Sydney-Side (1898)

Henry Lawson returns to Sydney by boat:

Where’s the steward? – Bar-room steward? Berth? Oh, any berth will do –
I have left a three-pound billet just to come along with you.
Brighter shines the Star of Rovers on a world that’s growing wide,
But I think I’d give a kingdom for a glimpse of Sydney-Side.

Run of rocky shelves at sunrise, with their base on ocean’s bed;
Homes of Coogee, homes of Bondi, and the lighthouse on South Head.
For in loneliness and hardship – and with just a touch of pride –
Has my heart been taught to whisper, ‘You belong to Sydney-Side.’

Oh, there never dawned a morning, in the long and lonely days,
But I thought I saw the ferries streaming out across the bays –
And as fresh and fair in fancy did the picture rise again
As the sunrise flushed the city from Woollahra to Balmain:

And the sunny water frothing round the liners black and red,
And the coastal schooners working by the loom of Bradley’s Head;
And the whistles and the sirens that re-echo far and wide –
All the life and light and beauty that belong to Sydney-Side.

And the dreary cloud-line never veiled the end of one day more,
But the city set in jewels rose before me from ‘The Shore.’
Round the sea-world shine the beacons of a thousand ports o’ call,
But the harbour-lights of Sydney are the grandest of them all!

Toiling out beyond Coolgardie – heart and back and spirit broke,
Where the Rover’s Star gleams redly in the desert by the ‘soak’ –
But says one mate to the other, ‘Brace your lip and do not fret,
We will laugh on trains and ‘buses – Sydney’s in the same place yet.’

Working in the South in winter, to the waist in dripping fern,
Where the local spirit hungers for each ‘saxpence’ that we earn,
We can stand it for a season, for our world is growing wide,
And they all are friends and strangers who belong to Sydney-Side.

‘T’other-siders! T’other-siders!’ Yet we wake the dusty dead;
It is we that send the backward province fifty years ahead;
We it is that ‘trim’ Australia – making narrow country wide –
Yet we’re always T’other-siders till we sail for Sydney-side.

–Henry Lawson, Australian, 1867-1922.

Arthur Streeton – Cremorne Pastoral, 1895. (Art Gallery of NSW)

Arthur Streeton – Cremorne Pastoral, 1895. (Art Gallery of NSW)

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)

From Poems (1913)

Poet and classicist Christopher Brennan spent much of his life drinking himself to death:

Under a sky of uncreated mud
or sunk beneath the accursed streets, my life
is added up of cupboard-musty weeks
and ring’d about with walls of ugliness:
some narrow world of ever-streaming air.

My days of azure have forgotten me.

Nought stirs, in garret-chambers of my brain,
except the squirming brood of miseries
older than memory, while, far out of sight
behind the dun blind of the rain, my dreams
of sun on leaves and waters drip thro’ years
nor stir the slumbers of some sullen well,
beneath whose corpse-fed weeds I too shall sink.

1895

Christopher Brennan, Australian, 1870-1932

Views taken during Cleansing Operations, Quarantine Area, Sydney, 1900, Vol. II / under the supervision of Mr George McCredie, F.I.A., N.S.W. : Back Yards, from 17 to 23 Exeter Place (State Library of NSW)

Views taken during Cleansing Operations, Quarantine Area, Sydney, 1900, Vol. II / under the supervision of Mr George McCredie, F.I.A., N.S.W. : Back Yards, from 17 to 23 Exeter Place (State Library of NSW)

An Absolutely Ordinary Rainbow, from The Weatherboard Cathedral (1969)

Les Murray shows us the unimaginable – a man crying in Martin Place in 1969:

The word goes round Repins,
the murmur goes round Lorenzinis,
at Tattersalls, men look up from sheets of numbers,
the Stock Exchange scribblers forget the chalk in their hands
and men with bread in their pockets leave the Greek Club:
There’s a fellow crying in Martin Place. They can’t stop him.

The traffic in George Street is banked up for half a mile
and drained of motion. The crowds are edgy with talk
and more crowds come hurrying. Many run in the back streets
which minutes ago were busy main streets, pointing:
There’s a fellow weeping down there. No one can stop him.

The man we surround, the man no one approaches
simply weeps, and does not cover it, weeps
not like a child, not like the wind, like a man
and does not declaim it, nor beat his breast, nor even
sob very loudly—yet the dignity of his weeping

holds us back from his space, the hollow he makes about him
in the midday light, in his pentagram of sorrow,
and uniforms back in the crowd who tried to seize him
stare out at him, and feel, with amazement, their minds
longing for tears as children for a rainbow.

Some will say, in the years to come, a halo
or force stood around him. There is no such thing.
Some will say they were shocked and would have stopped him
but they will not have been there. The fiercest manhood,
the toughest reserve, the slickest wit amongst us

trembles with silence, and burns with unexpected
judgements of peace. Some in the concourse scream
who thought themselves happy. Only the smallest children
and such as look out of Paradise come near him
and sit at his feet, with dogs and dusty pigeons.

Ridiculous, says a man near me, and stops
his mouth with his hands, as if it uttered vomit—
and I see a woman, shining, stretch her hand
and shake as she receives the gift of weeping;
as many as follow her also receive it

and many weep for sheer acceptance, and more
refuse to weep for fear of all acceptance,
but the weeping man, like the earth, requires nothing,
the man who weeps ignores us, and cries out
of his writhen face and ordinary body

not words, but grief, not messages, but sorrow,
hard as the earth, sheer, present as the sea—
and when he stops, he simply walks between us
mopping his face with the dignity of one
man who has wept, and now has finished weeping.

Evading believers, he hurries off down Pitt Street.

–Les Murray, Australian, b. 1938.

City Engineer’s Department, George St & Martin Place, 1969 (City of Sydney Archives)

City Engineer’s Department, George St & Martin Place, 1969
(City of Sydney Archives)