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2018 Free Verse

3rd Prize

3rd Prize

Spirits of the Land
John Minnery

Kelvin Grove, Qld

When a salesman extols the spread bush vista
but hides the risks he knows it hides;
when tree-changing townies naïvely claim
peace found amidst the tumbled trees;
when devious developers clear land
to flog as rare arcadia;
then the Spirit of Bushfires licks dry lips,
recalling the tang of charred dead dry gums,
reminded of bright red roiling fire-feasts.
And waits.

When a speculator lies to council
her swampy fields are safe and dry;
or that minor changes to housing lots
will divert floods from bright new homes;
or past mistakes are again repeated
with once-drowned homes rebuilt in place;
then the Spirit of River Floods squirms with delight,
its fearsome force hid in shifting wet shape.
It tastes again surging eddies of mud.
And waits.

When mangrove flats are charmingly moulded
into costly coastal havens;
when sheltering front dunes are bulldozed and
transformed to tawdry glitter-piles
that copy myriad other worn-out thrills,
and mansions squat on fragile coasts;
the Storm Spirit licks its salty fingers,
and tastes again the wave-washed wind-flecked foam.
It remembers the helpless drowning land.
And waits.

When each inquest into each disaster
repeats lessons all soon forgot;
when ‘resilient’ responses repeat mistakes
over and yet over again;
when victims forget so newcomers aren’t
told of pain, of death and damage;
whilst riches reward greed and pamper power,
the patient hungry Spirits of the Land
know their time for feasting will come again.
So they wait.

Judge's Comment

Once again we are dealing with aspects of the landscape, this time attacking those who would exploit it unscrupulously for gain. The ‘Spirits’ are those of bushfire, flood and storm, waiting in eager anticipation to defeat our futile attempts to construct communities in inappropriate places. The language is simple yet the message is powerful, even if it’s a lesson soon forgotten…as the Spirits wait.

Author's Comment

Thank you very much to your Council for the award. And congratulations to Sutherland Shire for its support of creative writing. It is hugely exciting to see an innovative local council getting behind local writers in this way. I’m especially thrilled to be awarded a prize as I have recently retired and poetry is a new direction for me. To mess with a well-known metaphor, I think the Shire’s support helps show that mature quolls can indeed change their spots.

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