Surf stories

I caught up with a lot of surfers yesterday at the 40th anniversary of the Peninsula Surfriders Club; a surfing club I joined in Year 12 in 1974. I don’t surf much these days but it was great to meet up with some faces from the past and to hear how many are still surfing, lots of them seeking out warmer climates now that the old bones don’t enjoy the cold waters of the Mornington Peninsula so much.

I’ve always thought surfing was more than just something to do at the beach when it’s hot. Maybe more than a sport.  When I was surfing a lot, I wrote about it a lot too, not so many poems but stories, articles, journal entries, trying to understand it all. I’ve got still a eighty page poetry sequence sitting in Scrivener waiting to be turned into an ebook, or a major section of some larger book someday. Maybe I should get back to that.

One of the surfers told me about a journal they liked called PaperSea, which looks part-travel writing, part surf-writing, photography and counter-culture.  Looks interesting, and good to see others interested in the subtler nuances about surfing and the sea. They write:

Creative men and women with an appreciation for hand-crafted quality will find honest stories and critical pictures about surf, travel and art from the world over.

We saw the need for a creative alternative and so we present to you a quarterly book for people who share our affinity for the ocean, creativity in its infinite manifestations and the thrills and perils of travelling amongst far away cultures.

Full-bleed images by the world’s best minds accompanied by their stories behind the moments are set alongside in depth interviews and stories. We are publishing first-hand experiences as we explore not just the beaches but also the cultures of far away countries.


It made me go back to my own work too, and see what about surfing was there already. This poem, from my collection The Colour of Maps, probably owes as much to Gerald Manley Hopkins as it does to the waves, but celebrates an early surfing moment:

The Waves in the Bay

These fine light pulses
flicker across rippling sand,
perfect solids, half-lit wedges,
tubes unravelling continually
like pvc, along a precise depth of moment
and the spilling forward motion
is thrown out and over along an angling
vortex, punching out air like engines minutely,
crackling like small arms fire
along calf-deep edges
of sandbank promontories.

Or, on still days,
with the bay
stretched taut as glad-wrap,
wrinkly, oily looking,
and strange sets,
yes waves arrive in sets
like Meccano, assembled,
dark stacked mounds of water
appearing from somewhere abruptly,
unexpectedly complete,
the bow waves of some great tanker
that passed by ages ago, perhaps,
or merely the sea itself, its slow stretching
sending children skittering
from their floatables, new water
running up the smooth sand,
lapping at towels briefly like affairs,
the old tales of the seventh wave
that sinks ships: ask sailors about it.

And then, that perfect day, the miracle,
when, after the strong wind had finally
transformed the bay’s wayward cross-chop
into lines of swell that darkened
and caved out of the cold depths like bears,
the wind swung around, and while the pulse still beat
strongly in for an hour, fading at last by degrees,
with the sun,
those perfect waves
pushed still against an offshore,
smoothing before our amazed eyes,
these natural things becoming startling,
in surfing dreams come true at last
in the temporary crossing of energies.

And as they beat, still more faintly
from the yellow sunset
and we turned for home,
they were already depleted,
and we, rubbing the salt from our eyes
as if in a dream,
could already barely recall
the moment at all,
or the first fine lace spray
off an offshore in the bay.


The end of place

Any long-time half-listening reader of this blog would know I’m fascinated by place. The placeless of the place. Where things were. What happened here. Maps. The uniqueness of these coordinates: where the battle was fought, where the rivers converge, where the babies came home.

I write often about specific places, landscape poetry sometimes, landscape-memoir my daughter calls it. I try to capture some of these in my poems, or photos. A kind of preserving.

So, I was a little sad on a long holiday walk last week to find our old house, our first house, falling into disrepair. It’s in roughly the same area we live now, only a few kilometres away but I don’t go up that way often. So, I was saddened to see what had become of it.

We weren’t there very long; less than five years, but it’s where we started as a real family. We bought the kids here when they were born, thirty years ago now. My grandfather and my father helped me build bookshelves and extend the verandah. We planted trees, I was proud of a native frangipani that somehow thrived in the sandy soil. We built a sand-pit, a barbecue and put up a tin shed. My daughters hid letters and drawings in the structure of new cupboards and bookcases for the future. Which is here now it seems.

It looks like the place is being pulled down. The fences are gone and it looks like it’s being dismantled bit by bit, the materials being stacked up to be sold. Maybe a block of flats next? To paraphrase Dylan Thomas: Place passes. Have a look. Place passes.





Below: a long time ago, when the house was new.



Re-connecting: Walking in the Briars

Most of the year for me is spent split between working in Melbourne and getting down to the Mornington Peninsula on weekends.

So, one of the things I like most about the holidays is the chance to be in one place for a while, and re-connect with some of my favourite places like the Briars.

I’ve blogged about the Briars before (do a search if you like) but I never get sick of the place, and the way the creek defines it as well as its sense of history.

Today I did the longer 4k loop and also walked out via the new Harrap Creek track for the first time. I’ve captured some of the moments below, but one moment I didn’t capture was seeing a big red-bellied black snake asleep by the side of the track. The trouble is, once you’ve seen a snake on a walk, you see them everywhere, in every shadow, root, branch or piece of broken bark on the track or just off it. It tends to take the meditating mind off the poetry a bit. Though, it did make me think, ‘have I ever written a poem about a snake?’, like D.H. Lawrence did? Looking back, it seems I have only had one go at it, this poem that was published in *Eureka Street* in 2011. Maybe it’s time for another go?

Late Walk Along Jerusalem Inlet

Rows of trees knee-deep in bracken
trunks green with soft moss
all dead or dying
a shovel shaped pit
the sound of water
some Mirkwood path
to a wide green place
where a house was
all ruined
broken rocks and bricks,
beside the broken oak tree,
a non-allegorical snake.

Below: The view from the bird hide



The prophetic sign: this was exactly the snake I saw half an hour after reading this sign.



Signs of former use; old fence posts from when this was farmland.


Common farmland birds poster in the bird hide




The boardwalk



Spring Paddock Dam



Balcombe Creek


Below: Balcombe Creek
Nice to see it flowing after a bit of rain this week.

Below: Spring Paddock Dam
Listen carefully for the frogs.

This year’s reading (in pictures)

Such lovely covers. This is what GoodReads said was my reading this year. You can follow my reading here

This year's reading

Flying Poems

I’ve put together a little e-chapbook of some poems about flying, some old, some new. Looking back at my poetry over a number of years, I was surprised to see the wonder and joy of flight has interested me for so long. It’s on AMAZON at the bargain price of $4.99 in the Kindle Store.

I’ve got another couple of mini-collections that I intend to publish in Kindle format in the first half of this year, so if you’re not interested in flying, maybe something else later on will get your attention. You can read more about the ‘Flying’ poems below:



Notes on the ‘Flying Poems’

The poems in this mini-collection are all based around flight and flying, something which has always fascinated me, and I’ve mixed up some photographs and sketches in all that too.
Here’s a brief outline of what’s in the selection.

The first poem is ‘Tullamarine Gothic’, a poem that tries to recapture the gothic glory of flying before it became all laminex. Tullamarine is the name of the airport in Melbourne.

‘Prom Bird’ is an imagist piece on the Superb Blue Wren, a beautiful bird often seen at Wilson’s Promontory where I spend some time very summer.

Bats couldn’t be more different to the beautiful blue wren but there’s something beautify and fascinating flight of these big fruit bats that come up from the river every night, so ‘Bats’ is next.

‘Eight Swans’ is a little bit inspired by the Sufjan Stevens song ‘Seven Swans’ and a little bit inspired by the birds themselves, flying high over Port Phillip Bay one night.

‘Swallow’ is another short, quick poem that tries to capture the elusive flight of the swallow as it flits over water.

‘Blocked’ is based on that thud you sometimes hear, when a bird has flown into a window of your house and found it’s path blocked.

When the kids were little I got really interested in kites and we flew them a lot. ‘Kite Flying’ is about the tug of the wind in your hand.

‘Fronts’ describes that jolting feeling you get sometimes in an aeroplane when you hit turbulence and wonders where that turbulence comes from.

Clayton is pretty ugly and industrial, mostly. In ‘Flying Over Clayton’ I felt like I was flying through an alien landscape.

‘Flying Over Europe’ is inspired by a recent trip to Spain. From the air Europe seems a landscape without national borders.

Earlier in 2013 I went to Malaysia and wrote ‘Flying Over Australia’. You seem to fly over Australia forever, and if you have a window seat, you can be hypnotised by the surreal landscape below you.

I love looking at the little map on flights, seeing where you are. On one flight we flew over Borneo and I looked down and saw it. I knew the word ‘Borneo’ because my grandfather went there to fight the Japanese in World War II. And there it was; that’s ‘Flying Over Borneo

In ‘Flying Over American’ I was captivated by the clarity of the landscape and the American names, which are so familiar to those of who grew up with American movies and songs.

‘Flying Over Malaysia’ is more about a brief conversation with the taxi driver than the flight itself.

The final poem in the selection, ‘On the Beauty of Airliners’, like the opening poem, laments the passing of style and elegance in our notions of flight. I do think airliners are strangely beautiful; I’m always amazed they can fly.

My 2013 Books of the Year

Just in time for Christmas shopping, my books of the  year awards!

Non-Fiction - Robert Macfarlane – The Old Ways




Fiction - House of Earth – Woody Guthrie




Poetry - Picnic, Lightning – Billy Collins



Read the details of why I liked these, and the other contenders HERE


Nice to get down the coast early enough tonight for a long walk along the edge of the bay. More wintery than it should for this time of year, but a nice SW breeze coming off the bay which these birds seemed to be enjoying. I watched them for a while soaring and spiralling around a small bay, never once seeming to make any effort, totally graceful. I took about a minute of video on the phone.



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