription to Australia, where they changed their names from Mullis to Carmichael.

The history of this shocking case can be followed in the newspapers of the day. A group of dedicated volunteers (the writer of these words among them) have been tracking down, correcting and tagging all of the news stories related to Jennings Carmichael in the Trove Historic Newspapers collection at the National Library of Australia. You can find these items here:

Much of the information on this little-known and unfortunate poet has since been provided by her extended family, who also provided the text of Let there be no tomorrow and Wattle Day Tribute, which appears on her grave in England.

Wattle Day Tribute

Ah, little flower,
I loved of old
Dear little downy
Heads of gold.
— Jennings Carmichael.

Let there be no tomorrow

Let there be no tomorrow
But one long fair today
Today of the ripen Autumn,
Today of the pensive May.
Let there be no tomorrow
Swiftly the moments fly,
While the sun shines o’er the valley
and the calm stream idles by.
Let there be no tomorrow
But here for a little space,
Let only the day’s completeness
Be felt in its fleeting grace.
Tho’ Autumn thoughts are round us
Colouring vale and hill
Yet dreams of the Summer are with us,
In all their sweetness still.
Let there be no tomorrow
Skies of transcendent blue
Let there be no tomorrow
Leaves of Autumnal hue
So sky, and leafage and valley
Ripe in the season’s prime
may hold forever a picture
In the golden frame of time.
Let there be no tomorrow
Into our sunlight cast
Changing the glowing present
Into the faded past
Let there be no tomorrow
Bearing our wealth away,
So sweet is the picture painted,
By the thoughts that are mine today.
— Jennings Carmichael.

My reason for going into it in more detail is that the English-speaking world seems to be descending into another round of the same vicious and cruel economic thuggery that characterised the world before about 1900. When later students come to look at the return of our most recent descent, they may find some convenient source material here.

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Australia's mystery poet

Who was ‘Hugo’? I have no idea, but there are two of his poems available in the newspapers of his day, both in The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser in 1831. One of these, Zodiac Light, was competent by fairly ordinary, but The Gin shows a new awareness among the white people of the colony. I speculate that ‘Hugo’ was born between 1800 and 1810, in the colony, and grew up with Aboriginal playmates. He writes as one who knows the bush — and the Aborigines’ plight.

This poem was first published as “Original Poetry” in The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, Saturday 16 July 1831, page 4. It offers early instances of several words like gin, gunya and waratah.

(As I have a strong interest in such things, I have found an even earlier case of waratah from 1804. Oddly, there seems to have been no other mention of the plant until 1826, when the modern spelling first appeared. By 1831, Hugo was out-of-date in his terms. The real question must be: what happened to him?)

The Gin
“Where spreads the sloping shaded turf
By Coodge’s* smooth and sandy bay,
And roars the ever-ceaseless surf,
I’ve built my gunya for to-day.

“The gum-tree with its glitt’ring leaves
Is sparkling in the sunny light,
And round my leafy home it weaves
Its dancing shade with flow’rets bright.

“And beauteous things around are spread;
The burwan*, with its graceful bend
And cone of nuts, and o’er my head
The flowering vines their fragrance lend.

“The grass-tree, too, is waving there,
The fern-tree sweeping o’er the stream,
The fan-palm, curious as rare.
And warretaws* with crimson beam.

“Around them all the glecinæ*
Its dainty tendrils careless winds,
Gemming their green with blossoms gay,
One common flower each bush-shrub finds.

“Fresh water, too, is tumbling o’er
The shell-strewn rocks into the sea;
‘Midst them I seek the hidden store,
To heap the rich repast for thee.

“But where is Bian?—where is he?
My husband comes not to my meal:
Why does he not the white man flee,
Nor let their god his senses steal?

“Lingers he yet in Sydney streets?
Accursed race! to you we owe,
No more the heart contented beats.
But droops with sickness, pain, and woe.

“Oh ! for the days my mother tells,
Ere yet the white man knew our land;
When silent all our hills and dells,
The game was at the huntsman’s hand.

“Then roamed we o’er the sunny hill,
Or sought the gully’s grassy way,
With ease our frugal nets could fill
From forest, plain, or glen, or bay.

“Where sported once the kangaroo,
Their uncouth cattle trend the soil,
Or corn-crops spring, and quick renew,
Beneath the foolish white man’s toil.

“On sunny spots, by coast and creek,
Near the fresh stream we sat us down ;
Now fenced, and shelterless, and bleak,
They’re haunted by the white man’s frown.

She climbed the rock—she gazed afar—
The sun behind those mountains blue
Had sunk; faint gleamed the Western star,
And in the East a rainbow hue

Was mingling with the darkling sea;
When gradual rose the zodiac light,
And over rock, and stream, and tree,
Spread out its chastened radiance bright.

So calm, so soft, so sweet a ray,
It lingers on the horizon’s shore;
The echo of the brighter day,
That bless’d the world on hour before.

But sudden fades the beam that shone,
And lit the earth like fairy spell;
Whilst in the East, the sky’s deep tone
Proclaims the daylight’s last farewell.

“Fast comes the night, and Bian yet
Returns not to his leafy bed;
My hair is with the night-dew wet
Sleep comes not to this aching bead.

“The screeching cockatoo’s at rest;
From yonder flat the curlew’s wail
Comes mournful to this sorrowing breast,
And keenly blows the Southern gale.

“Avaunt ye from our merry land!
‘Ye that so boast our souls to save,
Yet treat us with such niggard hand:
We have no hope but in the grave.”

Thus sung Toongulla’s wretched child,
As o’er her sleeping babe she hung.
Mourning her doom, to lead a wild
And cheerless life the rocks among.

Their health destroyed—their sense depraved
The game, their food, for ever gone;
Let me invoke religion’s aid
To shield them from this double storm
Glycine sp.   (Peter Macinnis)

Of physical and moral ill;
We owe them all that we possess
The forest, plain, the glen, the hill,
Were theirs;—to slight is to oppress.

— Hugo

* Coodge: Coogee
* burwan: burrawang
* warretaw: waratah.

* glecinæ: probably  Glycine sp., a member of the Fabaceae

Waratah, Telopea speciosissima (Peter Macinnis)