Near the hallowed cricket ground

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Two Melbourne Poems in Miltonics

On Wurundjeri Way
In Melbourne,

A guy asks me if I know what street this is.
He’s sitting by the wall at the train station.
I say I’m a Yank and don’t know a thing.
It’s named for the people who were here
For maybe sixty thousand years, he says.
See those gum trees down by the river?
Those’re white gums, wurund is the word,
And they harboured grubs you could eat,
Jeri, they were called, so the people here,
They were called the Wurundjeri. Get it?
That’s the one blackfella name in the city,
And it’s not even a street you can walk on.
It’s a highway just for cars. Four big lanes.
We got streets named for judges, mayors,
Princes, merchants, governors, brewers,
Butchers, graziers, soldiers, pawnbrokers,
Chemists, architects, engineers, bakers,
Kings, queens, coppersmiths, bakers,
Horse-sellers, Germans, and late wives.
We even have a street named for a ship,
Niagara, by Lonsdale and Little Bourke.
But for the people here thousands of years
We have a street where there are no people.
You have to admire the neatness of that, eh?


On Punt Road
In Melbourne,

Near the hallowed Cricket Ground,
A man walking his dog tells a story.
We are standing in a thicket of gums
Not far from the languid Yarra River.
He tells me that when he was a child
There was a man living by the river
In a tiny hut made of leaf and thatch.

You Yanks would call him a hobo,
He says. People just let him alone.
He scrounged around in the park.
Lord knows what he did at night.
This was no sweet old man either.
He was dirty and he smelled bad.

He’d come roaring out of that hut
If anyone got too close, you know.
For a while he had a mean dog too.
God knows what happened to him.
When we were kids we thought he
Was ancient beyond all reckoning
But he was probably all of thirty.

You wonder what he was all about.
Just back from Vietnam, maybe, or
The wife dumped him, or a kid died,
Or he spent his days sucking bottle,
Who knows what put him in his hut?
We didn’t think about stuff like that.
He was just the old fella on the river,
The crazy man, the man in the bush.

Haven’t thought about him in years.
They came to get him out of there,
Of course, eventually, a complaint,
One complaint too many, Cremorne
Threatened by armies of vagrancy!
And his hut fell apart after a while.
It was right down there. I remember.

 

 

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So true and so simply said without the anger that can take away the empathy.
Ray O'Donoghue | 06 August 2008


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