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Monday, October 02, 2006

A Selection of Denis Kevans's Poems (1939-2005)

Ah, Brother, have you any sacred sites?

(Denis first did this as White man have you any sacred sites? He said he made this change to make it more inclusive.)

Ah, brother, I am searching for the sites sacred to you, Where you walk in silent worship, and you whisper poems, too, Where you tread, like me, in wonder, and your eyes are filled with tears, When you see the tracks you've travelled down your fifty thousand years.

I am searching round Australia, I am searching, night and day, For a site, to you so sacred, that you won't give it away For a bit of coloured paper, say a Church you're knocking down, Or the Rocks, your nation's birhtplace, by the Bridge, in Sydney Town.

Your cathedrals I have entered, I have seen the empty aisles, Where a few knelt down in sorrow, where were all the children's smiles? Big cathedrals, full of beauty, opal glass and gleaming gold, And an old man, in an overcoat, who had crept in from the cold.

Your schools, I drifted through them, heard the sound of swishing canes, Heard the shouts of angry people crushing flowers in our brains, Heard the bark up on the rostrum, where the powers had their say, Wouldn't children's hearts be sacred, though they're made, like mine, of clay?

Where's your wonder? Where's your worship? Where's your sense of holy awe? When I see those little children, torn apart, by fear of war? What is sacred to you, brother, what is sacred to your clan? Are your totems rainbow-feathered? Is there dreaming in you, man?

Sacred … sacred … sacred … gee, you chuck that word about, And when echoes answer sacred … sacred, louder still, you shout,

And the echoes come, in patterns, and then, louder, every one, Till they meet, like waves together, and go bang! just like a gun.

Sacred … hesitating … now, a film is reeling through My brain, and through my memory, of our sacred rendez-vous, Of our meeting, of our parting, of my tears, as sweet as ice, Of my numb incomprehension of a shattered paradise.

Sacred, O so sacred, was our sacred rendez-vous, And your ferocious anger, when you found, we weren't like you, But if I should make an act of faith, in a voice, both firm and clear, That there's something sacred to me, you start drowning in your beer.

What is sacred to you, brother, what is sacred to your heart? Is Australia just a quarry, for the bauxite belts to start? Where the forests are forgotten, and the tinkling of the bell

Of the bell-bird in the mountains is just something more to sell?

Ah, brother, I am searching for the sites sacred to you, But the rivers, clear as crystal, smell like sewer-fulls of spew, From the pipe and pump polluters, and the nukes that fleck the foam, Would you let a man, with dirty boots, go walking through your home?

Sacred means that, sacred, that's a place where spirits rise, With the rainbow wings of sunset, on the edge of paradise, Sacred, that's my father, that's my daughter, that's my son, Sacred … where the dreaming whispers hope for everyone.

In the silence of the grottoes of Australia's sunny land, Stand together with the Kooris, stand together, hand in hand, Open eyes to endless beauty, and to spirits, far and near, For Australia is my country, hey, it's sacred to me here.

Ah, brother, I am searching for the sites sacred to you, Where you walk, in silent worship, and you whisper poems, too, Where you tread, like me, in wonder, and your eyes are filled with tears, When you see the tracks you've travelled down your fifty thousand years.

Koori poet and artist Kevin Gilbert said of this poem by Denis, “I wish I had written that.”


Prime Minster Howard I’ve heard

You met George Bush and the Pope,

I liked the Pope much better,

I only had to kiss his hand.

Elizabeth The Last;

I am Australia’s Lorikeet,

And I wrote this very fast,

You are a beaut,

I Thee salute —

Elizabeth the Last.


"Uranium's a growth industry," he said,
"Invest - it'll put a smile on your dial"
Yeah, you're sure to get a growth out of it,
Just ask the Marshall Islanders.


Everytime I hear "Heritage Park",
I fear some low-down sleazy con,
I look out my window straight away
To see if the bush is gone.


The bare, dry, ugly gullies of Gallipoli,
Have vanished long ago, and far away,
But the lush and ever green,
The most beautiful ever seen
Rainforests are bulldozed here everyday.


Who put the "W" in AWU?
I'll ask the question, workers often do,
I'd like to trouble you, about that "W",
Who put the "W" in AWU?


They're sacking thousands of workers,
They're pushing more out of the gate,
The Libs say: "Goodbye,scum!"
The Labs say: "Goodbye, mate!"

Albert Namaitjira

I am come a lot of years,

Along the far and dusty road,

And know our days are sharp with fear,

And that our nights are quiet and cold,

My hands are worn by work and pain,

And all my eyes are tracked with tears,

But still my courage strides again,

To where the hunters shape their spears.

Desert winds are scratching dust,

And whirling vapours from the sand,

Colours sift into my mind,

Australia grips my shaking hand,

Down desert tracks my memory tramps,

And in the heat of desert noon,

I see the dead in blackened camps,

I hear them chant a people's doom.

I watch as squatters ride them down,

With rifle-butt and stirrup-iron,

I watch the legions of the Crown.,

That rape the land I thought was mine,

The screams of children fill the air,

Crows and eagles crowd the grass,

Unbuttoned tunics, stuck with hair,

Smell bloody as the troopers pass.

I cannot hope to rest for long,

Or lie asleep and take my ease,

I cannot hope to right the wrong,

That hunts my people through the trees,

My canvas is a hangman's noose,

That will not let me stand at rest,

Oh, that there might be some use,

For genius in a black-skinned breast.

Moss’s Gentle Fingers

Where the moss’s gentle fingers paint the sleeping boulders green,

I’ll walk in all my wisdom, where no mortals ever been.

And where immortal trees stretch up their fingers to the sky,

The moss will cool the water for the lyre-bird and I,

The lyre-bird and I.

Sing out happy lyre-bird, your song for everyone,

The parrot in the treetop, the quail that likes to run,

The whistler in the canopy, and the honey-eater’s call,

Sing out happy lyre-bird, beside the waterfall,

Beside the waterfall.

Like octopus’ tentacles, the roots of trees have grown,

With steel embrace, they vainly try to crush the hearts of stone,

And stone from stone, or tree from stone, or is it stone from tree?

They wrestle in the half-light, for the lyre-bird and me,

The lyre-bird and me.

I see the pythons writhing and the Titans fighting too,

And a sudden shaft of sunlight trying Cinderella’s shoe,

And where the half-light weakens and the roots are tangled wild,

I seem to see a carving of Madonna and her child,

Madonna and her child.

But the lyre-bird has found me, and he’s trying out my air,

He sends his voice out mocking me, from here, and over there,

So I’ll bluey up my blankets, where no mortal’s ever been,

And the moss’s gentle fingers paint the sleeping boulders green,

The sleeping boulders green.

Century of the Child

If you couldn't look into their eyes, as I do every day, You wouldn't write the things you write, or say the things you say, You wouldn't put these children down, and bruise their tender pride, And hustle little bits of kids on the paths of suicide.

You wouldn't sit in plush arm-chairs, and skoll the whiskey down, And say the kids are on the drugs, they're playen' round the town, They cannot speak a word of sense, or anything that's new, Well, maybe they have learnt too well, for they have learnt from you.

"Dole-bludger" is a word you use, you on your big, fat screw, You hit them with it like a lash, it pays dividends for you, You say they have no skills to work, but what about your tricks, In lying, cheating, falsifying, playing politics!

The skills you learnt are like the skills upon the butcher's floor, Where carcases are marked and cut to the rattling pulley's roar, The tricks of smear and counter-smear, the greasy path to fame, And other tricks and skills you've learned, in winning - that's your game.

The losers? Well, they're only young, they have no push or clout, We do not want to share the cake, so lock the buggers out, Let 'em swirl round on beach fronts, where monsters sell them smack, And when they're ghostly, white and dead, oh, yes, we'll have them back.

What is it that's more precious in all the wide world round, The number on a bit of script, the gold that's in the ground, The metal cold in vaults grown old, the bullion in the bin, Or the children, with their wealth of dreams, and all the world to win.

Life doesn't last forever, life's just a passing day, Just turn around, the years are gone, your time has blown away, Just knock the ashes from your pipe, they'll tumble in the breeze, As you will blow in dust at last, across the centuries.

I often wonder do you think just whose these children are, Did they come here by rocket-ship from an unknown, distant star? Did they bubble up from ocean deeps, inside the boiling clay, Of any angry old volcano that was burping in the bay?

Were they carried here, by magic spores, upon some heavenly wind, From a distant, dying planet where the pundits never sinned? Where they parcelled up in paradise, and, by an angel, drawn Down to a kindly cabbage patch, like sunbeams, to be born?

Whose children are they anyway? Whose children are these ones? These dark and lovely daughters, these tall and handsome sons? Whose children are they anyway, be sure you're quick to own Flesh of your flesh and burning blood, bone of your brittle bone.

Their eyes are clear, they have no fear, their look is straight and true, They're looking deep into your soul, they're looking straight at you, They're asking are you dinkum, or are your words blow-flies, And is your mask of friendliness, a mask of twisted lies?

Your eyes are worn and worried, your eyes are half-afraid, To face the light that comes direct from eyes that you have made, But why transfer your bitterness to these, whose only claim Is the love and understanding of the land from whence they came.

If you could look into their eyes, as I do everyday, You wouldn't write the things you write, or say the things you say, You wouldn't put these children down, and bruise their tender pride, And hustle little bits of kids on the paths of suicide.


The larvae of light will never move in his eye ,

Despite his mother clapping her hands,

And the drum throbbing, and the Udh thrumming ,

And the drum burrowing down the ears of the Universe;

His legs will never unfold and run,

Despite his mother taking him in her arms,

And whirling him round the room,

With her scarf spinning, and her voice clucking,

To the Udh's throbbing , like the pulse of the Universe ;

His little heart will never start growing,

Despite the voice of Gailan singing of desert sands,

Swaying like the tresses, of bridesmaids dancing,

Their hair sifting the moonlight that is terrified of the dawn.

His body will never rise up,

like,a mad hare dancing in Spring,

Skipping among the violin bushes,

Its teeth clicking in anticipation ;

No, forever he will lie still,

His jelly eyes unmoving, when his mother

Claps her hands above him,and clucks her love,

And the drum is throbbing, and the Udh is thrumming

And Gailan calls for Justice

Down the empty arteries of the Universe.


Where the secret water’s streaming, and the diamond droplets fall,

There are bunches of beaut flowers clinging to the sandstone wall,

And the water-drops keep sliding down, like sparkling silver gems,

Along the fronds of flowers, and the green ferns’ dancing stems.

The pirate honey-eaters spread the pollen, far and wide,

The golden dust of perfumed joy, right down the mountain side,

They’ll find a bush that’s blooming in a patch of winter sun,

And plunder honey-lanterns with their wanton, little tongues.

Here, in the quiet of noonday, neath a hot and burning sun,

Those diamond drops of water will, forever, sweetly run,

Till hungry dollar-junkies, with their careless greed again,

Turn singing creeks and waterfalls to a putrid, stinking drain.

So keep the waters flowing that have made our gardens here,

These gardens that have flourished for a hundred thousand years,

These lovely, perfumed gardens in Blue Mountains that I know.

Australia’s bushland gardens where the ferns and flowers grow.

The Slouch of Vietnam

Why should I wear the new slouch hat, the slouch of Vietnam,

Why should I share the napalm-guilt of blundering Uncle Sam,

Why should I hunt down peasant kids who fight for rights and rice,

Why should I spill this hard-earned blood in a sucker’s sacrifice?

I think of my Uncles and their mates who lie bone-white,

On the far-off fields of Flanders, now who promoted that fight?

They’ll teach you life is precious, then they’ll brush it aside like dust,

But I won’t give my life away ’cause a brasshat says I must.

A chilly dusk is falling here, the boxtrees’ shadows strech,

And through the ring-barked clumps I see the vanished soldiers fetched,

The tall plume of the horsemen, the slant brim down below,

As through the mists of memory, the slaughtered slouches go.

There’s young Mick, the cricketer, from frosty Eucumbane,

And “Pally” Tom, the skinner, from the Southern Riverine,

And, troop on troop, the squadron pass, the sun across their cheeks,

Clay-cold and pale as cellar-grass, and not one soldier speaks.

The slouch of brave Gallipoli that blinded the diggers’ eyes,

The slouch of bloody Passchendaele where the shell-shock case still cries,

The martyrs hanged in Changi, the heroes killed in Lae,

But the slouch of jungle paddies is a slouch I cannot pay.

Why should I wear the new slouch hat, the slouch of Vietnam,

Why should I share the napalm-guilt of blundering Uncle Sam,

Why should I hunt down peasant kids who fight for rights and rice,

Why should I spill this hard-earned blood in a sucker’s sacrifice?

Our Tongues

Our Tongues, boys and girls, are not just tongues,

For we are the sons, and the daughters, and the sons

Of all the singers of old; of the Irish sennachies

Summoning the croppies to bleed for Ireland,

Of the Belgic troubadors strumming their chords of Love,

Of the jongleurs of Lorraine melting the thrones of Kings,

Of the Viking skalds, with thrown back heads,

Shouting down the blasting storm,

Of the Campbells’ pipers opening the heather,

Of the saga-bearers from the Isle of Skye,

Of the stunt-formed bards of the Welsh coalfields

Brushing smudging black from precious manuscripts,

Of the chantymen of Bristol singing

The gouging frost and the pistoned blood,

Of our own spare, lean, gristled backblocks bards

Who listened and laughed and wrote it down for us.

We are the sons, and the daughters, and the sons

Of all these singers, our tongues are

The whispering ribbons of history.

One Australian soldier who was taken prisoner by the Germans after the battle of Bullecourt met Denis Kevans in the 1960's and Denis wrote this poem about him.



In a slaughterhouse of war, that they all called Bullecourt,

Mitchell, he was captured, and did go

To a farm in Germany, there to work for Fritz for free,

To dig and delve and reap and plough and snow;

And in the frozen soil, the Mallee lad would toil,

Up with the golden dewdrops of the dawn,

As the German furrows set, they were salted with his sweat,

Like the paddocks in the land where he was born.


Mitchell, won't you stay, the sun is lengthening the day,

Mitchell, won't you stay, the sun is lengthening to day,

I'm too old to plough. I can't drive a furrow now.

Mitchell won't you stay, and be my son - (and be my son),

Mitchell won't you stay, and be my son.

Says the old man with a leer, now forget about the beer.

He plunged the dipper straight into the still,

The Schnapps was sharp and pure, just a touch of cow manure,

But no-one hesitated to re--fill;

They drank liquor from the still, or a calf he'd quietly kill,

He'd bare the knife with just the faintest smile,

"Forget your ration card, we're not doen' this war hard,

Up the Kaiser! Mitchell, we will eat in style."

The old one's face was lined, like a leather long refined.

Her nimble hands could do most anything,

Mend a broken bed sew a calf up with a thread,

And, in her eyes, young Mitchell was a king:

All the men were at the war, and the girls with love were sore,

At night they'd play and sing and dance,

And through the kitchen door, the accordions would roar.

And the soldier thought he'd make a quick advance.

Those lonely girls were wild, and led him like a child,

And in the wheat and oats they would oft would lie,

In secret operations, for all denominations,

Underneath the bright menace of the sky;

But, on the mantle at the back, he saw a photo edged in black,

He asked the old man what he kept it for-

He said: "My only son, killed beside his machine-gun,

At a slaughterhouse they all called Bullecourt."

They stopped the hungry guns that had mangled all their sons,

Rags of black hung from them, young and old,

Says Mitchell: Wiedersehen, I am gone' home again,

To catch some Mallee-green and wattle-gold",

But out there, on the track, he sees a photo, edged in black,

He tugs his swag, he's got to battle on,

And, in the she-oak's sigh, he will hear the old one's cry:

"Mitchell won't you stay, and be my son."

(Mitchell, bleibtmal eir, mien Sohn suzein. Leibe Mitchell, bleibtmal eir, mein Sohn suzein. Mitchell,Leibe....)

Cockatoo Island

This land is your land,

This land is my land,

From Cape York Peninsula

To the Cockatoo Island

Now Kerry Packer wants Cockatoo Island

To build a billion dollar Resort,

For his billionaire mates,

To have a casino,

To have boats going back and forth,

Like they have in Hong Kong

Using the water

And the coloured lights on the boats;

There won’t be ferries for the people,

And their children,

For cheap excursions like there used to be

On Sydney Harbour,

When my grandfather was a kid,

No, billionaires only thank you very much,

Clean out their shitpots and dust the cue,

And Kerry says to Bob Hawker

I’m runnen’ the media of half this country,

You want to get reelected Bobby Baby?

Sack these workers, destroy their families,

And their hopes, destroy Australia’s

Ship-repair industry,

And repairing Defense vessels;

We’ll erect a plaque to sailors,

Who, in the Second World War,

Attempted to conquer Australia,

We’ll erect a plaque for them,

But for those who repair Defense ships,

For Australia, sack’em,

‘S Kerry me mate, and he’s gunna

Back me up up in the Elections.

This land is your land,

This land is my land,

From Cape York Peninsula

To the Cockatoo Island

The Ghost of Sydney Opera House

There’s a ghost in Sydney Opera House,

Who sings in all the shows,

The glittering tiaras sometimes

Tumble on their toes,

The ghost he was a rigger,

And he’d sing up in the shell,

And we sank a fleet of schooners

In the First and Last Hotel


And we’ll sing Paddy, sing,

A song to rouse ‘em all,

You’re the Ghost of Sydney Opera House,

Now take a curtain call,

When in Madame Butterfly,

Joan reaches for High C

We’ll whisper-“Rest your tonsils, love

And leave this one to me.”

When we built the Opera House,

The ‘gingerbeers’d moan,

How can we make this jigsaw fit,

Gigantic blocks of stone?

Says Paddy-“Dig, we’ll jury-rig,

I learnt it when a tar”,

He turned and drew the harness

In the circles in the bar.

We hoisted up those pieces,

And the jigsaw fitted well,

But Paddy took a header

High up in the Opera Shell,

We tried to drown our sorrows

In a wagon load of beer,

The more we drank, the more we knew,

That Paddy was still here.

Paddy was a rigger,

Now he’s in the Opera game,

He got the nod in Tosca,

And the lead in La Boheme,

You should of seen his pantaloons

When he pranced straight through the door,

Playen the local hero

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