This story about Australian society seems to me to be a satirical interpretation of everyday life as lived by the two families, the Whalleys and the Hogbens. Patrick White’s view of human nature as set out in this story may be very different from the reality of life in a community. A mixed working class and middle class environment would have had some elements of the story, but maybe not the extreme view which Patrick White recounts in this story.
The main focus of this story is the emotional impact on the families of the unconventional behaviour of Daisie Hogben, who because she has died unexpectedly has created an unwanted situation for the Hogben family. There are also some unwelcome interest from others in the community. Principal among these is a elderly derelict man who Daisie had befriended to the disgust of the Hogbens. The social position of the family is such that they feel superior to the Whalleys , because of the way they live by visiting the local dump and salvaging all kinds of rejected goods with a view to making money from the sale of whatever they find.
Patrick White introduces three characters into his story that attempts to render the story one of redemption. The characters are Daisie , the unconventional sister of Myrtle Hogben, who then addresses the family from the grave. Meg the daughter of the said Myrtle and Councillor Hogben, then Lummy, the son of Ibsa and Wall Whalley who both have unresolved issues. He brings Meg and Lummy together in a romantic episode which augers for a change in their approach to each other. This is much to the chagrin of Myrtle Hogben.
Growing up in a working class community my own experience of Australian society was dissimilar to Patrick White’s , in that although there were similar elements of society interaction they were not as extreme as the ones voiced by Patrick White.
Martin Sharp, in his tapestry “OZ”, is illustrating a visual presentation of the words of Bernard O’ Dowd’s poem “Australia”. The Tapestry itself is mounted in the foyer of the State Library of new South Wales. (State Library of New South Wales,. The “Oz” Tapestry.The Library. [Sydney]. .
The tapestry depicts a visual image of the words of O’Dowd’s poem and in this depiction relates important events of Australian history. The sailing ship on the ocean tells of the arrival of Captain Cook in 1770, followed by the arrival of The First Fleet in 1788. The small image of Australia on the opposite side of the tapestry shows the distance of Australia from western civilization.
Depictions of native flora and fauna echo O’Dowd’s wonder at the difference in the Australian landscape to that of England. Especially, that of the Dingo and the way gum trees shed their bark. The Sun blazes down in the tapestry, just as the Sun blazes down on the countryside. Surrounded by sea O’Dowd likens Australia to the Sargasso sea, that area in the north Atlantic where four currents come together and seaweed gathers in a single mass without any landform. Martin Sharp depicts this by way of the fish he has swimming all around the landmass of Australia.
“Are you adrift Sargasso, where the west
In halcyon calm rebuilds her fatal nest”
Martin Sharp acknowledges the Aboriginal history of Australia in his depiction of the Ochre hand print, which is culturally significant to Aboriginal people. Uluru is an Aboriginal sacred sight in Central Australia currently administered by an indigenous council to promote and foster understanding. The painting also depicts the dingo which is native only native to Australia.
Celebration in Australian history is shown by the inclusion of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Opera House and the Southern Cross emblazoned in the foreground of the tapestry. This is an illusion to the renowned fire works in Australia at different times of the year. Historic tragedy is shown in the depiction of the fire at Luna Park. On the 9th of June 1979 The Ghost Train at Luna Park amusement park in North Sydney caught fire. One adult and six children lost their lives (https://en.wikipedia.org./wiki/1979_Sydney_Ghost_Train).
Creating this visual presentation of O’Dowd’s poem Martin Sharp has illustrated the intensity of the words of the poem. The poet’s idea of a vision of a new world, is what inspired him to write his poetry.
What aspects of Australian history are important to Gilmore’s poetry?
How does she manage to express so much in so few words?
My attempt to answer these questions is as follows.
Dame Mary Gilmore, in her poem shows her passion for active comment on the problems facing the people of her time. The Poem, “The Measure” is an example of the intensity of her thoughts and feelings about war and the aftermath of the conflict.
Gilmore was the editor of the Women’s section of the Australian Worker from 1908 to 1931.Through her writings and her poetry she gained a reputation as a “campaigner for the welfare of the disadvantaged” (Wikipedia.org.wiki/Mary Gilmore). Perhaps this may have been a result of her years living in Wagga Wagga during the 1860s and 1870s and being a witness to the living conditions of disadvantaged shearers and farm workers.
Her observations also included the plight of the Wiradjuri tribe . Gilmore learned much about them, their culture and traditions and their displacement from their lands. In her poem “The Waradgery Tribe” she laments their situation with the words:-
We are the lost who went,
like the cranes crying;
hunted lonely and spent
Broken and dying.
This poem reflects her compassion and understanding of their plight. Another poem that indicates her feelings for the disadvantaged is “Botany Bay”
Gilmore campaigned in many forums for social and economic reforms, among these were Votes for women, Old Age and Invalid pensions, Child Endowment and improved treatment of Returned Servicemen (Australian Dictionary of Biography. Volume 9.)
All of these historical social and economic issues increased her understanding and deepened her compassion. This is reflected in the intense way she expresses her thoughts and feelings in her poetry. Her style of writing and choice of words shows how deeply she feels for those whom she championed. Mary Gilmore died in 1963 highly acclaimed as one of Australia’s great poets and writers.
The expression in the eyes of Margaret Preston in the self-portrait suggests that she may be in deep thought. Painting the portrait in 1930 she would have been fifty five years old, having been born in 1875. She was immersed in the art world both personally and professionally from a young age. (https://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au).
In the portrait it seems that she is outdoors, because the background is a cement brick wall. The Christmas Bells in the left background suggest it may be around December or January, which is the time these plants flower. Overall the portrait is a depiction of herself as a person of self-esteem in command of her surroundings. There is no ornate embellishment, only the brick wall behind her and the Christmas Bells to one side. She is the centerpiece of the portrait, holding in her hands paintbrushes and a palette. Perhaps, she is making a statement about herself. Her demeanor suggests that she is a self-confident woman. She is aware of her artistic talent because the commission from the Art Gallery of New South Wales for the self-portrait was the first such commission to a woman. She is now recognized as a great Australian artist. (https//www.artgallery.nsw.au).
Living in Berowra in the 1930’s, surrounded by the Australian bush, Margaret was inspired to paint the plants and scenes familiar to her. Her artistic life, however, was not confined to Berowra. She lived abroad in England, Europe and also Japan, where she studied with other great artists. She adopted the Modernist style of painting and created art works which reflected her versatility. On her return to Australia she became famous for her wide range of artistic works. She created works in paint, stenciling and woodcuts. She also adopted Aboriginal ideas in her painting.(https://en.wikipedia.org.wiki/ Margaret_Preston).
Dame Mary Gilmore is writing this poem with a profound understanding of the daily life of women at the turn of the century and beyond. Her first words speaking of a thread, “Eve span and I span”(Gilmore17) seem to unite women in a quest to find a loving companion. However she finds the man is a wanderer. Her life becomes a struggle, bringing hardship and disappointment.
The subsequent stanzas of the poem are laden with expressions of a love totally given and lost. As a result of the loneliness of separation. The poem suggests her companion is absent for long periods of time. Mary’s words imply that the thread she span does not bind the heart of the man, but rather binds the woman’s heart to children and the home. It seems that the consolation she seeks from the man is discovered as she looks into in the eyes of the children. However, this realization does not bring joy, only “loss and hidden dismay”(Gilmore 17).
The next lines lament at the realization that her man is not the person she has hoped he would be. This lament is expressed by the words, “He said he was strong. He had no strength” (Gilmore 17). These words speak of his lack of true strength and that his love and truthfulness may be insincere. The reader of the poem can easily imagine the feelings of disillusion and sadness the woman must be feeling because the word picture is so vivid.
The last stanza really shows how deep her love is for the man. She welcomes him back with open arms, knowing at last that he is bound to her.
Judith Wright in this poem is using personification to
express her insight into the formation of life from its beginning. The Wattle
Tree becomes an image of her search for understanding of life, as it develops from
small beginnings. Then flourishes by understanding various stages of
development through lived experience of life.
In the first stanza Judith uses the expression, “The tree knows four truths”. Writing with these words Judith is giving the tree a human essence. Personification conveys a meaning beyond an object of admiration, but an understood personal life as a tree. The four truths, root, limb and seed are a metaphor for human life. The stages of human life from infancy to development of life by stages is similar to the growth of the tree from seed to maturity. Birth, then growth through infancy and childhood to teenage years, then young adult and full maturity is similar to the growth of the tree from seed, to root, limb and leaf to a mature tree.
The reader is able to visualise both forms of life from the
choice of words in the poem. The tree “dreaming it has a voice”, intensifies
the metaphor and deepens the visual image of the personification of the tree.
The second stanza shows the tree crying out for understanding just as humanity yearns to understand the stages of life through lived experience. Just a seed is planted and takes root, nourished by wind, rain and sunshine, then develops to maturity so a human life grows through birth, growth, nutrition and a loving environment to a mature human being. This stanza emphasises that growth. The visual image is made more intense through the way the stanza is set out.
The last stanza bringing the four fruits into focus as the
means of fruitful development presents a more intense visual image of the tree.
Its growth from seed to maturity in a burst of golden blooms, likened to the
Sun, becomes to Judith a revelation of immortal life and the writing of the
poem then becomes a jubilant recognition of the connection between human life
It seems to me that Judith has come to an indigenous understanding
of life and creation as one entity or truth.
The Wattle Tree becomes an image of Judith’s search for understanding of life as it develops from small beginnings then flourishes by understanding stages of development through life experience.