Australia Day Poems, Part 2: These Knew Their Hour

poetsPoet C.J. Dennis (1876-1938),  Activist  Judith Wright (1915-2000)

by Mary W Maxwell

We all know our hour, I suppose. But in Wright’s poem Black Cockatoos, printed below, we see that birds know their hour too. And poets know how to identify these great mysteries in just a few words.

CJ Dennis, on the other hand, was a fiction writer in verse. How could he so perfectly capture a type of person? When I hear people talk about Australian culture, I think of the men described by Banjo Patterson and CJ Dennis. The characters they created were not beholden to anyone outside of Oz.

I’ll abbreviate the beginning of his Sydney Harbor Bridge poem. It was first printed in his book The Sentimental Bloke. I say we need more sentimental blokes today.

I Dips Me Lid, by CJ Dennis

It ‘appened this way: I ‘ad jist come down,

After long years, to look at Sydney town.

     An’ ‘struth! Was I knocked endways? Fair su’prised?

     I never dreamed! That arch that cut the skies

The Bridge! I never thort there could ‘a’ been —

I never knoo, nor guessed — I never seen …

     Well, Sydney’s ‘ad some knocks since I been gone,

     But strike! This shows she keeps on keepin’ on.

I’d strolled about the town for ‘arf a day

Then dragged me carcase round the ‘arbor way

     To view the Bridge from Dame Macquarrie’s Chair

     Then parks me frame, an’ gits to thinkin’ there —

Thinkin’ of older days; an’ I suppose

I must ‘ave nodded orf into a doze.

     Nex’ thing I knoo, ole Phillip come an’ sat

     Beside me, friendly like, an’ starts to chat.

“Young sir,” ‘e sez.  “You, too, in sheer amaze

Look upon this, and hark to other days,

     An’ dream of this fair city’s early start.

     In which (‘e bows) I played my ‘umble part —

My ‘umble part — a flagpole an’ a tent.”

“Come orf!” sez I. “You was a fine ole gent.

     Reel nob.  I’ve read about the things you did.

     You picked some site.” (‘E bows. I dips me lid).

“Young sir,” ‘e sez.  “I’ve dwelt in spirit ‘ere

To watch this city waxin’ year by year:

     But yesterday, from a mere staff, a tent,

     Wonder on wonder as the swift years went —

A thrivin’ village, then a busy town,

Then, as a stride, a city of renown.

     Oh! what a wondrous miracle of growth

     Think you not so?” “Too right,” I sez.  “My oath!”

“Young sir,” ‘e sez.  “The tears well in my eyes

When I behold von arch that cleaves the skies —

     That mighty span, triumphant, where we view

     My old friend Darwin’s vision now made true:

‘There the proud arch, Colossus-like, bestride

Yon glittering stream and bound the chafing tide!

     ‘Twas so he dreamed a few short years agone.

     Spoke truly, sir; they keep on keeping on.”

So Phillip spoke ‘is piece, fair puffed wif pride.

An’ ‘im an’ me dreamed by the ‘arbor-side

     I, of the scene before, of years to be,

     An’ of the marvels that men yet might see

‘Im, of a lantern gleamin’ thro’ the fog

To light a tent, an’ two men, an’ a dog ….

     Then both of us, like some queer instinct bids,

     Stands up, serloots the Bridge, we dips our lids.

 

Birds

Today, Australia Day, at 2.45pm I will host a poetry session in the Rotunda of City Park, Launceston. (What a beautiful city, the third oldest in Australia).

I will read some of Judith Wright. I am not sure of the copyright status but will check it out next week and pay up if I have to. Here, then, the Black Cockatoos.

It’s worth being Australian just for this one poem, IMHO.

 

Each certain kind of weather or of light

has its own creatures. Somewhere else they

wait as though they but inhabited heat or cold,

twilight or dawn, and knew no other state.

Then at their time they come, timid or bold.

So when the long drought-winds, sandpaper-harsh,

were still, and the air changed, and the clouds came,

and other birds were quiet in prayer or fear,

these knew their hour. Before the first far flash

lit up, or the first thunder spoke its name,

in heavy flight they came, till I could hear

the wild black cockatoos, tossed on the crest

of their high trees, crying the world’s unrest.

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Comments

  1. Unfortunately Mary, not much can be done to undo the past. It will take a very long time to end the cultural clash because certain white fella’ have made an industry out of the situation.

    With time and good intentions on both sides of the fence, a fine result can be achieved. We have to remember, there are good and bad people in all cultures, sometimes there are more of one than the other. Unfortunately, some religions deliberately mould their followers ethics in the wrong direction.

    Imperialism has a lot to answer for. Imagine the finance and time that will be required to rebuild Libya and Syria to their former liveability because of American Imperialistic attempts.

    But at least there is not as big a cultural difference between the people of the Middle East and the US as the cultural difference between Aboriginal and European culture in the eighteenth century.

  2. I found this poem – uncredited.

    Invasion Day Australia day 1788

    The white fella came in big boats back in 1788
    He liked our land and all the things to see
    But he didnt like me and my family
    We were just dumb black fellas
    Driven deep into the outback we gathered
    But it wasnt too long that theyt came hunting
    and this time we fought back but they had spears that went crack

    Years went by and we had to hide
    Deep in the gully of the winjanna tribe
    Some of our family went to missions
    Other just went missing
    At the mission they gave us white man food white man clothes taught us about the big fella god
    We had to get a pass to leave a permit to have a meeting and if we didnt have a pass we got a beating
    White man soon let his lust run wild on the plain and his seed pour out with black fella woman
    She had white mans baby but they white fellas governor said she was no good at raising baby so they took them away and put em in nice home miles away with good white family
    Black fella was treated like a bad man but before white man came we just roamed the land
    Hunting gathering no being a worry to anyone
    Before white man came we had good bush tucker
    We had freedom of our land
    We had our own laws
    We had our own god
    He brought his laws his bad health bad drink and his bad attitude to balck fellas

    Its australia day hip hip hooray
    But we black fellas call it invasion daycoz thats the day white fella came and changed everything about our ways.

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