2014 Bush Poetry fundraiser on Herring Island for Yarra Riverkeepers
The Yarra Riverkeepers held their second bush poetry fundraiser at Herring Island yesterday afternoon. The first was held in October last year. I was asked once again by Andrew Kelly, recently appointed as Riverkeeper, to rustle up the poets and MC the event.
I was again joined this year by reciters Dave Davies and Jim Smith, and poet Edel Wignell. Singer/songwriter Maggie Somerville provided some musical relief.
The weather was kind to us once again. There was bright sunshine for most of the afternoon, although the wind proved a bit of a challenge at times.
We had a capacity crowd, which was very exciting. Fortunately, unlike last year, the microphone behaved itself!
Here is Andrew introducing the afternoon.
A wide variety of material was on offer. The old masters – Henry Lawson, C. J. Dennis, etc. – were well represented, but there was also plenty of contemporary material, much of it original.
Dave Davies recited “The Grog and Grumble Steeplechase” by Henry Lawson.
Edel Wignell told us, amongst other things, about a dog on a trampoline, Harvey, “the bouncing, squat, Staffordshire bull terrier”.
Jim Smith recited a very moving piece – part poetry, part song – by the American writer Gordon Bok. It referred to the selkie legend – seals that change their form to become human. There is a very interesting link between Bok and the Riverkeepers. The Riverkeeper organisation began on the Hudson River in New York state, around the time that Pete Seeger was sailing up and down the Hudson in the Clearwater, also attempting to clean up the river. Jim told us that the captain of the Clearwater was none other than Gordon Bok!
The reason Jim was telling us about selkies was, as he explained, that it used to be very common for seals to be sighted in Australian waterways, including the Yarra, often many hundreds of miles from the coast. Indeed, seals are still occasionally sighted in the Yarra.
I had a chance to read some of the poems I have recently written based on the book “Ferries on the Yarra”, by Colin Jones – an absolute wealth of fascinating historic information.
Maggie sang four songs, some Yarra-related, others not. We sang “Muddy Old Yarra” by Clem Parkinson together, to round out the first half of the show. Maggie then finished the afternoon with “Our Sweet Yarra”, a song she had written based on a poem I had written for the show last year. She followed with “Waratah Bay”, a very popular song from her CD, dedicated to a beautiful part of Australia in South Gippsland. The afternoon finished with her song, “The Sash”, based on my poem of the same name, that tells the story of the child Ned Kelly receiving a green sash for saving the life of a drowning boy in the town of Avenel.
It was a very enjoyable afternoon. Thanks to the many – performers, audience, the Yarra Riverkeepers and their army of volunteers, and Parks Victoria – for making it all possible.
I have been very distressed following the news that Pete Seeger, aged 94, has died.
I was talking about it to a friend last night, and he quite reasonably made the point that you can’t be too sad about anybody dying at the age of 94. He’s right, of course. Pete Seeger lived a long and fruitful life, and nobody lives forever.
But it seemed as though Pete was going to live forever. He just went on and on, and I came to think of him as almost immortal.
I could never take Pete’s politics too seriously. They had a fairytale quality that never squared with my reality. But that wasn’t really at the heart of Pete, I always felt – or perhaps I simply approached him from another direction.
What I truly loved about him was that when listening to him talk and sing, I felt as though he was talking to me, and I felt as though I really mattered. Listening to Pete Seeger, all my hopes and dreams came alive in a way that didn’t quite happen when I was listening to anybody else.
The recordings with Arlo Guthrie were especially magical. I discovered the 2CD set “Precious Friend” many years after its original release, but it became a household staple, particularly for long car trips. There is a simplicity, a beauty, an innocence in these recordings that is rare indeed. And to hear Pete talk about his early days with Woody Guthrie was to make you feel you could almost reach out and touch the man. Suddenly, I felt as though I was part of the story.
I will miss you, Pete, though I never met you. I liked to picture you up there on the Hudson River chopping wood. Even my wood chopping was inspired by you!
I like to think, also, that the little bush poetry show we put on last year at Herring Island to raise funds for the Yarra Riverkeepers was, ultimately, inspired by you, and your efforts to clean up the Hudson River.
Pete, I will never forget you. Thank you for everything.
Studley Park Boathouse
I took these photos during a recent stroll along the Yarra River, not far from home.
Isn’t this a great ad for Melbourne? Can you imagine anything prettier than the Studley Park Boathouse?
Isn’t perspective amazing? This footbridge crosses the river a short distance upstream from the boathouse.
Is this a large puddle, or a small billabong?
I know it’s popular to bag the Yarra – “the river that flows upside down” – but I think it is absolutely beautiful. There is a particularly lovely stretch near where I am living. There is now a walking/bicycle track along much of its length, which makes it very accessible.
As is usually the case with rivers, it is at its best at dawn and dusk.
I have been especially surprised at the variety of bird life. There is even a family of darters (“snake birds”) nearby. I watched one for quite a while standing on a log, waving its wings back and forth – presumably to dry them.
Closer to the city, there are egrets. Then there are cormorants (heaps of them), ducks and swans. I saw a large group of cormorants paddling away. They look not unlike ducks, but they seem to sit quite a lot lower in the water.
There are also some truly massive trees at the water’s edge, and the various water craft and landing platforms are fascinating, too.
Family of darters
View across Burwood Road bridge
Tree and palm
Cyclists on bridge
Cruising up the river
Burst of colour
Big red house on top of hill
Way to go!