poetryrepairs #242 17,10:116

bjauthor : bktitle
SUE LITTLETON : Introduction to Dreamtime
116poet2 : THE BRADSHAWS
116poet3 : 116poem3

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Introduction to Dreamtime

When I read over my poem Dreamtime, written by a Texas poet who has never been to Australia, I am stunned at my audacity. Not particularly surprised, though, since what I have tried to do in the poem is express all I have learned about Australia from many different sources – the Australia of the past, the Aborigines, Daisy Bates and her photos and stories – and of course, the day a teen-aged know-nothing mystery fan picked up for the first time a book by Arthur Upfield. Picked it up, read a few pages, put it back down. A half-abori gine detective was not to her racist liking. A few years later my attitude changed. Perhaps it was because I discovered from my father that right after the Civil War his grandfather married a beautiful “gipsy” without any family background . . . and back then, in Mississippi and other southern states, ex-slaves who could do so were secretly passing for white. (Many years later when I brought this up with my father, he quickly dismissed the idea, as of course he would.) Perhaps this is why when I found another book by Upfield I was more open-minded and Napoleon Bonaparte (“Bony”) appealed to me as a very human character, a brilliant and likeable individual who had lived the trauma of being a white man until he was eighteen and then suddenly became a man of color, a half Aborigine. So I began reading Upfield and his incredible descriptions of the landscape, the fauna, the original natives, the advent of the rabbits, the white settlers, and, in addition, a tantalizing and fascinating murder mystery with an unusual sleuth tossed into a setting utterly different from any I had ever imagined. I began collecting all Upfield’s mysteries in pocketbook form, and every one was a joy. (In Buenos Aires I turned my entire collection over to the Australian Embassy at the Ambassador’s residence. Sometimes I wish I hadn’t been so generous, but it was as if I was returning Bony and his creator to their proper place. A poetic point of view.) Then, one day in the Corpus Christi, Texas, public library, on a turn-shelf of books offered as free gifts, I ran across a biography of Daisy Bates. I still regret not accepting the library’s gift, but I suppose I would have passed Daisy on to the Australian Embassy in that weak moment! Another different view of the Outback and a memorable life history. (I mention Daisy in another series of poems, now lost somewhere on an aged computer disc.) Daisy Bates (1859–1951) is a fascinatingly contentious and eccentric figure in Australian history (Daisy dressed to the end of her days in a costume from the 1890’s to 1900’s, including the hat). She spent many years conducting ethnographic studies and took hundreds of photographs of the Aborigines and the Outback. Her work was (of course) ignored or taken over by male anthropologists and ethnographologists, but history has been forced to acknowledge her realistic contributions to anthropological studies of the Aborigines during the late 1800’s, and those of her photos which survived being ignored for years in a church basement are now considered an Australian national treasure. In Austin, Texas, I met Thom, an Australian poet who has become a powerful voice in Texas poetry. Through Thom I discovered other Australian artifacts, and another Australian visiting poet who made didgeridoos from the hollow cardboard centers used for various purposes. He decorated his didgeridoos with paintings in different colored mud from the Austin area creeks, and to this day he is known as “Bob Mud.” A didgeridoo is the only known Aborigine musical instrument and is simply a hollow limb of a certain length through which the musician hums vibrato. (For awhile there jazz bands were incorporating forms of didgeridoos into their concerts, but I don’t think they do any longer.) I knew from Daisy the meaning of Dreamtime. Therefore, when a not-too-authentic group of Australian Aborigines came to Austin to present a program based on past beliefs (I say “not too authentic” because women were included in the Dreaming scenes presented, and women never had a place in the original rites), I was ripe for my experience which I relate in the following poem.

poetryrepairs #242 17,116:


I am the sleek daughter of the exquisite pleasures of civilization; I wrap my ecology-conscious psyche in the music of the classical masters, linger bemused over great and minor works of art, peruse and ponder a wide selection of literature. Nor do I scorn things primitive— the remarkable rock paintings of the ancient people of the Southwestern United States, the awe-inspiring prehistoric cave paintings of Spain, the superbly drawn animals and hunters in France, at Lescaux, at Cosquet— and the most recent find, the Chauvet Grotto – discovered December, 1994, a humped rhinoceros and a shaggy bison, carbon-dated at 30,340 to 32,410 years ancient... of all these wonders, the most beautiful and impressive of all the early human art forms, to me, are the elegantly elongated figures called “The Bradshaws” after one Joseph Bradshaw, who, in 1891, brought recognition to these oddly exotic figures sketched on high canyon walls in the north-west Kimberley region of Western Australia.

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Introduction to Dreamtime