(A poem triggered by a comment from my late mother that people who weren’t there didn’t understand what it was like to live through WWII)
They do not know,
those who came after,
how the bugle call sounded
and the men went away;
when ration cards sold
in back streets of the city
and meat cost as much
as a decent week’s pay.
They do not know,
those with buds in their ears,
how we listened to rumours
of invasion to come;
how we lived with anxiety,
with gossip and blackouts,
and ran for the shelters
but refused to succumb.
They do not know,
those folk on high salaries,
how we once had sweet fun
on minimal pay
in the arms of young soldiers
at dances and parties
knowing the foe
was just islands away.
They do not know,
the punters and brokers,
how we bet on the future
with our wounded and dead;
not knowing if lovers
would ever come back,
not knowing if there were
more dark days ahead.
They do not know,
those planning grand houses,
that there was a time
we had hopes and dreams too;
but our visions were clouded
by tears for the dying;
the best we could pray was
we’d all see it through.
They do not know,
those who came after,
of that unreal existence
when nothing was sure,
or why we still yearn
for missed fun and laughter:
those who grew up
when the world was at war.
Copyright Darryl Dymock 2021
*Anzac Day is a national day of remembrance in Australia and New Zealand that broadly commemorates all Australians and New Zealanders “who served and died in all wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping operations” and “the contribution and suffering of all those who have served”. It is observed on 25 April each year, the anniversary of the landing of Australian, New Zealand and British troops on the Gallipoli Peninsula in 1915.
A few weeks back I posted an interview with Fiona Stager, co-owner of Avid Reader bookshop in West End, Brisbane, Australia. You might remember how strongly engaged Avid Reader is with its community, both locally and online. So I thought you might like this recent post from Fiona, from the bookshop website:
“This Saturday 3 October we celebrate Love Your Bookshop Day which was created by the Australian Booksellers Association to celebrate bookshops across the country and highlight what makes local bookshops great. There will be facebook events, online events and giveaways galore.
Here at Avid Reader we have decided this year to rename it Love Our Customers Day! This is a chance for us to thank you for your continued support of our bookshops during this very uncertain time.
We have been overwhelmed with the many acts of kindness shown to us since March. An example is customers John and Jo who acted as our free couriers to 4005 and 4006 postcodes. Many people said it was the highlight of their day to receive a parcel and have a friendly chat with them.
We had orders from across Australia from family and old friends and concerned customers. Authors and publishers have also given us so much support. Along with an understanding and supportive landlord we have survived!
We thank you for everything you have done to support us.
Happy Love Our Customers Day,
I hope that message makes you feel good as we continue to stutter through extraordinary times.
If, like me, your senses respond to the feel and smell of books in a bookshop, you’ll like Avid Reader.
This award-winning independent bookstore has been in the high street at West End in Brisbane for 22 years and has firmly established itself in the local community. In recent years they’ve spun off a successful children’s bookshop next door: ‘Where the Wild Things Are’.
But the past few months of 2020 have been tough for storefront bookshops, and I recently talked to co-owner Fiona Stager about how Avid Reader has coped. This is an edited version of that telephone conversation. It first appeared on the guest blogger page at Margaret River Press in August 2020.
First I asked Fiona about changes she’d seen in publishing in the past two decades. You can listen to her response in this audio clip.
The developments Fiona mentions in that audio clip were of course all before a certain pandemic swept across the world and turned many businesses upside down, including bookshops.
I asked Fiona how Avid Reader had responded to the constraints of Covid-19 measures. You can hear her reply in this audio clip.
Despite the limitations of Zoom-based events, Fiona says they will continue with them after the current restrictions have gone:
Using Zoom has really allowed us to engage with a much wider audience. Each time we’ve done a Zoom there’s been an interesting story that’s come out of it. After our first Zoom event we did a survey: ‘I’ve always wanted to come to your events but I live in Western Australia’; ‘I used to come to all your events but now I’ve moved out of Brisbane and with Zoom I can come to all your events.’
Fiona has also moved all her book clubs to Zoom. But despite the geographically expanded audience, she says that sales are down compared to walk-in events. With an in-store book launch, for example, people often not only buy that book, but they also browse the shelves, and pick up other books that appeal to them on the spur of the moment. Nevertheless, Fiona says they will continue with Zoom even when face-to-face events restart because they know it does reach people beyond the immediately reachable community:
For any number of reasons people can’t come to the shop, but we’ve built such a strong reputation that people jumped at the chance of coming to Zoom events. It’s really opened up the world for us. It also means we can curate our program to even finer detail. So we’ve been able to match the best interviewer for the author, and they don’t have to be in the same city. For example one author was in Melbourne and the interviewer was in Sydney.
‘An ecosystem of small business’
Fiona actively fosters a sense of community, not only among the bookshop’s clients, but also among local businesses. She says that after such a long time in West End, she sees Avid Reader as an ‘anchor tenant’ which relies on other small businesses but has an obligation to them as well:
I made a commitment to our staff, our publishers and writers that we would be here after this [the Covid-19 shutdown]. But also I was really committed to being here for other businesses around us. It’s an important ecosystem of small business, that we all really need each other. That’s something I’m really passionate about.
And there’s been unexpected spin-off from the constraints:
I must say I’ve never been so pleased to be near a chemist. I’ve always thought it was important to be near good retailers, like a good shoe shop, good fashion, good food, a good bakery … . But now, I think it’s been really great to have been close to a chemist. People come out and go to the chemist for something, and then they come to us because the chemist is right next door.
Clearly Fiona is always on the lookout for ways her own business can survive alongside and with the other retailers in West End. But as a bookshop, Avid Reader faces particular challenges at this time.
I asked Fiona about her predictions for the future of publishing and book-selling in Australia in the coming months. You can hear her response here:
Fiona added that in the emerging sales climate, not all the books released later in the year will make it. And that’s got nothing to do with the quality of the books, she says, but to the fact that they’re ‘competing for everything from our shelf space to media and what will get coverage and traction.’
As for Avid Reader itself, I asked Fiona how she was feeling about the bookshop’s future in the midst of this uncertainty. You can listen to her prognosis here:
Fiona’s response is the experienced and pragmatic voice of someone who’s been in the book trade for more than 20 years. It’s clear she sees some hurdles and unknowns ahead. As with the spread of the pandemic itself, retail businesses are in uncharted territory, with a compass we’re all learning to use as we go along.
Nevertheless, in the midst of predictions of retail gloom and doom, and her struggles to maintain a solid client base, Fiona maintains a pro-active and optimistic outlook. Not that she hasn’t had her doubts. ‘At one stage I was just too stressed to read anything,’ she told me. ‘But now I’ve got myself out of that hole.’
So, with the stock of a whole bookshop to choose from, what does Fiona like to read?
I read mostly new fiction. I read a little bit of non-fiction. It will often depend if I’m being any kind of book judge – if I’m judging a literary award, I will read fiction, non-fiction, children’s books as well, and a little bit of young adult.
You’ve probably realised by now that Avid Reader is not only a bookshop but a dynamic part of its local community. We need all the publishing outlets our pockets can sustain, and power to them, but independent bookshops seem to have a special place in our communities, whether you visit them in person or online. And at the end of the year, you might think of Fiona’s prediction that for authors, publishers and booksellers alike, ‘it will depend how Christmas goes’.
Until next time
In the next blog, I’ll bring you another perspective on writing and publishing: a video interview with a key figure in editing.
Buying a copy or sending the book as a gift would give support to a local publisher, or you can order through bookshops, also struggling at the moment. It sells at AU$35 post-free from Hachette or just AU$11.99 as an e-book.
Sorry, T-shirts sold out!
And of course I’d be happy as an author that my book is in more hands (or ears!). If any royalties come my way, I’ll donate them to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation, which I’ve long supported.
In case you don’t know the book, it tells the story of Bundaberg-born Bert Hinkler, the first person to fly solo from England to Australia. He also made an amazing loop from Canada to New York to Brazil to west Africa and to London. Although his superb flying skills took him across the globe, however, he was a complex man who struggled to make his mark in a fast-changing world.
Bert Hinkler came to a premature and controversial end when his plane crashed in Italy mid-winter 1933 during another record attempt. It’s an amazing story.
The author with Bert Hinkler memorial, Mt Pratomagno, Italy
Well-known Australian aviator and entrepreneur Dick Smith said: ‘Hustling Hinkler is a fantastic book and an absorbing read.’
Darryl R Dymock
Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.
~ Leonardo da Vinci
My last post on this site was 4 March, and what a topsy turvy time we’ve all had in the days since then!
To think that just a couple of months ago most of us had never heard of coronavirus – now tens of thousands have lost their lives to Covid-19, and hundreds of thousands across the world have been stricken with the virus.
Distancing at the take-away coffee shop
Surely ‘social distancing’ will have to be the phrase of the year if not the decade.
In this not so brave new world, individuals, small businesses and corporations have had their lives turned upside down.
For writers, it’s sad to see bookshops struggling to survive as shoppers’ movements become restricted, because we know how much we depend on them to keep the printed word in front of readers.
A couple of independent local bookshops in my hometown of Brisbane have responded in innovative ways. Riverbend Books, where I launched Hustling Hinkler, has closed its physical doors but has introduced free local delivery and a ‘Drive Thru’ service. I can forgive their mangling of ‘through’ when I hear that ‘cars are rolling through the car park all day picking up orders’.
Suzy Wilson, Riverbend Books
Riverbend’s owner, Suzy Wilson, thanked customers for the many kind words that had come their way in the past week. ‘They’ve done much to keep our spirits up,’ she said.
Across town, Avid Reader bookshop, where I launched The Chalkies, has introduced a free local bicycle delivery service for the surrounding area, and promises same day delivery. Apparently it’s keeping Rachel (pictured) fit and happy. Win-win.
Avid Reader’s owner, Fiona Stager, is also encouraging customers to support other small stores in the area. ‘Every purchase at a local small business makes a big difference at the moment,’ she said.
Fiona Stager, Avid Reader
The challenge is of course, to sustain this support. As Ed Nawotka said in the Los Angeles Times on 25 March, the concern is that these responses to local initiatives are just a temporary show of collective goodwill. Let’s hope they’re not.
As I was writing this, on my playlist Ben Lee was singing, very appropriately, ‘We’re all in this together’.
Let’s continue to support each other each other in this weird and uncertain time, and believe that our bookshops will still be going when we come out at the other end.
I certainly hope so, because I’ve no doubt that writers across the world are taking advantage of their enforced isolation to churn out hundreds of thousands of words, and many of them will be looking for a publishing outlet. Let’s hope the publishers survive too.
I can’t claim to have had the sort of media exposure that major authors and literary prize-winners receive, but as an author I’ve done quite a few radio interviews across Australia and even one from New Zealand, so thought I’d pass on what I’ve learnt, in case it’s helpful to other ‘small-time’ authors.
ABC ‘Tardis’ studio Brisbane
Most radio interviews are set up in advance, so make sure you spend time preparing for the sorts of questions you might be asked. Once when I was interviewed about Hustling Hinkler, my biography of trailblazing Australian pilot Bert Hinkler, who died in 1933, the theme was ‘Do we still have heroes today?’ Other times regional radio stations were particularly interested in the times Hinkler visited their towns, and on other occasions the questions were broader, such as ‘Why was Bert Hinkler so famous in his day?’
Radio interviews are mostly leisurely and the interviewers tend to be supportive, keen to make their program interesting to their listeners, so you need to be interesting too.
Morning TV interview
Television is more demanding because unless you’re on a literary program you’ll probably get a few minutes to answer questions, and you might not get a lot of notice. In one TV interview I did, remotely for a morning show, I knew I would have about three minutes, and I took the advice of an experienced PR person to use the politicians’ strategy: Have a key point to make whatever they ask you!
When we’re nervous, which we usually are at the beginning of an interview, we tend to ramble on a bit. So it’s good if you have the main points in front of you (one of the advantages of radio is that the audience doesn’t know what prompts you have, even if the presenter does!), but don’t read from a pre-prepared script – it will sound unnatural and likely be boring to listeners.
Respond to the interviewer
Try to respond directly to the questions the interviewer asks, but be prepared for the fact that they probably haven’t had time to read the book, but may have grasped a few key points from the back cover or the introduction. Sometimes the program’s producer will have done some groundwork and prepared a few questions for the interviewer.
If your book is on a controversial theme or topic, the interviewer may ask probing questions, which you need to be prepared for and answer as calmly and firmly as you can – if you antagonise the interviewer, you may also antagonise your audience.
With my book, Extending your use-by date, I found that interviewers generally themselves connected positively with the theme. On one occasion, when a presenter on a major radio station in a large city gently queried my suggestion that people really wanted to stay working, they received calls from all over assuring them that some people did, including a truckie on a highway somewhere. This radio person was an experienced presenter, and not at all combative, and said on air that they were surprised by the responses from listeners.
Speak to your audience
In general, the audience will probably also not have read the book, so this is your chance to connect with them so that they understand the theme and plot and purpose – whatever is likely to be important to the sorts of readers your book is aimed at. This means using language that’s appropriate for that audience. And make sure you mention the name of the book a few times, without overdoing it.
I’ve done radio interviews by phone, face-to-face in a studio, and remotely in a studio, where the interviewer is in another city. One thing I learnt quite early is just because the producer who contacted you in advance says you’ll be on the air at a particular time doesn’t mean you will be.
When you do an interview by phone or remotely, usually the producer makes contact just beforehand and puts you on hold, so that you can hear the program live before the presenter gets to you. I quickly discovered that previous segments often over-ran their allotted time, or occasionally there’d be a significant news story that took over that day and it had to be covered before they got to me. No one apologises – it’s just part of the ebb and flow of live radio, which to me adds an exciting edge to the medium.
On the hop
I did a radio interview late last year where I didn’t have time to prepare. I was at an event at an Army Museum in central New South Wales where they were launching a special exhibition dedicated to the 300 conscripted teachers the Army had sent to Papua New Guinea from the mid-1960s to the early 70s. I’ve written a book about the experiences of those who went, The Chalkies, and after the opening ceremony I was introduced to Ian McNamara, the presenter of a well-known national Sunday radio show, Australia All Over, who asked if he could interview me. Right then and there. We went around the corner to a place that was slightly quieter, and the man who’s commonly known as Macca pulled a recorder from his pocket and off we went.
Macca interview for Australia All Over
The first two questions were excellent: What’s the name of the book, and what’s the subtitle? I didn’t have the book with me at the time, but I got the first question right; the second one escaped me for the moment but I made up something that was pretty close to it. After that it was a case of listening carefully to his questions and responding to them. Macca’s been doing this show since 1985, so he knows his audience and what he’s after. Five minutes later it was all done! And his last question was one that any author would appreciate: ‘What’s the name of the book again?’
Until next time
What writers say
[As a writer] ‘Janet Frame once likened herself to a “princess, shepherdess, waitress, putter-on of raincoat buttons in a factory … who chose rags from an old bundle, stitched them together, waved a wand and found herself with a completely new dress … I do collect bundles of rags and I like to sew them together: I suppose I must accept the fact that I have no wand”.’ ~ Margaret Drabble
Ever heard of the Kamchatka Leaf Warbler? Neither had I, until a couple of years ago when I read online an ABC Great Southern story about how this tiny Russian bird had been sighted in Broome, Western Australia. This was news because it was the first sighting of this leaf warbler ever made in Australia, and birdwatchers were very excited. Apparently these pretty little birds normally holiday in Indonesia to escape the Russian winter. Sounds like a smart move, except this ‘outflier’ was apparently blown off course and ended up in north-west Australia. It’s lucky it wasn’t declared an illegal immigrant and sent off to labour camp!
I used that news report as the basis for a short story, ‘A tough little bird’, which has made the shortlist for the Margaret River Short Story competition and will be published in the 2019 anthology by Margaret River Press, Western Australia. Author and poet Michelle Cahill, who chose the winners, is also editing the anthology.
My story is actually about two tough little birds – the Kamchatka Leaf Warbler and a fictional woman in a Perth hospital who’s clinging on to life. I worked and re-worked this story, and changed its title a couple of times, but finally came back to the question I have taped above my desk: ‘What are you trying to say?’ Margaret River Press is a quality publisher, and this volume will be well worth looking out for.
Educating an army in peace and war
Most people know as much about the Royal Australian Army Educational Corps (RAAEC) as they do about the Kamchatka Leaf Warbler. Yet Education in the Australian Army has a strong history – one that starts in the killing fields of Europe 100 years ago, then after a twenty-year break, turns up in the jungles of the south-west Pacific in World War II, spends a little time in Japan and Korea, detours into Vietnam and Papua New Guinea, then comes back to Australia in the final decades of the last century, and continues with a significant and active contribution to the needs of the Australian Army in the current century, including in overseas deployments.
I know a little bit about that history because two of my published non-fiction books, A sweet use of adversity and The Chalkies, are about the history of the Corps, and I’m currently researching the Corps’ role during the Vietnam War 1965-72. I was also an RAAEC member as a National Serviceman for two years. It was because of that interest that the Head of Corps, Colonel Fiona Curtis, invited me to give a talk about the history at the annual conference of the Corps, held at Simpson Barracks, Melbourne in early February, 2019.
I called my presentation, ‘An Adaptive Corps for an Adaptive Army’, because the Corps has continually had to justify its presence in a military organisation, and therefore needs to be adaptive. I pointed out that Army Education began life in WWI as the AIF Education Service – and has always provided a service to Army, but it has come to be recognised as a Corps of professionals. I talked more than I intended to, but the audience was generous and interested, and it was good to chat with Corps members afterwards and at the formal dinner that evening.
Photo: The author with former Head of Corps Col. Katrina Schildberger & current Head of Corps, Col. Fiona Lewis, at the RAAEC dinner.
Until next time
Darryl R Dymock
What writers say:
The ambivalence of labels and the intersections of race, class and gender for Australian women require that these conversations become more flexible and nuanced as we negotiate the next phases of multiculturalism. ~ Michelle Cahill
On a recent visit to the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra, I came across an intriguing painting of the Australian writer, Peter Goldsworthy. The photo-like painting shows Goldsworthy sitting at his desk, looking through the window ahead of him, seemingly deep in thought.
The artist, Deidre But-Husaim, said she chose the angle because she wanted to represent more than just the author’s appearance.
’I wanted to convey the process of trying to bring a thing or idea into being,’ she said, ‘ – a peek at the process and space that is inhabited between the person and resulting end point that we are not usually privy to.’
So her painting is intended to offer ‘a glimpse of the inner private world of Peter alone with his imagination, all unformed possibilities before him.’
‘All unformed possibilities before him’ – what an insightful understanding of the creative process, from someone who no doubt has her own ‘inner private world’ when she paints.
I’m thankful to But-Husaim and her fellow artists at the National Portrait Gallery because I consistently find that other people’s creativity feeds my creativity as a writer.
Whenever I see works of art, or plays or movies that rise to great creative heights, I’m encouraged to push myself higher in whatever writing I’m working on at the time (or pushed to get moving again if I’ve been distracted from it).
I don’t claim that the end result is as inspiring as the creation that triggered my renewed enthusiasm, but at least I have higher aspirations!
Short story published
Perhaps it was someone else’s creativity that led to my putting together a short story that was published recently in an anthology, ‘Within/Without These Walls’.
The creative non-fiction story, ‘Melons and mudslides’, tells of a day I spent at the iconic sporting venue, the Gabba, more properly known as the Brisbane Cricket Ground.
I think the title of the story will give you some indication that, among the spectators on the Hill, the focus was not always on the game being played out in front. The story begins:
“In those days, the Brisbane Cricket Ground was being redeveloped but wasn’t yet encased in the girdle of concrete grandstands and plastic multi-coloured seating you see today. On the south-east corner there was an uncovered gently sloping grass section – the Hill – set aside for spectators who couldn’t afford a reserved seat and weren’t averse to a glass or three of XXXX either. I find myself heading to the Hill this mid-December day because we’ve booked late, and the one-day match, between Australia and the old enemy, England, is a sell-out.”
I enjoyed the challenge of conveying in words not only a physical picture of the venue and the tens of thousands of spectators that poured in that day, but also of the atmosphere an international sporting event creates, and of the ebb and flow of the crowd in response to what is happening around them.
When I was writing that story, a painter might have captured a very similar impression of me to the one Deidre But-Husaim painted of Peter Goldsworthy. Full of unformed possibilities. Except that I’d be staring at a wall.
Until next time
What writers say
When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, ‘I am going to produce a work of art.’ I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing. ~ George Orwell
I’ve recently been fortunate enough to make a second visit to Pratomagno, Tuscany, Italy.
That’s the mountain where pioneer Australian aviator, Bert Hinkler, lost his life when his tiny monoplane crashed in January 1933 while he was making another attempt on the England-Australia record.
Regular readers will recall that I wrote a biography of the famous flier, Hustling Hinkler (Hachette Australia, 2013). It was a spin-off from that story which took me back to the crash site in 2018.
When I first went to the mountain two years ago, Cesare Ciabatti, the owner of an excellent restaurant, da Giocondo, which now sits close to the top of the peak, told me that he would love to be able to give visitors a booklet about Hinkler’s long connection with the area.
That connection has been fostered through an impressive display Cesare maintains on his bar wall, and also through Hinkler memorials nearby that are linked by a walking track, the Hinkler Ring, initiated by Carlo Palazzini and friends in the Club Alpino Italiano (Arezzo).
After I returned to Australia, I decided late last year that I would put together a small publication that could be translated into Italian, which Cesare might be able to provide for visitors.
After much liaison with him and with Carlo (who kindly finalised the translation) and with a Brisbane contact, Kevin Lindeberg (who has a much longer attachment to the Hinkler story and to Pratomagno that I do), we produced a foldable double-sided A3 brochure, with text, photos and maps (above).
I arranged for the typesetting and artwork to be done in Australia, and Cesare generously sponsored the printing of the brochure in Italy, in both Italian and English.
Cesare Ciabatti and Carlo Palazzini with the new Bert Hinkler brochure September 2018
I had hoped we might have been able to organise some sort of ‘launch’ of the brochure on Pratomagno, but unfortunately my visit was planned for September, towards the end of the main tourist season, and Cesare needed the brochures several months earlier for his guests.
So I contented myself with a visit to da Giocondo to see the finished product, and a trek around most of the 8 km Hinkler Ring with family in the genial company of Carlo, where once again I was moved by seeing the Hinkler crash-site and memorial.
Carlo Palazzini at 2015 Bert Hinkler Memorial, Pratomagno
This tree on the slopes of Pratomagno may have been the last resting place of Australian pilot Bert Hinkler.
Afterwards I trekked to the top of the peak, which is topped by the giant Croce di Pratomagno (Cross of Pratomagno) and gives 360 degree views, which were spectacular on a warm sunny September day.
The author on his way to the Croce di Pratomagno
We ended a memorable visit appropriately with an excellent meal at da Giocondo, and a local beer. (Yes, I know Chianti is the specialty of Tuscany, but I wanted to try the local brew – it’s called Pratomagno!) Our transport for the day was expertly provided by Andrea from Very Tuscany Tours, and we were glad to see him again after our previous visit to the region.
But wait – there’s more! There’s an intriguing aside to this story that began some months before. When we visited Pratomagno the previous time, good friends from Armidale, New South Wales, Geoff and Judy Hinch, were with us. Sometime after we had returned to Australia, to her surprise and my delight, Judy found three poems about Bert Hinkler in a collection of poems penned on the family farm by her late paternal grandmother, Marion Parsons.
One was written in 1928, when Hinkler made his record-breaking flight from England to Australia; the second was from early 1933, when he had disappeared and was still missing.
The third poem was a tribute to the ‘Women of Strada’, an Italian town not far from Pratomagno. Soon after Hinkler’s body had been found, the women of the town sewed together panels of cloth, cut from whatever material they could find, to create a Union Jack (Hinkler lived in England) that could be draped over his coffin.
The poem concludes:
“Oh splendid Women of Strada
Did you feel when you made that pall
The kinships of wills and mothers
That maketh us sisters all.
And to us the greatest honour
Done for our hero’s sake
Is the flag that the Women of Strada
Tore up their sheets to make.”
Australian newspaper article in 1936, three years after Hinkler’s burial outside Florence
It seemed fitting that I should read that poem in the presence of Cesare and Carlo on the slopes of Pratomagno at the time of my second visit. The poem and its discovery seem to emphasise the significant historical and perhaps emotional connection the two countries have to Bert Hinkler, and why it continues.
Until next time
What writers say:
We occasionally felt that inside the book we read there was a better one – sometimes a thinner one- straining to get out.
~ Kwame Anthony Appiah, Chairperson, Man Booker Prize judging panel, 2018
Recently I stopped in the Victorian rural town of Corryong, and discovered something about a famous Australian poem, The Man from Snowy River, written in the 1890s by A. B. (Banjo) Paterson.
This stirring poem tells the story of a group of riders in pursuit of a valuable colt that had escaped and joined ‘the wild bush horses’ in rugged mountain country, and how:
When they reached the mountain’s summit, even Clancy* took a pull,
It well might make the boldest hold their breath,
The wild hop scrub grew thickly, and the hidden ground was full
Of wombat holes, and any slip was death.
But the man from Snowy River let the pony have his head,
And he swung his stockwhip round and gave a cheer,
And he raced him down the mountain like a torrent down its bed,
While the others stood and watched in very fear.
Eventually this ‘stripling on a small and weedy beast’ turned the mob of horses around and ‘alone and unassisted brought them back’.
The poem’s continued popularity is due of course to the theme of an heroic individual beating the odds in a rugged environment where the rest of his mates had given up. No wonder there was a movie spin-off.
Paterson always claimed the story was created from several stories he’d heard, but over the years a number of people have claimed to have been or to have known ‘the man from Snowy River’.
A B (Banjo) Paterson
The town of Corryong sits attractively at the base of the Australian Alps, and it’s easy to see how the area and local characters might have inspired Paterson to set his poem there. (Corryong has claimed the poem as its own, as have a few other towns in the area, but Corryong also has an annual festival).
I learned in my stopover there that the poem was first published in The Bulletin magazine in 1890, but what interested me as a writer was that Paterson kept changing the original slightly, and that the one published in a collection of his poems in 1895 was probably the fourth version.
Apparently W H Auden was also known for continuing to ‘fiddle’ with the text of his poems between editions.
I don’t know whether any modern authors edit their material in this way when new editions appear, but I can’t imagine publishers are too keen on changing the text once it’s set up for printing.
Nevertheless, I know that feeling of sending off the ‘final’ version of a book or short story and later thinking of ways I might have improved it.
I guess the lesson for us lesser writers is that if we can’t make changes after publication, we need to do all the rewriting beforehand. (Except of course for blogs – Caution: This version may not be the original, or the final one …)
Until next time
Darryl R Dymock
*Clancy of the Overflow was another well-known Australian bushman created by Banjo Paterson.
What writers say
‘In my racket it’s so easy to tighten up and get all stiff and wooden. Then the stuff is no good. When it’s good it comes easy. Anything you have read or heard to the contrary is a lot of mish-mash.’ ~ Character Roger Wade (a writer) in The long good-bye by Raymond Chandler.