Friday Australian poem – #NS2 — “Because” by James McAuley

Yes, I am recycling – but there is a good reason aside from my love of this poem. Last Wednesday at the Wollongong City Diggers I had a most amazing conversation with B, a retired carpenter, in which this poem came up. It spoke to him too.


B and I were sitting here

James Phillip McAuley (1917-1976) is, as you may see from that article, still something of a Right culture hero — perhaps even more so these days. He was certainly charming to me when I met him at one of the first English Teachers Association conferences I ever went to as a young teacher. At that conference he read “Because” and I was totally and deeply moved, and at that level I don’t care a bit what political arguments may centre on him or derive from him: I just knew I had been privileged to hear a truly great poem spoken by the man who wrote it and even more had the opportunity shyly and awkwardly to ask him how on earth he did it. “9 parts perspiration and 1 part inspiration” was part of what he told me over that memorable cup of tea…

The poem has moved me ever since, and hardly a senior class I have had has escaped my enthusiastic teaching of it. Yes it is conservative in form. McAuley was no friend of modernism, but then neither was Robert Frost. When a poem is as good as this one I simply don’t care; after all it could have only been written in this society in my lifetime. In that sense it is thoroughly modern. But enough from me. Can anyone read this and not to be moved?


My father and my mother never quarrelled.
They were united in a kind of love
As daily as the Sydney Morning Herald,
Rather than like the eagle or the dove.

I never saw them casually touch,
Or show a moment’s joy in one another.
Why should this matter to me now so much?
I think it bore more hardly on my mother,

Who had more generous feelings to express.
My father had dammed up his Irish blood
Against all drinking praying fecklessness,
And stiffened into stone and creaking wood.

His lips would make a switching sound, as though
Spontaneous impulse must be kept at bay.
That it was mainly weakness I see now,
But then my feelings curled back in dismay.

Small things can pit the memory like a cyst:
Having seen other fathers greet their sons,
I put my childish face up to be kissed
After an absence. The rebuff still stuns

My blood. The poor man’s curt embarrassment
At such a delicate proffer of affection
Cut like a saw. But home the lesson went:
My tenderness thenceforth escaped detection.

My mother sang ‘Because’, and ‘Annie Laurie’,
‘White Wings’, and other songs; her voice was sweet.
I never gave enough, and I am sorry;
But we were all closed in the same defeat.

People do what they can; they were good people,
They cared for us and loved us. Once they stood
Tall in my childhood as the school, the steeple.
How can I judge without ingratitude?

Judgment is simply trying to reject
A part of what we are because it hurts.
The living cannot call the dead collect:
They won’t accept the charge, and it reverts.

It’s my own judgment day that I draw near,
Descending in the past, without a clue,
Down to that central deadness: the despair
Older than any Hope I ever knew.

This time in 2012 – can’t believe how time has gone!

Some partial recycles:

mais où sont les neiges d’antan?

Posted on October 28, 2012 by Neil…



Wollongong High’s Class of 1983 – looking towards thirty years on

There are a few people who read this blog who were in that class! I had gone by 1983, 1980 being my last year at Wollongong High – but I did teach some of these people in Years 8 or 9….

[For the sequel in October 2013 see Time travel.]

New York, New York

Posted on October 31, 2012 by Neil

Coincidentally I have been reading about the seamier side of New York City just lately:Alphaville.

The cocky and often triumphant confrontations with bad guys make “Alphaville” a strangely entertaining read. But the book is also a reminder of how far into danger and degradation New York fell in the late 20th century. Today New York is the safest major city in America. Yet the homicide rate so far this year is 15% higher than last, and the numbers for rape and robbery are rising, too. The watchword for urban safety, as for so much else, is eternal vigilance. We never want to return to the bad old days—which aren’t all that old.

That at least has made me more aware of the geography of the city, so recent reports have thus meant more to me.  I have never been there. I do know a few people who are there now. Here are two.

  • Philip Costello, a friend, and flatmate a couple of times in the 80s and 90s. “To all those who may be concerned. No damage, leaks or flooding at my home, but am affected by the big power outage that is affecting a large part of Manhattan. Have fled to the Upper West side to a friends apartment till power is restored.”
  • Jeremy Heimans – former SBHS student and all-round amazing internet person – #11 of the Top 100 Creative people in Business 2012, I see. “Sadly, #sandy is just the new normal. We’re going to face this more often & with growing severity for the rest of our lives. #climatechange” – Jeremy on Twitter four hours ago.


Not a million miles from where Philip normally lives these days…

The Water’s Edge — 1

Posted on October 28, 2012 by Neil

Leading up to the November Theme I am recycling some artistically reworked photos from the recent past. Enjoy.

FotoSketcher - P9230780a

FotoSketcher - P8130626

FotoSketcher - P7070377

Wollongong Harbour; Kiama; City Beach Wollongong.

Thomas recycled

Following yesterday’s post, evoking three blogging memories:

Thomas (and Obama) has won!

04 JUN 2008

Not that Thomas is crowing: see 570 days ago. ;)

I have followed what Thomas has said with considerable interest, and no little wonder that someone so far removed from it all — on the surface at least — would know so much about it. But that’s our 21st century world, I guess.

Meanwhile on BlogExplosion I have seen many for and against. I am particularly chuffed by some of the conservative (if that is an appropriate word for the radical nature of some of them) US sites that are starting to publish long doleful lists of all the hidjus changes this secret Muslim commie Antichrist threatens to make.

Trouble is, as I read them, I can’t help thinking: will he really do that? What a good idea! There may be hope after all! But I am sure I am reading those lists in a manner the bloggers would find quite perverse, which is why I have not linked to any of those lists. I am sure you will find them if you look…

The other trouble is, if elected he probably won’t change as many things as I may hope or those bloggers may fear. A shame…

Trounced by Thomas!

07 NOV 2008

envyTomorrow I will do the usual Saturday stats thing, but I do so with a heavy heart… ;) The reason? Deus Lo Vult!

Thomas can’t be seen for dust! See 2353: yes, that refers to the number of visitors he had on 5 November.

My own best ever ever was April 4th, 2007 with WordPress saying there were 2,296 page views that day – and now look! 

The US elections have been good for Thomas’s blog, so I really sincerely congratulate him for the achievement. Really. (What, you don’t believe me?) And read his post too, as there’s a funny side to where the hits have come… Or should that be a frustrating side?

Nonetheless, I contemplate Sitemeter: to even get near Thomas’s total there this month I have to combine all the Floating Life blogs with English/ESL. That’s (so far in November) 3,126 visits + 2,061 giving 5,087. Thomas in the same period has 5,992!

You can tell Thomas is on holidays…

09 JAN 2009

Otherwise how could he have found time to do this? He has done a thorough analysis of just how much he has written on his blogs since 2006! The results are quite staggering. “I feel confident that my blogging and writing abilities are on the improve, and that I’ll easily overtake The Lord of the Rings and War and Peace before the end of the financial year, and probably have a higher word count than the Bible by the close of the year.” I certainly agree with the first statement.

I wouldn’t dare do it on my blogs, indeed couldn’t over the full range since late 2000 as quite a bit has gone the way of all ephemera, even if I occasionally get a surprise about what still lurks on some server somewhere –here, for example….

Thomas – 2014 teacher of the year

Thomas has been part of our blogging community for some while now, particularly famous for his analysis of the US elections before the first Obama term. I have never met Thomas, though I feel I have. In fact he came my way as a friend of The Rabbit, a former student of mine who is now Head of English at a west Sydney school. Actually when I first met Thomas online I’m afraid I really was rather rude to him. He would have been around 18 at the time.

But now we have this:


For Release – Tuesday, 28 October, 2014:  To commemorate “World Teacher’s Day” celebrated in Australia on Friday 31st October 2014, STUDENT EDGE, launched their inaugural TEACHER OF THE YEAR competition last month inviting its 650,000+ members to write in and explain why their favourite teacher should be declared the country’s most outstanding educator.

From over 100 entries, it was Year 9 student, Steven Phung from Sefton High School, located in Sydney’s south western suburbs, whose heartfelt letter highlighting the dedication of his History teacher, Mr. Thomas Elley, that stood out and really struck a chord with the STUDENT EDGE team.

Having worked at Sefton High School since 2011, Mr. Elley teaches over 200 students at the school each week and like many educator’s nationally, has become a respected mentor to so many of the young minds he teaches.

Part of student Steven’s submission said, “Mr. Elley dedicates his time, puts effort in teaching and respects everyone regardless, whether the student is a troublemaker or a perfectly good student, they get treated equally. My teacher has achieved many things. Unlike many typical achievements like awards Mr. Elley’s achievements are different. Mr. Elley has and still is assisting students, encouraging students and preparing for the years to come. Students are in debt for Mr. Elley’s doing. In my eyes, this is an achievement that out-values those of certificates or trophies”.

With no doubt they had selected a worthy winner the team from STUDENT EDGE last week paid a surprise visit, complete with camera crew, to Sefton High School surprising both Mr. Elley and Steven, who was unaware his submission had won the competition. Mr. Elley was lost for words when it was revealed Steven had nominated him and that he was officially the STUDENT EDGE TEACHER OF THE YEAR. And the surprises kept on coming with Mr. Elley thrilled to learn that along with the prestigious title he also received a 3 day, 2 night holiday to Bali, thanks to ACCOR. And to top it all off, LENOVO also came along to the party rewarding not only Mr. Elley but Steven and the entire class of 30 students with their very own LENOVO ThinkPads…

Once the initial shock wore off, Mr. Elley went on to say “Receiving this award is extremely humbling. I’m fortunate and lucky enough to be able to do a job that is so rewarding and enriching, and to be recognised as Student Edge’s Teacher of the Year for doing what I do is something I never anticipated. Being a teacher, watching students learn and grow – there’s reward in that every day. Receiving this award as well, though, is something that I will remember for a long, long time. I’m glad that I have been able to perform to such a standard that not only Student Edge recognised, but that my own students valued, found helpful, and appreciate. After all, at the end of the day, everything we’re doing is for the students.”…

Bloody good one, Thomas, and well deserved as far as I can see – even if it makes me feel even more of a back number!

I am sure Jim Belshaw will join me in congratulating someone we have both got to know through blogging.

Did the wind blow the flies away? Plus history retrieved, and Spurr revisited.

Yesterday afternoon we copped what apparently was the tail end of the super storm that had hit southern Australia earlier – particularly Adelaide and Melbourne. Yes, the wind did howl:


Parts of Sydney were much more affected: Cars crushed and power cut to thousands in windstorm in Sydney and the Blue Mountains.

This morning I noticed that the annoying flies that bothered me so in my morning walks the last few days seem to have almost all gone. Blown away to somewhere north of here?

History retrieved

I thought this was great: Eric Geddes: Sole survivor of WWII RAAF aircrew wins fight to erase historic slur over Savo Island bloodbath.

An Australian World War II veteran’s long campaign to clear a slur against his air crew is finally over, after United States Navy historians sent him a letter clearing him of not alerting the Americans that Japanese ships were heading towards Solomon Islands.

Two years ago, 7.30 told the story of Eric Geddes, who served as radio operator and gunner on an RAAF Lockheed Hudson based in Milne Bay, New Guinea during WWII.

On August 8, 1942 his crew spotted and reported a Japanese attack fleet heading towards the US Marines force that had just landed at Guadalcanal.

That night, the Japanese went on to rout Allied ships off Guadalcanal, sinking four cruisers, including the HMAS Canberra, killing more than 1,000 sailors.

The battle of Savo Island, as it became known, was the Allies’ worst naval defeat of the war.

An influential US historian, writing after the war, falsely accused Mr Geddes and his crew of failing to promptly report their sighting.

In his 15-volume account of the US Navy’s World War II actions, Rear Admiral Samuel Morison wrote: “The pilot of this plane, instead of breaking silence to report, as he had orders to do in an urgent case, or returning to base which he could have done in two hours, spent most of the afternoon completing his search mission, came down at Milne Bay, had his tea, and then reported the contact.”

The implication was that the Australian crew’s tardiness contributed to the effectiveness of the surprise Japanese attack…


Mr Geddes received a letter from the Naval History and Heritage Command, within the US Department of the Navy.

I wanted to be able to assure him that there’s a lot of history out there that provides a very different take and interpretation of events regarding the Hudson and sightings.

Greg Martin, assistant director of the US Naval  History and Heritage Command

It contains these vital lines: “A new generation of naval historians is questioning previous works, such as that of Rear Admiral Samuel Eliot Morison, often written too close to the end of a recently completed campaign … RADM Morison’s criticism, in particular, was unwarranted.”

The letter is from Greg Martin, the assistant director of the US Naval History and Heritage Command, in Washington.

See program and transcript.

ERIC GEDDES: It was the first communication that anybody in the States ever sent me, the one and only communication. And I wrote a lot of letters.
ADAM HARVEY: It’s taken this long because at the heart of the Savo Island disaster is an uncomfortable truth.
CHRIS CLARK: They were outfought by the Japanese; it’s as simple as that. The Japanese were a better navy than the American Navy or the Australian Navy at that time.
ADAM HARVEY: And with this letter, Eric Geddes’ war is finally over.
ERIC GEDDES: I look at life this way: we all have an Everest to climb. I’ve climbed my Everest. And on the other side, it’s all downhill, it’s slippery and it’s fast. I think I can go with a smile on my face.

Media Watch does Barry Spurr

An excellent sequel to my earlier posts: “The row surrounding Barry Spurr’s emails published by New Matilda promises to be a landmark case with important implications for the media and the public.”

So what will happen? Well, when the battle over Spurr’s emails returns to court in December, it’s possible we’ll discover that the media’s freedom to publish material that’s private but in the public interest is much more restricted than we thought.

And then … Professor McDonald says perhaps a little optimistically

… the case may go up to the High Court:

… and the court may well consider whether there should be a broader public interest defence in Australia, as there is in the UK, and effectively change the law.

— Professor Barbara McDonald, Australian Law Reform, Statement to Media Watch, 24th October, 2014