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January 24th 2010 print

Tony Abbott – Favourite Poems

Tony Abbott has chosen two favourite poems for Australia Day. Both poems are read by Lionel Farrell.

Tony Abbott has chosen two favourite poems for Australia Day.
Both poems are read by Lionel Farrell.

Beach Burial by Kenneth Slessor 

Softly and humbly to the Gulf of Arabs
The convoys of dead sailors come;
At night they sway and wander in the waters far under,
But morning rolls them in the foam.

Between the sob and clubbing of the gunfire
Someone, it seems, has time for this,
To pluck them from the shallows and bury them in burrows
And tread the sand upon their nakedness;

And each cross, the driven stake of tidewood,
Bears the last signature of men,
Written with such perplexity, with such bewildered pity,
The words choke as they begin -

‘Unknown seaman’ – the ghostly pencil
Wavers and fades, the purple drips,
The breath of wet season has washed their inscriptions
As blue as drowned men’s lips,

Dead seamen, gone in search of the same landfall,
Whether as enemies they fought,
Or fought with us, or neither; the sand joins them together,
Enlisted on the other front.

Clancy of the Overflow by A.B. “Banjo” Paterson

I had written him a letter which I had, for want of better
         Knowledge, sent to where I met him down the Lachlan, years ago,
He was shearing when I knew him, so I sent the letter to him,
         Just “on spec”, addressed as follows, “Clancy, of The Overflow”.

And an answer came directed in a writing unexpected,
         (And I think the same was written with a thumb-nail dipped in tar)
‘Twas his shearing mate who wrote it, and verbatim I will quote it:
         ”Clancy’s gone to Queensland droving, and we don’t know where he are.”

In my wild erratic fancy visions come to me of Clancy
         Gone a-droving “down the Cooper” where the Western drovers go;
As the stock are slowly stringing, Clancy rides behind them singing,
         For the drover’s life has pleasures that the townsfolk never know.

And the bush hath friends to meet him, and their kindly voices greet him
         In the murmur of the breezes and the river on its bars,
And he sees the vision splendid of the sunlit plains extended,
         And at night the wondrous glory of the everlasting stars.

I am sitting in my dingy little office, where a stingy
         Ray of sunlight struggles feebly down between the houses tall,
And the foetid air and gritty of the dusty, dirty city,
         Through the open window floating, spreads its foulness over all.

And in place of lowing cattle, I can hear the fiendish rattle
         Of the tramways and the ‘buses making hurry down the street,
And the language uninviting of the gutter children fighting,
         Comes fitfully and faintly through the ceaseless tramp of feet.

And the hurrying people daunt me, and their pallid faces haunt me
         As they shoulder one another in their rush and nervous haste,
With their eager eyes and greedy, and their stunted forms and weedy,
         For townsfolk have no time to grow, they have no time to waste.

And I somehow rather fancy that I’d like to change with Clancy,
         Like to take a turn at droving where the seasons come and go,
While he faced the round eternal of the cash-book and the journal —
         But I doubt he’d suit the office, Clancy, of “The Overflow”.

Recording by John Izzard.