Thursday, 5 April 2012


Prelude to the Departure
1. A last golden age
2. Something worth fighting for
3. The beginnings of the end


This collection of poems appears in tandem with an e-book version of the same lyrics and verses. The e-book is available on Smashwords and can be found at:

I freely concede that it might seem like a rather somber piece of work: a focus on that inevitable moment when Australia became no more. It is hard for Australians to imagine that inevitability, let alone accept it. But rather than wallow in the desolation of Girtie, ’Straya, a sunburned country, this collection explores the memories of an Australia once ours, of the lives we led, and of that Australianness we carry with us, even when we can no longer live in an Australia.

The cover image draws from a photograph that Sara Holquist took. It is also the subject of one of the poems.

Some of the poems in this collection have previously been published through: Cordite, Eureka Street, Honi Soit, the Melbourne 2020 program published by Ash Keating, Overland, and Platform.  In republishing them here, I want to acknowledge the support of each of these publications.

I also want to acknowledge the support of my employer, Victoria University (Melbourne).  VU treats creative work by its staff as of a piece with our research output, making it an extremely conducive environment in which to write and publish.  Colleagues in the School of Communication and the Arts have been unfailingly supportive and encouraging.

This collection is specifically indebted to the creative input of friends Ben Cornford and Vanessa Kirkpatrick, who kindly reviewed it for me before publishing, as well as my mother Alison Clark, who has read and responded to the poems as they developed over fifteen years.  I owe a particular debt to my VU colleague Sasha Henriss-Anderssen, who has helped me arrange the manuscript for publication.

The drama in these poems interpolates between a public domain, which I am honoured and happy to share with everyone who cares and has cared about Australia, and a personal life in that country and the world around it, which I am honoured and happy to share with those who know me well.

Chief among the latter group is my wife (not alleging anything proprietary by that pronoun). I dedicate this collection to Becky Batagol — with all my love and hopes for our future!

Prelude to the Departure

Sushila Ahwong’s Australia Day Proclamation, which she read on the landing at Admiralty House, Sydney, is widely acknowledged as the first key milestone event in impacting the Departure that followed.

Inhabitants of Australia
(which is a European name for a European country
permitted from 1788 until now to exist outside of Europe)
I’m speaking to you this evening
in your language
on behalf of the Indigenous peoples of these lands
the first peoples of these lands
the Aborigines and the Torres Strait Islanders as many of you
know us.

As you may be aware
our Elders have been meeting in a council this month
meeting to ensure
on this matter of the greatest significance to all of us
that every opinion and point of view among us gets its fair

The Elders have asked me to deliver this statement to you on
their behalf.

We have known our respective lands since Dreaming.
We respect those dreams.
We respect that duty which falls on all humans and tribes who
the responsibility to keep our land whole
to look after it and the living things in it and on it
and the living things in the sky and in the sea.

Settlers came to these lands uninvited.
That is understandable.
Often a guest comes uninvited
and yet we welcome the guest who we did not need to ask for
a visit.
The settlers stayed in this country uninvited
and without discussing terms with us
or with the lands we keep.
You made up lies like terra nullius
some of which you have retracted since
but you settlers never settled terms with us.

Now the harm is too great.
Now we know that there is no prospect of settlement with the
Now we know
rebuking you is not enough

One thing you taught we shall forever thank you for:
you taught us to come together
– many of us, over many miles –
to discuss together how to respond collectively to you.
That has been good for us and for our lands.
It will be remembered as a credit to your influence.

We decided something you will not understand at first
but then you will understand.

We decided that you must go.

All non-Indigenous persons in these lands must leave them.
This will be expensive
and you may have to look to your government to assist you
but go you must.

Since 1788
you have been as guests awaiting the invitation to stay.
Many of us assumed all along
as you did
that the invitation would be forthcoming in due course.
Now we have agreed otherwise:
it will not be.

These are our terms:
you have one year to leave
each of you
to tie up your affairs and get out of our lands.
We shall do our best to negotiate with your government
but in a year and a day
we shall hold you each responsible to be out of this place.

For one more year we shall remain generous and civil to you
because we know you are leaving.

Thank you for your kind attention.

1. A last golden age


                        The wolf
they would not turf out
for the order and balance
of things, whilst still they
wielded law, was very soon
loose and rampant among
whooping giants ran,
devouring trade unions
and gods alike, in disregard
of sanctuary.

New South Wales

After Gurrumul

The sunset is a grief for us,
a crying without release.  We watch
the goldengrey cool waves roll
and see in them those others who’ve been
here with us.

Oh, my father!  What a longing
is at the fishing rock where we
scattered your ashes once.  Quiet, though,
your mother’s old kitchen.  These cliffs have seen
so many tides come and go.

Oh, grandfather!  This ocean
will sing your name when people
have long since ceased to fear
your furrowed brow, your flashing pride,
your knowledge of their past.

The paths that link our houses
tell of histories without number.
Each corner, each tree, each anthill is
what we’ve learned at her knee,
the saltwind teacher.

My lineage holds me close here:
can you feel it?  It brings me
a wealth of tears each time I catch
the late sun glistening on that
restless old sea.

Baxter — a boys’ own tale in five voices

I. Satan

I’ve been asked, and I’m building
up to it slowly.  The fall.  When I’d
been cast down, I wondered just
where on earth or in the heavens
this weird place, made to keep me, was.
Beside me stood such strange companions,
each too quick to anger – too quick, too,
to tears.  I asked, what bonds are these?
Is this an adventurer’s reward?  To stoop
as one in the huddle of the homeless,
shivering with rage, beyond even hope
of revenge?  I guess it always was.
God’s people have only ever known
the way of hard power.  Against art,
against play, against the song
of a siren dollar and a dollar siren.
Anyway: have faith, my friend!

II. Aeneas

Multas dat mare lacrimas, ancestors
said in their day, breaking free of
the humdrum waves that brought
only ageless cares to those nearer
shores.  Now we are so much
further afield.  Our olives, too,
would weep their oily tears if they
could see this land.  Dat mare.
The sorrows of sea-travelling
have made so many a landfall here.
Positively queer.  An ocean of cares
and a wealth of hurts, all from that
first look of disdain: you’re welcome
anywhere but here, for this is
The Unwelcome House.  And, yes,
multas lacrimas.  The wise see
sorrow everywhere among us,
even in Philip Ruddock’s sneer.

III. Siddhartha

This permits the chop and change:
each chapter is a new life; each
life is thus many lives; in each
moment, therefore, I stand for each
moment of each moment of each
life, and of each life.  In this, we know,
a certain wisdom lies.  (Do not be, ever,
every; be always and forever each.)
We wake to each, not every, sorrow.
Waking’s what we teach through our
endless exemplary emptied days, while
nights are but each effort to escape
from every dream.  You know, like the
river, everything returns, but each is as
the wave, the wave on which we came.

IV. In the cricket

Peter Taylor, selected straight from
Petersham firsts to bowl his offies
for the baggy green, taught us how
the ’Strayan dream can fizz and spit
through Sydney’s fond atmosphere.
It’s so old school: the delivery of danger
is shrouded in languor.  Those days
at the beach, watching surfers riding in,
were a prelude to his mission, a certain
Taylorisation of swooping and swaying
in praise of the sun-gods: Cricketmas!
Did you wonder how we came, though?
How our boats made their ways through
rushing waves and seagulls to this,
these peaceful grounds of whited play?
Well, we had to face each one
on its merits, take things one day at
a time.  It was very much a case of playing
the percentages, but you know,
I guess, in the end, a champion’s always
a champ.  We crumbled under their
pressure a bit, let their sledging
get to us — what can I say?  Still,
that’s why we’re in this situation.
We’ve just got to work our way
forward from here.  I think we’ll start
with our approach to appealing,
look like we’re really hungry for that
decision.  Let them know we want
the win, that we’ve come to play!

V. Prospero

It is nobler in the mind
to speak than to be spoken
of, to mend than to be
mended, to call the scene
than to be two dopey young
lovers over sea, for such is
the nature of nobility: we hold
some are born to lead.  It’s in
this spirit, then, we’ve decided
to separate you two a while
for your own goods, Australia
and asylum.  Otherwise, I fear
the play might end too soon, too
simply, lacking good dramatic
pain.  Therefore, oh lovers, oh,
the things that you’ll endure!
Of course, in the end we’ll need
to be kind, let you unwind, bring
ease after the many days of screaming
mind.  I’m even inclined, after
you’ve done your time, to throw
wide open the doors to the party,
to call you (each and every) mine,
to escort you down the great line,
guide you from the ridiculous
to the sublime.  But don’t stop!
Detention’s never over till the
mage completes his rhyme.


This water’s cool    and it runs easy.
Down falls it sheer    and up it fills
first a battered saucepan    then a dusty water-bottle;
cascade-weight is on my back    and welcome there.

You will come with me    I see    and we’ll always wander
till that tanned hour    when stars tumble down.
And though our tent is sweltering    yet still that sun keeps turning:
so many glad waterfalls    I’ll grateful share with thee.