Saturday, May 19, 2012

Heroic Poet Tom Quilty

The other day I found this beautiful book of poems by a man claiming not to be a poet. Tom Quilty ( 1887 - 1979 ) holds the record for owning more freehold land in Australia than anyone else - 3 million acres.
'The Drover's Cook' ( published 1958, the same year I was published, so to speak ) is a very rare book, and worth far more than I paid for it, but the point is that Tom Quilty wrote with authority, wrote from out of his raw, everyday experience, and wrote with love for the life he knew.
With all due respect to the Aborigines pictured here, who do not like to have images of themselves taken, this shot gives you some idea of the world Tom lived in, under a  relentless sun, in an Australia still here, and in my heart, a big country.
It seems I may be only the fourth person to have read this copy, from the Christ Church Grammar School library, after D. Ingram, 'Underwood,' and 'Potts' ( staff ). I hold it close to my heart. I don't normally read our 'bush' poets, but this time, something about the honesty hit me.
I don't know how easy it is to read this, or if you want to, but the realism of the life, the humour, the gutsiness, the lack of bullshit - despite a lack of 'poetic' niceness  - have taken me in. I want to be out in the unbroken, untamed vast expanse, where words are heard more clearly under silent, never-ending skies.
Here's my favourite image from the book, one of several B&W photographs, entitled 'Tucker Time at Bamboo Creek.' It's wondered why Australians are so good at sport, and so cheerful; it's because we have to deal with a hard country, a country that's nonetheless immensely beautiful and quiet. We're not going to let anything get us down. Life has gone on here far longer than it has elsewhere.
There's nothing cultivated about the verse. Why should there be? Chaucer wrote out of the everyday. Tom Quilty, despite immense wealth, was a Christian, humble, forever remembering what had made him.
'Bemi' tells the story of a horse:

"We go to Hall's Creek races,
Where, each year, he faces,
The guns from all the stations for miles around."

Tom Quilty wrote in a manner not considered literary. Rhyming verse, based on an everyday, country reality, has sometimes held little appeal for forward-moving, city-based critics.
'Broken Down Squatter' tells the story of many who've tried to have a go here, in this difficult country:

"His pathway through life
Was ruffled by strife,
And the hopes of his boyhood destroyed."

Who doesn't know that? Dreams break, and there you are on the floor, every bit of you broken. But my brother Tom, if I may call him that, is only telling these stories to be authentic. He's not asking that you fall down too, only that you have generosity towards those who have fought, those who have fallen.


  1. Hello Faisal:
    We can readily see the appeal of this book and its contents. As you say, this is a brutal and raw account of life in an Australia which is not to everybody's liking but gives a rationale to why Australia and Australians are as they are today.

    We have been most intrigued to have been introduced to Tom Quilty who has indeed lived a life less ordinary than most. He writes with a passion and a rawness which, as you say, is so fitting for the way of life which he experienced and which many do to this day. The land and those characters he introduces are 'laid bare' in his economical language and that does give it impact and a real sense of place, time and humanity.

    Yes, we should cherish this book too!

  2. Hello lovely Jane and Lance,
    We are survivors down here, where in other parts of the world there may be crumbling. Could I have chosen to have been born here, I would have, where, despite the rawness, there is a spirit of courage.
    As always, you are very generous and accepting. Your words matter enormously to me, who has only a few words. God bless you both, this planet and Budapest.

  3. What became of the 3 million acre estate? Is it still one property? Where were you born? I think you showed us a picture of your High School in Australia, so you must have moved there as a child.

  4. Hi Diana, I don't know what's happened to the property. As for me, yes I was born here. I've always lived here.

  5. I did enjoy the Drover's Cook, Faisal (though I suspect 'blinking' isn't particularly choice Australian). It must have been an amazingly harsh life out in the bush - still is? I should love to visit one day. Three million acres, eh? That's big - according to Wiki the whole of England is 322 million. I wonder whether the Queen owns 1%? Dave

    1. You are right David, 'blinking' wasn't his first choice. The original was unfit for publication!

  6. Yes, Dave there's a certain toughness here that makes you tough. I'm glad I haven't had to do it tough the way others in the past have, but then, our world is tough too, and I've known some of that. It's all in how you handle it, isn't it? Cheers, mate.

  7. It was lovely to stumble upon your blog today and to see that my grandfather's poetry is still being appreciated. My copy of "The Drover's Cook" is one of my most cherished possessions.

    1. I'm delighted to hear from you, and humbled to have done some small thing to bring your grandfather's sterling poetry to notice. Do you have your own blog? Would you think of setting up a 'Tom Quilty' blog? My best to you, Faisal.

  8. fantastic book - funny that it was published the same year you were. The poem of the drover's cook is very funny and also very graphic. I can imagine it being read aloud with a very broad Aussie accent. I dont know whether that culture still exists in the outback? How extraordinary that TQ's granddaughter found the post! (Hi Winnie if you come back)

  9. It's an old, and another world. I guess it's gone, or maybe it's transmutated? Yes, I was thrilled, Catmint, to have heard from TQ's granddaughter - one of the amazing connections that can happen here in outer space. Way back then - not so long ago - the rawness of life gave voice to a simpler human expression. We're more complex now, but I bet we feel the same way about all that matters.