For his second Friday poem, Neil (Ninglun) chose The Poor, Poor Country by John Shaw Neilson. Ouch! The poem does capture one element of Australian mythology, one that I have much sympathy for, but I have always found it personally to be cringe-makingly bad!
Neilsen's first line begins:
Now compare this with the first lines of Judith Wright's The Hawthorn Hedge.
Oh ’twas a poor country, in Autumn it was bare,
The only green was the cutting grass and the sheep found little there.
Oh, the thin wheat and the brown oats were never two foot high,
But down in the poor country no pauper was I.
How long ago she planted the hawthorn hedge -
she forgets how long ago-
that barrier thrown across the hungry ridge;
thorn and snow.
Both poems are designed to be read aloud and do, I think, capture the rhythm of the Australian language. But they are very different.
It is, I think, increasingly hard for Australians to get their mind back into this country's past.
At the time Nielsen was born in 1872 the population was much smaller and also very dispersed. Most Australians received very little formal education. This was the age of the autodidact, the self taught man.
By the time Judith Wright was born in 1915, not only was the population much larger, but education was now widespread. Further, Judith grew up in a world of wealth and relative privilege. There is an enormous contrast between the formal world of the New England Girl's School where Judith received her secondary education and the two and half year's schooling that John Nielson received.
Both wrote because they had to. But Nielsen was part of a different school, the Bulletin school. This provided an outlet for a constant stream of bush and nationalist poetry.
Australians today struggle with the Bulletin school because of the racial attitudes built into the magazine and its writings. Neil captured the problem here rather well with his comments on Edward Dyson's A Golden Shanty. How do you handle something when it contains sets of attitudes now classified as unacceptable?
I accept that this is a problem. I also know that many of the attitudes now held in Australia will be classified as odd, quaint, unacceptable in the future. I just don't know which ones!