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Colonial garden party

Tattered Eureka flag 














A sprig of wattle overhead,
a hope of sleep 'fore morning,
ornery cattle sleep as stone,
hours till the dawning.
The sound of battle now long past,
an echo of forlorning
a rattle; death's gurgled hail:
27 families mourning,
the ribald tattle of demise
and truthsearch seems mere fawning.
The diggers' catchcry, liberty,
saw fascism a'yawning,
enfranchisement followed suit,
with racism adorning
its streamlined passions for the cause —
White Australia Policy a'borning.
For a mess of pottage, we're
at justice a'pawning.
Eureka, we've found schadenfreude ...
aliens, here's your warning.

Barry Gittins


Colonial garden party: two snapshots

The vicar holds a steady pose,
the children are distracted:
the governess beside the boys
pursues their gaze, diverted.

The doctor's wife looks out of frame;
the housemaid's glance goes after.
The children's small pet wallaroo
jumps, shadow on emulsion.

Cottage flowers spell out Hampshire
planted halfway round the earth.
Years will make the distance greater,
bear nostalgia's fruit much later:

an older son in time will preach,
another write from Spion Kop.
And she who made the photograph
and kept it for memento ... ?

In another instant, time
has rearranged the tableau —
muslin frocks and sailor's bows,
and father's careful creases.

Even while the party scatters —
children to pursue the 'roo,
parlour maid to bring out tea —
father, mind on other matters,

hears the vicar quizzically:
— 'Faith, nowadays is voluntary.'
— 'Better then, to imitate it
than to countenance its lack?

What faith justifies our actions
and our presence in this spot?
Talk of duty will not answer,
nor the Empire, nor round shot.'

See the corner, where the blur is,
where the kangaroo took flight:
all eyes in the scene are on it,
though the creature's out of sight.

Michael Sharkey


North-west of here
(tune, 'Auld Lang Syne')

If Steve and Ethel were clean forgotten,
Tumbled clean out of my gaze,
We'd find a way to bring them back
With our old country days.

For those old farming days, my dear,
For those old grazing days,
        We'll drink another latte here
For those old country days.

Remember the local woolshed dance
With New Orleans-type jazz
Played by the local Dairy Six
On that property Mum still has?

And you must recall that goldrush pub
With Gallipoli photos and all
Where we'd linger over a pot too many
Treading for a fall.

But another autumn has tripped in now
Like a lovely suntanned girl
And, along the college hedges, blue
Plumbago petals unfurl.

For those old grazing days, my dear,
These grandparental days
        We'll drink another latte here
For those old country days.

Chris Wallace-Crabbe

Barry Gittins headshot

Barry Gittins is a Eureka Street columnist, and a communication and research consultant for the Salvation Army who has written for Inside History, Crosslight, The Transit Lounge, Changing Attitude Australia and The Rubicon.


Michael Sharkey headshotMichael Sharkey is a poet and biographer resident in Armidale NSW. Another Fine Morning in Paradise (a collection of poems) was published by Five Islands Press in 2012 and was awarded the GRace Leven Prize for Poetry; Apollo in George Street: The Life of David McKee Wright was also published in 2012, by Puncher and Wattmann.


Chris Wallace-Crabbe headshotChris Wallace-Crabbe is an Australian poet and Emeritus Professor in The Australian Centre, University of Melbourne. He has a distinguished career as poet, essayist, literary critic, teacher, cultural ambassador and advocate for the humanities and creative arts.

Topic tags: Barry Gittins, Michael Sharkey, Chris Wallace-Crabbe, poetry, Eureka Stockade, White Australia Policy



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Existing comments

Many and profound thanks. These exquisite poems have made my day. Bravo!

Peter Goers | 03 December 2013  

Lovely ironist's posy - many thanks.

Carolyn Masel | 04 December 2013  

a delight in my inbox illustrated southern cross not perfection but near enough

Julie | 08 December 2013  

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