The leaves are yellow,
and the lemons are all green –
Here in Australia headlines and social media news feeds have made for grim reading over the past few weeks: men’s sexual violence against women (and in particular the Brittany Higgins case); the Australian Government cutting welfare payments; rising tensions with China … the USA approaching and then surpassing 500,000 COVID-19 deaths … and conspiracy theorists protesting the roll-out of COVID-19 vaccinations …
… but, especially … the way we raise … and the role … and our collective failure to … and … and … and …
… how long can you keep your mind fixed on massive amounts of trauma that you feel powerless to change? After some hours, or days, I felt the need turn my mind to things safer and more mundane.
I switched off my laptop, put down my phone and took Barney, our cavoodle, for a walk.
We walked down through some areas of Flemington where the footpaths and nature strips are not-too-well maintained; past odd-shaped little corners of land where people dump the rubbish they can’t be bothered taking to the tip; and along the railway line where the weeds grow waist and chest high.
milk sap wells
to the surface 🌵
On Milk Thistles
What we call milk thistles here in Melbourne, Sonchus oleraceus, are commonly called sow thistles elsewhere in the world. When we were kids we used to put their milky sap on warts. Apparently their bitter leaves can be eaten in a salad (I’ve never tried).
Often you find milk thistles growing next to another very similar plant. This second plant has tougher, woodier stems; tougher, darker green leaves; and more (and smaller) flower heads.
One other distinctive feature of this second tougher plant, is that it has round white seed heads like a dandelion’s puffballs, but whereas a dandelion’s puffballs are dense with feathered seeds and almost opaque, this tough milk-thistle-like plant’s puffballs are compromised of just a few feathery seeds and so appear translucent and lattice-like.
For a long time I’d assumed examples of this second plant were just older milk thistles, perennials rather than annuals, left alive for a second season to grow old and tough.
But over the past couple of days, while I have been avoiding social media news feeds, I have been filling in my spare hours comparing photos of milk thistles online, and I’ve come to the conclusion that these tougher milk thistles are a whole seperate species, Lactuca serriola, sometimes called Prickly Lettuce or the Compass Plant.
A week or so ago I went to the 8th Koorie Art Show 2020 at the Koorie Heritage Trust at Federation Square.
Lying on a low dias when you enter the first room was a fabulous, glistening sculpture of a Red-bellied black snake by Charlie Solomon, made from what looks to have been a single large twisting limb of a gum tree.
I’ve seen red-belly black snakes a number of times when bush-walking in Victoria. Their backs are usually shiny black like patent leather although they can get a bit dusty sometimes. Their undersides are sometime bright red, as depicted in Charlie Solomon’s sculpture, but other times more as a dull pink colour.
Black snakes get a few mentions in Australian literature, for instance it is a black snake that invades the house in Henry Lawson’s famous story “The Drover’s Wife”, but the only work I know of that refers specifically to a red-belly black snake is this poem by Judith Wright:
The Killer The day was clear as fire, the birds sang frail as glass, when thirsty I came to the creek and fell by its side in the grass. My breast on the bright moss and shower-embroidered weeds, my lips to the live water I saw him turn in the reeds. Black horror sprang from the dark in a violent birth and through its cloth of grass I felt the clutch of earth. O beat him into the ground O strike him till he dies, or else your life itself drains through those colourless eyes. I struck and struck again. Slender in black and red he lies, and his icy glance turns outward, clear and dead. But nimble my enemy as water is, or wind. He has slipped from his death aside and vanished into my mind. He has vanished whence he came, my nimble enemy; and the ants come out to the snake and drink at his shallow eye.
The snake, no longer a physical threat, moves inside the poet’s mind (becoming a memory and a symbol). Wright’s poem reminds me of this haiku by Kyoshi:
The snake slid away,
But the eyes that stared at me
Remained in the grass.Kyoshi (R. H. Blyth)
No shade on Charlie Solomon, or Judith Wright (although the Australian Museum would not approve of her destruction of the snake), or Henry Lawson, but Kyoshi on the other hand …
… the article “Forgive, but Do Not Forget: Modern Haiku and Totalitarianism” on the Haiku Foundation website discusses Kyoshi’s collaboration with Japan’s totalitarian government during the Second World War, a government that persecuted, imprisioned and tortured free verse haiku poets that it considered insufficiently patriotic.
Didn't Basho say go to the snake to learn about snakes? 🌵
Red-Bellied Black Snake, Australian Museum, https://australian.museum/learn/animals/reptiles/red-bellied-black-snake/
Haiku, Blyth R. H., The Hokuseido Press, 1949-52.
The 8th Koorie Art Show 2020 (exhibition), The Koorie Heritage Trust, 5 Dec 2020 – 21 Feb 2021.
Henry Lawson’s Mates, The complete stories of Henry Lawson, Henry Lawson, Currey O’Neill, 1979.
Red-Bellied Black Snake (sculpture), Charlie Solomon, 2020.
Forgive, but Do Not Forget: Modern Haiku and Totalistarianism, Udo Wenzel interviews Ito Yuki, Juxta 1.1, March 2015, The Haiku Foundation, https://thehaikufoundation.org/juxta/juxta-1-1/forgive-but-do-not-forget-modern-haiku-and-totalitarianism/
Collected Poems, Judith Wright, Fourth Estate, 1994.
I spent the last week on holiday with my family in the Ovens Valley, in the little town of Porepunkah. It was hot all week so much time was spent swimming.
While my brother and sister-in-law, my niece and nephew, my son and daughter, and my wife, were all swimming in a deep hole in the Buckland river, I sat on the bank wondering to myself what the river might have been like prior to European settlement. The river looked like it had been dredged, and probably dynamited, in the search for gold. The bed of the river was large fragments of stone – no sand. The banks of the river were steep, made of uneven jagged bits of rock, and overgrown with European weeds: purple-flowered scotch thistle, the rusty stems of docks, and blackberries just coming into fruit.
There is a much larger dredge hole at Eldorado near Beechworth. There the dredge is still sitting derelict in the middle of the flooded dredge hole, like a strange castle that has subsided into its own moat. Eldorado was deserted when I visited.
The Tronah Dredge Hole at Harrietville, “Lake Tronah”, on the other hand is a popular place for swimming. It’s probably about as big as the playing surface of the MCG and there is no rusting machinery (at least, none visible above the surface of the water). On this side of the dredge hole there is a little jetty that a bunch of people, kids and adults, were jumping from into the cool dark water. On the far side a rope hanging off a tree that was preferred by a group teenagers, loud music playing from a speaker. Out in the middle, groups of people were floating on lilos, inflated rings and paddle boards. God only knows how deep the thing is.
Drop slow gum leaves
to the surface
of the Harrietville dredge hole🌵
Actually, an environmental history of bucket dredging in Victoria published in 2018 notes that the Tronoh dredge could go as deep as 130 feet. Despite disrupting 156 acres of the Ovens River, and creating extraordinary quantities of tailings (much of which has never been remediated), the Tronoh dredge barely broke even.
The Environmental History of Bucket Dredging in Victoria, Davies P., Lawrence S., Turnbull J., Rutherfurd I., Grove J. & Sylvester E., The Journal of Australasian Mining History, Vol. 16, October 2018.
The City of Melbourne has a wonderful website called Urban Forest Visual where you can look up the species of all the trees planted in the streets and parks of Melbourne. Browsing this website the other day I was surprised to find that there are paulownia (or pawlonia) trees planted in Chelmsford Street, Kensington, only ten or fifteen minutes walk from my house. A paulownia tree was referred to in a haiku by Ransetsu in my post on Japanese Death Poems.
Here is a slightly different translation of the same haiku from The Classic Tradition of Haiku edited by Faubion Bowers:
A leaf falls;
Totsu! a leaf falls,
on the wind.Ransetsu (trans. William J. Higginson)
Bowers offers the following explanations:
Just as “blossom,” when not modified, means cherry flower in haiku, “one leaf” is code for kiri. Kiri, a member of the figwort family, is the Pawlonia or Empress tree, named after the daughter of Tsar Paul I of Russia (1754 – 1801). A fast grower, it reaches a height of 20 feet in two seasons. The faintly perfumed wood is used in making clogs and clothes chests. The leaves drop throughout the year. They shrivel, turn yellow, and yield to gravity. Their falling symbolises loneliness and connotes the past. The large purple flowers in early autumn are deeply associated with haiku because the three prongs hold 5, 7, and 5 buds respectively. The blooms and their bracket of leaves form the crest of the Empress of Japan. Totsu is an exclamation supposedly uttered when a Zen student achieves enlightenment. The sound also imitates the dry crackle the pawlonia leaf makes as it scratches the ground on falling.
Paulownia is also mentioned more than once by R. H. Blyth, in his famous four volume work on haiku. Blyth seems to disagree with Bowers’ interpretation of the word “totsu”. When discussing the Rensetsu haiku in his first volume, Eastern Culture, Blyth writes: “Totsu is a Zen exclamation, expressive of grumbling, of anger”.
In volume three, Summer-Autumn, Blyth has this to say on the paulownia: “The flowers of the kiri or paulownia have something in them harmonious with what is old, low, spread out, peaceful, monotonous”. These haiku by Shiki are given as examples:
Flowers of the paulownia blooming;
Of the Capital.Shiki (R. H. Blyth)
The low roof
Of the store-house;
Flowers of the paulownia.Shiki (R. H. Blyth)
There are no old mansions in the area of Kensington around Chelmsford Street, but there are plenty old store-houses and factories (mostly being converted into residential apartments), and at the bottom of Chelmsford Street runs the Moonee Ponds Creek. The Moonee Ponds Creek … it sounds like an idyllic little waterway doesn’t it? And probably it was before the European settlement of Melbourne. Now, for most of its course it is a concrete drain; poisoned by the tannery that used to be at Debney’s Park and other heavy industry; and overshadowed not by ancient gum trees, but by the massive concrete towers of the the Citilink overpass.
near the Moonee Ponds Creek –
no leaves left at all. 🌵
Haiku, Blyth R. H., The Hokuseido Press, 1949-52.
The Classic Tradition of Haiku, Bowers, F. (Ed.), Dover Publications, 1996.
Urban Forest Visual, http://melbourneurbanforestvisual.com.au
As the Melbourne COVID-19 lockdown drags goes on and on, I’ve been finding it less easy to follow my own advice about how to live a happy balanced life. Instead I’ve found myself: exercising little; drinking more than the Better Health Channel recommends; and staying awake long into the night “doomscrolling” (when you keep scrolling through all of your social media feeds looking for the most upsetting news about the latest catastrophe).
Days seem to blur into each one another. Dietary choices becoming less interesting, less healthy, and at times … bizarre.
A couple of nights ago, with only a handful of ingredients left in the house, we found ourselves sitting down to a cobbled together meal of takeaway BBQ chicken, steamed dim sims, and a lovely plate of the first new season’s asparagus blanched and dressed with a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
I drank two or three beers and fell asleep early while the rest of the family watched a movie.
I woke, as the others were going to bed, and I took myself off to read on the couch in the lounge room. Soon enough I found myself browsing the Twitter feed of podcast host Cam Smith (@sexenheimer) who posts selected highlights from the most deranged Australian conspiracy theorists. Amusing highlights included:
- A rough looking fellow, with a shaved head and a handlebar moustache, who claims to be an ex-professional wrestler and who was challenging Shane Patton, the Chief Commissioner of Victoria Police, to a bare knuckle fist fight in the middle of Federation Square, “one on one”.
- A rather dishevelled character, who is apparently the lead singer of a INXS tribute band, who when confronted by police at a protest against the Melbourne lockdown, leaped into Albert Park Lake to escape … only to find the lake was less than waist deep and so had to make his escape by wading.
- A man from Tasmania with scraggly facial hair, who had made himself a top-heavy Ned Kelly helmet out of corrugated iron.
- A woman in a headdress, who was claiming that she and the “other witches” she knows have work permits to allow them to pass through police checkpoints during the lockdown, and also that she has made a spell using her “womb blood” which will cause Daniel Andrews to resign (so far ineffective).
- And a very earnest young man, who was claiming that his father had attended the St Kilda Road police station and charged “the entire Victorian police force with criminal fraud and misprison of treason”.
Of course, not all of the conspiracy theorists were as benign or amusing as these examples, but still I read on, and on, late into the night …
I woke up suddenly, sometime in the early hours of the morning, befuddled, anxious, uncomfortable from sleeping on the couch, and needing to pee. This presented something of a dilemma to my fuddled brain:
Should I try to sneak into the ensuite without waking my wife? No, I’d inevitably wake her and then she wouldn’t be able to get back to sleep. Then in the morning I’d take her a cup of coffee and say, “how are you”, and she would reply, “tired”. After a meaningful pause she might add, “I didn’t get much sleep”. Best avoid the ensuite.
The other option was to use the main bathroom, but the problem with the main bathroom is that this is where the puppy sleeps. If I woke the puppy he’d be full of energy and want to play, and honestly, that was the last thing that I felt like I could cope with.
One other possibility suggested itself … I remember when my brothers and I were kids that Mum would say that it was OK for us to go outside and pee on the lemon tree (is uric acid good for lemon trees?), but some things that were acceptable when you were seven are not so acceptable when you are in your forties, and trying to maintain a last few shreds of dignity.
Peeing in the garden
Asparagus for dinner. 🌵
Better Health Channel, https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/HealthyLiving/alcohol
Urban Dictionary, https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=doomscrolling
The daffodil is recognised internationally as the symbol of hope for all people affected by cancer. Cancer Council chose it as our emblem as the bright yellow colouring heralds the return of spring, representing new life and growth.
To Cancer Council, and those affected by cancer, the daffodil represents hope for a cancer free future.daffodilday.com.au
Cancer has been in my thoughts a lot since my cousin, Dave Sheehan, died of lung cancer earlier this year (it is always in my thoughts to some extent because I work as a cancer nurse), and it is probably because of Dave’s death that the titles of a number of poems by Philip Hodgins caught my eye when I was browsing the Australian Poetry Library recently:
Room 1 Ward 10 West 12/11/83
Room 3 Ward 10 West 17/11/83
Room 1 Ward 10 West 23/11/83
Here, if you can bear it, is the one of Hodgins poems that really got to me:
There was no joy in leaving. Nothing was resolved.
Blood and bone were shot and death had shown
a way with words beyond the usual sophistry.
Wounded by prognosis I had brought people together
and encouraged conversation. It didn’t help.
The right debates were held alone each night
After the chatter of the last drug trolley down
the polished corridor. It was impossible to match
death’s vocabulary. I gave up and got ready to go.
No amount of speachmaking could reassemble
those disparate friends or justify all that fuss.
On the steps I felt the hospital’s immensity
behind me. I thought of how this blood, this
volition would bring me back here to die
in stages of bitterness and regret. I turned around.
The doors are open.Philip Hodgins
“… the hospital’s immensity behind me.”
Blunt, three or four word sentences, as brief as lines from a haiku, but with no images from life in them: no birds; no sun or rain; no daffodils.
The abrupt change of tense at the end.
The Australian Poetry Library says that Hodgins was born in Katandra West, near Shepparton, in January 1959, and died in Maryborough, in August 1995, of chronic myeloid leukaemia. Among his poems there are some about farming; and few about AFL football; and quite a lot, like those mentioned above, that are based on his experiences with cancer …
… but, those of us with kids can’t allow ourselves to wallow in such thoughts too long. It was the first day of spring. The sun was out. I tied a green hanky across my nose and mouth (COVID restrictions) and set off to supervise with my 10 year old son Wes, and his best friend Beth, as they walked to Footscray Park and back for exercise.
Footpaths, and front gardens, bike-paths, the banks of the Maribynong, and Footscray Park were full of people enjoying the sunshine and fresh air.
Neatly mown lawn -
push through. 🌵
About Daffodil Day, daffodilday.com.au
Australian Poetry Library, https://www.poetrylibrary.edu.au/poets/hodgins-philip
What is a box tree? Good question. Until recently I had no idea.
About half-an-hour’s drive west of Melbourne there is a small area of remanent grey box (Eucalyptus microcarpa) forest at a place called Eynesbury.
In mid-May, a couple of weeks before the start of winter here in Victoria, my brother Theo and I, and our kids, drove to Eynesbury to explore (the lockdown for the first wave of COVID-19 had just been relaxed, and the second wave had not yet started). We parked our cars, scoffed down the bacon sandwiches we had packed, and headed off along a path into the scrub.
To my untrained eye the grey box trees looked just like normal gums: tall, with pale grey-brown leaning trunks, twisting branches, and scraggly clumps of dull green leaves.
About five or ten minutes into our walk we came across a surprise: a baby snake. This was the first time I’ve every seen a baby snake and the first time I can remember seeing a snake of any kind this close to winter. It was, I reckon, about a foot long, maybe a little bit more; its head was dark, almost black; its body was light brown, almost translucent. It moved quickly, whipping and curving itself across the gravel, twigs, and fallen leaves by the side of the path.
A short way further on I found a twisted, pale grey piece of branch to use as a walking stick.
Kids, look here
a baby snake! And here's
a good stick. 🌵
“I wonder why box trees are called box trees?”, I said as we walked along, not really expecting an answer.
“Probably because the early settlers used them for making boxes,” Theo deadpanned.
It turns out this was not the silliest suggestion: Australian box trees were probably named for their similarity to European box trees (such as Buxus sempervirens) and European box trees do have very dense wood that is used by cabinet makers, wood turners, and in the making of musical instruments. The words “box” for a wooden container, and “box” for a kind of tree, both trace back to the same Greek source word (via Latin). So, box trees being called box trees because they are “those trees that are really good to make boxes out of” is not that much of a stretch.
I’ve always wanted to know how to identify different kinds of gum trees and other eucalypts, and despite a bit of research over the years I’m still not much good at it. This much as I have worked out (with the help of EUCLID, a database of Australian Eucalypts): gum trees have (mostly) thin, smooth bark; box trees are usually covered in fibrous, mat-like bark; and iron barks have hard, brittle, deeply-furrowed bark that is impregnated with resin.
EUCLID, Eucalypts of Australia, https://apps.lucidcentral.org/euclid/text/entities/eucalyptus_microcarpa.htm
Shorter Oxford Dictionary (5th Ed.), Oxford University Press, 2002.
I’ve heard it said that Naarm (Melbourne) is the third largest Greek city in the world, and the largest outside Greece.
Maybe that’s true – I don’t think that there is a standard, accepted, measure of Greek-ness when it comes to cities – but many Australian’s do seem to have inherited a Greco-Trojan contempt for prophets and truth-tellers (Cassandra was the Trojan prophetess, doomed to always tell the truth but never be believed).
The past few months of drought, followed by catastrophic bushfires, followed by floods, have brought to my mind a poem my father used to quote from time to time. Here it is in full:
“We’ll all be rooned,” said Hanrahan
In accents most forlorn
Outside the church ere Mass began
One frosty Sunday morn.
The congregation stood about,
Coat-collars to the ears,
And talked of stock and crops and drought
As it had done for years.
“It’s lookin’ crook,” said Daniel Croke;
“Bedad, it’s cruke, me lad
For never since the banks went broke
Has seasons been so bad.”
“It’s dry, all right,” said young O’Neil
With which astute remark
He squatted down upon his heel
And chewed a piece of bark.
And so around the chorus ran
“It’s keepin’ dry, no doubt.”
“We’ll all be rooned,” said Hanrahan,
“Before the year is out.
“The crops are done; ye’ll have your work
To save one bag of grain;
From here way out to Back-o’-Bourke
They’re singin’ out for rain.
“They’re singin’ out for rain,” he said,
“And all the tanks are dry.”
The congregation scratched its head,
And gazed around the sky.
“There won’t be grass, in any case,
Enough to feed an ass;
There’s not a blade on Casey’s place
As I came down to Mass.”
“If rain don’t come this month,” said Dan,
And cleared his throat to speak –
“We’ll all be rooned,” said Hanrahan,
“If rain don’t come this week.”
A heavy silence seemed to steal
On all at this remark;
And each man squatted on his heel,
And chewed a piece of bark.
“We want an inch of rain, we do,”
O’Neil observed at last;
But Croke “maintained” we wanted two
To put the danger past.
“If we don’t get three inches, man,
Or four to break this drought,
We’ll all be rooned,” said Hanrahan,
“Before the year is out.”
In God’s good time down came the rain;
And all the afternoon
On iron roof and window-pane
It drummed a homely tune.
And through the night it pattered still,
And lightsome, gladsome elves
On dripping spout and window-sill
Kept talking to themselves.
It pelted, pelted all day long,
A-singing at its work,
Till every heart took up the song
Way out to Back-o’-Bourke.
And every creek a banker ran,
And dams filled overtop;
“We’ll all be rooned,” said Hanrahan,
“If this rain doesn’t stop.”
And stop it did, in God’s good time:
And spring came in the fold
A mantle o’re the hills sublime
Of green and pink and gold.
And days went by on dancing feet,
With harvest-hopes immense,
And laughing eyes behold the wheat
Nod-Nodding o’er the fence.
And, oh, the smiles on every face,
As happy lad and lass
Throught grass knee-deep on Casey’s place
Went riding down to Mass.
While round the church in clothes genteel
Discoursed the men of mark,
And each man squatted on his heel,
And chewed a piece of bark.
“There’ll be bush fires for sure, me man,
There will, without a doubt;
We’ll all be rooned,” said Hanrahan,
“Before the year is out.”
– John O’Brien (P. J. Hartigan)
According to Australian Poetry Since 1788 P. J. Hartigan was a Catholic priest who, as well as writing the above poem, was said to have delivered the last rites to a man called Jack Riley, who was said to have been the inspiration for Banjo Patterson’s The Man from Snowey River.
The poem’s joke seems somewhat less funny in this age of “climate denialism”. Hanrahan’s predictions come true all around us – but prophets and truth-tellers still get short shrift.
Australian Poetry Since 1788, Geoffrey Lehmann & Robert Gray (Eds.), University of New South Wales Press, 2011.
The Settlement. Bearbrass. Bareport. Bareheap. Dutigalla. Glenelg. Narrm.
Recently I’ve been noticing that a lot of people on Twitter, who live in Melbourne, have been listing their location as “Naarm” or “Naarm / Melbourne”. Intrigued, I borrowed the Dictionary of Aboriginal Placenames of Victoria from the Flemington Library, and the words listed above are a few of the alternate names (indigenous and colonial) for Melbourne.
The dictionary spells the word as “Narrm” with a double “r” rather than “Naarm” with a double “a” but it is not unusual to find alternate spellings for Aboriginal words and names as Aboriginal languages in Victoria had sounds not used in English which made them difficult for English speakers to transcribe. In the future I’d love to see “Naarm” not just on Twitter but on our street signs, maps and government websites as well as, or in place of, “Melbourne”.
The Dictionary of Aboriginal Placenames of Victoria also includes entries for “Barebeerip”, “Bareberp” and “Bikjomangy” but these terms may have referred to the area of Batman’s Hill in specific rather than the area where the Melbourne city centre is. “Naloke” is recorded as referring to “parliament” and “Bourke and Spring Streets”. A Narloke Train Station on the city loop, anyone?
One other item on the list of alternate Melbourne names caught my eye – “Dutigalla”. The Flemington Library is just a few doors from the Doutta Galla Hotel in Racecourse Road, Newmarket. I think most residents of Kensington and Flemington assume that “Doutta Galla” is an Aboriginal term without ever knowing specifically what it means. I scouted the internet for a bit more information on the history of the term “Dutigalla” or “Doutta Galla” and found the following information on the website of the Doutta Galla Lion’s Club in Essendon:
The Parish of Doutta Galla … was reportedly named after the wife of Jika Jika, who was John Batman’s native servant. Jika Jika parish was on the east bank of the Moonee Ponds Creek and Doutta Galla on the west bank. This is recorded in the March 1837 field book of surveyor Robert Hoddle.
Another source says that the name Doutta Galla (or Dutigalla) was the name of the tribe of aborigines on the original Batman treaty deed, signed on the banks of the Merri Creek, at Northcote. (“The Stop-Over That Stayed A History of Essendon” by Grant Aldous)History of Doutta Galla, Doutta Galla Lion’s Club
There was a link on the Lion’s Club website to a 1892 Map of the Parish of Doutta Galla which shows the Parish of Doutta Galla covering all of the land between the Moonee Ponds Creek and the Maribynong River, from Kensington and Flemington, though Essendon and out as far as Keilor and Broadmeadows.
And “Jika Jika”? I remember the name Jika Jika terrifying me when I was a child because it was the name given to the infamous maximum security unit at Pentridge Prison.
According to the Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages (VACL) Dictionary of Aboriginal Placenames of Victoria is available to order, but the order form on their website is currently disabled.
Dictionary of Aboriginal Placenames of Victoria, Ian D. Clark & Tony Heydon, Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages, 2002.
The forgotten Aboriginal names for 10 of Melbourne’s suburbs, Jason Gibson, Helen Gardner and Stephen Morey, The Conversation, 10-Jul-2018.
History of Doutta Galla, Doutta Galla Lion’s Club, https://douttagalla.vic.lions.org.au/History-of-Doutta-Galla
Parish of Doutta Galla, Victoria Shire Map Company, 1892, National Library of Australia call number MAP RM 2741/90, https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-232022724/view
Another day, another exhibition.
This week we drove up the Calder Highway to land of the Dja Dja Wurrung. The town of Castlemaine, an hour and a half’s drive north west of Melbourne, always brings the folk song The Wild Colonial Boy into my mind:
There was a wild colonial boy, Jack Doolan was his name
Of poor but honest parents he was born in CastlemaineTraditional
He comes to a very sticky end. When I was young my parents used to sing folk songs like this on long car drives. I must have been a very tender-hearted child – I used to forbid my parents from singing The Wild Colonial Boy because it upset me so much (history repeats, my children forbid me from playing Carrie & Lowell by Sufjan Stevens, because I once made the mistake of explaining to them what the song Fourth of July was about).
I guess the Castlemaine referred to in the song was probably intended to be Castlemaine in County Kerry in Ireland, but in my mind and in the mind of most Australians he was born in Castlemaine, Victoria. The Wild Colonial Boy may have been originally based on a historical figure but it has undergone so many revisions over the years that it is now more mythic than historic.
Castlemaine in Victoria is a very beautiful gold-rush era town, with large beautiful churches, town hall and post office. The art gallery is art deco and also very impressive for a town of this size. We had gone to the Castlemaine Art Museum to see the exhibition Janina Green in conversation with the collection. Her hand-coloured photographs hold significant interest for those interested in haiku and related art forms.
First, there are her photographs of domestic interiors named after the Melbourne suburbs where the photos were taken. These recall haiku in their interest in specific localities and their focus on the seemingly mundane details of everyday life. Also in common with haiku each of these pictures seems to give a fragment of a larger story and leaves the viewer (or reader in the case of haiku) to fill in the rest of the story. We are drawn into the artwork and become active participants rather than passive viewers.
Another picture by Janina Green that caught my eye was the photo titled Still Life series (Klytie Pate), 1988 which is shown on the exhibition page of the gallery website. An ornate teal lamp-base with a beige lamp-shade is contrasted against a spray of yellow wattle in a vase. This contrast, of an artefact made by human hands, with the beauty of nature, recalls many famous haiku. The light catches just a few of the florets of the wattle making them shine.
One other work on display at the Castlemaine Gallery Art Gallery, not part of the Janina Green exhibition, stood out to me. Cook’s Landing (after Macleod) by Robert Hague. Whereas in haiku symbols often work best when they are subtle, when they feel like they evoke a half-remembered associations, the symbols in Cook’s Landing (after Macleod) are “writ large”. The work is a blue-printed china plate. The central image shows Ned Kelly anachronistically shooting at Captain Cook’s long boat, approaching the shore to make first landfall in Australia. The plate has been broken into pieces and then repaired in the Japanese Kintsugi style with golden fault lines. The plate with its clashing symbols and styles is a fair analogy for modern-day Australia, formed of disparate influences, and in the grip of the so called “history wars”.
And as for people who will try to tell you that Ned Kelly’s last words weren’t “such is life“, what can we say? Maybe just that they place too much emphasis on historic detail, and have not enough appreciation of the mythic.
Janina Green in conversation with the collection, Castlemaine Art Gallery, 2019-20.
Paper says Ned Kelly’s final words were not Such is Life, Alison Jess, ABC Goulburn Murray, 17 November, 2014.
Still Life series (Klytie Pate), 1988, Janina Green, hand-coloured photograph.
Cook’s Landing (after Maccleod), Robert Hague, 2019, porcelain, gold, brass staples, copper hanger.
This week I visited the exhibition ‘Velvet, Iron, Ashes’ at the State Library of Victoria.
The ‘velvet’ part of the title refers to an extraordinary gown worn by Jesse Clarke at the Pageant of Nations to celebrate Victoria’s centenary in 1934. The silver head-dress is modelled on seven electricity pylons; the cloak is green with the waterways of the Murray-Darling Irrigation Scheme depicted in silver glitter; and the dress is hand painted showing several prominent Victorian buildings.
The ‘iron’ part of the title refers to Ned Kelly’s armour and the ‘ashes’ to the Ashes urn that is the trophy when England and Australia play test cricket. Both are among the most well-known and iconic objects from Australian history. Would it be possible to successfully use symbols as well-known and impersonal as the Kelly’s armour or the Ashes in a poem as delicate as a haiku? I’m not sure …
Other elements of the exhibition include:
- White City, the MacRobertson’s Chocolate Factory and home of the ‘Freddo’ Chocolate Frog
- The 1934 London to Melbourne Air Race
- The Coranderrk Aboriginal reserve
- Portraits of Ukrainian immigrants to Gippsland
The part of the exhibition which resonated the most with me was the photos and objects from Yallourn. Yallourn was a “company town” for the State Electricity Commission (S.E.C.) in Gippsland. It was demolished in the early 1980s to make way for an open cut coal mine. My Grandfather worked for the S.E.C. and my mother’s high school years were spent in Yallourn, a town that no longer exists.
The Australian Women’s Register, https://www.womenaustralia.info/biogs /AWE0623b.htm
‘I was the State of Victoria’ Jessie Clarke’s 1934 Pageant of Nations costume, Annette Soumilas, The La Trobe Journal 102, 2018.
Public Record Office Victoria, https://prov.vic.gov.au/about-us/our-blog/town-was-yallourn
Velvet, Iron, Ashes at the State Library Victoria, 24 Oct 2019 – 12 Jul 2020.
… are observed details from nature or everyday life. They strive to be specific, individual, unique.
Also haiku …
… include a kigo. Kigo are ‘season words’. They are a form of symbolic communication.
Kigo in Japanese haiku
Many kigo in Japanese haiku are words for plants and animals, or natural phenomena like kinds of weather. Kigo contain shared cultural associations that Japanese haiku readers understand.
A translator’s notes can help English speaking readers understand the meaning of the kigo intellectually, but it is unlikely that casual readers of haiku in translation feel the full cultural significance of Japanese kigo.
It is probably not technically correct to use the words kigo in relation to English language haiku.
In Japanese haiku kigo are codified in quite a formal way with each kigo being related to a specific season of the year. Australian haiku writers do not have an equivalent system.
Australian haiku writers do often include a symbolic keyword, frequently an allusion to nature or the time of year, in the place of a kigo.
In the context of Australian haiku we may refer to these keywords as kigo.
‘Haiku Dreaming Australia’
As far as I am aware there has only been one serious attempt to make a list of Australian kigo, Haiku Dreaming Australia. The editor of the website John Bird writes with the Cloudcatchers haiku group in Northern New South Wales.
Symbolic meaning in modern Australia
The Japanese system of kigo evolved in a preindustrial country. At the time Japan had a strong “monoculture” due to more than 200 years of enforced isolationism.
Symbolic meanings in modern day Australia are much more complex and difficult to catalogue:
- Australia is incredibly diverse and multicultural
- Digital technology and streaming gives us access to a deluge of overseas cultural influences
- Australia is a highly urbanised society and most people are less familiar with nature and the seasons now than they were in past centuries
- Many words and phrases that are distinctly Australian now seem old fashioned and are falling out of use
- Mainstream Australia barely acknowledges, much less understands or respects, the culture of the traditional owners of Australia
- Climate change threatens to radically alter the weather and seasons in Australia and many animals and plants that we might use as kigo in Australian haiku face potential extinction.
Over the next year I will explore the use of symbolic keywords in Australia and make brief notes on this blog where I find examples of symbolic keywords being used, not just in haiku, but in poetry and other kinds of Australian writing, film, song, and other art-forms.
I will also post brief reviews of haiku books that I read during the year.
Haiku Dreaming Australia, http://users.mullum.com.au/jbird/dreaming/ozku.html
I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which I live, and where I write, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation, and pay my respects to their elders past and present.