Australian junk

Perfect beyond compare, the composition
glimpsed behind the sand dune, visitation
of a nation, expressed in three fork prongs:
a cricket stump, a tinnie, and a single thong.
Was there an arranger, of design intelligent,
or was it just luck, dumb evolution, that bent
time and space to make this eloquent trio?
Leprechauns fix just one shoe, but there’s no
Irishman likes cricket, it’s just not their game.
Should I search for walkers gone lame,
one side leaning? Or a patriotic drunk
who made tribute, through placing this junk,
into a precise summation of our Antipodes:
weird sport, sour booze, and feet liking breeze?

P.S. Cottier

A very light poem indeed today. Ye gads, it’s not even a proper sonnet! Yesterday was the public holiday for Australia Day (which was Sunday the 26th, for all you benighted foreigners), and the flags hopped out like feral rabbits. I find the yobbo aspects of patriotism very hard to take.

But the rhyming thing above celebrates a moment when I saw a thong (a flip-flop for all you benighted foreigners), a tinnie (an aluminium drink can that once contained beer – oh, do keep up!), and a cricket stump (surely you know what that is?) discarded at the beach.

Meanwhile, of course, morons are killing sharks in Western Australia as they occasionally bite people who are in the water. Meanwhile, our navy is reportedly pushing boats of asylum seekers back to Indonesia. Meanwhile, we still don’t recognise Indigenous Australians in the Constitution.

But at least we beat the Poms in cricket. (Men’s cricket, that is.)


Now, after this dubiously un-Australian rant, with all the affection hidden in the poem, I suggest you cleanse yourself by flying to New Zealand. Click this feather, and It Shall Be:
Tuesday Poem

The tea-lady’s dream, 1970

No-one wanted tea. I felt my stockings
thickening, darkening. Varicose veins
still wrote Chinese messages,
but sudden trousers held the blue.
My twisted wrist ached, and a warm smell
better than shortbread, browner than treacle
wrapped me in blankets of singing air.
New words jingled in my pocketed ears.
Foreign coins: crema, doppio, arabica,
even mugaccino. They sipped and said
You’re the city’s best barista.
I strained confusion to comprehend.
No-one wanted any tea.

P.S. Cottier


Now somewhere in the records of the Australian Bureau of Statistics, there will be an interesting moment discoverable; the exact year in which coffee outsold tea for the first time in this fair brown land. I suspect it was sometime in the early 1980s, but I am too lazy to investigate.

Certainly, tea was the thing in the nineteenth century. The iconic swagman was waiting ’til his billy boiled, not until his macchiato expressed itself. But somehow, now, we have moved from tea being the mainstay of most of the population, to coffee.

Ponder the changes to our land
with a latte in your hand…

I briefly worked at The University of Melbourne serving tea to students at the same time I was also employed as a tutor. (Not at exactly the same hours of the day, though. ‘Would you like sugar with your Kafka?’ was never asked. By me, anyway.) That was back in the 1890s, before Federation. Then, when I started at a very traditional Commonwealth Department in Canberra in the early years of last century, there was still a tea lady who pushed a trolley around. Incroyable.

Now the very idea of an electric kettle being shifted down the corridors of power to make tea (and yes, horrible coffee) by a woman seems awfully steampunk…or should that be steamplunk?

Of course, tea has made a comeback, but as a more specialist beverage, rather than as the drink that powered a nation.

I wonder how much tea they still drink in New Zealand? For the first time in 2013, click this feather and read the poems by other Tuesday Poets, most of whom reside in New Zealand, which, interestingly and surprisingly, is defined as a State of Australia in our Constitution, just in case they ever decide to join in the slightly bigger tea-party over the water.*

Tuesday Poem

(Australia Day is on January 26th, a date of mindless celebration for some, and mourning for others, and of quieter celebration with a spoonful of thought for yet a third group. I think knowledge of that forthcoming anniversary has seeped into this profound analysis of Australian history, incidentally. A year ago, I was also writing about tea, just before the last Straya Day.)

* It occurs to me that some people may not believe me, so here’s the actual definition section from the Constitution:


“The Commonwealth” shall mean the Commonwealth of Australia as established under this Act.

“The States” shall mean such of the colonies of New South Wales, New Zealand, Queensland, Tasmania, Victoria, Western Australia, and South Australia, including the northern territory of South Australia, as for the time being are parts of the Commonwealth, and such colonies or territories as may be admitted into or established by the Commonwealth as States; and each of such parts of the Commonwealth shall be called a State .

“Original States” shall mean such States as are parts of the Commonwealth at its establishment.

Now you’ve had coffee, poetry and law. Pretty good value, if you ask me…

I had written him a letter which I had, for want of better
   Knowledge, sent to where I met him down the Lachlan, years ago,
He was shearing when I knew him, so I sent the letter to him,
   Just “on spec”, addressed as follows: “Clancy, of The Overflow”.

And an answer came directed in a writing unexpected,
   (And I think the same was written in a thumbnail dipped in tar)
‘Twas his shearing mate who wrote it, and verbatim I will quote it:
   “Clancy’s gone to Queensland droving, and we don’t know where he are.”

In my wild erratic fancy visions come to me of Clancy
   Gone a-droving “down the Cooper” where the western drovers go;
As the stock are slowly stringing, Clancy rides behind them singing,
   For the drover’s life has pleasures that the townsfolk never know.

And the bush hath friends to meet him, and their kindly voices greet him
   In the murmur of the breezes and the river on its bars,
And he sees the vision splendid of the sunlit plains extended,
  And at night the wondrous glory of the everlasting stars.

I am sitting in my dingy little office, where a stingy
    Ray of sunlight struggles feebly down between the houses tall,
And the foetid air and gritty of the dusty, dirty city
   Through the open window floating, spreads its foulness over all.

And in place of lowing cattle, I can hear the fiendish rattle
   Of the tramways and the buses making hurry down the street,
And the language uninviting of the gutter children fighting,
   Comes fitfully and faintly through the ceaseless tramp of feet.

And the hurrying people daunt me, and their pallid faces haunt me
  As they shoulder one another in their rush and nervous haste,
With their eager eyes and greedy, and their stunted forms and weedy,
   For townsfolk have no time to grow, they have no time to waste.

And I somehow fancy that I’d like to change with Clancy,
   Like to take a turn at droving where the seasons come and go,
While he faced the round eternal of the cashbook and the journal —
   But I doubt he’d suit the office, Clancy, of “The Overflow”.

'...that is all/Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.' (?) The sun seems to be located near Broome.

Yes, I’m going into fervent Australian mode as Thursday 26th January is Australia Day, or as some like to call it, Dags with Flags Day. Anyone who dabbles in this blog will now that criticism of aspects of Oz society is rampant to a positively un-Australian degree, so this classic 1889 verse from Banjo Paterson may raise me back to the golden realm of unadulterated, frolicking patriotism. (My shallow cynicism is in fact a cover for an embarrassingly gushy love for this country, but let’s pretend I’m not feeling that at all, shall we? Love is so much harder to write about than anything else, and I wouldn’t want to fall short.)

Actually, I love this poem too, particularly the ‘thumb-nail dipped in tar’. The longing for the pure realm of the bush that this poem exemplifies is something that still marks Australian poetry. Ask anyone where the best-known Australian poet lives today, and they’ll point to Bunyah and Les Murray, not to Sydney and…anyone in Sydney.

The suspicion of the urban environment, even in one of the most urbanised of economies, also lives on, I think. Real men are out there somewhere, with the kelpies and the sheep, in the ‘virginal’ bush, roaming as free as the public domain status of this poem. (Just don’t mention the previous ownership…I don’t mean the poem.)

A word about flags. The Australian flag is definitely seen much more than it was when I was a child. Not on public buildings so much; I remember having to recite something like ‘I love God and my country/ I will honour the flag/ and cheerfully obey my parents, teachers and the law’ at primary school. Boys actually saluted the flag during this, while girls preened and made scones. But today we do see more private display of the Australian flag. Is this:
(a) because we ape America in everything, even flag-waving, although it’s a different flag?;
(b) people have more money, because of our flogging huge amounts of iron ore and uranium (and other good stuff) overseas?; or
(c) flags are cheaper now, and we receive millions of plastic ones back from the countries we sell huge amounts of iron ore and uranium (and other good stuff) to, in an equitable and sensible exchange?
I really don’t know, but I find these public displays of private flags very strange indeed. I worry about how their display might be related to charming bumper stickers such as ‘I Grew Here You Flew Here’, and ruder variations thereof. Not that you see many of them in Canberra: you’re more likely to read ‘Refugees Welcome’ in the ACT. But as I hear constantly, Canberra is not Australia.

Enough. Screed is bordering on The Burning Slough of Rant.

If the cloying smell of cattle or the sticky feeling of the wool emanating from this piece is disturbing you (or perhaps the premature reek of a million sausages on a million barbies is getting up your nose?) please head over to the Tuesday Poem Site, where the vowels may be a little rounder and the patriotism seems slightly more occluded, at least from a distance. (Until the next rugby thing, anyway.)