The theme for this week’s JVG Radio Method poem is “Historical Figures“.
Just where did the holidays go? And to make it worse according to JVG we had an extra week off.
Couldn’t have? Could we?
Maybe it was the lack of an actual summer? Maybe it’s the deja vu of finding ourselves back in lockdown again.
Anyway rather than be predictable I decided to start the year off with some prose and use the theme, which uncharacteristically was a ripper, to annoy JVG straight out of the gate by making it a LONG story. He hates it when they are long.
All in all, it went rather well for the first one for the year.
To play this poem directly in your browser – just click the “play” button below:
The year was 1835 and the recently established settlement at the top of Port Philip was already suffering a crisis of confidence, the cultural cringe.
John Batman, described by his neighbour, the artist John Glover as “a rogue, thief, cheat and liar, a murderer of blacks and the vilest man I have ever known” had left Tasmania in search of new lands in which to share his special kind of love.
He had, in his mind anyway, negotiated a fair and reasonable land deal with the local Wurundjeri elders, despite the fact they had absolutely no idea what he was talking about.
600,000 acres traded for 40 blankets, 30 axes, 100 knives, 50 pairs of scissors, 30 mirrors, 200 handkerchiefs, 100 pounds of flour and 6 shirts.
The shirts he threw in as a bonus because they no longer fitted him and besides, they were so 1834.
The locals may have been a bit miffed about being pushed off their land but it was the free settlers who were suffering the cruellest of deprivations, the curse of the antipodes – a dearth of statues.
Aside from the gallows and venereal disease, the colony had little that could prove to the rest of the world they were civilised.
Batman briefly had the settlement named in his honour, Batmania, before losing out to the 2nd Viscount Melbourne who turned out to be a bastard in the biblical sense, so in fairness, Melbourne should have been renamed Egremont.
The Egremont Cup, the race that stops a nation! That was never going to work, and who cares who his mother slept with anyway.
They’d barely had time to boil the billy and already the place had been named after two bastards – they were not off to a good start.
To show his displeasure at being usurped, Batman promptly died of syphilis, and it would take him another 140 years to be bronzed.
A statue told the world you’d made it, like a beachside property in Portsea, though in the case of the latter, you probably inherited it anyway.
A cairn wasn’t bad, more satin than silk, the equivalent of a beachside property in Sorrento – almost Portsea but not quite.
You’ve done very well for yourself but just fallen that little bit short.
Assuming you satisfied the minimum requirements, namely, you were male and white, to be seriously considered for a statue you needed to accomplish two feats.
Firstly you had to do something, or at least seen to be making an effort.
Secondly, it would speed up the process if you were dead.
Despite the obvious negatives, they were queuing up for a chance to become a unisex toilet for pigeons.
In a colony desperate for statues, the bar was set pretty low.
A healthy beard and a nice hat were regulation, though even with these attributes women were almost universally overlooked.
Although the provisions for each expedition varied, generally a horse, camel or wagon was considered essential, along with a stout pair of boots, good quality dinner wine and a cedar topped oak camp table to record your daily log.
A reliable team of porters was crucial, to tend your mount, ensure napkins were provided with meals, polish the silver candle holders and most importantly to stop you travelling in circles by reminding you that even in the southern hemisphere the sun had a tendency to rise in the east and set in the west.
After many failed and often fatal attempts, a group of intrepid explorers become the first humans to cross the Great Dividing Range, which they achieved by discovering the same routes the locals, who technically didn’t exist and therefore didn’t count, had been travelling for eons, often carrying babies and all their belongings, minus of course, the cedar topped oak camp table.
It was not easy dealing with a people who didn’t exist, and what’s more hadn’t existed for approximately sixty five thousand years, possibly even longer.
The rush to be immortalised was hotting up. Having no idea of where you were going or what you were looking for and the fact you were heading off to an almost certain death proved no impediment.
The more inept, irresponsible, ill-prepared and ill-conceived the expedition, the bigger the statue, reaching its zenith with Burke and Wills, whose breathtaking benchmark for incompetence would stand unchallenged for more than a century when someone attempted to cross Bass Strait in a Volkswagen Beetle.
But that, as they say, whoever they are, is another story
© Copyright 2021 Ian Bland
Also have a listen to “Everything or Nothing”