Back to Banjo Paterson again, who so beautifully captures the attraction of the Outback, either lyrically or humorously. I love this poem because I do still occasionally hear the echo of the “song” it describes.
Daylight is Dying
The daylight is dying
Away in the west,
The wild birds are flying
In silence to rest;
In leafage and frondage
Where shadows are deep,
They pass to its bondage –
The kingdom of sleep.
And watched in their sleeping
By stars in the height,
They rest in your keeping,
Oh, wonderful night.
When night doth her glories
Of starshine unfold,
‘Tis then that the stories
Of bush-land are told.
Unnumbered I hold them
In memories bright,
But who could unfold them,
Or read them aright?
Beyond all denials
The stars in their glories
The breeze in the myalls
Are part of these stories.
The waving of grasses,
The song of the river
That sings as it passes
For ever and ever,
The hobble-chains’ rattle,
The calling of birds,
The lowing of cattle
Must blend with the words.
Without these, indeed, you
Would find it ere long,
As though I should read you
The words of a song
That lamely would linger
When lacking the rune,
The voice of the singer,
The lilt of the tune.
But, as one half-hearing
An old-time refrain,
With memory clearing,
Recalls it again,
These tales, roughly wrought of
The Bush and its ways,
May call back a thought of
The wandering days;
And, blending with each
In the mem’ries that throng,
There haply shall reach
You some echo of song.
The “again” above is because I used “A Town Like Alice” for the title of my first post about the time I spent in Alice Springs. That post was about my travels, but this one is about a piece of great Australian literature. Author Nevil Shute originally titled his book The Legacy, but after a movie and a mini-series named A Town Like Alice, more recent printings of the book have born what is by now the more familiar title.
A Town Like Alice was based on a number of true incidents from World War II– among them, the Japanese treatment of women prisoners in Malaysia and an Australian soldier who was tortured — that Nevil Shute combined into a harrowing but ultimately triumphantly romantic novel. While the story is fiction, it is sufficiently anchored in history to offer interesting insights — including the occasionally amusing contrasts between Australians and the British at that time.
The mini-series, which starred Brian Brown and Helen Morse, was wonderfully involving. It is fairly faithful to the book. However, as far as I can tell, it’s only currently available in VHS, at least in the United States. So if you’ve still got a tape player, you’re in luck. It’s also on YouTube, in 21, 14-minute segments. But the book has been reprinted, and is available in a format that doesn’t go out of date every few years — ink on paper.
Of course, this is not the only great book from Nevil Shute. It is, however, a story I have come to really love. It is astonishing what people can survive — and it’s a good reminder that hardship doesn’t rule out a happy ending.
So check out the book–A Town Like Alice.
If you’ve read my book–or if you grew up in Australia–you will have encountered the stories about Adam Lindsay Gordon. He is among Australia’s greatest poets, and among those poets who celebrated the wide open spaces. He actually wanted to be known as a great horseman, which he was, but it is his poetry that lasted past his sad end. Actually, I have quoted him previously in this blog, as well. Excerpts from his works have become almost proverbial in Australia.
Because of his melancholic inclinations, little of his poetry is cheerful (in pretty sharp contract to Banjo Paterson). My book only included a few excerpts, because Gordon’s poems tend to be long, but here, I can give you a full-length work that reflects both his love of the bush and his melancholy tendencies.
The Sick Stockrider
Hold hard, Ned! Lift me down once more, and lay me in the shade.
Old man, you’ve had your work cut out to guide
Both horses, and to hold me in the saddle when I sway’d,
All through the hot, slow, sleepy, silent ride.
The dawn at “Moorabinda” was a mist rack dull and dense,
The sunrise was a sullen, sluggish lamp;
I was dozing in the gateway at Arbuthnot’s bound’ry fence,
I was dreaming on the Limestone cattle camp.
We crossed the creek at Carricksford, and sharply through the haze,
And suddenly the sun shot flaming forth;
To southward lay “Katawa”, with the sandpeaks all ablaze,
And the flush’d fields of Glen Lomond lay to north.
Now westward winds the bridle path that leads to Lindisfarm,
And yonder looms the double-headed Bluff;
From the far side of the first hill, when the skies are clear and calm,
You can see Sylvester’s woolshed fair enough.
Five miles we used to call it from our homestead to the place
Where the big tree spans the roadway like an arch;
‘Twas here we ran the dingo down that gave us such a chase
Eight years ago — or was it nine? — last March. Continue reading
A lot of folks ask me what writers I’ve enjoyed who write about Australia. So far, I’ve shared some of my favorite Aussie poets (and I’ll share more in the future), but this time, I thought I’d recommend a book that I particularly loved. It’s Tracks by Robyn Davidson. A few years after Tracks came out, images from the adventure were released in a collection titled Alice to the Ocean. The photos are great, but for me, the original book meant more to me.
I actually didn’t read this book until after I returned from my own transformational, solo wander around Australia, even though Davidson’s journey took place well before my own adventure. I don’t suppose it should come as too much of a surprise that a woman who wandered around Australia would enjoy a book by another woman who wandered around Australia. I really found myself drawn into Davidson’s book. Her descriptions were wonderfully detailed and evocative, and they recalled for me places I’d been and things I’d felt. For me, the book did more than simply entertain–it resonated. It reflected some of the mystery and wonder that I had experienced in the Outback.
While Tracks will not really introduce you to Australia, that wasn’t its goal. I went to discover Australia; Davidson went to discover herself. Also, she had backing from National Geographic, and I paid my own way. So the trips are quite different–and yet there is a connection with the land that very much reflected my own experience.
Tracks remains one of my favorites among dozens of books I’ve read that are set in Australia. I definitely recommend it, but especially for those who enjoy travel or love Australia.
I’ve mentioned A.B. “Banjo” Paterson a number of times previously, most especially in relation to “The Man from Snow River,” one of the most famous poems in Australia. It’s highly enough revered that I have an Australian $10 note that pictures both Paterson and a horseman making the “terrible descent” celebrated in the poem. Paterson also wrote “Waltzing Matilda.” But he wrote a lot of poems, and many of them have become favorites of mine.
This one I particularly love because I have found it so often to be true. Writing rarely offers reward commensurate with the amount of work done, and yet the work itself is why one writes. So here is “Song of the Pen,” another in a continuing series of Aussie classics.
Song of the Pen
Not for the love of women toil we, we of the craft,
Not for the people’s praise;
Only because our goddess made us her own and laughed,
Claiming us all our days,
Claiming our best endeavour–body and heart and brain
Given with no reserve–
Niggard is she towards us, granting us little gain;
Still, we are proud to serve.
Not unto us is given choice of the tasks we try,
Gathering grain or chaff;
One of her favoured servants toils at an epic high,
One, that a child may laugh.
Yet if we serve her truly in our appointed place,
Freely she doth accord
Unto her faithful servants always this saving grace,
Work is its own reward!