Sonnet 4: On Being Kept Awake by David Denholm

I’m falling behind on my sonnet quota – partly because I’ve had other things preoccupying me, but also because every time I sit down to write a paragraph from the David Denholm book comes into my head insisting that it be the subject. I’ll add the paragraph below, but first here is my Onegin stanza response to it (with a little input from Gitta Sereny’s The German Trauma, about which I expect to blog in good time.).

Sonnet 4: On being kept awake by David Denholm
Before we sang our soil as golden
before the settlers’ toil made wealth
long before the FJ Holden
this land was taken, not by stealth,
but violence and then watchful waiting,
armed and calm, anticipating,
one with musket, one with spear,
each the other’s direst fear.
We can’t claim Bach and not own Hitler,
a German lawyer said postwar:
we’re made of all that’s gone before.
The death toll here may have been littler
(I’ll write this, though my rhyme is weak)
If Anzac’s us, so’s Myall Creek.

From David Denholm, The Colonial Australians (Penguin 1979) page 40:

… the normal condition of inland life was an armed, watchful, wary, nervous calm. White and black spent months, even years simply watching one another, waiting for someone like Vincent James Dowling on the Paroo in Queensland in 1861 to drink at a lonely waterhole without first reconnoitring the vicinity, or like Paddy Finucane in 1853 to leave his musket in the hut while attending to a sick sheep, or like the Pinjarup in Western Australia in 1834 to camp the tribe down at night on a site familiar to white men. The victim had to deliver himself up. That is the whole point of the horror.

2 responses to “Sonnet 4: On Being Kept Awake by David Denholm

  1. This is beyond moving, Jonathan. Send it off to the literary pages of SMH or The Australian! Merits wide attention. Jim KAB

  2. Thanks, Jim. I’m not sure I agree, but I’m glad you like it.

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