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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The Rider

I saw her again this morning.  I wrote a poem about her over twenty years ago. I hadn’t seen her for years and I was astounded to see that familiar hunched figure ride by me on my walk this morning. She’s older now, obviously, but I recognised her immediately, the too-big helmet lopsided on the head, and especially the hunched figure pedalling by. Here’s the poem, unpublished and forgotten, until I saw her again today.

 

The Riders

In bulbous headgear they are riding,
or walking the darkened streets
before dawn.

In the flat suburbs away from the bay
they are waking and running
selves away
from self,
becoming insubstantial
and invisible.

In morning mist in autumn
they are silvery wraiths.

By mid-morning they have disappeared
into TV worlds
more real than the ghosts of the washing
luminous in the back yard
or the wind across the unmown lawn.

Around the cold streets she rides
helmeted head too big for a body
wasted by the long pedalling to nowhere,
thin legs and chest
a hunched haunted look.

She rides the daylight hours,
through the path and passage of her dreaming,
rides till she is light and flighty,
always some destination in mind
that is never quite here.

But which will be golden
and weightless.

 

 

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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Poetry in ‘The Pillars’

I was delighted to attend this week the short film festival Flickerfest in Melbourne featuring a range of short films focused on Melbourne, or by Melbourne film-makers.

One such film was Nicholas Denton’s film, The Pillars, set in Mt Martha and featuring a poem of mine as part of the script. The film was well made, well acted and beautifully lit. And it was nice to hear the poem read by an actor, and really interesting to see it in a new and different context.

Its rare for a poet to have work transformed in another medium, so it was a privilege to see my poem in this new light.

 

 

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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