Tag Archives: Stephen Whiteside

A hundred years of The School Magazine

sm100.jpegI will probably write more about The School Magazine as its centenary year progresses, but for now I want to draw your attention to a sweet thing that happened on World Poetry Day. A number of poets wrote blog entries about their experience of being published in the magazine, and they combine to create a powerful statement of the magazine’s importance. You can see at least some of them by clicking on these links:

Jackie Hosking
Claire Saxby
Janeen Brian
Julie Thorndyke
Lorraine Marwood
Pat Simmons
Rebecca Newman
Sally Murphy
Sophie Masson
Stephen Whiteside
Yvonne Low

I was editor of the magazine for some years, and  (ahem!) am mentioned by one of these poets as a ‘great encourager’. I’m relieved that none of the poets took the opportunity to mention any of my blunders. And I’m delighted that a good number of them have begun publishing since my time.

Stephen Whiteside’s Billy that Died with its Boots On

Stephen Whiteside, The Billy that Died with its Boots On and other Australian verse, illustrated by Lauren Merrick (Walker Books 2014)

coverDiane Bates, children’s writer and tireless children’s literature activist, recently set up the Australian Children’s Poetry web site. Its aim, she said,

is to, for the first time, give a national and international ‘face’ to Australian children’s poetry.

The website, which is well worth a look, may change things, but until now poetry written for children in Australia has struggled to have a public face. The School Magazine, published by the NSW Department of Education, has been a dependable outlet just short of 100 years, but its index fairly bristles with lovely poems that appeared there and then were seen no more (except in readers’ memories: in my time at the magazine we received regular phone calls from people trying to track down a poem they had read in the magazine 70 or so years earlier).

It’s always heartening, then, when a children’s publisher like Walker Books brings out a new book of poetry, especially one by a single author.* It would quickly become disheartening, of course, if the poetry wasn’t any good, but The Billy That Died with its Boots On delivers the goods.

The poet’s Introduction proclaims his life-long love of rhyme, and encourages readers to ‘find a brother or sister, or mother or father, or cousin, or aunt or uncle, or grandfather or grandmother, or simply a friend, and read a poem to them’. So be warned, if you give this to a young person as a gift, be prepared to sit still and be read to.

Not that you will suffer if that happens. The book is bursting with gleeful love of rhyme and bush-ballad rhythms. There’s nonsense, fantasy, word play, jokes (some laugh-aloud, some groan-worthy), historical narrative; the beach, the bush, the snow, the sports field; dogs and cats, cormorants and spotted quolls; dinosaurs and flying whales. It’s not hard to imagine a young reader becoming permanently addicted to rhyme if exposed to this book.

If I have a favourite poem, it’s probably ‘We Headed for the Beach Today’. I’d love to give you the whole poem, but it’s long and I don’t want to breach anyone’s copyright: suffice to say it lists all the things that could have gone wrong on a day at the beach but didn’t, mixing the all too common with the extremely unlikely, all in impeccably scanned, rhyming couplets, as for example:

No one grizzled. No one snarled. No one yelled or jeered.
We didn’t see a baby grab his daddy by the beard.
A change did not arrive to make the water dark and wild.
A shiny flying saucer did not steal a little child.

It’s perfect for learning off by heart and performing for your brother or sister, etc.

By way of full disclosure: Roughly half of these poems were first published in The School Magazine, many of them when I was editor. Stephen graciously mentions me in the acknowledgements, and also in his account of the book’s long gestation on the Australian Children’s Poetry site. I received a complimentary copy from Walker Books.
* I wouldn’t want to give the impression that this is the only such book Walker have published. Far from it. The last page advertises Guinea Pig Town and Note on the Door, both books by Lorraine Marwood, another fine poet who has graced the pages of The School Magazine.


Arthur Dean, The brigadier’s horse and other poems from the western front (Stephen Whiteside 2010)
Michael Mohammed Ahmad (Editor), Violence: Westside Jr Vol 2 (Bankstown Youth Development Service 2010)

My initial reason for doing a combined blog entry about these two books – a very slim vol of verse written by the publisher’s grandfather and a glossy publication showcasing writing by young refugees in Western Sydney – was the accident of their both arriving in my letterbox last week. (Even a blog as modest and marginal as mine occasionally cops a freebie.) On reflection, yoking them together is a long way from meaningless.

Stephen Whiteside’s previous self-published booklets have featured his own poems, mainly bush ballads and C J Dennis parodies. This one is not so different in style, and even includes a Dennis tribute, but it’s quite a different beast: it rescues from obscurity the poems written during the First World War by Arthur Dean, later to be a Victorian Supreme Court judge, and the publisher’s grandfather. The judge’s poetic endeavours have not gone unnoted before now. His Australian Dictionary of Biography Online entry says: ‘He was something of a “trench poet”, contributing light verse to army magazines.’ In this little book are eight of his poems, all – as his grandson tells us in his introduction – probably written in 1916. The title poem won  a £3 prize from the Diggers’ newspaper The Rising Sun, for which young Arthur received a congratulatory letter from C E W Bean, reproduced in an appendix here.

Arthur Dean was no Rupert Brooke. This is accomplished light verse, composed to distract the poet and his comrades from their lot as soldiers, and perhaps allow a little relieving laughter. Though offered as entertainment in 1916, it still hits some living targets:

Everyone’s scavenger, everyone’s slave;
The papers may splutter about us being brave,
How nobly we fell and how honoured our grave,
But that is the luck of the few.
ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo(from ‘Infantry’)

The ADB entry tells us that Dean’s ‘delight in composing “doggerel” was to continue all his life’, so perhaps we can expect further volumes – perhaps doing for the law what this one does for war.

In an Afterword to Violence, BYDS Director Tim Carroll tells us that his father, ‘a gentle man, full of love’, serves in the Air Force in World War 2: ‘He killed hundreds, if not thousands, of people in those dark times and carried the guilt of those killings with him to his death.’ This is the kind of thing that simply could not be said in prize-winning light verse written in the trenches, or perhaps in any poetry written by a soldier in a combat zone: do any of the celebrated war poets talk of themselves as killers? And how could they contemplate the long tail of war – the creation of refugees, the lives devastated by loss, the generations of dysfunction?

The long tail features loud and clear in this book.

Refugee Action Support (RAS) is a government funded program that supports young refugees with English language literacy. As part of the program, BYDS Bankstown Youth Development Service) ran a number of two-hour writing workshops in schools in Western Sydney. The bulk of the book is writing that emerged from those workshops. There are eloquent photographs of BYDS facilitators working with students, and a number of pieces by non-students (including interviews with a boxer, a psychiatrist, Wafa Zaim, manager of Muslim Women’s Association, and Craig Greenhill, who took some of the most telling photographs of the Cronulla violence in 2005), but it’s the refugee students’ writing that makes the book.

The editor, Michael Mohammed Ahmad, explains in his introduction that he decided ‘to present the raw versions of each artist’s work’ – that is, not to ‘repair the grammar’, and so on. He also decided to preserve words and passages that had been crossed out by the writers, so every few pages there is a word, a phrase a sentence with a line through it. My editor’s heart recoiled when I read this, but having read the result I think the decision was completely correct. The effect is to present the writing as process rather than as product: most of the young writers are clearly struggling with English as at best a second language, and most of the pieces are struggling with crushingly difficult subjects – war, domestic and other violence, dislocation, racism. The unconventional use of English and the occasional striking out effectively dramatise the difficulty of the undertaking. For example, this short piece (author not specified from the list of participants, as a way of protecting privacy):

Being Muslim is crime in this world. When some people heard of Muslim or meat a Muslim they think of terrorists. They don’t think who real Muslim people are. They don’t know who the real terrorists are.

Tidied up, that would lose what it now has, a strong sense of a mind seeking to communicate across a cultural divide. The reader is granted an unexpected sense of intimacy.

Interesting things are coming out of Western Sydney.

Two self-published poets

John Malone, Big Blue Mouth (johnlmalone at yahoo dot com dot au 2009)
Stephen Whiteside, The Paterson Parodies (self published 2009)

You know how US presidents retain the title of president until it’s prised from their cold stiff hands? Well, it’s not like that for magazine editors, but some of the perks of office do survive long after one loses the right to use the editorial ‘we’. One of these perks is free books. Mind you, in my days of wielding editorial power any free books were for the magazine, not for me personally, so maybe this is a perk of the afterlife. Both these little books arrived in my mail from poets who graced the pages of The School Magazine in my day.

big blue mouthBy no means all the poems in Big Blue Mouth were previously published in the magazine, but the collection benefits from monochrome versions of the illustrations that accompanied some of them there – by Kerry Millard, Andrew Joyner, Noela Young and Tohby Riddle on the cover (every one of those links leads to delightful things) [Correction: The cover is not by Tohby but was put together by John Malone and the printer].  They’re mostly short poems from a young boy’s point of view, many featuring a grandfather who must surely resemble the poet himself. If you’ve found this page by googling John’s name, hoping to find a collection of his poems for yourself or a young fan, or if you’re a regular here and ditto, you can buy a copy direct from him – his email address is johnlmalone at yahoo dot com dot au (notice that his second initial is in that address). Stocks, I’m told, are limited.


paterson parodiesAs far as I know, none of the poems in Stephen Whiteside’s book have been previously published, though he has recited them at folk festivals and to other audiences – as you read them you feel a building pressure to give them voice: they’re meant for performance. This is bush verse, not specifically for children, but I imagine that anyone of whatever age who enjoys the ballads of Banjo Paterson will enjoy them. In ‘Clancy of the Undertow’, Clancy is a surfie; the eponymous Son of Mulga Bill has trouble riding a horse, and is at ease on a bicycle; the likewise eponymous Man from Ironbark wreaks revenge in kind on the dapper barber. ‘The True Story of the Man from Snowy River’ isn’t really a parody – it’s a piece of serious revisionism, but it scans as impeccably as the rest. You can buy this book from the BookPOD bookstore. You can find out how to get hold of a copy at http://www.abpa.org.au/bush_poetry_forum/viewtopic.php?t=591.

I do have one complaint about both books. It’s that the economics of publishing are such that the only way for them to see the light of day was through self-publication: single-author Australian collections of children’s poetry are rare as hen’s teeth. Because they are self-published, these boooks are unlikely to reach a four-figure audience. And that’s a shame.

Bookblog #59: March is the launchiest month

Paula Shaw, Seven Seasons in Aurukun (Allen & Unwin 2009)
Cassandra Golds, The Museum of Mary Child (Penguin Australia 2009)
Ursula Dubosarsky, The Terrible Plop (Penguin Australia 2009)
Stephen Whiteside, Poems of 2008 (self published 2009)
Noelene Martin, Freda (self published 2009)

Here’s a clutch of books I have more than a casual interest in.

aurukunI’ve told you about Paula’s Seven Seasons more than once, and may well do so again. Now I’ve actually read it. While it’s missing some of the juicier and possibly libellous moments of the early draft I read, it still offers plenty to chew on, and is also — Richard Aedy was right — a bit of a girl’s own adventure. More than 30 years ago I spent six weeks in a remote Aboriginal community with the Fred Hollows Trachoma Prevention Program. Just those few weeks were enough to unsettle my sense of what it means to be Australian. One of the other Trachoma-ites put it well, if slightly hyperbolically: I used to think Australia was a European country, he said, but now I realise it’s an Aboriginal country with a huge number of Europeans living around the edges. Paula spent a lot more than six weeks in Aurukun, and engaged in a way that shows up my stay at Willowra for the tourism it was. What’s more, she took on the challenge of wrangling the experience into words. I hope the book provokes a productive conversation. I expect it will give pleasure to most readers. But don’t take my word for it.

plopmarychildEarly in the month, the publication of these books by former editorial staff members on The School Magazine was celebrated — nothing so grand as a launch — by a small lunch in town. I had the best gnocchi ever, the authors paid, and we enjoyed each other and the occasion in a way that might have been described as riotous if there had been more than a handful of us. But the pleasures of the lunch were pallid compared to those of the books. I hadn’t seen The Terrible Plop before, but I hope to see much more of it as a result of giving it to very young acquaintances: it’s a rhyming story of ridiculous terror in the forest that begs to be read repeatedly until it’s known by heart. The Museum of Mary Child is another book I read in earlier incarnations, as a beta reader. As a rule I’m not drawn to horror as a genre, and this is at least marginally a horror book – marginal because there are no vampires, ghouls or zombies. But I just loved it. I haven’t read the published version yet, but it’s been highly praised in the Aust Child Lit Crit journal Magpies as a ‘disturbing and quite terrifying’ book that ‘demands a special reader’. 

whiteside08This book slipped quietly into my mail box with a friendly note from the author. It turned out he’d used a quote from this blog as a back cover blurb, and I wasn’t embarrassed to see myself thus quoted. Stephen evidently plans to produce two very slim vols a year to sell at his performances, and his brief introduction to this one implies that he produced a number of poems in 2008 that didn’t make the cut. He’s a member or ARVOs (Australian Rhyming Verse Orators), a group who meet of a Sunday, presumably in the afternoon, to celebrate their shared passion for bush poetry. Poems of 2008 begins with ‘Triangular Cantaloupe’ a smooth parody of/tribute to C J Denis’s ‘Triantiwontigongolope‘ and proceeds on its cheerful way for 40 pages. There’s a touch of controversy in ‘A Puzzle’, which raises questions about euthanasia in a poem that an introductory note suggests might be for children. There’s political comment, in ‘Australia Spurns a Hero’, about Peter Norman, the white Australian athlete who stood on the podium with the two African Americans who gave the Black Power salute at the 1968 Olympics:

Norman is a hero, now, throughout the USA.
October 9 has peen proclaimed as Peter Norman Day,
And in Australia’s hist’ry a most sorry day is burned,
For Norman is the hero that his native country spurned.

You can get copies from the BookPod online bookstore or, while stocks last, wherever Stephen Whiteside is performing.

fredaFreda is a self published book of a very different stripe, a biography of Freda Whitlam, launched this morning appropriately enough at the Whitlam Institute in the University of Western Sydney. Noelene Martin, the author, is a friend and neighbour of her subject, and I suspect she chose the self-publishing route to improve her chances of getting the book into print while Freda, now nearing 90, and her elder brother Gough were still around to enjoy it. Noelene is a veteran writer of non-fiction for children (much of it published in The School Magazine during my editorship, hence my interest in the project), and it shows here: while the meat of the story is in Freda’s career as Principal of the prestigious Croydon Presbyterian Ladies College in Sydney, Moderator of the Uniting Church, force behind the establishment of the University of the Third Age in Sydney, and so on, it’s the first hundred pages that really shine.

You can tell that, as well as sifting through piles of youthful correspondence, the author spent hours with her subject, listening to reminiscences. As she said today at the launch, the down side of seeing the book finally published is that all the secrets about Freda that she has held close to her heart are now general property. The little girl who knew the Greek alphabet, but not the English, before she started school; the teenager who walked seven miles from her tutor’s place back to school and couldn’t understand why the Principal made a fuss; the young woman at Yale on a Fulbright Scholarship who slept through a sermon by Eric Fromm; the beginning teacher on an excursion to Alice Springs who couldn’t stand to see a tourist haggling with Albert Namatjira and interrupted to buy a painting at exactly the price the artist was asking: the book recounts these and a myriad other minutely recorded incidents that are steps on a journey to a significant contribution to public life. (As a bonus, we get to see Gough as a shadowy but brilliant big brother.)

The launch was an imposing affair. A handful of distinguished Whitlams, including Gough in a wheelchair, and a hundred or so other people, mostly a good bit older than me, gathered in a spacious hall with modern stained glass windows and were addresses by the Vice Chancellor, Barry Jones (the launcher, who proclaimed with reasonable confidence that he and Freda were the only two people in the room who had corresponded with Ezra Pound, and conceded that she won the competition by having actually met him in the asylum in Washington DC), Noelene and finally Freda herself. Much had been said about Freda’s modesty (her entry in Who’s Who is apparently terse to an extreme and she doesn’t have a Wikipedia page at this moment). Her speech exemplified the trait: she hardly mentioned herself at all, but urged us to be glad at the publication of a book by someone from Western Sydney, about someone in western Sydney, when so many people think that ‘out here we don’t read’. Everyone has a story worth telling, she said, and it was good that one person’s story was being told in this book. In other words, she found any number of ways of praising the book while directing attention away from herself.

You would probably have trouble finding this book, but if you’re interested in Whitlamiana, in the history of the Uniting Church in New South Wales, the University of the Third Age, or the past as a fascinating other country, I recommend you contact the author-publisher at mrsmarty(at)aapt(dot)net(dot)au.

From the archives: Bookblog #31: Past-work-related

Shane McCauley, The butterfly man (Fremantle Arts Centre Press 1991)
Stephen Whiteside, Early Poems and Songs (including “Omeo”) (S Whiteside 2008)

butterflyI had credit to spend at Sappho’s bookshop, and this book leapt to my attention. It cost more than my $8 note, but I recognised Shane McCauley’s name from the ancient days when I was editor of The School Magazine. (Note: I’m not the editor any more. I refer you to the magazine’s helpful tips for manuscript submission.) There’s one beautiful poem in particular, ‘Clouds’, illustrated by Tohby Riddle (in Orbit, November 2003) with a small figure of a child, in the centre of a page filled with dark grass, looking straight up at the viewer, who is positioned as one of the eponymous clouds. I’d never read any of his poems for grown-ups (I hate that word, but adult has been co-opted), and here was a chance. The poems really are for grown-ups: to enjoy them, you need to be either alarmingly well-read or unintimidated by encountering someone who is much better read than you. I’m in the latter category. The range of reference is huge: from an aged Samurai arranging flowers to an Islamic executioner, from Ancient Greece and Rome to Chuang-tzu, from Western Australian landmarks to scientific and mythopoeic cosmology. And I trusted his references: when he attributed thoughts to La Perouse in the long ‘La Perouse to Eleanore’, I believed he had immersed himself in La Perouse’s writing enough to have got it right. I intend reading this again.

whiteside2007During my time at The School Magazine, we published Stephen Whiteside’s poems regularly. And that’s probably the only thing his poetry has in common with Shane McCauley’s. This is his second self-published book, and probably because its back cover includes a quote from this blog, he kindly sent me a copy. Most of the pieces date from the early 1980s when Stephen did a lot of performing (Aha! Another similarity: according to the flap of The Butterfly Man, Shane McCauley was a founding member of a performance poetry group on Perth. However, I doubt if he ever put on a funny hat as Stephen did.) These aren’t poems intended primarily for children, and if I’ve read any of them before it was to reject them (sorry!). They are mostly good rollicking fun with some history, some genial satire, a little bush-philosphising and a touch of melancholy. Many of them latter-day bush ballads, and as an added grace there’s a short, often affectionately deprecatory introduction to each one. You can buy a copy from www.bookstore.bookpod.com.au or, I assume, at Stephen’s readings. (One last note: I suppose I should be glad of it, but I find myself lamenting that in the featured poem about the horribly cold town Omeo, he did not stoop to ‘Omeo, Omeo, wherefore art thou, Omeo?’)