Counting on Murwillumbah
3 police cars chase a Holden down Main Street,
lacing our life with sirens, burning rubber and risk.
An older battle platform, a grey plank, is wedged into a dead tree trunk in the park.
Here we are to remember that pioneers with balance and crosscut saws tamed ‘the big scrub’.
Cheers rang out as each straight, 2000 year old, red gold pole fell.
And fell. All gone in 30 years.
Opportunities are still sought. There are 4 opportunity shops in town and the homeless man sleeping in a red car on the reserve tells us that the snakes and spiders are out now.
Regardless, that night we eat at one of 3 Indian restaurants in the street under orange fairy light. 3 children, laughing, push each either in a supermarket trolley past the restaurant along the nearby empty pavement.
2 streets away the Sikh temple’s cupolas glow. Their school notice board says truth is self knowledge. The nearby Anglican church fete sells coconut ice in tiny, handmade paper baskets.
Blessings arrive from 2 more directions. The Hare Krishna temple, just out of town, has a golden cow guarding us all. The Austral cafe also welcomes us into its pale blue 1950s booths.
And 4 currawongs call from red seeded chandeliers that drip from the Bangalow palms.
The carpet snake that lives in the roof of the old Queenslander is not so blessed.
He took a kitten in his huge embrace and ate it.
‘Relocation’ will be his punishment.
Will he, original dweller, find his way home?
7 brush turkeys parade through my backyard seemingly unsurprised by life and the big black vertical tail that follows their every step.
They live on the hill under the camphor laurels, the weed trees, non-natives, new residents, like me.
Murwillumbah has been my home town since I moved here from Melbourne in November 1994. Nola Firth also came here from Melbourne, much more recently. It’s delightful to recapture, through this poem, the experience of first making the town’s acquaintance as a new resident. It is the title poem of her recent book.
The manuscript was the winner of the 2017 Dangerously Poetic / Byron Bay Writers’ Festival poetry prize, and the book was published in 2018. (The annual Byron Bay Writers’ Festival is a prominent national event; ‘Dangerously Poetic’ is the name of a longstanding regional group of poets.)
The book is available in paperback from the publisher, Mark Time Books, or direct from the author. Please feel free to email her with that or any other query.
Nola (aka Dr Nola Firth) has had a distinguished academic career, most recently as Honorary Research Fellow: The University of Melbourne and Centre for Adolescent Health, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute. Formerly a secondary school teacher, she made a study of dyslexia after noticing that a number of students, sometimes despite being smart and creative, consistently failed their classes. She gained 30 years’ experience in this area; developed and trialed a school-based dyslexia resilience program for her PhD and wrote a book on the subject, entitled Success and Dyslexia; participated in national dyslexia advocacy initiatives; and was the first recipient of an industry award named for her. You can Google Dr Nola Firth for more details.
She tells me:
I am now well settled in Murwillumbah and I am currently writing poetry inspired by my reading of the diaries of the official 'protectors' of Aborigines and collections of letters written by aboriginal women who were forced to live on 'reserves'. My poems rejoice in the richness of aboriginal life, bear witness to the removal from Aborigines of basic rights in and to their own country by the white invaders and how we might belatedly ask for welcome despite the fact we originally classified them as fauna and carried out many massacres. I am also writing poems about the mass extinction of species. There are some simple joyous poems coming also!
Meanwhile, to round off her portrayal of our mutual home town (which each of us chose as that, relatively late in our lives) here is another from her book, written more from the perspective of one who has settled in and got to know the place. I love it because she is painting my Murwillumbah, too.
in our concrete paths,
down electric wires
that criss-cross our views,
imperfection enters our town,
offers us its safety.
Like the weeds in our back streets
its seeds blow in on the wind
freeing a woman to walk down Main Street in long dress and rubber boots,
a philosopher to earn money picking passionfruit,
cows at the sale yards to roar their disorientation,
a tawny frogmouth to perch on a box in Office Choice
contemplating his own strange decision
before choosing a street tree instead.
Imperfection is comfortable here.
chipped by daily treading
still send out colour to cheer our feet.
Puddles in unpaved lanes keep us
close to the earth.
Labyrinthine corridors above our shops
hide dusty rooms with cheap rent
where artists can find their way.
But there is, also, a French cafe, that serves perfect macarons.
Material shared in 'I Wish I'd Written This' is presented for study and review. Poems, photos and other writings remain the property of the copyright owners, usually their authors.