Published in ‘The View from the Non-Members’ Bar‘ (1992)
In country towns, photos of sporting teams survive best.
The eyes are glazed hollow in this one,
As is the way, once they have died, with people in photos.
Arms pumped, stern-faced, the “Premiers ‘05” are demigods:
A chaos of townsmen rings them around,
Envious acolytes flaunting a delegated glory.
In one face living eyes shine young and keen
Amid the gaunt solemnity of those now dead.
Alf Frimley, 97, identifies his brothers:
“That’s Horace. Harry. And that there’s Teddy –
E was a marvellous footballer, Teddy –
And George – e was a good long kick,
By cripes e cd roost her…”
Frimley sporting prowess was a legend in the town.
It has new legends now,
Raised from the shallow loam of its memory:
“The War” marks the nether of that –
A sea-wall dividing tangible past
From the ocean of a history without shape.
“I worked for a bloke, old Bert White,
Up Moore’s Plain Road.
I worked his farm over, pickin, doin the dirty stuff;
By the end I cd hardly breathe with the asthma.
Old Bert said for me to fetch water frm the hole
And I said be blowed.
He said well y cn take a week’s notice then
And I said well that’ll do me…”
To the finest forest in all Australia
This town, as a cancer, came.
Alf Frimley knew it brash and skittish,
Remnants of the great stands still waging resistance.
He can conjure the dead shops and cottages,
Pattern the changing streets.
He can tell me this;
In my little black box, I can prison it.
“My father was a ploughman for Quiggins, a good one too.
Oz was a boatbuilder. Bert. He died on the Somme.
Charlie was a tailor, and then at the sawmill.
Teddy. Teddy was a driver for the Garners;
He drove the mail to Rocky Cape.
Then e was in Ab Garner’s bakery,
But the doctor pulled im out’v there, e couldn’t stand the flour.
Then e was in the sawmill – e lost the tops off two fingers..”
I have memories vivid from my own boyhood:
Alf Frimley cobbling cheery
In the dim and low back room of his Boot Repairs;
Alf Frimley cornetting the Anzac Day “Last Post”,
A cracked and wailing soul’s song, shaping the town’s grief.
He still sees every home match; a fixture.
But Alf Frimley will, one day, leave us,
The raw young town with him.
Over tea my thoughts turn to place,
Its speech, the fleeting sadness of it,
The regretfulness in the river-flow of its leaving.
I wish Alf Frimley gday,
The unused tape bullying my confusion.
Outside the wind is up. Tomorrow?
Tomorrow we’re playing away.
I like this early poem. and it was important to me – it began an emotional engagement with the town on the North-West Coast of Tasmania where I grew up, which I left in my teens, and about which I harboured deeply ambivalent feelings. Writing this poem set me on the path to resolving these ambiguities. It also inspired an abiding interest in the deployment of everyday vernacular in ‘literary’ poetry. In the image, Alf Frimley, my great-uncle, is the young man in the back row second from the left. My grandfather, Alf’s brother, is second from the left in the front row.