Happy Birthday Harry Hooton

Harry.jpg

Born in Doncaster in 1908 on this day.  He emigrated to Australia aged 16 under a migrant scheme run by the Dreadnought Trust.  From his earliest days, working as a farm laborer, he developed a strong empathy for the lot of the working man.  Later in life his politics moved away from unionism and socialism to anarchism.

It is Great to be Alive; by Harry Hooton

This is an obvious imitation of Walt Whitman, is it?
Well, and wouldn’t that be better than another in sickly rime?
Perhaps you would prefer as more exquisite
some other fellow’s footprints in the sands of time,
or the past perhaps present future of Eliot’s pleasant slime….
But this is not an imitation of anyone: listen to me, I am alive!
Whitman and Longfellow are dead; Eliot doesn’t know he is;
I am for the Great-not the great poet, no matter how true he is;
I say that every man alive is great, no matter who he is,
for it is great to be alive!

The lowest man on earth is a hero and a god with me:
Whoever he is, he is greater than any or all of his fellows;
Means more to me than all the crowned or bald heads of europe;
Cleaner than any dust from greece,
warmer than the bones in westminster abbey;
Greater by far than all that has been before him,
and dwarfed only by what is to come after him….
Whoever he is, he is the One on whose shoulders the world rests;
the One at whose command material empires rise in ministration –
Not some artist or philosopher or emperor, but any man.

What is his social value, his justification?
Well, what is life’s justification?
If he can neither work nor plan, fiddle nor rime,
if he can’t provide occupational therapy for sick psychiatrists,
if rulers ever learn from him to abjure war, and need no gunman,
there would still be justification for his existence, in his sheer existence.
For life, in the saint and sinner, sane and insane, wise and otherwise –
Is its own justification.

Every man is inferior to every other man-in some respects;
And every man is superior to every other man-in other respects.
We can’t live without holding someone else up,
and we can’t live without someone holding us up.
One man is just as good as another, in fact better –
And in fact better than a million men; because you can’t make world wars out of one man,
and that’s all you can do with the latter.
But every man is great only in what he makes, in his subject matter
In the only things that really matter.

The plumber can’t bake, the builder can’t plumb, and the architect has them both beat;
The three are awed by the mathematician, who defers to the man with the axe;
They all yield to the artist who accepts them with all that lives and breathes;
And the all go to work and war-and must accept the superiority of a lunatic who is mad in a world which is terrifyingly sane.
There is no man living who can not find on some one thing higher authority –
That is if we accept those terribly important people who string words together
and think themselves so much better than men who merely stick bricks together;
As we expect other people with similar theses,
such as elephantine labourers who would pull social theories and theorists to pieces,
and such as anyone who seeks to rule over the living, and is in that one fact-dead!

Well then, if there must be lords and masters,
let us rule matter with every man alive;
If we must have slaves, let us enslave machines.
Let us be gods, and selfish –
Let the prostrate worshippers of the past be someone else-ish;
Let us be, and be worshipped ourselves.
Let the painter forgive his painting,
the poet redeem his poem,
and the dead bury the dead…

My poems are revolutions, of the builders, the living great,
searching with god-like hunger new matter to animate –
And of cities steeled in silence, now growing articulate;
Of things, machines, our creatures, raching in lever and rod
to touch the hands of their creators, praying to us as god….
True it is I echo-the mighty shouts of these hordes;
Yes, and an imitator-of impetuous powerful words;
Plagiarist of Whitman, of all the Sons of Man –
For they have heard me in the future, as I do those to come –
Yet greater than Christ or Whitman, than ash from any tomb –
Greater than any history, than ink from any pen,
For you my poems scan,
who despair of your social value, who are despised by men:
You are alive, you are human-by life you are made divine!
You are the revelation-one mightier poem than mine!

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Happy Birthday William Henry Ogilvie

Ogilvie1

A Scotsman who spent 10 years ranching in Australia, Ogilvie was a friend of Harry (Breaker) Morant and another great horseman.  A bush poet; he is best remembered for his outback poems like the one below.   I have a special room in my heart for bush poets like Breaker Morant, Ogilvie, Banjo Patterson, Robert Service and Rudyard Kipling.  I love their songs of the wild road, open spaces, skies that go on forever and hearts set on adventure.

My Hat! ;by William Henry Ogilvie

The hats of a man may be many
in the course of a varied career,
and some have been worth not a penny
and some have been devilish dear;
But there’s one hat I always remember
when sitting alone by the fire,
in the depth of a Northern November,
because it fulfilled my desire.

It was old, it was ragged and rotten
and many years out of mode,
like a thing that a tramp had forgotten
and left at the side of a road.
The boughs of the mulga had torn it,
it’s ribbon was naught but lace,
an old swaggie would not have worn it
without a sad smile on his face.

When I took off the hat to the ladies
it was rather with sorrow than swank,
and often I wished it in Hades
when the gesture drew only a blank;
But for swatting a fly on the tucker
or lifting a quart from the fire
or belting the ribs of a bucker
it was all that a man could desire.

When it ought to have gone to the cleaners
(and stayed there, as somebody said!)
it was handy for flogging the weaners
from the drafting-yard into the shed.
And oft it has served as a dish for
a kelpie in need of a drink;
It was all that a fellow could wish for
in many more ways than you’d think.

It was spotted and stained by the weather,
there was more than one hole in the crown,
and it made little difference whether
the rim was turned up or turned down.
It kept out the rain (in a fashion)
and kept off the sun (more or less),
but it merely comanded compassion
considered as part of one’s dress.

Though it wasn’t a hat you would bolt with
or be anxious to borrow or hire,
it was useful to blindfold a colt with
or handle a bit of barbed wire.
Though the world may have thought it improper
to wear such old rubbish as that,
I’d have scorned the best London-made topper
in exchange for my old battered hat.

 

Capture of Ned Kelly

Armour

On this day in 1880 the famous Australian Bushranger Ned Kelly was captured at Glenrowan.  What immortalized Kelly above other outlaws was the suit of armour he cobbled together from bits and pieces of metal.  All his gang were dressed in the armour but only Kelly survived the shootout with the police at Glenrowan.

Son of Irish convict Red John Kelly a man from Tipperary , the County where I live, Ned Kelly won the hearts of the ordinary people.  They represented smallholders, the downtrodden, victimized by the police and all that was wrong with the British Imperial system.  Kelly was already a folk hero before his capture and there was a groundswell of opinion to pardon him.  The crown saw the world differently and Kelly was hanged.

He represents the Australian psyche, a rebel spirit, a frontier mindset, a reluctance to slavishly bind to rules and laws, a desire to kick at the traces of British overlordship.  Many of the original Australian settlers were convicts and their descendants who had more in common with Kelly than with the Crown.  He ranks with other Aussie heroes like Jack Duggan the “Wild Colonial Boy”, and those of song and story like Clancy of the Overflow and the Man from Snowy River.

This brings me to a funny association, because one of my favourite poets is Shel Silverstein who also wrote some great songs.  Here is “Blame it on Ned Kelly” from the 1970 movie starring Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones.  Lots of people I love all involved in the same project.

Happy Birthday Henry Lawson

Drought

Summer has hit Ireland, it’s a heatwave out there!  Well, in Irish terms.  Today is the birthday of an Australian poet who had a better understanding of heatwaves and drought.

 

Andy’s gone with Cattle; by Henry Lawson

Our Andy’s gone to battle now
‘Gainst Drought, the red marauder;
Our Andy’s gone with cattle now
Across the Queensland border.

He’s left us in dejection now;
Our hearts with him are roving.
It’s dull on this selection now,
Since Andy went a-droving.

Who now shall wear the cheerful face
In times when things are slackest?
And who shall whistle round the place
When Fortune frowns her blackest?

Oh, who shall cheek the squatter now
When he comes round us snarling?
His tongue is growing hotter now
Since Andy cross’d the Darling.

The gates are out of order now,
In storms the `riders’ rattle;
For far across the border now
Our Andy’s gone with cattle.

Poor Aunty’s looking thin and white;
And Uncle’s cross with worry;
And poor old Blucher howls all night
Since Andy left Macquarie.

Oh, may the showers in torrents fall,
And all the tanks run over;
And may the grass grow green and tall
In pathways of the drover;

And may good angels send the rain
On desert stretches sandy;
And when the summer comes again
God grant ’twill bring us Andy.

A Sailors Life for me

First Fleet

Following the War of Independence in America the British Crown was denied a dumping ground for its convicts sentenced to transportation.  On 13th May 1787 a fleet of 11 ships was sent to a new dumping ground, Australia.  This is known as “the first fleet”.

The fleet consisted of 1,420 when it left Portsmouth in May 1787.  The number had fallen to 1,336 by the time the fleet arrived in Botany Bay in January 1788.  20 children were born along the way.  So I was curious about the statistics.  What was the most dangerous position to hold on the fleet?

Marines, their Wives and Children did best on the trip.  Beginning with 247 Marines and 46 wives and children, they lost only 3 along the way and with 9 births they increased their number overall.

Female convicts began with 193 and lost only 4 along the way, which is a 2% death rate.

Of the 14 convict children who departed 3 were lost, a staggering 21% death rate, the highest on board of any group.  Then 11 new convict babies were born on the voyage, so the overall number of convict children actually rose to 22.

Senior officials & ships officers had a 7% death rate, losing 1 of their original compliment of 15.  This is the same death rate as applied to male convicts, who lost 39 out of the 582 who left Portsmouth.

The fleet set out with 323 sailors and lost 54 along the way.  Being a sailor was a dangerous job in the 18th century.  That was 17% death rate.

A Sailor’s Song: by Paul Laurence Dunbar

Oh for the breath of the briny deep,
And the tug of the bellying sail,
With the sea-gull’s cry across the sky
And a passing boatman’s hail.
For, be she fierce or be she gay,
The sea is a famous friend alway.

Ho! for the plains where the dolphins play,
And the bend of the mast and spars,
And a fight at night with the wild sea-sprite
When the foam has drowned the stars.
And, pray, what joy can the landsman feel
Like the rise and fall of a sliding keel?

Fair is the mead; the lawn is fair
And the birds sing sweet on the lea;
But the echo soft of a song aloft
Is the strain that pleases me;
And swish of rope and ring of chain
Are music to men who sail the main.

Then, if you love me, let me sail
While a vessel dares the deep;
For the ship ‘s my wife, and the breath of life
Are the raging gales that sweep;
And when I ‘m done with calm and blast,
A slide o’er the side, and rest at last.

 

 

Battle Dress

Shrimp

This is the dress that shocked the world.  Known popularly as the “Derby Day Dress” or the “White Shift Dress” worn by Jean Shrimpton on Australian Derby Day, Oct 30th, 1965.

Shrimpton, AKA “The Shrimp” was the world’s first supermodel.  She was contracted to judge racegoers fashions at the Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival in 1965.  For reference she was paid £2,000 for this contract at a time when the Beatles earned £1,500 for their Australian tour.

Shrimpton was on contract with DuPont who were promoting a new acrylic fabric.  When it turned out that there was a shortage of the fabric for the dress design Jean told her dressmaker to just make it shorter, as nobody would notice.

She then turned up for Derby Day wearing no hat, no gloves and no stockings.  The Australian Fashion community and the conservative bourgeois classes were outraged.  The paparazzi had a field day.  The incident sparked a media frenzy as Shrimpton was condemned and insulted by one side, while the British press rounded up to support her.  They described her as a “Petunia in a garden of onions”.

For young Australian girls it signaled the arrival of the Swinging Sixties.

By today’s standards the dress seems almost conservative.  It is hard now to understand the levels of outrage sparked by the wearing of a simple white shift dress.

But it reminds me of a time when Dublin Theatre goers rioted upon the utterance of Synge’s lines “It’s Pegeen I’m seeking only and what’d I care if you brought me a drift of chosen females, standing in their shifts itself maybe, from this place to the Eastern World?”  His play, “The Playboy of the Western World” caused as much of a sensation in Ireland as Jean Shrimpton did in Australia.

A shift is an Irish term for an undergarment, a night dress or a slip.  The line is a reference to a tale from Irish folklore when Cúchullainn was in such a rage following a battle that the king could not allow him to enter the palace.  Instead he sent thirty maidens clad only in their shifts out onto the plain.  The great warrior was shocked and embarrassed, he blushed, lowered his eyes to the ground, and the battle rage drained from him.

What is funny today is that the term “Shift” in Ireland now has distinct sexual connotations.  When Irish boys and girls go nightclubbing they are hoping for a “shift”.  Depending on circumstances a shift could mean anything from a kiss to full on sexual intercourse.

Islamism is not Faith

I love the quote from the film “Kingdom of Heaven” when the Knight Hospitaller says to Bailan:

I put no stock in religion. By the word religion I have seen the lunacy of fanatics of every denomination be called the will of God. I’ve seen too much religion in the eyes of too many murderers. Holiness is in right action, and courage on behalf of those who cannot defend themselves. And goodness – what God desires – is here [points to Balian’s head] and here[points to Balian’s heart] and by what you decide to do every day you will be a good man…or not.

Here is a man who seems to believe in religion:

Gunman

He went into the Lindt Chocolate Cafe in Sydney, Australia, but he did not want Chocolate.  He was looking for trouble in the name of extreme Islamism.  You can say what you like about Islam being peaceful, but as long as we have people like this the overwhelming image of Islam from non Muslims will be dictated by people like this.

Ask this lady, a clerk in the Chocolate shop who ran for her life, if she thinks Islam is a religion of love.

Lindt

Ask this guy, who holds the Koran aloft, why he also needs the AK 47

Koran

Now I guess some Muslims will tell me that Christianity has a terrible reputation for violence, and you would be right.  Christians used to behave in the past the way some Muslims are behaving today.   But that was the past.

Some Muslims will point out that these people do not represent “Muslims”.  Sorry, but they do.  And as peaceful Muslims you need to do something about them.  Take responsibility for how Islam is portrayed.

I am sure of one thing; God does not speak from the barrel of a gun.