Seeing the place for the first time

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
(T.S. Eliot)

I like those moments that help you see a place as it might have been in the past, especially places you might have thought you knew pretty well. I’m interested in those juxtapositions of photos you sometimes see, where you overlay the historical image over the modern city, and see how much (or how little) has changed.

Couple that, with the power and pathos of the concept of dispossession and you have the potential to transform your perspective.

So it was for me recently when I was lucky enough to do the Birrarung walk with Dean Stewart from the Koori Heritage Trust. He took us along a non-descript section of the Yarra in Melbourne from near the Aquarium up to the monstrosity that is Crown Casino and allowed us a window into a different world: the world of early Melbourne as well as the place as it existed before there was such a concept as ‘Melbourne’.

It was a privilege to be allowed into the world as he sees it. He showed us images of early Melbourne, from the perspective where they were painted, but more powerfully shared with us the place as it was before: the wetlands, the crossing place over the waterfall and the smells and sounds of the birds, animals and vegetation as it was then. It was a moving experience, not just because of the passion and understanding of the place, but because of the sense of all that has been lost too.

I recommend it if you’re visiting Melbourne, or if you’ve lived in Melbourne all your life and you think you know it. You probably don’t.

You can read more about this walk, from the AGE and the Sydney Morning Herald HERE.

Great Uncle Nat

Waking up on a bleak ANZAC morning in Melbourne today with the parade about to begin and the media talk all this week about Gallipoli and the meaning of all that, you can’t help but think about history, wars and the young men nations throw at these things.

My grandfather went to World War I. France and Belgium; the Western Front.  He never talked about it. And I never asked him. I remember him a rather imposing figure in his special chair in the house watching World of Sport. I’ve written about him a few times, especially that World War I connection in poems based on photographs that found their way to me or, as I blogged about here recently, my childish, simplistic ideas of what war meant in a recent poem, R.T.A.,  in the anthology: Metabolism.

So, I’m thinking about him this gloomy morning, those other men too from both sides, and my own Great-Uncle Nat who, I found out recently was also in World War I, and at Gallipoli. That’s him, third from left, next to my grandfather, William Francis, second from left, as men who came back from the war.  On my family history web site I recorded that:

Nathaniel Wynne received the Military Medal for his deeds on July 15, 1915 at Anzac Beach, Gallipoli. He rescued a wounded Indian Sergeant-Major from a dump of burning ammunition at risk of his own life.  He was later hospitalised with wounds to both arms. He lost his Lance-Corporal stripes later on for allowing gambling in the barracks.

You can read a little more, and see a couple of those war records on the family history site here. It’s not ancient history. That’s my grandfather, and his brother.

Stories everywhere; Poems too

Substitute the word ‘poem’ for ‘story’ in this article and video from Krissy Clark below and it equates pretty closely to how I think sometimes about my writing, and my poetry. In a way it’s a mapping of the place in poetry, maybe not on the grand scale in the way that Hardy or Yeats or Frost mapped their world, but my world, localised, specific and layered with meaning for me.

The stories here are factual histories: who lived here? what happened on this place in history? They are reminding us of the layers of meaning. My places are more imaginative or made-up or responsive to me. They normally aren’t about what happened here before (though I wrote a poems about the Aboriginal people who lived and ate mussels on what I thought of as ‘my’ beach) but about me passing through these places and responding to them.

I thought I could/should create an interactive map of my region; with clickable links to poems that focus on that particular moment. Maybe I will. Meanwhile, I very much like the ideas of the past in this project.

Roman Wall Blues

It’s funny how one thing leads to another, in life, and in reading. And in writing too, sometimes.

So, sitting down at last to read Luke Davies prize-winning collection Interferon Psalms this week, which I’m luke-warm about (though I get what he’s doing I think, with all the Biblical language and over the top imagery, what they call on the back cover of the book ‘ an oracular language of incantation’) I’m drawn to something other than the Davies work I’m supposed to be reading, a reference to Auden in:

Soaking wet by Hadrian’s wall
I dreamed of sunlight and olive trees
And a comfortable pair of sandals.

[thus said the wise old Wystan Hugh] in Davies…

and I’m drawn back to that poem of Auden’s that I hadn’t read for years.

At first I thought the reference was from ‘The Fall of Rome’, a favourite Auden poem, but a quick refresh finds that Davies’ is referring to ‘Roman Wall Blues’, number 11 of ‘Twelve Songs’, written around 1937, the twelfth song being the famous ‘Some say that love’s a little boy … ‘.

I like Auden, the early things particularly. In my ‘favourite poems’ section of this blog, for example, I’ve talked about ‘Sonnet from China’ and a few others (including, to my shame, the same poem twice, Hopkins’s ‘The Windhover’.!)

So, I was thinking, what is it about this poem that I like? Something of the personification of the great histories of the world into a disgruntled Roman soldier getting a cold in the rain in Scotland? Or, how the great forces of the world (empire, war, the march of history) stand up against time, cold, winter, the forces of nature and time? Landscape, ruins, the decline and fall.

Like the end of ‘The Fall of Rome’, where Auden cinematically cuts to the great uncaring herds of reindeers locked into their own vast migrations, and in other poems like Arnold’s ‘Dover Beach’ and Shelley’s ‘Ozymandias’ there’s something about the sweep of history, the fallibility of the human, the illusion of progress.

All those poems I’ve mentioned above are worth entries of their own, and maybe I’ll get around to that. But, here’s ‘Roman Wall Blues’, which I was reminded of by reading Luke Davies’s book this week. I’m an admirer of Davies work but not this one, but it was worth buying just to be brought back here to Auden

Roman Wall Blues

Over the heather the wet wind blows,
I’ve lice in my tunic and a cold in my nose.

The rain comes pattering out of the sky,
I’m a Wall soldier, I don’t know why.

The mist creeps over the hard grey stone,
My girl’s in Tungria; I sleep alone.

Aulus goes hanging around her place,
I don’t like his manners, I don’t like his face.

Piso’s a Christian, he worships a fish;
There’d be no kissing if he had his wish.

She gave me a ring but I diced it away;
I want my girl and I want my pay.

When I’m a veteran with only one eye
I shall do nothing but look at the sky.

W. H. Auden

Photo: ‘Looking West along Hadrian’s Wall’ from Flickr by Tyler Bell

Some maps from ‘Mt Martha Lands and People’

I intimated in my earlier post about this local history by Winty Calder that the cover didn’t really do the text justice. So, I’ve included here a couple of the maps from the book. There’s also a lot of really interesting photos, but I must admit there’s something I find terribly attractive about these old maps: their typography, their line-engraving look, even the parcelling up of the bundles of land.




Mt Martha Lands and People

Anyone who’s read this blog the time will know how much I enjoy and appreciate local history. And, there’s something really satisfying about a well written natural local history. I like the passion that goes into them. I like the appreciation of the local and the specific. I like that, in a time of globalisation, there’s still space for the really personal and regional.

One of my favourite books last year was local history of the Wimmera region and I must admit I thought I’d read everything about my own area, the Mornington Peninsula.

So delighted to find out about a new book I hadn’t seen before. ‘Mt Martha Lands and People’ by Winty Calder. Apart from the ghastly cover, which is probably designed for the local tourist market, it’s a beautifully detailed and comprehensive natural local history.

Sections include the natural environment, the first people, the meetings and clashes of cultures, the early results in coastal development, Federation to World War I, suburbanisation between the wars, and World War II itself and its effect on this area (many marines were stationed here for rest and recreation). Finally, it also charts the changes from role to suburban and importance of keeping some of the open spaces. I never say never for a surprise to find it in the local newsagent. It’s a labour of love, I like that too.

Funnily enough, I couldn’t find one image of the books cover on the Internet, so I scanned one in. It seems not everything, especially the local, is on the web yet.

Oh, also dictated this post aloud using Dragon Express software on my new blue microphone. I’m keen to use a lot more audio this year if I can.