Various lockdown hacks and escapes — 66 — Glebe, Neos, John Hawke: poet

In 2005 I posted this:

Twenty years ago Neos came to an end…


In September 1981 Rob Duffy (19), John Hawke (15), Michael Stevenson (16) and I (age indeterminate) started Neos Young Writers, a magazine for — you guessed it — young writers. Raina MacIntyre (17) provided some spectacular art-work based on Eliot’s “Gerontion”.

In time other editors joined us: for issue 2 (February 1982) the team was the same. The magazine continued until 1985, published by Gleebooks. Later editors included Gavin Murrell, Richard Allen, Hung Nguyen and Lyneve Rappell. We won a Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Award for service to young Australians, and a Literature Board Grant. We had the odd subscriber in England, Ireland, Italy and the USA! We even score a little entry in The Oxford Companion to Australian Literature (ed.2)….

The link takes you to WordPress, where I have just republished some highlights from the first two issues. This is just a sample. And keep in mind that John Hawke was still 15 when Neos 1 was published!

And in 2011:

Speaking of Neos, I see that old copies go for $15 a pop now! Shame I no longer have any…

John Hawke went on to academia, including a time at the University of Wollongong where he published Australian literature and the symbolist movement in 2009. There have also been poems, but so far no collected work. I wonder if there will be? There was this poem in Jacket, December 2001:


“This ‘peace on earth’ has seen headier days when the sealers and whalers came with their aboriginal women they had torn from their tribes and slaughtered relentlessly the beautiful creatures of the deep.”

— Touring Tasmania, vol.XI.

The lake of charity, the ice-cream sandwiches,
the moulting lagoon: it is all falling
into the past inevitably, like the last
pack of cigarettes you’ll ever buy —
the barbershop reek of the cardboard,
a black metal comb in its milky glass,
the colour that bleaches a neglected letter
dated to the final day. Then the baby is born,
a new calendar of life commences,
yet somewhere it is September 1986,
a white car speeds endlessly through the spinning
night of ragged coastline sea-towns,
past Murder Creek, over Bust-Me-Up Hill,
to the no-time of the eternal casino,
into those infinite bunkered weeks, that basement dark,
the merz that goes without a name.
And I’m feeling sorry for all the noise
beautiful poems will never contain,
because I am ‘modern’ but want to go back
for a few words, not many — that’s selfish,
but when things seem desperate you have to act
some way, and I don’t believe it’s late.
Remember: this is how your parents were
before you were born  —   nostalgia for her
golden body a charm against death,
and too much emotion ever to adequately
deal with or ignore. This makes it
history, but how did we ever get that old,
answering bitterness with tenderness.
In the hamburger warmth of the pinball joint
we shared our flippers, made out
on a midnight slippery-dip, on a Disney ride,
in a maze of mirrors, on a ladder,
by the verdant banks of a tea-coloured river.

Matt da Silva  published some archival photos a while back.

That’s Gavin Murrell and Richard Allen and ?Lyneve around 1982-3.

I met John Hawke at Fort Street High in 1981. Interesting place and time — there was for example a very active underground student paper, The Liberator, with which John was involved. In fact I suspect John and his friends were The Liberator!

I became aware of John’s poetry quite early and was amazed by what I read. I felt it needed to be published somewhere, but where? The ultimate answer was: start our own magazine. Neos 1 came out in September 1981. I wrote the following in the early 2000s.

In September 1981 Rob Duffy (19), John Hawke (15), Michael Stevenson (16) and I (age indeterminate) started Neos Young Writers, a magazine for — you guessed it — young writers. Raina MacIntyre (17) provided some spectacular art-work based on Eliot’s “Gerontion”.In time other editors joined us: for issue 2 (February 1982) the team was the same. The magazine continued until 1985, published by Gleebooks. Later editors included Gavin Murrell, Richard Allen, Hung Nguyen, Matt Da Silva and Lyneve Rappell. We won a Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Award for service to young Australians, and a Literature Board Grant. We had the odd subscriber in England, Ireland, Italy and the USA! We even score a little entry in The Oxford Companion to Australian Literature (ed.2).

John Hawke has continued to write and publish poetry, but has not yet had a book published (aside from editing a number of issues of the Newcastle Poetry Prize anthologies). He studied at the University of Sydney where he tutored for a while in the English Department. The last I heard he was working in the Creative Writing Department at Wollongong University. Richard Allen (with his wife Karen Pearlman, whom he met in New York where he lived for some time) is very active, with several books published, dance works performed, and multi-media dance/poetry/video works achieving some success.

Richard’s career has continued with much success, and Raina MacIntyre is now at the University of New South Wales and a much quoted expert: she heads the Biosecurity Program at the Kirby Institute, which conducts research in epidemiology, vaccinology, bioterrorism prevention, mathematical modelling, genetic epidemiology, public health and clinical trials in infectious diseases.

John now has two published books of poems. He is at Monash University.

But back to Glebe at the time Neos was flourishing. In some ways I was not, experiencing what could be called burnout. I have posted about this several times, especially In 1983 I learned more than I knew I was learning…

At that time I lived in Glebe and was in some ways at a rather low ebb, in hiatus from teaching but still editing Neos. I lived for a while in a boarding house in Boyce Street with assorted students, crims and schizos and one or two ordinary folk. It was an education. Among my neighbours was a schizophrenic Aboriginal woman whom I call “Marie”.  As I listened to Marie, who was also kind of concierge to the house, I found a story emerging amid the apparent randomness and even craziness. I tried to capture that in a poem at the time. Every word in the poem she actually said, though not all at once, and I have structured it so that her story emerges, as it did for me over a much longer time. An artist who lived upstairs read it and said I had captured her exactly.

59 Boyce Street. At the time I occupied the front room. “Marie” was on the second floor at the landing. The artist had the balcony room. By 1983 the artist had moved on and I had the balcony room.
This is the very room!
The view from that balcony.

You can read my poem here. But back to John. He (and at times others on Neos) would often visit as we went through the poems and stories that had arrived for the magazine, These sessions could last all day, and I do remember one with John where we sat on that balcony and talked until dawn! My burnout was not all bad!

And from Neos 1 or 2 here is a poem from the teenage John Hawke. It is a prose poem. He still writes them, I notice. This one was singled out for praise by Patrick White!


John Hawke

Fifteen years spent in a small flat on Parramatta Road with his mother and two brothers (his father died in 1975) the second son John killed by a car to become the hundred and first road accident victim of 1981 (15 up on the same time last year) chewed on asphalt as sharp steel sheared his skin and tore him on the edges of concrete he had walked for fifteen years sucking at the same grey air to find breath for screaming through a mouth full of tar screams bouncing off ugly bricks a hot moist panting into his brother’s lungs helpless on the sidewalk and his mother who saw the crumpled white body and dropped her groceries he spent fifteen years in a small flat on Parramatta Road lived Parramatta Road until Parramatta Road chewed him up sucked between its teeth like wet cement until an iron girder scraped him away from Parramatta Road though the rest of the world passed him by.

Just a bit later:

See Gig Ryan’s Introduction to that 2015 book.

John Hawke’s forensic inquiries in this book are layered with casual erudition – Diderot, Czech poet Vladimir Holan – and locate the poem as transformative state. Many of these poems conclude with a mystical ascent into nature, reminiscent of Patrick White scenes in which the division between consciousness and the universe wavers, signifying that any reconciliation is epiphanic, claimed by art or religion. Yet nature belittles human effort – ‘The path to the point is marked by a scattering / of impermanent hand-made memorials’ – that is, the poet’s endeavours are precariously, though heroically, makeshift, overlaid; but nature is also that which threatens or devours, ‘digesting light’.

And now in 2021 we have John Hawke: Whirlwind Duststorm. Critic Martin Duwell begins:

Poems come claiming many different identities. There are those that aspire to be no more than songs, those that exemplify a previously worked out aesthetic theory, those that worry at an aspect of their author’s inner life, those (“I do this, I do that” poems) that want to take a slice of random individual experience of the world, those that are slabs of discourse engaged with issues of the world, and so on. The feeling I have about the fine and rather unsettling poems of John Hawke’s second book is that they aspire to be strong, free-standing objects. And I don’t mean by this that they are just tightly structured well-made pieces – though they are that – rather that they shun being dependent on meaning for their strength and stability. At the same time, they don’t seem to relate to the generative imperatives of Surrealist poetry where, in that deeply French way, unity derives from development out of a single unified process.

The title poem appeared in Overland February 2021. It is not an easy read, but it repays spending time with it. There are depths there, but also notes that surfaced even in the work John was doing when he was 15 or 16! At least, I think I can see them.

John Hawke today

One more from Neos, 1981.


John Hawke

The wind was always dry and hot,
sweaty and dusty and we were always squinting:
the sun would bounce off the white baked roads
straight into your eyes; I felt so dark–
probably just the dust, but it never seemed right, it seemed
so empty and inhuman.

I don’t know if I saw a leaf all the time I was there:
the trees all stunted and bare and twisted;
never many animals: the occasional snake,
and sometimes those long-necked birds, graceful,
but brown and dappled so that
they were never very beautiful.

You couldn’t say the country was either,
but there was something about it–
a sort of majestic calm, lifeless and menacing,
as if it were the starkness of the earth itself
that could suck you dry, twist you like the trees
and leave you as colourless as everything else.

Various lockdown hacks and escapes — 35 — so much good reading!

First let me mention something that happened yesterday morning.

So there was an insistent knock on the door just now, which I eventually heard through my headphones! Not Coles — they delivered my supplies a couple of hours ago.

— Facebook post

Turned out to be Australia Post. And inside, a Wollongong Library book I had reserved some weeks ago!

I am looking forward to that one. The author is a Yuin man from the South Coast of NSW. The book has been much praised.

Also from Wollongong Library is Robert Dessaix, The Time of Our Lives (Brio 2020).

We are pretty much of an age — and in fact I met him at the ABC around 1985. Used to listen to him on Radio National as well. I am still reading it — but although he is far more cultured than I am and far more clever, I can relate to so many attitudes and riffs in it… This review seems to capture it well. The themes are aging and death — or rather, dying.

Much of this book reflects Dessaix’s musings on this as he discusses it with various ageing friends living in different countries around the world and sees how they live their lives. When Sarah meets him for breakfast at their Indonesian hotel, she tells him:

 ‘You can try and look young forever … like Jane Fonda and whatshername from … you know …’

‘Joanna Lumley.’

‘It’s the names that go first, isn’t it. Nouns come next, apparently. Yes, her. You can try to die young as late as possible, in other words…’

‘Did you just make that up?’

‘No. Or you can do what you’ve done.’

Dessaix, according to Sarah, has failed to grow up in the first place. This sets him puzzling over a more personal question. What does she mean? As always, his musing and puzzling take him all over the place and involve people alive and dead….

Then there are two examples of left-wing history of the best kind. Each informed me of much that I had not known before but also connected with much that I did know or had experienced, this first one especially:

Free as an eBook from ANU Press: Teacher for Justice by Heather Goodall, Helen Randerson and Devlena Ghosh, 2019.

‘Meet Lucy Woodcock, a complex, undaunted woman in a tough and changing world. From her role as a public school principal in Depression and wartime, to her union and feminist organising, to her transnational engagements for peace, this clear and thoughtful book brings to life forgotten forms of activism. It’s the gripping story of how Lucy navigated the minefields of gender, class, race and coloniality to change her world.’

Raewyn Connell, Professor Emerita, University of Sydney

‘Just over a century ago, the last of the pupil-teachers, Lucy Woodcock, co-founded the NSW Teachers Federation. So many of the principles and traditions that underpin our union today can be traced back to the lifelong work of Lucy Woodcock. She fought for the industrial rights of teachers deep in the knowledge of the broader social and economic context in which she lived and worked. Too often the role of working-class women whose influence is profound is ignored. This biography installs Lucy Woodcock into her rightful place as pivotal player in the history of twentieth-century Australia.’

Maurie Mulheron, President, NSW Teachers Federation

I wrote on Facebook:

Back in 1993 when I was doing a research project for Disadvantaged Schools on the teaching of reading in the Botany Cluster of the NSW Education Department, and then in the early 2000s at gatherings for ESL teachers I spent much time at Erskineville Public School, which was the local HQ for the Disadvantaged Schools Program — a federally-funded initiative that ran from the Whitlam years until killed off by John Howard. It then became a regular meeting place for inner city ESL teachers.

So for that reason alone I find this book — which I am currently reading from my eBook library on Calibre — fascinating. But more for the insight it gives into social issues, left politics, education, the Teachers Federation, and life in the 1920s through to the early 1950s in NSW. The book may be downloaded as an eBook or PDF FREE!

And if you caught the quote on education I posted a day or so back, this was its source: Lucy Woodcock, Erskineville Public School:

“We still, in practice retain an out-of-date conception of education as the mere imparting of knowledge. Our examination system is largely responsible for the maintenance of this conception … It is necessary to remind ourselves that the real value of education is not measured by the amount and variety of knowledge we can force into the minds of the young …

“The aim, I take it, is to train the mind to observe accurately, to think clearly, to discard prejudices, to weigh evidence, to make judgements on the weight of evidence … We should aim to create a living intellectual interest in minds … The curricula of the schools should be based on the conception of man as a citizen of the world instead of a citizen of a small State …

“Our schools may be said to have succeeded if we can arouse a deep and abiding interest in the search for knowledge in all who pass through their portals. Our pupils should not be a standardized product, when they leave us, knowing so much of this and that, but young people equipped with well-balanced minds; young citizens who will go further along the pathway of life unprejudiced and untrammelled in quest of knowledge and pursuit of it until life’s journey ends.”

Erdkineville 1939 — from Teacher for Justice.

Next let me note one of the best Australian Left or Radical histories I have ever read.

While the author’s sympathies are clear, so is his generous humanity and ability to understand other viewpoints. He is scrupulous in his sourcing. His writing is mercifully free of stock attitudes and cliches.

So far as I know the work is only available as a PhD thesis from Wollongong University: Rowan Cahill, Rupert Lockwood (1908-1997)Journalist, Communist, Intellectual (2013). And there will be more on that in future! But do yourself a favour and download your own copy.

Rowan Cahill — historian and teacher. We have known one another in teaching circles since the 1970s.

Both Rowan Cahill and Heather Goodall et al almost apologise for employing a biographical approach, albeit in neither case pure biography. I can see why this is so, but for me as a reader I am glad they did! Far more interesting. And Rowan in particular writes so well!

Goodall et al:

Biography as method

This book has demonstrated for us the strengths of biographical method. Following one person’s life has allowed us to pull together the threads from diverse movements and see some of the interconnections between them. In Lucy’s life, this means her work with Jewish refugees in the 1930s and her work with Chinese Australians and students in the 1960s can be understood in terms of her commitments to economic justice, education, feminism and peace. This quality of intersecting movements has not been shown in studies of one movement or another, which characteristically focus on what differentiates movements rather than what draws the same person to more than one. Nor do movement studies shed light on those who do not seek the limelight for themselves. Those people who do the hard back-room work but do not tell their own story in some other way are also neglected. But following one person’s life allows an insight into how various movements overlapped and diverged, who was in all and who was in only one, how all were influenced by wider political currents.

And on Rowan Cahill

In the earlier drafts I failed to refer you to these posts from January this year: So Australia Day again — #2 and So Australia Day again — #3.

“Ah, Rowan! There is a great deal about you on that excellent blog from Berkelouw’s Book Barn in Berrima. For example:

(Geoff) I took the liberty of including some biographical information on Rowan, our associate beard…

Rowan is an Honorary Fellow with the Faculty of Law, Humanities and the Arts at the University of Wollongong.

He has a diversity of interests. Primarily he is interested in rebellion and resistance to the state, and in the apparatuses and methodologies deployed against these. In the area of academic/scholarly publishing he is interested in, and a supporter of, Open Access. With regard to Australian society and culture, he is variously interested in Australian militarism, labour history, and in the Cold War.

Rowan has published over 620 articles and reviews in some 108 professional, academic, literary, newspaper and online publications (see publications). With colleague Terry Irving he blogs at Radical Sydney/Radical History….

“And a lot more too…”

Various lockdown hacks and escapes — 32 — revisiting the 2002 HSC

This began when in seeking some of the underpinning of my attitude to (for example) Marxism I did a search for “grand narratives” and found this rather excellent note. On Facebook I remarked: An excellent explanation. And yes, I am very chary about all “grand narratives”….

That in turn made me think of the HSC Extension English Class I taught at Sydney Boys High from July to the end of 2002 — very much a catch-up exercise for a rather demoralised class. The topic was “Postmodernism” and the texts were Virginia Woolf’s Orlando (or rather the film of it) which I had never read or seen, John Fowles The French Lieutenant’s Woman, which I had read though years before, and David Williamson’s play Dead White Males. To say this was all a challenge is an understatement! The former teacher of the class had been forced through no fault of her own to take early retirement, and I was sent in to plug the hole!

It is bloody marvellous!
We were studying the novel, not this excellent movie…

So I did a lot of work in preparation and decided to harness my still rather new blogging skills for the task. The result may be found on my mothballed English and ESL blog! Workshop 06 — Year 12 Extension 1: pomo 2002. And on results — I should explain first  Extension subjects have four different bands: E4, E3, E2 and E1 — with E4 being the highest band. It represents (converting to %) a performance rated between 90 and 100!

Post HSC Entry:

Hey, congratulations!

Of the eight E4 bands given to SBHS we got 5!

14 of you got 40 or better out of 50!

The state awards for E4 amounted to 15.96% — SBHS attained 13.55%

OUR CLASS attained 22.72%!

I am happy; hope you are too.

Good luck to you all for the future.

Neil Whitfield December 2002

My first entry:

Entry 1


This is a special site for the 2002 HSC English Extension Class studying Post-Modernism. Today I will be putting in basic links for you. Hey, I found all this: so can you! Keep coming back as notes, questions, all manner of stuff will appear here–but not pics, though we may link to some if necessary.

Just for fun: The Post Modern Generator. You too can write meaningless but impressive post modern essays.

Unfortunately that PM Generator no longer exists! See our ABC though: “It’s essentially a website which generates random literary essays which sound good, but are actually complete bollocks. The essays come with sub-headings and plausible looking footnotes.” It was great fun!

All this was being done on the blogging site I then favoured: Diary-X. Well, we know what happened to Diary-X!

Links updated 2006

This is really quite an old site now, but it seems that there is still a demand for it. I put it up on Diary-X for a Year 12 English Extension class (2002) at Sydney Boys High. In February 2006 Diary-X crashed and burned:

February 24, 2006

Dear Friends,

There is no easy way for me to say this. Diary-X has suffered from an unrecoverable drive failure. Due to a combination of issues, the last backup (from December 2004) contained only configuration files and other non-essential files. We do not have any other backups for the site. All journals, user information, forum posts, templates, images, and everything else are all irrecoverably lost…


Stephen Deken

Thanks to Yahoo Search, I was able to recover cached entries.

You may like the “less conventional” practice questions I set for the students.

1. Write a parody script of a mainstream TV sitcom OR lifestyle program. Use character/presenter names and an appropriate program title to cue the reader in. Try to focus your parody on the identity/construct assumptions, or the positioning of the responder, on which the original program relies.

2. Choose a character from one of your set texts. Place this character in a different context, even perhaps one of the other set texts. This need not be a serious piece of writing, but should reflect some of the issues postmodernism characteristically addresses.

3. Write a self-reflective prose piece that aims from the outset to force the responder to confront his/her own cultural constructs.

4. Taking your cue from the use of Shakespeare in Dead White Males, write a dialogue OR a narrative in which one of your own favourite composers from the Western Canon (Dickens? Donne? Homer? Socrates? Sophocles?….but not Shakespeare!) encounters a “disciple” of Postmodernism.

5. Write a series of five short letters (minimum 50 words, maximum 200 words each) to the Editor of the Sydney Morning Herald from people of various ages, gender and background who are advocates or opponents of the study of Postmodernism in Year 12. Make reference to at least ONE set text in the course of this series.

It turned out to be an extremely pleasing experience, that whole thing! But talk about pressure!

And I see at least one of the members of that class has found same fame since! Meet Phil Lesnie.

Phil Lesnie — I think he is the son of the late Andrew Lesnie, cinematographer. Now a great illustrator of children’s books.

Various lockdown hacks and escapes — 31 — reading and viewing

Way back in July in an earlier post in the lockdown series: Various lockdown hacks and escapes — 4 — talk to a Rabbit the subject was Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice and the Visconti movie of the same name. There was also the recent documentary about the boy who played Tadzio in that movie, about how his life had been affected by being known as “the most beautiful boy in the world.”

Mitchell (The Rabbit!) and I compared notes on book and movie. I reread the book, which was in my eBook library, in the course of our discussion. The version I have is from Feedbooks.

Project Gutenberg has just released the very first English language edition, as published in The Dial, VOLUME LXXVI, January to June, 1924, translated by Kenneth Burke. “It is now considered to be much more faithful and explicit than H. T. Lowe-Porter’s more famous 1930 translation.” Which I don’t have. Let’s compare the opening of the novella in both:

Martin C. Doege 2008: Gustav Aschenbach, or von Aschenbach, as his official surname had been since his fiftieth birthday, had taken another solitary walk from his apartment in Munich’s Prinzregentenstraße on a spring afternoon of the year 19.., which had shown the continent such a menacing grimace for a few months. Overexcited by the dangerous and difficult work of that morning that demanded a maximum of caution, discretion, of forcefulness and exactitude of will, the writer had been unable, even after lunch, to stop the continued revolution of that innermost productive drive of his, that motus animi continuus, which after Cicero is the heart of eloquence, and had been thwarted trying to find that soothing slumber which he, in view of his declining resistance, needed so dearly. Therefore he had gone outside soon after tea, hoping that fresh air and exertion would regenerate him and reward him with a productive evening.

Kenneth Burke 1924: On a spring afternoon of the year 19—, when our continent lay under such threatening weather for whole months, Gustav Aschenbach, or von Aschenbach as his name read officially after his fiftieth birthday, had left his apartment on the Prinzregentenstrasse in Munich and had gone for a long walk. Overwrought by the trying and precarious work of the forenoon—which had demanded a maximum wariness, prudence, penetration, and rigour of the will—the writer had not been able even after the noon meal to break the impetus of the productive mechanism within him, that motus animi continuus which constitutes, according to Cicero, the foundation of eloquence; and he had not attained the healing sleep which—what with the increasing exhaustion of his strength—he needed in the middle of each day. So he had gone outdoors soon after tea, in the hopes that air and movement would restore him and prepare him for a profitable evening.

I think I prefer Burke!

Of course Death in Venice has been rendered as a stage production in 2013, as a ballet in 2003, and as his last opera by Benjamin Britten in 1973, and has been transformed in other ways as well. See Wikipedia.

And the ballet:

Various lockdown hacks and escapes — 30 — checking my previous blog

I decided to use the category inspiration as my way in. The blog ran from December 2009 to February 2013, when this current blog took over. It was variously called Neil’s Second Decade (of blogging) and in pessimistic mode Neil’s Final Decade. That proved to be inaccurate! There are 138 posts under inspiration.

Annoying aspect — the number of embedded videos that now read:

I wonder what that was about?

But fortunately more videos are still working than those which don’t.

Picking a post or two from all those in the category is really difficult! So do feel free to explore for yourself using the link at the end of the first paragraph.

So I will just repost two pretty much at random. Enjoy!

Mutability–William Wordsworth

Posted on  by Neil


From low to high doth dissolution climb,
And sink from high to low, along a scale
Of awful notes, whose concord shall not fail:
A musical but melancholy chime,
Which they can hear who meddle not with crime,
Nor avarice, nor over-anxious care.
Truth fails not; but her outward forms that bear
The longest date do melt like frosty rime,
That in the morning whitened hill and plain
And is no more; drop like the tower sublime
Of yesterday, which royally did wear
His crown of weeds, but could not even sustain
Some casual shout that broke the silent air,
Or the unimaginable touch of Time.


Oh wow!

Posted on  by Neil

That’s what I thought when I looked out my window here at The Bates Motel yesterday evening.

Mount Kembla

Yes, I still say WOW! some afternoons!