Fractal Myth

Bush Bards

On this page you will find an eclectic showcase of some of my favourite Australian poems. There is no alphabetical or chronological order to their presentation, and the collection is by no means complete! I add to it whenever I come across a new treasure. In some cases, these are forgotten poems unearthed from old anthologies. In other cases, they are long-remembered childhood favourites. The only criteria for being here is that I like them, and think them worthy of being read by a wider audience... which means you! Enjoy!

The Pairing of Terns.

[Mark O'Connor]
Human lovers know it only in dreams.
the wild mating flight of the terns;
riding the wierd and unguessable surf of the air
blown round the compass, locked
in pairs by invisible steel; wings taut
as the sharp stretched skin of a pterodactyl;
now criss-crossing moon-high in an evening sky,
and now outskimming the wind on the waves of a twilit bay
now rising, now falling tumultuous heights
and cackling their random delirious laughter.

Sometimes they hover
motionless, high in a half-gale torrent of air
unmoved yet sustained by the stream that surrounds them
then suddenly and sharply they break
quick as a kite
when the string snaps
plunging down and across the sky

then low against wind they row back hard
plying with swift strokes their strong feathered oars,
beating into curd the thick vortices of the air;
then turn and take the gale under their wings
running fast as the wind without moving a feather
driven miles from their haunts, yet unworried,
they know there is nothing they cannot do.

Their love is everything for which we have only metaphors,
peaks and abysses, stallings and dizzying speeds
wild oceans of distance, and feathertip closenesses,
and wingbeats that answer so swiftly none knows
which struck first, which called and which answered.
They were circling the globe when our fathers still
cringed from the monsters beyond the next hamlet.

The Quality of Sprawl.

[Les Murray]
Sprawl is the quality
of the man who cut down his Rolls-Royce
into a farm utility truck, and sprawl
is what the company lacked when it made repeated efforts
to buy the vehicle back and repair its image.

Sprawl is doing your farming by aeroplane, roughly,
or driving a hitchhiker that extra hundred miles home.
It is the rococo of being your own still centre.
It is never lighting cigars with ten-dollar notes:
that's idiot ostentation and murder of starving people.
Nor can it be bought with the ash of million-dollar deeds.

Sprawl lengthens the legs; it trains greyhounds on liver and beer.
Sprawl almost never says Why not? with palms comically raised
nor can it be dressed for, not even in running shoes worn
with mink and a nose ring. That is Society. That's Style.
Sprawl is more like the thirteenth banana in a dozen
or anyway the fourteenth.

Sprawl is Hank Stamper in Never Give an Inch
bisecting an obstructive official's desk with a chain saw.
Not harming the official. Sprawl is never brutal
though it's often intransigent. Sprawl is never Simon de Montfort
at a town-storming: Kill them all! God will know his own.
Knowing the man's name this was said to might be sprawl.

Sprawl occurs in art. The fifteenth to twenty-first
lines in a sonnet, for example. And in certain paintings;
I have sprawl enough to have forgotten which paintings.
Turner's glorious Burning of the Houses of Parliament
comes to mind, a doubling bannered triumph of sprawl -
except, he didn't fire them.

Sprawl gets up the nose of many kinds of people
(every kind that comes in kinds) whose futures don't include it.
Some decry it as criminal presumption, silken robed Pope Alexander
dividing the new world between Spain and Portugal.
If he smiled in petto afterwards, perhaps the thing did have sprawl.

Sprawl is really classless, though. It's John Christopher Frederick Murray
asleep in his neighbours' best bed in spurs and oilskins
but not having thrown up:
sprawl is never Calum who, in the loud hallway of our house,
reinvented the Festoon. Rather
it's Beatrice Miles going twelve hundred ditto in a taxi,
No Lewd Advances, No Hitting Animals, No Speeding,
on the proceeds of her two-bob-a-sonnet Shakespeare readings.
An image of my country. And would that it were more so.

No, sprawl is full-gloss murals on a council-house wall.
Sprawl leans on things. It is loose-limbed in its mind.
Reprimanded and dismissed
it listens with a grin and one boot up on the rail
of possibility. It may have to leave the Earth.
Being roughly Christian, it scratches the other cheek
and thinks it unlikely. Though people have been shot for sprawl.

from 'MAN INTO TREES' for Caroline Kalmar.

[William Hart-Smith]
Here, nothing is ever folded
and put away:

leaf, stick, twig, shards
of bark, like shed garments,

are simply dropped when finished with,
and turn to compost where they lie.

Pollen is spilled upon the glass
of a dressing-table top;

earring petals drop
and rust where they are fallen

The floors and walls are damp,
tier upon tier of shelves of stone descend

scattered with gritty pebbles
and glittering sand.

But not a tidy notion troubles
the innocent conscience of this land,

a sweet, sweet odour rises,
a lovely fragrance comes

of spilled unguents, spices,
and aromatic gums.

The Goldenfish

[Ian Templeman]
In my newlove days,
When I still trembled at the colour
of fire, hotter than my eye,
hotter than the winds burning the sky.
In my newlove days,
when I still shouted with childglee,
at the wavesongs, seashells
in my ear; songs of seabells.
In my newlove days,
when I still felt the blooditch
pace quickly in my veins;
as fall the winter rains.
In my newlove days
I discovered a silentland;
a wormknitdamp wonderland.
Exploring the undrained ponds;
trapped in scabs of saltmarsh,
which lapped the mainstreet
of my everywalking day,
in a stormtear, seeding the sand,
I caught a goldenfish in my hand.
My hunting net thrown aside,
I lay upon the poolbank
at the curling swarnpgrass,
the dragonflies spear
my eye's reflection.
I traced furled patterns
across the pondcheek calm
and slid my hand
beneath the tight waterskin,
raking the pebblethick.
I watched a goldenfish
swim into my hand,
its fins around my fingers.
I lifted the captured fish
from the coolpond
and marvelled at the intricate eyes
and finfrailty of the creature,
slipping and flipping
in my fingers.

My palm held death only
for the goldenfish,
so I relaxed my grasp
on its sleekbody
and watched
it sliceagain
into the softwater.
The goldensplinter spun in the watercone,
nibbling at my fingers,
as if inviting me
to hold it
I could only stare at the freefish
stirring in the windpushed current.
A shining body in the muddycoil of reeds,
feeding upon my strangeflesh fingerweeds.

The goldenfish memory
haunts me now,
as the sun batters my body
and stuffs the year's horizon,
savagely in my mouth.
The stiflingheaven or nothing,
closer to my face now
with a wind, at the soonend of my body's
The goldenfish memory
haunts me now
recaptures the handcupped beauty
I caught for an instant,
when I was a child.
I will never be a child again,
untroubled by saltlove's pain.

To a Poet.

[Michael Dugan]
I have heard
you no longer come out to the day
but alone in your room
you remember the green of your past,
the mountain days of childhood,
the midas-touched wattle world
where each day had no ending.
Alone in your room, wandering
the parabola of your life,
while your light burns on till dawn:-
are you living poet?
Or dying on paper?

Winter Portrait.

[Andrew Taylor]
The man with no future found himself in the rain
and watched the man with a future feed his cat
wind up his watch, busy himself for bed.
Outside in the rain the cold wind was not sad,
nor was it gay, the night not cruel nor kind;
the night was merely night, the rain was rain,
the cold was merely cold, though very cold.

The man with no future found he hated the cat
which ate to sleep and wakened only to eat.
Inside, the man with a future kissed his wife
set the alarm, went to a friendly bed,
turned out the light. The man without a future
turned to the past, the past was what he had
and the cold night, which was neither gay nor sad.

He thought of the past, and how the past was dead
and that was his, and how he had the night
and how the night and the past would never meet
for the night would die, and how he had the rain
that filled the cold wind and the vacant street
outside the house where the other had his bed
who slept in an equal dark within his head.

Kangaroos Inside The City.

[Myron Lysenko]
The kangaroos are inside the city
Sheltering in shadows
A paddock of kangaroos

Standing around eating grass from pouches
Heads in the air looking at skyscrapers
The kangaroos are inside the city

Not waiting for the lights to change them
They move down the road
A mob of kangaroos

Marching to the beat of hip hop
Stopping traffic outside the market
The kangaroos are inside the city

Waving flags & placards
Chanting something we can't understand
A moratorium of kangaroos

Police block off the C.B.D.
People escape into the suburbs
The kangaroos are inside the city
A wild mob of kangaroos.


[Gina Ballantyne]
Now you are nodding in every well-bred garden;
Worn by the pretty girl in the omnibus;
Sprouting seasonably in all the shop-windows
That yearly create synthetic spring for us.
You have been carefully coaxed to this blooming,
Cotton-woolled out of an unwilling soil -
You the delicate breath of a northern April
Have become the bright reward of southern toil.
But I am fierce for all that's wildly free
Beyond your sheltered walls: for each half-known
And lightly treasured thing
I keep my worshipping.
Your yellow heads can only make for me
An alien Spring.

Because I know loveliness whose life is vested
In sandstone ridges and bitterness of drought,
Yet blossoms and somehow contrives the ultimate beauty:
Have walked where tecoma tosses its bells about:
Counted more gold than of your dainty coining,
In butterfly-fashioned flowers massed for flight:
I am impatient of your encroaching faces
And turn to a wilder limitless delight.
For I've seen hardenbergia twine
Its tendrils round the trees, across the track
Its vagrant purple fling
(Soul of all wandering).
How can the same heart worship at your shrine -
O alien Spring?

Municipal Gum.

[Oodgeroo Noonuccal]
Gumtree in the city street,
Hard bitumen around your feet,
Rather you should be
In the cool world of leafy forest halls
And wild bird calls
Here you seems to me
Like that poor cart-horse
Castrated, broken, a thing wronged,
Strapped and buckled, its hell prolonged,
Whose hung head and listless mien express
Its hopelessness.
Municipal gum, it is dolorous
To see you thus
Set in your black grass of bitumen--
O fellow citizen,
What have they done to us?

A Fine Thing.

[Rosemary Dobson]
To be a scarecrow
To lean all day in a bright field
With a hat full
Of bird's song
And a heart of gold straw;
With a sly wink for the farmer's daughter,
When no one sees, and small excursions;
Returning after
To a guiltless pose of indolence.

A fine thing
to be a figurehead
with a noble brow
On a ship's prow
And a look to the end of the world;
With the sad sounds of wind and water
And only a stir of air for thinking;
The timber cutting
The green waves, and the foam flashing.

To be a snowman
Lost all day in deep thought
With a head full
Of snowflakes
And no troubles at all,
With an old pipe and six buttons,
And sometimes children in woollen gaiters;
But mostly lonely,
A simple fellow, with no troubles at all.

Aranda Song.

[Song of Aboriginals in Central Australia, translated from Aranda by T.G.H. Strehlow]
The ringneck parrots, in scattered flocks,
The ringneck parrots are screaming in their upward flight.

The ringneck parrots are a cloud of wings;
The shell parrots are a cloud of wings.

Let the shell parrots come down to rest, -
Let them come down to rest on the ground!

Let the caps fly off the scented blossoms!
Let the caps fly off the bloodwood blossoms!

Let the caps fly off the scented blossoms!
Let the blossoms descend to the ground in a shower!

The clustering bloodwood blossoms are falling down, -
The clustering bloodwood blossoms, nipped by birds.

The clustering bloodwood blossoms are falling down, -
The clustering bloodwood blossoms, one by one.

The Trimmin's on the Rosary.

[John O'Brien]
Ah, the memories that find me now my hair is turning gray,
Drifting in like painted butterflies from paddocks far away;
Dripping dainty wings in fancy -and the pictures, fading fast,
Stand again in rose and purple in the album of the past.
There's the old slab dwelling dreaming by the wistful, watchful trees,
Where the coolabahs are listening to the stories of the breeze;
There's a homely welcome beaming from its big, bright friendly eyes,
With The Sugarloaf behind it blackened in against the skies;
There's the same dear happy circle round the boree's cheery blaze
With a little Irish mother telling tales of other days.
She had one sweet, holy custom which I never can forget,
And a gentle benediction crowns her memory for it yet;
I can see that little mother still and hear her as she pleads,
"Now it's getting on to bed-time; all you childer get your beads."
There were no steel-bound conventions in that old slab dwelling free;
Only this - each night she lined us up to say the Rosary;
E'en the stranger there, who stayed the night upon his journey, knew
He must join the little circle, ay, and take his decade too.
I believe she darkly plotted, when a sinner hove in sight
Who was known to say no prayer at all, to make him stay the night.
Then we'd softly gather round her, and we'd speak in accents low,
And pray like Sainted Dominic so many years ago;
And the little Irish mother's face was radiant, for she knew
That "where two or three are gathered" He is gathered with them too.
O'er the paters and the aves how her reverent head would bend!
How she'd kiss the cross devoutly when she counted to the end!
And the visitor would rise at once, and brush his knees - and then
He'd look very, very foolish as he took the boards again.
She had other prayers to keep him. They were long, long prayers in truth;
And we used to call them "Trimmin's" in my disrespectful youth.
She would pray for kith and kin, and all the friends she'd ever known,
Yes, and everyone of us could boast a "trimmin"' all his own.
She would pray for all our little needs, and every shade of care
That might darken o'er The Sugarloaf, she'd meet it with a prayer.
She would pray for this one's "sore complaint," or that one's "hurted hand,"
Or that someone else might make a deal and get "that bit of land";
Or that Dad might sell the cattle well, and seasons good might rule,
So that little John, the weakly one, might go away to school.
There were trimmin's, too, that came and went; but ne'er she closed without
Adding one for something special "none of you must speak about."
Gentle was that little mother, and her wit would sparkle free,
But she'd murder him who looked around while at the Rosary:
And if perchance you lost your beads, disaster waited you,
For the only one she'd pardon was "himself" - because she knew
He was hopeless, and 'twas sinful what excuses he'd invent,
So she let him have his fingers, and he cracked them as he went,
And, bedad, he wasn't certain if he'd counted five or ten,
Yet he'd face the crisis bravely, and would start around again;
But she tallied all the decades, and she'd block him on the spot,
With a "Glory, Daddah, Glory!" and he'd "Glory" like a shot.
She would portion out the decades to the company at large;
But when she reached the trimmin's she would put herself in charge;
And it oft was cause for wonder how she never once forgot,
But could keep them in their order till she went right through the lot.
For that little Irish mother's prayers embraced the country wide;
If a neighbour met with trouble, or was taken ill, or died,
We could count upon a trimmin' - till, in fact, it got that way
That the Rosary was but trimmin's to the trimmin's we would say.
Then "himself" would start keownrawning - for the public good, we thought -
"Sure you'll have us here till mornin'. Yerra, cut them trimmin's short!"
But she'd take him very gently, till he softened by degrees -
"Well, then, let us get it over. Come now, all hands to their knees."
So the little Irish mother kept her trimmin's to the last,
Every growing as the shadows o'er the old selection passed;
And she lit our drab existence with her simple faith and love,
And I know the angels lingered near to bear her prayers above,
For her children trod the path she trod, nor did they later spurn
To impress her wholesome maxims on their children in their turn.
Ay, and every "sore complaint" came right, and every "hurted hand";
And we made a deal from time to time, and got "that bit of land";
And Dad did sell the cattle well; and little John, her pride,
Was he who said the Mass in black the morning that she died;
So her gentle spirit triumphed - for 'twas this, without a doubt,
Was the very special trimmin' that she kept so dark about.

. . . . .

But the years have crowded past us, and the fledglings all have flown,
And the nest beneath The Sugarloaf no longer is their own;
For a hand has written "finis" and the book is closed for good -
Here's a stately red-tiled mansion where the old slab dwelling stood;
There the stranger has her "evenings," and the formal supper's spread,
But I wonder has she "trimmin's" now, or is the Rosary said?
Ah, those little Irish mothers passing from us one by one!
Who will write the noble story of the good that they have done?
All their children may be scattered, and their fortunes windwards hurled,
But the Trimmin's on the Rosary will bless them round the world.


[Margaret Scott]
There they are in their polystyrene tray,
each curled in its crisp white rind like a little foetus.
Emblems of innocence still, though there's
not a trace of snow-white fleece,
no tender bleating from the evening hill.
As the fry-pan heats, there's no impulse to ask
"Little lamb who made thee?", no thought
as I slice onions, mushrooms, tomatoes
of Mary's pet or the ewe-lamb lying in her master's bosom,
no hint in the blood that bubbles on the browning meat
of spotless sacrifice, of robes washed and made white.
These chops, as I punt them around,
shaking on pepper and salt, have no mouths to open,
always, at every stage of their transfigurations,
part of a mob.

Magician and Philosopher.

[Graham Rowlands]
"Love life more than the meaning of it?" - Ivan Karamazov

I wave a pen, dip my wand in stardust
over my hat, a red-lined bowler of a lucky dip.
With a turn of the hand on the spotted scarf
I show the audience opals and crystals
I show them sun flecks
on the long hair of the woman I loved,
and I show them shadows.

I see words more than people
and people only through the words, their meaning:
I take the letters of some type-setter,
see pattern in a cross word of alphabet
and turn them into neon signs
looped high above the cities.

I know that the sequin inlays
on a peacock's tail
are devoid of meaning
and that nothing is less real,
more real, than words.

Showing ourselves to the Neighbours' Children, Warragamba.

[J.S. Harry]
The lions about to receive
cross-pawed in the shade,
or strolling on the road
among the Holdens.
An inbuilt tawny sovereignty makes
the park-rule, 'lion-of-way',
quite meaningless:
they do not recognize
we have yielded and are prey to half a fear ...
(the glass/is glass, there's no one near,
a lion's paw ...)
We are almost as the apple-mouthed pigs
served in hotels on platters at Christmas:
how clever we are, how real -
you could say we look alive -
you could say we were asleep.

To serve animals with animals whole or only
slightly dissected - is natural -
a front leg, hooved and hairy,
a maned, unskinned, Cyclop-eyed,
perfectly split half-horse's head ...
A little blue tractor darts up
on high mud-caked tyres,
to drive them from the road.
It is feeding time - we start to leave
they do not hunt, they do not kill -
shambling quietly to their tea.

Incident in Transylvania.

[Roger McDonald]
Black in a tentlike cloak, at rest
near the roots of an ancient oak on a hillside
the Count awaits a two-legged bottle.

Soon, awkward astride a mule, plunking with lurches
his winded guitar, a corpuscular friar
with lymphocytes fizzing like spa water
rides through a curtain of sweat
till his chin clicks up
on the outstretched arm of the Count who is waiting.

A surprise, like cactus clapped to his neck:

'I've been watching your ride,' lips the Count,
with ruby politeness. The friar has bubbles
of breakfast loose in his throat,
and riffles a pack of escapes:
'I'mer, willyar, issalltoo ... too ...' and slumps
to the pit of his belly, waiting.

But the Count draws back from the capture, strangely,
and it isn't the friar's fat, or the odour of fear
that deters him, nor even a whiff of chubby religion.
There are personal bones that give trouble -
nights of competing with shadows,
the knuckle and knee-bruising hunts,
the general ascent in the land
of inferior blood.
'It's a pain in the fangs,' he snaps,
heeling the mule in the butt,
bouncing the friar in whistles downhill.

Back at the castle the groom observed that the Count
seems no longer himself, no longer deliciously flensed
by the howl of his creatures (those slack
acres of flesh in cylindrical pits)
no longer - the servants gather and mutter -
no longer the Count of the cloak and the eye, the limp,
and the dreaded formula.

He calls for a glass of milk, he calls
for news of the world and a hot brown bun,
while a little old wife appears in the room's far corner,
clucking and knitting, nursing a cat,
blinking her blue old eyes and snicking her lips for a chat.

The Lament for the Drowned Country.

[Mary Durack]
You hear them kids over there laugh this old woman?
She mad. Old Maggie. She sit there fishing all day -
talk to myself and when she got a catch she let him go.
We seen her let 'em go.
Mad Maggie! Mad Maggie! Poor old Jilligan Numbajina,
Mad Maggie. You look now - she let that fish go ...

You go back up there, that old station - Argyle station -
(poor fella my old boss, my old missus. Nothing left that
house, where I sweep'm every day!) You look out that house,
you look out
windmill, tank, garden, kitchen, saddle shed.
You look out that store, that camp down there along crossing.
You look out that horse paddock, yard, mustering camp
everywhere, plain country, ranges. You look out that
limestone pocket where I come from my mummy - that
place where I lie along coolimon,
(Poor fella my old mummy, pass away long time ago.)
You tell him, my country - me, old Maggie, old Jilligan -
she can't forget 'im, my country, she all day heart-crying.
You tell him my country that secret. You tell him old Maggie,
old Numbajina woman belong Mirrawung - she got that dream.
You tell him hang on! Old Jilligan see what going happen
long time, might be close up, might be fifty t'ousand year,
I think them old spirit fellow gone fast asleep ...

Old Maggie, old Jilligan, she tell that fish:
'You bring this message my country, down there underneath.
You tell him hold on! Some day that dream coming true
then he can stretch out and dry himself, my country.
He can breathe that air, he can open up him eye.
Bye'n'bye the grass come back again, tree, spinifex, all them
lizard and snake and wallaby, bandicoot, porcupine, flying
fox - all that good bush tucker - everysing come back.
And bird too - big mob brolga - dance lika that -
And Jabiroo, emu, cockatoo - poor fella - I watch'm flyin'
over, lookin' down - Carr! Carr! What all that water?
What happen this good country? (That born place, my country!)
Little fish, you tell him - me, old Maggie, old Jilligan,
heart crying my born country. I got him here -
inside my heart, can't lose'm. I got that dream
that message. You talk my country: Hold on!
Some time, you gonna look out that sun again. You gonna
see all that moon and star. You gonna feel that warm
wind blowing.
You gonna see that sky!

The Triantiwontigongolope.

There's a very funny insect that you do not often spy,
And it isn't quite a spider, and it isn't quite a fly;
It is something like a beetle, and a little like a bee,
But nothing like a wooly grub that climbs upon a tree.
Its name is quite a hard one, but you'll learn it soon, I hope.
So try:

It lives on weeds and wattle-gum, and has a funny face;
Its appetite is hearty, and its manners a disgrace.
When first you come upon it, it will give you quite a scare,
But when you look for it again, you find it isn't there.
And unless you call it softly it will stay away and mope.
So try:

It trembles if you tickle it or tread upon its toes;
It is not an early riser, but it has a snubbish nose.
If you snear at it, or scold it, it will scuttle off in shame,
But it purrs and purrs quite proudly if you call it by its name,
And offer it some sandwiches of sealing-wax and soap.
So try:

But of course you haven't seen it; and I truthfully confess
That I haven't seen it either, and I don't know its address.
For there isn't such an insect, though there really might have been
If the trees and grass were purple, and the sky was bottle green.
It's just a little joke of mine, which you'll forgive, I hope.
Oh, try!

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 License God bless! God bless!