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Who was that luckless politician?

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Geoff Page |  30 April 2017

 

Selected poems

 

 

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

 

hard rock?

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,

parliamentary secretary

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 CrusoeTreasure 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 PageGeoff 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.

 



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Submitted comments

Such very fine poems, Geoff, With Best Wishes, Dorothy Horsfield

Dorothy Horsfield 02 May 2017

Geoff Page is Australia's best living poet.

Peter Goers 02 May 2017

Thanks Geoff , fond memories of my school days in the 30s.

David 02 May 2017

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