Delicious descriptions from Down Under: Kim Scott on confronting the new


Candlestick-shaped flowers aka Banksia

Here is the first of two or more (depending on how the spirit moves me) Delicious Descriptions from Kim Scott‘s book That deadman dance.

My first one presents two excerpts which describe people confronting the new. First, the British settlers during their expedition to find land:

They found a path, rocky and scattered with fine pebbles that at one point wound through dense, low vegetation but mostly led them through what, Chaine said, seemed a gnarled and spiky forest. Leaves were like needles, or small saws. Candlestick-shaped flowers blossomed, or were dry and wooden. Tiny flowers clung to trees by thin tendrils, and wound their way through the shrubbery, along clefts in rock. Bark hung in long strips. Flowering spears thrust upward from the centre of shimmering fountains of green which, on closer inspection, bristled with spikes.

Modern-day Aussies would recognise most if not all of these plants, but I can imagine how strange they would have been to people who came from the soft landscapes of England and Ireland.

By contrast, here is Wunyeran describing his experience on a ship to an elder:

It was hard to describe the food, he said. Some of them had tasted it before on ships, but other tastes too and … all very strange. There were many things … He tried to explain the tube you looked through that brought you close; the scratched markings one of the men made on something like leaves. Book, Journal, they said.

They gave him a good koitj, he said, and showed his people the smooth axe…

Throughout the book we to and fro between the British and indigenous ways of doing, being and seeing … but I particularly loved these two concrete descriptions of people reacting to new sights and experiences.

Monday musings on Australian literature: Mountain murmurings

Mountain? Because this week’s Monday musings was inspired by my recent sojourn in the mountains. Murmurings? Because it will be more pictorial than textual. And what does all this to have with Australian literature? Two things, primarily:

  • My definition of “Australian literature” for this blog series is a broad one – it is intended to not only be about Australian literature but also about the things that our literature draws on, such as culture and landscape. This post is about a very specific part of Australian landscape.
  • In my last post, on Barbara Hanrahan, I referred to her looking in vain for “the sunburned land” she learned was her home. My aim in this post is to support her, to show that in fact much* of Australia, albeit a dry continent, is not sunburned.

Here’s a little context. The second – and most well-known – verse of Dorothea McKellar‘s famous (in Australia) poem “My country” starts with “I love a sunburnt country“. This is the image which Hanrahan rails against in her novel, and it is probably still the prevailing image Australians have (or like to have) of our country. And yet, there are other images – real ones as you’ll see in this post, and poetic ones, like the following:

By channels of coolness the echoes are calling,
And down the dim gorges I hear the creek falling
(The opening lines of  “Bell-birds”, by Henry Kendall)

There are, in other words, many ways of seeing Australia: not all of them are “sunburnt”, and neither are they all romantic or nostalgic, but those are not for today’s just-back-from-holiday mood.

So, to cut to the chase, here is a small selection of images from the Snowy Mountains (in Kosciuszko National Park). Enjoy, because next week we’ll be back to more serious stuff!

Through the stringy barks and saplings, on the rough and broken ground,
Down the hillside at a racing pace he went
(From “The man from Snowy River“, by Banjo Paterson)

Snowy Mountains, near Thredbo
In the Snowy Mountains, taken from the Thredbo riverside walk
Near the top of Dead Horse Gap walk, on the Main Range

It's mid-summer, but not so sunburnt here

Eucalyptus Stellulata or Black Sallee

Weird but wonderful, a gum just at the tree-line

Snow Daisy close-up

Snow Daisy and friends

Gunn's Willow-herb

Gunn's Willow-herb may not be on the tip of every Australian writer's tongue but how pretty it is

Short-beaked echidna

You never know who you might meet on a bushwalk - such as a Short-beaked echidna nosing around for food

And finally, one bit of Australiana that all Aussies know: (Eastern grey) kangaroos, in the bush.

* Defined as the parts of Australia where the majority live. Much of the Australian continent is indeed pretty sunburnt!