Joy Chambers & Reg Grundy Award – Open Age Other Poetry
Forty Years On
by Peter Franks
We were young and full of courage as we took the charter flight
To South-East Asia, which the French called Indochine.
Some volunteered, some were sent, all prepared to fight
To stop the spreading Communist machine.
We'd heard that Right was on our side, our Leaders told us so,
The World would suffer badly if we lost -
So we listened to the briefings, and determined that we'd go
To do our duty, no matter what the cost.
We'd heard the opposition to the war before we left,
From the students and the idle unemployed,
From the radicals of politics and the mentally bereft,
And others we'd been counselled to avoid.
The enemy was said to die in suicide attacks
Their women and their children volunteered,
Clearly they were misinformed, their leadership was lax,
Because our friendly help should not be feared.
After all, we came equipped with rifle, bomb and gun
And every kind of military device -
To help support Democracy, people would be won
With benevolent assistance and advice.
War was first exciting, then it soon became routine
Interspersed with bursts of fire and fear,
While some would sweat in jungles with breath and skin unclean,
Others opted out with drugs and beer.
Malicious words were published that some actions were unfair,
Did we burn those helpless families in their shacks?
We knew they planned to ambush from that harmless looking lair,
We merely stopped their cowardly attacks.
Casualties began to mount, as action was intense
With ambush, mines and cunning booby-traps.
We shelled them and sent airstrikes - the whole thing made no sense:
The country saved? We watched it all collapse!
We lost that war - some came home, with mind and body torn,
The welcome that we met was mean and low,
That made us angry: did we waste those lives which we still mourn?
Perhaps we did, the dead will never know.
I survived, my best friend died: his aircraft crashed and burned,
His memory home - his body left behind.
The chance had come to me for my life to be relearned,
Lost war, lost friend forever in my mind.
Feelings have receded now for those who went and fought,
For those against, and all those others gone.
Yet are we blind, ignoring still, the lessons we were taught?
Or does it matter - forty years on?
From the Balcony
by Michael Crane
South Melbourne, Vic
The year the Titanic sank, among Icebergs,
I as a young child, sat on the balcony
Of the Victory Theatre and watched the actors
Prance on the stage, my father the Mayor
Was one of the main attractions and I was proud of him.
The play was about two men in the Boer War
Who both loved the same young woman.
I remember the smell of cigars, the taste of chocolate
In my mouth, the absence of my mother. She was
At home with a midwife giving birth to my sister.
At interval a man with a long grey beard appeared
Onto the stage to talk about some conflict in Europe
Which could erupt into a major disaster, but everyone
Laughed and some young men jeered at him. Later
They would die in the mud on a field at Flanders.
I was born near the Victory Theatre and I'm dying there.
But I can still see the frilly frocks of the young women,
The extravagant hats of the ladies of the Auxiliary Club.
And hear die man playing Waltzing Matilda" on his banjo.
I can still smell the coffee brewing in the Victory Theatre foyer.
From high in the Balcony looking down at the audience,
I didn't know what horrors would befall the world.
I told my father, I never wanted to leave the Victory Theatre
As he held my hand he told me if I closed my eyes
And made a wish I could stay here forever in my dreams.
Now twilight seeps through the curtain in my hospital ward.
This is my one and only poem as I bid the world farewell.
I'm saying goodbye to the Victory Theatre, to my dreams
And that night when I sat with my father on the balcony
As my mother died giving birth to my sister at home.
That night when the crowd sang The National Anthem
As my sister was dragged from my mother's womb.
That night when we walked out onto the street
Amid the smell of horses and stale beer from the pub
Across the road, and in my mind I'm back on the balcony.
And as I close my eyes I can see one last figure on the stage,
Calling me to join him and dance to the song of the piano.
My hands are held by my dead father and he sighs
As I leave him to walk down the stairs onto the stage
Of the Victory Theatre, the taste of chocolate in my mouth.
On Insects Caught by Light
by Caitlin Prouatt
Necklace of street-lights,
I shall sing
lucky ones, trapped