Twentieth Century Oz Lit Poetry and Prose Part 2

This week we finished our exploration of Patrick White’s amazing depiction of contemporary Australian society: its emptiness, but also its powerful potential for renewal in “Down at the Dump” and “Miss Slattery’s Demon Lover”- both in The Burnt Ones (1964).


As a prelude to David Malouf‘s visit to us in a fortnight we explored “The Year of the Foxes”, “A First Place” and The Only Speaker of His Tongue”. Malouf’s concern for the way language reveals the inner dimensions of experience and of space is shown in every one of his sentences. As he says about words, in “The Only Speaker of His Tongue”: We recapture on our tongue, when we first grasp the sound and make it, the same word in the mouths of our long dead fathers, whose blood we move in and whose blood moves in us. Language is that blood...”. Malouf has such a deep respect for and understanding of the function of language as part of our human experience. Here is a deep philosophy about language that we can all try to understand!

lesmurray_wideweb__470x3330Les Murray is also deeply concerned with the way in which our misuse of language robs us of the things we need most for our sanity and our humanity. In his poem “The Rainwater Tank” he uses language with creative cutting power to take us right up to the inner life of the inanimate tank. The language has a Hopkinsian “ring” to it, sounding out the hidden voice of this ordinary object: rings/rings/ring/rung/talk/walk/tilt/spilt:

Empty rings when tapped give tongue,

rings that are tense with water talk:

as he sounds them, ring by rung,

Joe Mitchell’s reddened knuckles walk.


From the puddle that the tank has dripped

hens peck glimmerings and uptilt

their heads to shape the quickness down;

petunias live on what gets spilt.

In his poem “The Cool Green” Murray shows how the “language” of money, the language which controls so much of our psychic interaction with world, dominates us to the extent of our loss of the essential values in our experience:


How did money capture life

away from poetry, ideology, religion?

It didn’t want our souls.

Ironically while money itself has no interest in us, in our souls, we give all our dearest energy to the pursuit of this holy dollar.

See a short clip on Les Murray here:


Judith Beveridge provided an antidote to the financial obsessions of our way of life by reminding us, through the sounds made by Yachts in the bay, that there are subtle sounds and sights all around us that can steer us towards the life of the soul. But we must be open to hearing these sounds otherwise our essential life will simply be swept away. We need to carry the concentration and awe of the young child gazing at the mystery of stars reflected in the water- undisturbed by the approaching clouds that threaten to disturb. Despite the many sounds that this poem alludes to, it comes to closure in an amazing meditative stillness:

… Or perhaps you hear

a child count stars in the water off a rickety

pier- despite clouds moving in, despite


gulls in the wind just off the masts.

Hear Judith read her poem “Yachts” here:



1/Take the first line of any of the poems that we have looked at today and write your own poem based on the idea in the line you have chosen.

2/ Write a letter to either Judith Beveridge, Les Murray or David Malouf telling them what you have found of greatest interest in their writing today.

3/ Chose any one of the texts that we explored in tutorials today and write your own brief summary of the key elements that you found most interesting.

4/ Based around Malouf’s ideas in “The Only Speaker of His Tongue” write a short piece in which you show what you understand by the phrase: “Language is that blood“.


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