Monthly Archives: March 2012

Smashwords

For those of you who prefer electronic books but don’t have Kindles, Waltzing Australia is now available at Smashwords. That means it is now in forms that will work in Nooks, iPads, and any other device on which books can be downloaded.

If you’re interested, you can find it here: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/143849

So now, everyone can have access to the adventure, the joy, the history, nature, and lore of Australia that flows through the pages of Waltzing Australia. I’m pleased that the delights of the land Down Under can now be shared with an even wider audience.

Of course, I’ll still keep posting peripheral material here — all the things that wouldn’t fit in the book. So you can continue to enjoy and learn about Australia, even if you don’t latch on to the larger story. But, of course, I do hope you’ll join me on my 20,000-mile trek around and across a country I found so enchanting.

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Henry Lawson

Australia has always been a place where writers were valued, and where writers were often also quite adventurous. I’ve introduced you to Adam Lindsay Gordon, who preferred to be known as a daring horseman than as a poet (and he is indeed remembered for both) and A.B. “Banjo” Paterson, who celebrated life in the bush. Another of the important early writers in Australia was Henry Lawson.

Unlike Paterson and Gordon, Lawson was as famous for his short stories as for his poems. The son of Norwegian immigrants who came to Australia in 1855 during the gold rush, Lawson was born in 1867. His family might most generously be described as dysfunctional and generally in financial straits, his education was uneven and frequently interrupted, and a serious illness when he was 10 left him partially deaf. He was brilliant but usually lonely. Both because of the hardships he experienced as he grew up, and because of his experiences as an adult during a particularly horrific drought, Lawson’s works and his view of the outback tend not to be as upbeat as those of Paterson in particular.

Lawson was immensely popular in his day and is still considered one of Australia’s greatest writers. Reading poems and short stories aloud was a common entertainment in the mining camps, cattle camps, and small towns of the late 1800s, and Lawson’s works were among the most commonly read. The humorous short story “The Loaded Dog” was among the most popular then and today is considered an Australian classic.

While they disagreed in their estimation of the bush, and occasionally sparred in verse on the topic, Lawson shared with Paterson an admiration for the hard-working, give-it-a-go Australians who people their world. That admiration is reflected in the following poem, which also reminds us that Lawson was living during an era when Australia was still being opened up and settled.

An Australian Advertisement

WE WANT the man who will lead the van,
The man who will pioneer.
We have no use for the gentleman,
Or the cheating Cheap-Jack here;
We have no room for the men who shirk
The sweat of the brow. Condemn
The men who are frightened to look for work
And funk when it looks for them.

We’ll honour the man who can’t afford
To wait for a job that suits,
But sticks a swag on his shoulders broad
And his feet in blucher boots,
And tramps away o’er the ridges far
And over the burning sand
To look for work where the stations are
In the lonely Western land.

He’ll brave the drouth and he’ll brave the rain,
And fight his sorrows down,
And help to garden the inland plain
And build the inland town;
And he’ll be found in the coming years
With a heart as firm and stout,
An honoured man with the pioneers
Who lead the people out.

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Cone Snails

I do a lot of educational writing, including textbooks, but one of my favorite assignments in this line of work is the student reader. These readers are single-subject books for kids to read independently, and because they are intended to encourage reading, they need to have topics that will appeal to kids. I just finished writing one about dangerous things on the Great Barrier Reef. I included sharks and rip currents, of course, but most of the reader was taken up with things that are venomous–and the list is pretty impressive. The stonefish is the most venomous fish in the world. The box jelly (aka sea wasp) is the most venomous jellyfish in the world. And the list goes on.

As an avid collector of seashells, I also included one of my favorite shells–the cone shell– which I’ve had the good fortune to only encounter in shell shops. The snail that occupies the most handsome of the many possible cone shells is also among the deadliest. It reminded me of why the rules for reef walking include wearing shoes and not picking anything up. If you want to see the cone snail in action, check out this National Geographic video. (And while the venomous harpoon system is amazing, the size of the snail’s mouth is also pretty stunning.)

So remember: NEVER pick one of these up if you’re on the Great Barrier Reef.

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Clancy of the Overflow

In the poem “The Man from Snowy River,” as well as in the movie, a character named Clancy appears. One line in the poem states that “Clancy of the Overflow came down to lend a hand.” This refers to another of Patterson’s poems: “Clancy of the Overflow,” which is almost as iconic as “The Man from Snowy River.” If you see the movie “Snowy River,” you’ll hear a line about the sunlit plains being a “vision splendid,” which is actually lifted from the “Clancy” poem. I’ve always loved this poem, because like Paterson, I too have occasionally fancied that I’d like to change with Clancy.

Clancy of the Overflow

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 with a thumb-nail 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 wond’rous 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 rather 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 cash-book and the journal —
But I doubt he’d suit the office, Clancy, of The Overflow.

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