The writing diary of a well-mellowed science writer who cares about the public understanding of science and knows the ropes. This blog bounces between my curiosity, the daily realities of professional writing, the joy of pursuing nature, and my recycling of ideas that won't be in some book or other as far as I can see, but still needed sharing. I welcome comments and suggestions! Spam will be blocked and reported. For my books, see http://members.ozemail.com.au/~macinnis/writing/index.htm
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Sunday, 29 January 2017
Australia's mystery poet
Who was ‘Hugo’? I have no idea, but there are
two of his poems available in the newspapers of his day, both in The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales
Advertiser in 1831. One of these, Zodiac Light, was competent by fairly
ordinary, but The Gin shows a new
awareness among the white people of the colony. I speculate that ‘Hugo’ was
born between 1800 and 1810, in the colony, and grew up with Aboriginal
playmates. He writes as one who knows the bush — and the Aborigines’ plight.
This poem was first published as
“Original Poetry” in The Sydney Gazette and
New South Wales Advertiser, Saturday 16 July 1831, page 4. It offers early
instances of several words like gin, gunya and waratah.
(As I have a strong interest in such
things, I have found an even earlier case of waratah from 1804. Oddly, there
seems to have been no other mention of the plant until 1826, when the modern
spelling first appeared. By 1831, Hugo was out-of-date in his terms. The real
question must be: what happened to him?)
“Where spreads the sloping shaded turf
By Coodge’s* smooth and sandy bay,
And roars the ever-ceaseless surf,
I’ve built my gunya for to-day.
“The gum-tree with its glitt’ring leaves
Is sparkling in the sunny light,
And round my leafy home it weaves
Its dancing shade with flow’rets bright.
“And beauteous things around are spread;
The burwan*, with its graceful bend
And cone of nuts, and o’er my head
The flowering vines their fragrance lend.
“The grass-tree, too, is waving there,
The fern-tree sweeping o’er the stream,
The fan-palm, curious as rare.
And warretaws* with crimson beam.
“Around them all the glecinæ*
Its dainty tendrils careless winds,
Gemming their green with blossoms gay,
One common flower each bush-shrub finds.
“Fresh water, too, is tumbling o’er
The shell-strewn rocks into the sea;
‘Midst them I seek the hidden store,
To heap the rich repast for thee.
“But where is Bian?—where is he?
My husband comes not to my meal:
Why does he not the white man flee,
Nor let their god his senses steal?
“Lingers he yet in Sydney streets?
Accursed race! to you we owe,
No more the heart contented beats.
But droops with sickness, pain, and woe.
“Oh ! for the days my mother tells,
Ere yet the white man knew our land;
When silent all our hills and dells,
The game was at the huntsman’s hand.
“Then roamed we o’er the sunny hill,
Or sought the gully’s grassy way,
With ease our frugal nets could fill
From forest, plain, or glen, or bay.
“Where sported once the kangaroo,
Their uncouth cattle trend the soil,
Or corn-crops spring, and quick renew,
Beneath the foolish white man’s toil.
“On sunny spots, by coast and creek,
Near the fresh stream we sat us down ;
Now fenced, and shelterless, and bleak,
They’re haunted by the white man’s frown.
She climbed the rock—she gazed afar—
The sun behind those mountains blue
Had sunk; faint gleamed the Western star,
And in the East a rainbow hue
Was mingling with the darkling sea;
When gradual rose the zodiac light,
And over rock, and stream, and tree,
Spread out its chastened radiance bright.
So calm, so soft, so sweet a ray,
It lingers on the horizon’s shore;
The echo of the brighter day,
That bless’d the world on hour before.
But sudden fades the beam that shone,
And lit the earth like fairy spell;
Whilst in the East, the sky’s deep tone
Proclaims the daylight’s last farewell.
“Fast comes the night, and Bian yet
Returns not to his leafy bed;
My hair is with the night-dew wet
Sleep comes not to this aching bead.
“The screeching cockatoo’s at rest;
From yonder flat the curlew’s wail
Comes mournful to this sorrowing breast,
And keenly blows the Southern gale.
“Avaunt ye from our merry land!
‘Ye that so boast our souls to save,
Yet treat us with such niggard hand:
We have no hope but in the grave.”
Thus sung Toongulla’s wretched child,
As o’er her sleeping babe she hung.
Mourning her doom, to lead a wild
And cheerless life the rocks among.
Their health destroyed—their sense depraved
The game, their food, for ever gone;
Let me invoke religion’s aid
To shield them from this double storm
Glycine sp. (Peter Macinnis)
Of physical and moral ill;
We owe them all that we possess
The forest, plain, the glen, the hill,
Were theirs;—to slight is to oppress.
* Coodge: Coogee
* burwan: burrawang
* warretaw: waratah.
* glecinæ: probably Glycine sp., a member of the Fabaceae