Fossils, Middens and the Pastness of the Past

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Last week I walked down to the evocatively named Fossil Beach, not far from my house, and walked beyond the track and the sea-wall over a litter of sharp and chaotic rocks to where they dig for fossils.

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Above: The work of fossil hunters

Fossil Beach is renowned in scientific circles for the fossils that have been found there over the years and I soon saw evidence of places where people had been tapping away, cracking open the rocks, looking for evidence of the ancient past.

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But what struck me, once again, even before I reached the fossils was the layer of shells by the path, the edge of a midden in the process of being revealed.

This was a place where Aboriginal people, the Bunurong people, lived and ate and died, for thousands of years. These shells are remnants of their meals and their community.

It reminded me of a poem that I wrote ages ago when I first realised that the beach I thought of as my own, belonged to someone else, originally.

Maybe it’s worth re-sharing this Australia Day weekend.

Shells

At the end of my street
blackened mussel shells
layered under earth
on the track to my beach

I read Gwen Harwood
about Oyster Bay
without connecting;
is this what dispossession is?

You can read more about Aboriginal middens HERE and HERE and about indigenous Australians on the Mornington Peninsula HERE

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Abandoned Picnic Places

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On my walk this morning, along the bay near Safety Beach, I looked away from the sea for a moment, and there was a picnic table half-hidden in the ti-tree. A concrete picnic table, and the stump foundations of the benches that must once have been located along either long side. A forgotten little object, never important even on the day it was built, and mossy monolithic concrete now.

But, for me, there’s always been something about these lost and abandoned places. I’ve written about this before; on Abandoned Picnic Places, Buried Things and The Lost Highway but for some reason they still move me somehow: the transience, the hopefulness, the idea, I’m not sure. I do think that there’s something particular about the picnic place too; that families, or couples, or friends sat here by the sea, in moments that are long gone now.

I stopped, took a couple of quick photos and walked on. But the image stayed with me for the rest of the day. One day someone constructed this. I’m reminded of that lovely imagist poem by T.E. Hulme:

Old houses were scaffolding once
and workmen whistling.

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Roger Bannister and the Four Minute Mile

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I was sad this week to hear of the passing of Roger Bannister, the English athlete who famously broke the four minute mile in 1954. I grew up a little after that, in the shadow of World War II, the British Empire’s last gasps, the ascent of Everest and the four minute mile.

Bannister, boyish looking, amateur athlete, running around the track at Oxford, represented a particular Englishness for me, partly because my father was a runner and told me these stories too. I remembered this week that I’d written a poem that included Bannister a few years ago, so I thought I’d include it here, now.

 

Child of the Empire

I was born under
The Illusion of Progress,
raised on the outskirts
of a great empire, believing
things improve,
built things endure.

I was schooled in
The Great Tradition
near an airport
where the bright silver vehicles
of the future
descended from the blue.

I was coached in the exploits
of Roger Bannister and Baden Powell
and the self-determination of
Look and Learn
or the steady resolve of Churchill
in the Blitz.

All that certainty unravels slowly
and tangles as it does,
things change before you know them,
a stone, nestled beneath the tongue,
wont get you through all this.

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Buried Things

It’s been a recurring thread for me in my writing and thinking: the idea that there are things hidden or buried, or forgotten and still intact beneath the surface of things. It’s there in some of my earliest writing, the very title of my first collection, Lost Things, and in images like the abandoned picnic place, the lost highway, Atlantis etc.

So, of course I’d be fascinated to see, last Friday when I walked to the beach after a busy week at work, the fragments and wreckage of past structures that had emerged over the winter at my local beach.

I’d seen glimpses of early constructions before; perhaps a pier, or foundations for a jetty of some kind, but nothing like these full and intact structures that had been beneath my feet all along, all these years.

I took these photos to preserve them, before they’re buried again.

 

 

The view from the Amsterdam train

I’ve been looking at ways of presenting text online in more interesting or diverse ways. Nothing wrong with black text on a white page, but nice also to think of other ways to present and share text, with images as well. This is a new poem, using the app Adobe Spark I would have liked an embed within the blog, but the image below, which I found on Flickr, links to the poem and image as hosted on the Adobe site.

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Peninsula Writing – #6 – 1986

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The sixth issue of Peninsula Writing was perhaps the finest edition of them all. It was also the last. The magazine took on a theme approach for the first time, the Mahogany Ship, an almost mythical ship that had been sighted briefly half-buried in the sand dunes near Warrnambool that seemed to pre-date known European settlement.

This was the first cover that wasn’t by Gavin Duffy; a map of the Warrnambool sand dunes including the enigmatic site of wreck. Beyond that, the issue didn’t contain a lot of artwork.

The Mahogany Ship idea was an interesting choice, given that the Mahogany Ship history is located on the west coast of Victoria, a long way from the Mornington Peninsula. But the range of writing gathered together was significant.

The issue opened with Liam Davison’s fine story The Mahogany Ship, Melbourne poet Philip Martin generously allowed us to reprint his poem Dune Ship, which had just appeared in his own book, and he also wrote an interesting account of the genesis of that poem. followed by a poem by Judith Rodriguez The Mahogany Ship, Dune Ship on a Hot Day by Francis King, The Mahogany Ship by Warrick Wynne, Ship by Connie Barber, The Ship as Lover by Mary Chapman and The Mahogany Ship by Mimie F. Brown.

This was the first time in six issues that Liam Davison and myself had included our own creative writing in the magazine.

In the review sections we substituted the reviews for piece by Liam Davison: The Mahogany Ship in Australian Fiction

I think that issue five is the high point of the magazine, for the ideas and the quality of the writing and how the pieces bounce off each other, although you could argue that, for its artwork, issue four was the best.

There is no hint in this issue that it would be the last. In fact, the last page still seeks subscriptions. But it would be the final issue of this little magazine.

Below: Contents of Issue six

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Below: The Editorial for Issue six.

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Below: Poems by Francis King and Warrick Wynne

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Below: Extract from ‘The Mahogany Ship’ by Liam Davison

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