Oz Poetry in the later 20th Century

Today we covered a huge range of Oz writers: Rosemary Dobson, Francis Webb, Gwen Harwood, David Malouf (his poetry), Barbara Hanrahan, Les Murray, Michael Dransfield, Yahia Al-Samaway, Kevin Hart, Judith Beveridge, Kate Grenville and finally Chi Vu (her “A Psychic Guide”).

Rosemary Dobson’s amazing Ekphrastic poem “Child with a Cockatoo” (based on a painting by S. Verelst) illustrated how a poet’s meditation on a painting could lead out into an engagement with the experience of a child in the past, but also into the whole human and political history of early Australia.

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The bird while being used to entertain the child during a gruelling portrait session, is the window onto another time that predates colonization:

To those fabled shores

Not William Dampier, pirating for gold,

Nor Captain Cook his westward course had set…

Only that sulphur-crested bird could tell

Of dark men moving silently through trees,

Of stones and silent dawns, of blackened earth

And the long golden blaze of afternoon.

Dobson is one of a long line of poets who digs deep into our past with a real wish for a healing reconciliation for all the evils meted out.

Francis Webb, similarly, in his poem “End of the Picnic” records the ironic tragedy of the arrival of the Endeavour onto what was once “this holy beach”, but is now a mythic world undermined by the presumptuous unfurling of the British flag:

But still I see how the myth of a daylight bled

Standing in ribbons, over our heads, for an hour.

Gwen Harwood’s wonderfully soft spoken dedication to her “Mother Who Gave Me Life” juxtaposes Gwen’s last meeting with her mother with a memory of her mother calling the young Gwen in to supper in years gone past:

At our last meeting I closed

the ward door of heavy glass

between us, and saw your face


my supper set out, your voice

calling me in as darkness

falls on my father’s house.

Amongst prose writers explored today Kate Grenville’s Lilian’s Story, based around the life of Bea Miles, showed powerfully how women writers can wonderfully inhabit the lives of significant women (Bea Miles) and make their experience a powerful wake-up to all of us stuck in our middle-class comfort zones:

I fell in the middle of that crowded lunchtime pavement, and I felt my broad feet slide out from under me and the unfriendly clutch of gravity. Everyone stared but no one stopped. I must have been a frightening sight, and it was years since anyone but myself had seen my white thighs, and I saw the glare of them stun the strangers as they stared and stared from beyond the circle of shock that enclosed me. My hat had slipped over one eye, down over my nose, its elastic folding an ear over onto itself…. I laughed and laughed, feeling my fat shake and I could not stop laughing, because my legs, stuck out in front of me in a big foolish way, would not move to bear my weight again….

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The story moves from this seemingly immovable place to her rescue by some feelingful bystander… a wonderful read into the heart and mind of one of Sydney’s most colourful figures.

Blog Topics for Week 9.


Select any one of the authors introduced this week and write a short appreciation of the work you have enjoyed most by this author.


Take a line (poetry or prose) from any one of the authors introduced this week and use this line as the starting point (or ending point) for a short creative piece of your own. The subject? A personal experience. The style? Try to write in the style of the author you have chosen.

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