In lieu of

August 21, 2012

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under attack

May 13, 2011

Last night, my poem, ‘under attack’, won the Dymocks Red Earth Poetry Award category of this year’s Northern Territory Literary Awards.

The poem, along with those of the other finalists, Kaye Aldenhoven, Karina Brabham, Penny Drysdale, Kathleen Epelde and Jennifer Mills is printed in the Awards booklet.

It is not customary for poets to write about their own poetry – commentary (positive or otherwise) is meant to come from others. But throughout the night and early hours of this morning, I have been receiving numerous messages of congratulations and queries from well-wishes via Facebook and Twitter from here in Australia as well as New Zealand and Egypt. So I have decided to not only reprint ‘under attack’ below, but also to provide a brief introduction to it.

Basically, ‘Under attack’ is a potted history of Darwin told through the life of a fictional character, Wallis. Directly opposite to where I live there is a concrete picnic table and beneath it is a small bronze plaque, of the kind usually commemorating a soldier killed in war or dedicated to a civic official. But this plaque is different. It reads:  This park seat has been donated by the Arthur family to commemorate the life of WILFRED STANLEY ARTHUR who used and minded this park during his 34 years of residency at 276 Casuarina Drive. The address on the plaque is now that of the modern apartment block where I live, looking out over the Arafura Sea and Wilfred Arthur’s park.

I tried to find out what I could about Wilfred Stanley Arthur. I wanted to know who he was and why his family remembered him most for ‘using and minding’ the narrow strip of grass between Casuarina Drive and the caramel-coloured cliffs. But my investigation stalled fairly early on. Inquiries at the Darwin city Council about the picnic table and its plaque went unanswered and the prospect of tracking down a person without birth or death date details seemed daunting.

Meanwhile, I had already begun to imagine what Wilfred’s life would have been like and the historical research became notes towards a poem. Or rather a poem series, beginning with Clyde Nevin Wallis as a young boy, looking up from his gardening to see the first Japanese planes heading towards Darwin harbour. The next two stanzas record the impact of the devastating 1974 cyclone on the Darwin community and the personal tragedy for Wallis when his wife becomes terminally ill and he is left to look after their three children. The poem ends with him as an old and senile man in a Darwin nursing home, far removed from the comfort of sun setting over the Arafura Sea.

‘Under attack’ has been through many drafts and permutations. I would like to thank my fellow poets Julie Chevalier, Dael Allison, Carol Jenkins, Linda Godfrey, Ali Smith, Kaye Aldenhoven, Annie Drum and Helen Pavlin for their feedback on this and many other poems over the years. Thanks also, to the poets who participated in the 2010 John Tranter online poetry course. And for their kind words and encouragement, I would like to thank  last year’s visiting poet and teacher, Keri Glastonbury as well as Michael Sharkey and Bronwyn Lea, poetry tutors at the Australia Poetry’s Wollongong Workshop earlier this year.

Under attack

i.m. C N  Wallis



That one grey metal bird, he would always remember.

Swooping across the foreshore, it came

like a red-eyed oriole glossing the morning sky.

The trowel dropped from his hand. He was just a boy

and he stood watching as Japanese pilots

zeroed in on Darwin wharf.

These same grey birds hit Pearl Harbour, he would learn.

The leader’s name – like a drunken cuss

from the Nightcliff pub – Mitsuo Fuchido!

That first wave picked off hospital ships,

sitting ducks on the Arafura pond. Shrapnel stung

like pig-iron rain …

… cutting down stenographers,

dispatching mail-sorters, while post office bunkers gaped

empty as wounds.

Those long-gone dogfights rumble on, strafing his dreams

until, rolling from bed, he hunkers with a book

to sit out his phantom war in pyjamas.


Aftermath, 1974

There is no one in the suburb.

Empty houses. Empty streets.

Petrol pumps stand armless,

the cars have all turned up their toes.

The grandstand’s blown to fiddlesticks,

and monsters bloat in backyard pools.

The casuarinas have all left town,

the jetty is a toothless grin.

His beer fridge has crossed the road,

and their mailbox is a toilet seat.



He remembers palm trees pigrooting

across the horizon bent

horse shoes that Tracy rode

how life used to be, forget it

his thoughts cyclonic:

the kids had pet cockatoos (Gertie & Gertie Two)

or was that his wife? in the end she could only drink

flat lemonade they flew her to Adelaide she never came back

that’s what happens

who didn’t screw the top back on?

you’re all alone

who left the cage door wide open?

Into town each day socks sandals

government job bri-nylon shirt

inkstain pocket like a bullet hole

at lunchtime he buys cigarettes

from a shopkeeper with joss stick hair

watches hippies camp in banyan trees

goes home to milk tea cliffs

low tide leaves a rusted seabed

turns war relics into jawbones

coughs up Dinner Ale sea glass

and coral rough as infant skulls

cleans his hands white-sticky

from the jackfruit knife, prayerful

under the tap, dirty nails and nicks

from palm fronds that cut like scissors

kids in bed, he waters, patrols his front yard

the narrow roadway, the foreshore park

alert for casuarina nuts and pineapple mines.


Minding the park

His mind was a park,

see-sawing thoughts in a vacant lot

Run, kids, run from Old Man Wallis.

Memories scatter

bleached and lightweight like woodchips:

there’s a daughter, gone to work for some paper

and two lads gone South.

the Greeks hounded him to sell up, they’re hardworkers

from windswept fishing villages, building’s

in their blood money. there’s little ones too

far away to remember. no-one visits.

how could he leave his park unguarded

from fish scales, lolly papers, beer cans

and humbuggers that think they own the place.

From the park in his mind, he looks out,

past the bedpans to a nylon sea

shore-lined with meal trays

at one more unbeatable sunset.

NT Literary Awards 2011

April 20, 2011

Finalists Announced

My poem, Under Attack and short story, Photographing Toast have made the shortlists.

The winners of the 2011 Northern Territory Literary Awards will be announced on the 12th of May at a ceremony held at Parliament House.

The Territory’s best poems, short stories, scripts, essays and screenplays received from across Central Australia, Tennant Creek, Katherine and Darwin have been judged from a record field of over 300 entries.

The Northern Territory Library is proud to act as custodian of these awards, and we endeavour to cultivate a prosperous creative writing industry in the Territory, and aim to inspire a new generation of writers.

The 2011 finalists are:

Dymocks Arafura Short Story Award

Barbara Eather

Blair McFarland

Stephen Francis

Bronwyn Mehan

Melinda Barlow

Michael Giacometti

Natalie Sprite

Sophie Constable

Dymocks Red Earth Poetry Award

Karina Brabham

Jennifer Mills

Bronwyn Mehan

Penny Drysdale

Kathleen Epelde

Kaye Aldenhoven (x2)

Dymocks Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Writers’ Award:

Nicole Gardiner

John Bodey

Joey Flynn

Charles Darwin University Bookshop Travel Short Story Award:

Christine Wilson

Michael Giacometti

Miranda Tetlow

Charles Darwin University Essay Award:

Adelle Barry (x2)

Jane Leonard

Kate Smith

Kath Manzie Youth Literary Award:

Stevie Cosentino

Kierra-Jay Power (x4!!)

Sophie Philip

Shannon Nendick

Laila Bennett

Darwin Festival Script Award:

Jane Leonard

Alex Ben-Mayor

Birch Carroll and Coyle Screenwriting Award:

Cameron Raynes

Philip Denson

Eleanor Hogan

All entrants in the Awards are able to access the comments made by the judges, with the aim of further encouraging and nurturing emerging talent. Entries are judged ‘blind’ and therefore are awarded solely on their literary merit.

Poets and Cyclone Carlos

February 16, 2011

How to look after your poet in the event of a cyclone:

Whilst known to address issues common to humanity

poets are idiosyncratic

and unpredictable.

For these reasons

public emergency shelters do not accept poets.


Poets should be clearly identified.


What is a poet?

A poet



offers hope

critiques and seeks

asylum in




Poets sometimes hump visitors.


During these uncertain times

poets may be at risk

from flying objects

or self injury.


Comfort frightened poets.


If you find a poet



wild –

keep in a dark box

in a quiet place


– and call this number.

from How to look after your poet in the event of a cyclone

NT Writers 2009

Available from

Spineless Wonders short Australian stories

January 31, 2011


The first of our single-author collections of short fiction (available in both digital and print form) is in the works with a launch date soon TBA.

Our Spineless Wonders website and blog will be up and going shortly, with guest bloggers, author  interviews and audio sneak peeks.

And stay tuned for news of a short story competition which will be run as part of our annual Spineless Wonders anthology.

In the meantime, you can leave a message below or go to Facebook and click our LIKE button to make us feel welcome.