Captain Arthur Phillip and the Birds (1953)

The poet Lex Banning was born with cerebral palsy, but this didn’t stop him becoming a major figure in the Sydney Push. In this poem he considers Achille Simonetti‘s bronze statue of Governor Arthur Phillip in the Royal Botanic Gardens.

Copper-green Phillip,
with a beak like a hawk,
perches on his pedestal
and will not talk
to the stuttering starlings
fluttering around,
or the crumb-seeking pigeons
patterning the ground;
and though daylong
bird calls to bird,
copper-green Phillip
never says a word.

Copper-green Phillip
just stares and stands
with a scroll and a flag
in his strong bronze hands
and the birds may wonder
what’s on the scroll:
is it the Sirius’s
pilgrims’ roll;
or, perhaps, a commission;
or a declaration,
washing his hands
of the subsequent nation;
or, even, an inventory
of flocks and herds? –
but Royal Navy captains
never talk to birds.

Copper-green Phillip
just stands and stares
away down the Harbour
at the rolling years,
and the birds all gossip
of the nation’s vices,
and of some of her virtues,
and of whom she entices,
but whether she’s Magdalene,
or whether she’s Martha,
it’s all the same
to Captain Arthur.

Lex Banning, Australian, 1921-1965

Arthur Phillip Statue, Royal Botanic Gardens (Monuments Australia)

Arthur Phillip Statue, Royal Botanic Gardens (Monuments Australia)

Arthur Phillip Statue (detail), Royal Botanic Gardens (Monuments Australia)

Arthur Phillip Statue (detail), Royal Botanic Gardens (Monuments Australia)

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