Who was ... ?
Who was that luckless politician,
federal, I think,
gone now from so many
memories, including mine?
Male, a sort of suited fledgling,
older maybe than he looked,
the guy who feelingly achieved,
while reaching for the aphoristic
wisdom of his people,
the verbal train-wreck we remember
so much better than than the 'issue'
or his features as they pleaded
with the swooping of a lens:
I'm torn between two places and a
Clearly, it's all there on Google
but wouldn't that be cheating?
Ulrich and the Doc
Ulrich Ellis (1904–1981)
Earle Page (1880–1961)
Ulrich and the Doc, my grandpa,
back there in the 1920s,
are not unlike the country then,
always on the move.
Ulrich, twenty-four years younger,
and general factotum,
doesn't stint on admiration
and both are more than happy
working at an empire's edge.
The future's made of enterprise,
power poles, dams and rail.
Scrub is to be cut and cleared
and dairy farms established.
The Great War is an echo
but neither is discouraged
although the Doctor's several months
of surgery on the Somme
must surely leave a shadow.
Ulrich keeps a notebook
(he's been a journalist as well)
absorbing all his boss throws off,
the 'picturesque phrase',
the 'homely illustration'
then types it all up later with
some extras of his own.
The Doctor is, to Ulrich,
a sort of 'Marco Polo',
so often are they on the road.
For both of them the city streets
are seriously 'tram-infested'.
And always they are undeterred
even by those tracks
'the mailman himself refuses to tackle'.
Their trips are packed with hard-work heroes
and heroines, as well.
Mrs Smith, for instance,
up at Taylors Arm,
who stays on when her husband
disappears with no word spoken
one morning from his soldier's block
and raises five young children on her own.
She clears and ploughs and ringbarks,
'carries cream on packhorses
seven miles through scrub';
persuades a sister out from London
to help her with the plough.
Her offspring too will prove to have
'manners that would grace
the best of houses'. Ulrich and the Doc
inside an early Chevrolet
are chugging up the mountain gravel
then out across the blacksoil plains.
Once, they reach the western coast,
courtesy the Trans-Australian,
where Doc, the nation's treasurer,
addresses farmers' meetings,
open-air or weatherboard,
'everyone with ... hats on;
the temperature over 85'.
And thus the Country Party thrives.
'Circumstances,' Ulrich notes,
'rarely allowed me to travel
ahead of the Doctor. Where he went,
there went I — usually a few
paces behind him, and at the trot.'
The legacies of pioneers
become a favoured pit-stop:
Thomas Sutcliffe Mort,
founder of Bodalla and
of frozen beef to Britain;
Lord John Forrest too
who helped to start the railway
they've spent the last three nights on;
the engineer, C.Y. O'Connor,
who famously designed
and oversaw for seven years
the pipeline to Kalgoorlie
then shot himself on horseback
one morning in the surf
('succumbing to the darts of pygmies,'
as Ulrich feelingly records);
Sir Richard Spencer also,
many years before,
governor at Albany,
'practical dreamer' (not unlike
the Doc perhaps) 'without whose type
there'd be no British Empire'.
At Heifer Station on the Clarence
Ulrich meets the Doctor's eldest,
the son who would be killed by lightning
just a few years later,
at that time not quite twenty
and 'lord' of all the Doctor's 'fine estates'
which have no homestead yet.
'Born for the saddle,' Ulrich adds.
admiringly, since he himself
is somewhat undistinguished in the stirrups.
The Picnic Races at Baryulgil
see the Doc's son mount
(and stay aboard) a 'powerful horse ...
of which most ... riders, big and small,
black and white, fought shy.'
Despite my taste for doubt and all
my 'leftwards disposition'
I'm more than half-inclined to think
that somewhere in a gap of weather
Ulrich and the Doc
are out there driving still.
Brown paper covers
Was I nine or was I ten
when I first mustered all my books,
fifteen of them perhaps or twenty,
and covered them with coarse brown paper
we used to get the bread and meat in?
Mostly they were gifts from mum
or kindly relatives at Christmas.
Robinson Crusoe, Treasure Island,
Westward Ho! and Kidnapped plus
some other tales less well recalled.
I lined them up along a shelf
and numbered them in blue-black ink.
This way they would be preserved —
and unified, I'll now concede.
Those covers with their palms and pirate
ships were frivolous, it seemed, back then.
We children were a unit too.
My mother, who'd survived the thirties
and (at a distance) World War II,
was always strong on preservation.
I liked the way they numbered off
like members of a small platoon
and yet, despite my nib and ink,
and then a lifetime of collecting,
none of them is with me now.
Were they, like my well-boiled shirts,
handed to less bookish brothers
who'd idly peel away the covers
admitting air and entropy
while I was at that upland school?
But maybe that's a little harsh.
Retrieved in dreams, my mother (gone
at ninety-two) could answer that
if memories are restored up there.
All I'm left with is the need
to organise, align, preserve;
to unify and find a pattern —
recalling how, at nine or ten,
unaware yet serious,
I'd found a life's intent.
Geoff Page is based in Canberra and has published 22 collections of poetry as well as two novels and five verse novels. His recent books include Gods and Uncles and PLEVNA: A Verse Biography. He also edited The Best Australian Poems 2014 and The Best Australian Poems 2015.