Ballad of Old Sox

‘“Old Sox”, Gwynne Sutherland, 83, died on 30 December in his shack on the side of Mount Ainslie – the last of several squatters who had built shacks in the area after World War II. Some two weeks later his home was demolished and burnt.’ – The Canberra Times 1986

They’re burning Old Sox’s shack
Just two weeks since he died.
The tumbled timber, twisted iron
The line where singlets dried
They’ll bulldoze down, let bush grow back
Along Mount Ainslie side.

We should honour the pioneers
The lone hard roads they taught us.
He, in our ordered city-state
Of planners, builders, plotters,
Stood fast in older days and ways –
He was the last of the squatters.

Through forty years he watched
From bush a city growing,
Bridge, highway, suburb, office, tower,
A tide towards him flowing:
He fed his hens and dug his patch
And heard his rooster crowing.

Dog, cat, and cockatoo,
One sheep, a handy tree –
Time was his only title-deed,
Loneness his property:
Authority’s humaner eye
Looked past, and let him be.

Now with the curling wisps
Something that was is ended.
He’s gone. Let walls and fences fall
There’s nothing to be defended.
Where’s Sox? Working another patch
Where odds and ends are mended?

How does it look from there –
Look sad, or glad, or funny?
The smoke and ash of forty years
Through sombre days and sunny,
Roof, chimney, cupboard, box and bunk
And the creeper-covered dunny.

Richard’s choice

  • Australia to her Children

    I am so old, oh very old, my children,
       Ye that are so young,

  • Music and the Heart

    Music and the Heart run hand in hand
    Naked over the shining sand,

  • Chemistry

    In the summit song of youth
    A quiet quick catch of the breath.

  • Colours

    Before I loved or knew you were
       I spoke as I had eyes,

  • After

    Out of this questioning, eventual truth;
    Out of this doubt, faith rooted in the rock;

  • Acknowledgements…

    Not vile, body, nor foe, flesh,
    Your joys deluding, triumphs trash,
    Fit to be foiled your every wish.

  • Alone

    Alone to walk the dripping woods of spring
       While daisies spy you?

  • Mutability

    ‘All things are flux: there’s nothing fast,’
    Said Heraclitus, ages past,

  • Detachment

    …the thunder growling,
    And winds mounting, and the sky falling,
    And night, and you not here.

  • The Tunnel

    This is where the water hurries under the archway,
    This is where we enter the long tunnel,

  • Australia 1914

    Gone away, away,
    Suddenly at a word departed,

  • Come Death Suddenly

    Come death suddenly from the sea or cloud,
    With the blast of thunder and the blinding shroud,

  • The Tactician

    Spring held her fire
    So long, the long pursuit, the watchers wondered
    Would there be ever an end

  • Coming into the Clyde

    Part of me for ever is the January morning
    Coming into the Clyde in the frosty moonlight

  • The Jervis Bay

    ..The fifth day of November, Fifty North and Forty West,
    Was edging to its departure, like an undecided guest,

  • A Vision of Degree Day

    The drowsy air, the throngs that gaze,
    The ceremonial stir,
    Mixed with the drone of Latin phrase..

  • Flying to New Zealand

    Hauled headlong starward by the quadruple conviction
    Of lion-lunged engines in their pride of power

  • My nine-hours son

    My nine-hours son, so wrinkle-faced
    Wry concentration of distaste
    To find your Person so displaced,

  • Autumn Song

    The sun like a centaur leaping the ranges
    Shoots to the heart my garden, shatters
    The dew in a volley of wild carillons

  • The Gull

    Riding the wind, in planetary sweep,
    The gull wheels on the radius of a wing.

  • Creation

    Straggling off the highway in search of firewood
    Past the tins and bottles, through the rusty wire,

  • The Last Enemy

    Could we locate the enemy of mankind
    (I mean the GHQ, the Centre itself,

  • Genesis

    You spoke, after long years, about the morning
    That followed the night your first-born son was born:

  • Rain after Drought

    Waking to a diapason in the downpipe
    I peer through curtained panes to a curtained sky

  • A Talk to the Willow

    When you were caught red-rooted in the drain
    You wept of course, but did the same again

  • The Honey Man

    Like liquid silk in golden eddies
    the honey laps into my tin.

  • Pause

    You are late coming home
    To the house we share
    An audible silence
    Chills the air

  • Splitting the Red Box

    The tree-trunk rounds, a fallen Doric column,
    are tumbled on the grass beside my gate.

  • Sea Waif

    No dolphin it was, but a six-month suckling whale
    gashed and shark-mauled, tribeless, motherless,

  • Farewell to Skye

    Little death of a little dog
    In a death-wish world of news by body-count

  • Ballad of Old Sox

    They’re burning Old Sox’s shack
    Just two weeks since he died.

  • Airport Departure

    My love, I watch you thread your way, and turn
    with a small timeless smile, and trail your trolley
    unhurried through the gate of no return.

  • Yin Barun Road

    Crossing the highway, furtive as a snake,
    it slips through bush towards indeterminate hills.

  • Willow Tree: Two Years After    

    Spring, at a bound. Once more the colourful chorus,
    Daffodils first declare their lyric yellow,

  • Canberra Autumn

    Land of the singing light
    Light that first I saw
    Eighty years and more

  • For HMST – 1996

    Now for your birthday the single prunus bough,
    by neighbour ’s kindness spared on a sentenced tree

  • Tsunami

    … obliterating in instant mini-time
    a universe of suns and planets
    with or without their myriad forms of life,

  • For HMST – 1997

    Always a step ahead, you’re eighty-three,
    My life-support, contending other me,

  • Just Coming

    Down arches of the years I hear your voice
    explaining serials of our late departures,

  • HMST – 1999

    Six years since your last birthday in our midst
    seems yesterday, in this same so-loved house,

  • Encounter Recalled

    Wrapped in my gown of self-regard sublime
    I heard your voice arrive from outer space.

  • Going up to the Rocks

    Knowing the time was short
    Yours was the instant thought
    ‘Let’s go up to the Rocks!’

  • Mousetrap

    With joyless spade I dig the tiny grave
    Asking, who made me lord of life or death?

  • Away Day – Ten Years After

    Ten years since that incalculable day
    When from all worlds we know you slipped away

Tributes

  • Relativity

    “Boy killed on Bicycle”; smallest print, four lines
    Islanded in a tossing sea of type,

  • Surmise

    My little son, whose face I never saw,
    Who could not wait to bless your father ’s eyes

  • Coming into the Clyde

    Part of me for ever is the January morning
    Coming into the Clyde in the frosty moonlight

  • For Yarmuk, Elder of the Ulupna Tribe

    A worn-out body laid in quiet earth,
    Attendant trees, a wattle’s throb of gold,

  • For James Ralph Darling

    In that keen morning it was good to wake.
    The sun that roused the swans on the lagoon

  • Boris Pasternak

    This death of a man, this sudden stop of life,
    Such total end, or such a faring forth
    Into what regions?

  • Post-mortem

    When a man dies
    We find that suddenly there’s time to praise him.

  • A Message to my Grandson

    You chose a marvellous morning to be born,
    The orange edge of dawn, the stars paling,

  • Bamboo: A Portrait

    The bamboo cut to suit you from our garden
    Has become your favourite stick – dried and varnished

  • Fragment of a Chinese Classic

    Catching the distinctive T’ang of old China
    She chooses for herself the character of Punctual Autumn

  • The Honey Man

    Like liquid silk in golden eddies
    the honey laps into my tin.

  • For my brother: Ave atque Vale

    Brother fare well, journeying to that Kingdom
    Of faithful servants, and of work fulfilled

  • Farewell to Skye

    Little death of a little dog
    In a death-wish world of news by body-count

  • Ballad of Old Sox

    They’re burning Old Sox’s shack
    Just two weeks since he died.

  • A Lambeth Garland

    A garden gracious, serene and spacious at Lambeth –
    This is the dream, the vision that shall be its crown

  • Banquet

    ..You they found fallen, holding a garden hose,
    Where, year on year, you watered, weeded, nurtured things to grow.

  • Taking Leave

    Ninety years youthful, questing through generations,
    historian of two hemispheres, quickener of other minds,

  • Anna-versary

    Anna is one
    What fun, what fun

  • Fred Hollows

    Raged, raged against the death of others’ light,
    Toiled, fought, till sick and blind received their sight.

  • Yudina

    I praise a heroine of the Soviet Union,
    pianist Yudina, through Moscow’s gloom
    spelling a Mozart magical concerto.

  • Letter to Judith Wright

    ..apartness conquered by the power of love.
    Carry us with you as you journey on.

  • For Nkosi Johnson

    His question ranged the echoing galaxies
    of empty cold unanswering space, returning
    home to our earth.