It is Australia Day today and below is the poem ‘Terra Australis’ by James McCauley. Clive James comments on this poem in his ‘2006 -2014 Poetry Notebook’ highlighting …
‘Australia is within you as a land of imagination’ and quoting directly from his book … Armed with that language you are always coming home, even when you stay away. A treasure more important than nationalism, a fully developed poetic language is the essence of only patriotism that matters. It can do without red-back spiders and crocodiles, although those are nice too. What it can’t do without, what it embodies, is a way of speaking about freedom and justice both at once.
These words are apt as Clive James is nearing the end of his life and he will never be able to return to Sydney. However, the final stage of his life appears golden and according to recent interviews he is appreciating daily life with a new intensity. He quotes from Romeo and Juliet at the front of the above book –
How oft when men are at the point of death
Have they been merry! Which their keepers call
A lightning before death …
Here is the James McCauley poem with some comment after each of the four stanzas …
Terra Australis (see footnote)
Voyage within you on the fabled ocean,
And you will find that southern Continent,
Quiros’ vision – his hidalgo heart
And mythical Australia, where reside
All things in their imagined counterpart.
Quiros – In March 1603 the Portuguese navigator Queirós best known for his voyages with the Spanish fleet was authorized to return to Peru to establish another expedition, with the intention of finding Terra Australis, the mythical “great south land,” and claiming it for Spain and the Church.
hidalgo – a Spanish nobleman
counterpart – resembles another in a different system
It is your land of similes: the wattle
Scatters its pollen on the doubting heart;
The flowers are wide-awake; the air gives ease.
There you come home; the magpies call you Jack
And whistle like larrikins at you from the trees.
simile – a figure of speech drawing comparison between two different things
Jack – used to address a man who is a stranger
larrikins – disrespectful person behaving noisily in public
There two the angophora preaches on the hillsides
With the gestures of Moses; and the white cockatoo,
Perched on his limbs, screams with demoniac pain;
And who will say on what errand the insolent emu
Walks between morning and night on the edge of the plain?
Angophora – of the myrtle (myrtacea) family … Australian hills are covered in trees.
Moses – Hebrew prophet who led the Israelites from slavery in Egypt to the promised-land
(re: translate to convict slavery in the establishment of Australia)
errand – small job going to collect or give something
insolent – not showing respect … they collected my sausages at a BBQ several years ago!
But northward in the valleys of the fiery Goat
Where the sun like a centaur vertically shoots
His raging arrows with unerring aim,
Stand the ecstatic solitary pyres
Of unknown lovers, featureless with flame.
valleys of the fiery Goat – religious connotation, the land of hell-fire
centaur – Greek mythology – half man, half horse
pyres – a pile of burning wood on which a dead body is cremated
The unknown lovers of freedom and justice continue to burn in the flame of that intense Australian sun.
James McCauley (1917-1976)
Footnote … taking text from Wikipedia …
Terra Australis (Latin for South Land) was a hypothetical continent first posited in Antiquity and which appeared on maps between the 15th and 18th centuries. Although the landmass was drawn onto maps, Terra Australis was not based on any actual surveying of such a landmass but rather based on the hypothesis that continents in the Northern Hemisphere should be balanced by land in the south. This theory of balancing land has been documented as soon as the 5th century on maps by Macrobius, who uses the term Australis on his maps.
In the early 1800s, British explorer Matthew Flinders had popularized the naming of Australia after Terra Australis, giving his rationale that there was “no probability” of finding any significant land mass anywhere more south than Australia. The continent that would come to be named Antarctica would be explored decades after Flinders’ 1814 book on Australia, which he had titled A Voyage to Terra Australis, and after his naming switch had gained popularity.
… and on the foundation of Australia – the reason today is the National Day …
The first recorded European sighting of the Australian mainland, and the first recorded European landfall on the Australian continent, are attributed to the Dutch navigator Willem Janszoon. He sighted the coast of Cape York Peninsula in early 1606, and made landfall on 26 February at the Pennefather River near the modern town of Weipa on Cape York. The Dutch charted the whole of the western and northern coastlines and named the island continent “New Holland” during the 17th century, but made no attempt at settlement. William Dampier, an English explorer and privateer, landed on the north-west coast of New Holland in 1688 and again in 1699 on a return trip. In 1770, James Cook sailed along and mapped the east coast, which he named New South Wales and claimed for Great Britain. With the loss of its American colonies in 1783, the British Government sent a fleet of ships, the “First Fleet”, under the command of Captain Arthur Phillip, to establish a new penal colony in New South Wales. A camp was set up and the flag raised at Sydney Cove, Port Jackson, on 26 January 1788,a date which became Australia’s national day, Australia Day although the British Crown Colony of New South Wales was not formally promulgated until 7 February 1788. The first settlement led to the foundation of Sydney, the establishment of farming, industry and commerce; and the exploration and settlement of other regions.