Arm’s length: Haiku shortlisted in Covid-19 Lockdown competition

I’m chuffed that a Haiku I entered in an international Covid-19 Lockdown competition run by Fish Publishing in Ireland made the shortlist (although it didn’t win):

There were 1436 entries for the Haiku, Poetry and Pocket Prose categories and the competition raised the equivalent of around AU$7000 for OXFAM’s Coronavirus Emergency Appeal.

Haiku is a Japanese form of short poetry comprising exactly 17 syllables. It’s normally written in three unrhymed lines of five, seven, and five, but the competition sponsors indicated that on this occasion they would be flexible about the structure.

Technically, in Japanese literature, Haiku tend to be about nature, while a similar short form, Senryū, is more about human foibles.

Morning mist, Tamar River, Tasmania

Here’s another Haiku I wrote, on a similar theme:

Before,

only druggies and astronauts

were spaced out

Now we

all        are

Until next time

Darryl Dymock

 

What writers say:

The shadow deepens at the edges of the scene. I hope we come out of it all the wiser.

Irish writer Kevin Barry on the pandemic

Hustling Hinkler book still in print!

I’ve recently discovered that the publisher Hachette Australia still has limited print copies in stock of my book, Hustling Hinkler: The short tumultuous life of a trailblazing Australian aviator. I thought it was out of print. It’s also now available as an e-book.

If you missed it in the initial rush (!), you can find the book in hard copy or as an e-book at https://www.hachette.com.au/d-r-dymock/hustling-hinkler-the-short-tumultuous-life-of-a-trailblazing-aviator

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.’

Good reading

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

 

 

Is this the phrase of the decade?

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.

Until next time

Darryl Dymock

 

What writers say:

To survive, you must tell stories. ~ Umberto Eco

Talkback: What I learned in author radio interviews

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

Prepare

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!

Be succinct

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.

Be patient

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

Darryl Dymock

 

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

 

Wild Readings!

I’m a great believer in the notion that opportunities spring from taking advantage of other opportunities – say ‘Yes’ to one and see what might happen!

Last year at the last minute I registered for a Queensland Writers Centre workshop, ‘The Spaces Between: An Introduction to Poetic Writing’, with Simon Kindt. Apart from the coincidence that ‘The space between’ is the title of my short fiction that won the Roly Sussex Short Story Award three years earlier, I was interested in the possibility of introducing more poetic language into my prose writing.

Simon turned out to be a multi-talented performer who said he’d gone from being a poet to a performance poet (and MC of slam poetry events) and was now experimenting with self-accompanied music, developed on an impressive array of mind-boggling technology. He challenged us through a series of creative exercises, one of which was to let our minds float free and come up with some lines around a particular theme.

All good and all fun for the ten or so of us at the workshop, and Simon was very supportive. Then, suddenly, towards the end: ‘Now I want you to work with the person sitting alongside you to develop a creative piece from the lines you developed earlier to20190917_193115 (2) present to the rest of the group’. I think we had 10 minutes, always a challenge for a brain like mine.

The person sitting alongside me happened to be Maree Reedman, whom I hadn’t met before but who told me she was a poet and songwriter. I was already impressed. Maree and I talked through what might work and discovered (i.e. Maree suggested) that we could put the lines of our two pieces together alternately and that the piece overall would make sense as a poem. Great! I thought to myself. ‘And,’ said Maree, reaching under her chair, ‘I also have my ukulele.’ I tried not to look too surprised. ‘How about I accompany us on the uke?’ she said. Hey, this was a workshop for opening the mind, especially mine, so of course I agreed.

Wild Readings

Long story short: all the workshop participants excelled themselves with creativity, and Maree and I received an especially long burst of applause and a thumbs up from Simon for our uke-accompanied alternating poem.

As we packed up to leave, Maree casually turned to me and said, ‘There’s a café at West End (Brisbane) that does public readings once a month. It’s called Wild Readings. How about we do this again over there?’ I’d never done anything like that before but, after the slightest hesitation, I said, ‘Why not? I’m up for it.’

The Wild Readings organisers were gracious enough to give us a spot, as you can see from the pics on this page, and we not only did our joint presentation, but Maree and I each did a little piece of our own. Good fun! As I said at the beginning of this article, say ‘Yes’ to one opportunity and see what might happen!

Until next time

Darryl Dymock

 

What writers say:

I knew that the world around you is only uninteresting if you can’t see what is really going on. The place you come from is always the most exotic place you’ll ever encounter because it is the only place where you recognise how many secrets and mysteries there are in people’s lives. ~ David Malouf

 

Forgotten what memories are made of?

You have to begin to lose your memory, if only in bits and pieces, to realize that memory is what makes our lives. Life without memory is no life at all, just as an intelligence without the possibility of expression is not really an intelligence. Our memory is our coherence, our reason, our feeling, even our action. Without it, we are nothing. ~ Luis Buñuel (Spanish film-maker 1900-1983)

Is it that I’m getting older that makes me see references to memory in several of the books I’ve been reading lately?

Or is it that the books I choose have an historical element that makes it inevitable that memory figures prominently?

I remember (yes I still do!) once reading that fiction authors tend to stick to a similar theme or motif in their writing across the years, whatever the plot or title.

I’ve never tested that hypothesis, but I wonder if it holds also for readers?

In any case, I found myself reading three books that specifically focussed on memories, two novels and one non-fiction.

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The first was Sebastian Faulks’ Where my heart used to beat, which takes its title from the long poem, ‘In memoriam’, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and the relevant verse is quoted at the front of Faulks’ book:

Dark house, by which once more I stand

   Here in the long unlovely street,

   Doors, where my heart was used to beat

So quickly, waiting for a hand.

The focus of the book is the main protagonist’s memories of the past, particularly of his experiences as a British officer in World War II, some of which he explores reluctantly.

This character is a psychiatrist, and at one point even one of his patients asks him a question about memory: ‘If you forget something, surely it must be over and gone, Doctor. Isn’t there a time limit after which you can say, “Well, that just didn’t happen.”?  Can I be liable for things I just don’t remember?’

In relation to a ‘time limit’, all I can say is that when I was writing The Chalkies, about the experiences of conscripted Australian soldiers some 50 years ago, I was surprised at the range of memories they were able to dredge up.

Since I was one of those men, sometimes their memories triggered dormant memories of my own, and sometimes I had no recollection at all of incidents that seemed so clear to them.

In his book, The schooldays of Jesus, J. M Coetzee seems to challenge the clarity or even the reality of memory.

In response to a claim by the young boy in the story about remembering what life was like before, the chief adult male protagonist responds: ‘There are lots of people who say they can remember the life they had before they crossed the ocean. … The problem is that we have no way of telling whether what these people remember are true memories or made-up memories. … We just have no way of telling for sure whether a memory is true or false.’

Of course, sometimes we can cross-reference memories, ‘triangulate’ our sources, to try to verify claims, but one of the challenges for an historical non-fiction writer is when there is only one available source.

For example, when I was writing Hustling Hinkler, about a pioneer aviator, I could rely only on the pilot’s account about the times he was in the air solo on his record-breaking attempts.

Because of the dearth of information, there is still debate about the circumstances of Bert Hinkler’s death, alone, on a mountainside in Italy.

Which brings us to Simon Schama’s proposal in his book, Wordy, that ‘Memory without history is random recall; history without memory is just interrogation’.

He goes on to argue that it is the personal accounts of those who were there that brings the past to life. ‘History’s eloquence is inseparable from witness,’ he says.

The character in Coetzee’s novel would say: to what extent can we trust those witnesses to recall what really happened?, and the character in Faulks’ novel would say there are some things that are painful to remember.

Of course, there is a broader debate here about what are facts and what is truth, but that’s a bit much for an occasional blog, so I’ll conclude by telling you the titles of two books of memoir that got around the reliability and veracity question very nicely.

The author Clive James wrote a book he called Unreliable memoirs, and a friend of mind, the late Arch Nelson, former Professorial Fellow at the University of New England, called his memoir, My life. As I remember it.

It’s hard to quibble about accuracy with those titles.

Until next time

Darryl R Dymock

What writers say

Of course, when you correct the errors of others, do so with kindness, in the hope that later writers will be as kind when they correct yours. ~ Francis A Burkle-Young and Sandra Rose Maley, The art of the footnote.

Ever heard of the Kamchatka Leaf Warbler?

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.

French class, 1st AIF troops, Europe 1919

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

Unformed possibilities: a writer’s inner world

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.

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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.

Deidre But-Husaim

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’.

Within Without Thesewalls multi copies

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.”

Ernest-Baynes-Stand-at-the-Exhibition-Grounds-Brisbane-1928-crop

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

Darryl Dymock

 

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

Bert Hinkler & the Italian connection – continued

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 theBrochure cover Ital 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.

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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.

 

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Carlo Palazzini at 2015 Bert Hinkler Memorial, Pratomagno

 

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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.

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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.P1100470

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.

Puss Moth

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.”

Hinkler 25 July 035

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

Darryl Dymock

 

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

He swung his stockwhip round and gave a cheer

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.

Man from Snowy R movie image

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’.

banjo-paterson-profile

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).

Corryong Vic

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.

Printing Press early

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.