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2018 Free Verse

1st Prize

1st Prize

Nothing Much Here
Penny Lane

Nelson Bay, NSW

Nothing much here but dirt, grey grass stubble
and gravelly stones to kick; nothing much to do
but watch a feather-fluffed kestrel unsteady-legged
on a wind-tottering, rotting fence post;

nothing much here but earth reclaiming its geology,
rubbled street remnants, stones from crumbled structures,
a once-town reduced to these and sepia memories:
on sand-flecked information boards, old photographs

of Farina, desert town conceived by imaginings
of fields of wheat and barley, and born into
dreams of bakeries and air misted with Farina flour,
not the dust canopying an isolation of struggling gums;

nothing much growing here but sour-taste paddy melons,
once used for shooting targets by Mrs Elizabeth Chapman
chubbied by coat and hat, gun-toting from her T-model Ford,
while Muriel Chapman played tennis on salt-pan courts;

nothing much here to do but scuff up puffs of dirt,
track a gravel-straddling trail of ants, or watch
a coming dust storm erase the sky with dirty smudges
like a classroom rubber in a child’s ground-grubby hand,

the hand of a child born long ago into optimism
and the clutch of Mrs Moffatt the midwife
sterilised and starched into her stiff white pinafore
for delivering local babies and sometimes a lamb or calf;

nothing much here but drought-thwarted dreams,
no wheat fields but rebirth into a now-gone service town
umbilical-corded with camel and railway tracks
travelling through decades into abandonment and neglect;

nothing much here but attempts to restage the town
with rebuilt walls and rusted relics—railway realia,
farming implements, cooking pots, camel saddle straps—
amid the cumulonimbus gatherings of dust;

these the only clouds, and no water here now,
little enough then for weekly shared family baths,
girls first, others in turn in water carried here by rail
and heated by burning scarce and scarcer wood;

no wood here now, no Mr Moffatt, blacksmith,
no camels carrying heavy loads—a grand piano once,
no New Year’s Day Races, no Race Day Ball,
only massive sand drifts and the buried skeleton of once-were streets;

nothing much here but a dust squall
chasing fence-wire tumbleweeds and a family of emus,
feather-smothered stick-like apparitions, skittering through
the cemetery of dearly beloveds and never forgottens;

nothing much here but fenced and headstoned memories:
Charles and Elizabeth Chapman, loved father and mother,
Robert Moffatt, blacksmith, in memoriam,
Mrs Moffatt’s headstone missing from the family plot

like all the once-were residents now seemingly blown away
in a dust storm as was the occasional dunny back then;
nothing much here now but history leached of life and colour
amid the dirt, gravel and grey grass stubble.

Judge's Comment

This is a movingly nostalgic tribute to Farina, now a ghost-town (almost) in the middle of the South Australian outback. There were once hopes of it becoming a thriving centre of wheat and barley crops, but lack of rain killed that dream. So here the poet evokes the spirit of the present compared to the past with a series of detailed, cleverly constructed cameos that recreate the landscape and people of a small, isolated country town.

Author's Comment

I am astonished and delighted at winning. I have been writing poetry for three years and enter an occasional poem in a competition as a means of getting feedback. This time I decided to enter two poems, fingers crossed one might be short-listed. This would be a way of finding out which of the two is judged to be better than the other. Hence my astonishment at the success of both my poems. Poetry is an important aspect of my life, both reading and writing it, so the pleasure I have in knowing I am writing worthy poems is deep.

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