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Laurie Duggan

from Blue Hills

A Note on Blue Hills

The general title ‘Blue Hills’ comes from a (very) long-running Australian radio serial about rural life broadcast nationally from 28 February 1949 to 30 September 1976, itself a sequel to an earlier serial The Lawsons, both by Gwen Meredith. It’s partly a joke: this is a ‘serial poem’ and it may possibly run for a long time. In fact it’s run now for slightly longer than its namesake, much to my alarm.
    What is it? Well, it’s not really a long poem; it’s too intermittent and occasional for that. The only generalization that could be made about it is that it all happens here, in Australia, though some of the things that happen involve looking at art made elsewhere. Giving the poems a generic title probably rescued them from their own slightness as short pieces that may not have fitted anywhere else.


Blue Hills 1

. . . . .dragon shape clouds over the national capital
Malcolm Fraser’s feet stick out the end of the bed

thick forest around Brindabella

eel-shaped reservoir & visible snow-caps
       then white cloud
              NOTHING NEXT 400 MILES
              continuous cricket pad

                     warm bread roll
                     apricot jam in foil rip-top package
                     black coffee
                           — avoid weird milk substance
                            in thimble-shaped container

hostesses in casual uniforms
       disappear into bombalaska
                                   a huge Mark Rothko painting
                                   whitens &
                                   turns into dumb Olitski

                            then it clears outside Melbourne

Blue Hills 2

       Charles Demuth picture window
       Room 2 — THE GRAND HOTEL — Bega
       sunglasses perched on Frank Sinatra hat

                     on the side of a shed
                     near the primary school
                            washed out blue

Junction of the Brogo & Bega rivers,
one dry, one running under sand;
smoke haze as thick as Sydney smog

             — dried bamboo would explode
                     if a match were lit

A crazed accountant sits at a desk in the park
On the desk:
                     Erica 4 Brian
                     I WANT TO SUCK COCKS

              Log trucks cross the Bega flood bridge;
              all the poets have moved to Sydney

Blue Hills 3

       ‘. . . . .fires round Combienbar. . . . .
       . . . . .endanger the timber mills. . . . .’

       fire trails at the back of The Park
       burnt to clear, logs block the access

verandah wood still solid,
green tin roof, maroon rails,
              built 1932.
       verandah gate opens onto air
                     the steps long gone

       transparent shell wind-chimes
       rattle against louvre-glass

                            wash clothes
                            wash hair
                            saw up logs

              Bemboka Mt blotted out by smoke

Blue Hills 14

A big football full of air
presses out as the wind presses in

walks up the street
eats banana & grit

past the furniture shop painting —
white rhomboidal table escapes perspective

man in neckbrace with
halfmast pants.

No mail today (threatening letters

the head bounces up & down
full of words. Buy shortbread biscuits.

Collect magazine from newsagents.
Phone sickness excuse to the library.

A bag full of funny gas
gathers itself on the pavement.

Blue Hills 15

Tiny amoebae swim around
in front of the blue sky.

A watch ticks. Black diagonal wood strut
holds up the window

on which there’s the screen
a cartoon was printed from.

Movement in the kitchen. Black
Bauhaus chair. Ken laughs

at a book by a woman who died
in 1973. Sal gets up

and moves around. Last night’s
mosquito itch has me scratch

then look out at the sea I can see for
three inches now I’m propped up straight.

Blue Hills 20

The Strait benign all week
- a sunken bridge;
its jutting islands toyed with
                            by the French —
though it can whip hard,
planks scattered, rotten,
                            becoming stone,
as the globe curves
and breaks the view north.


Wires twist from stumps;
bury themselves in sand.
Marram knots hold hills together.


Past Marrawah, on the shore
              of the Indian Ocean
‘15,000 K’s from Cape Horn’,
a bare-chested bloke in a van
looks out at the surf
                            from Green Point
and notes:
              ‘It’s a left-hander’.

Blue Hills 21

Out at the twelve-mile mark
peppercorn seed equals memory.
A lizard flits under rubble
between the sleepers, on the line where
trains ‘rocket to impossible destinations’;
overhead, pale green semiconductors,
a sky full of cirrus.
                            It’s spring:
the peppercorns hang, an innocent aura
of ten year olds sharing cigarettes
in a hollow of compacted earth
under the waiting room.
And the lunatic who pushed a barrow
from the station to the newsagent,
infantile in middle age, what burst gland
disposed of him?

Blue Hills 22

As though local history were
an endless succession of ownerships,
boundaries drawn and redrawn,
fresh signatures, the families mapped
from highland chieftains to shire presidents,
the electrical goods salesman drinks
to Kenny Rogers in the back bar.
The country cannot come to terms
with its suburbanism; parks named
after a man who discovered nothing more
than property, as fires burn east
and wood falls: the process
of clear felling or the process of nature,
Kenny Rogers can sing about it.

Blue Hills 23

In this town a dance is
the dance.
              The chill
of shoulder straps, Friday night
outside the Main Hotel,
a sacrifice for style.
                                   Sunday, the glint
of a flute in the trees up the Mitchell’s bank;
snatches of Mozart: skewed notes running off the scales.

The path goes on endlessly, crackling with twigs.
Auxiliary generators whine over the agistments.

Across the river,
white branches lean in the wind
that blows down from the Divide.

Blue Hills 24

Half an hour down a straight road
from the prison farm, Boof Morgan sings Country
to a synthesizer, a drum machine
and a dozen desultory lovers of genre.
A man and woman mime each number
while the barman lives by reflex
metres from where the boats tie up.
Thickset men with beards and cowboy hats
gather elsewhere, under the bar T.V.
They are no friends to this music
- wear its apparel with no concern
for a pickup draped with the national flag
- departed next day from this fine drizzle
across a map of blue skies and faithless love.

Blue Hills 27

Ascending Mt Cannibal in rain-heavy air
- a few moments between downpours
                                   allowed for the summit.
North, Mt Towt,
and below this outlier
an aqueduct traces through foothills
to Cornucopia.
under Mt Worth’s mohawk
the valley opens up to power lines,
stud farms, the light industrial corridor.

Twigs snap underfoot
                                   bolting a wallaby
from a clearing of mossy rock,
                                                 then silence,
the faint register of leaves;
pink heath and yellow wattle
aglow in the ultramarine.

Blue Hills 30

North wind eddies on the Old Sale Rd.,
a red glow, east, behind Mt Tanjil
as though morning were postponed,
and thunderheads, Blakean convulsions
over this calm landscape of dirt crossroads
safe with the assurance of NEIGHBOURHOOD WATCH
that angels will not descend on Shady Creek.

Blue Hills 32

                                                 Layered mountains:
the nob of Ben Cruachan, sharper from the west,
blighted Mt Hump emergent for some distance.

Above Cheyne’s Bridge the road swings up Hickey Creek
towards a gap;  bared rock diagonal
hard under McMillan’s Lookout.
                                                        A dirt track
skips a cutting, follows a shoulder to the point of the ridge
a few steps from the road;  lichen on half-buried stone,
purple flowers in clefts.
                                          Campfire ash in a small clearing,
Big Flat below, where the Macalister erodes edges of pasture;
cattle on the open ground, sheep dotted in rising scrub.

At Licola the settlement is boxed in for two more months,
its general store closed mid-week.
No sound or movement here, save a chain-saw
somewhere across the oval.

Blue Hills 35

At Poowong, dairy farms
overlook a flat land of chicken roosts;
the foothills between carry the full force of wind,
its onrush from Western Port up Heath Hill.

On the surveys, blue hatch of marshland
gives way to brown grids,
                                          names alter
from Drain Rd. No. 4. to McDonald’s Track;
canals, dictates of the theodolite,
to the irregularity of runoffs.

This much is plain.

Though maps fail to register a prevalence
round here, of trams
balanced on blocks
in the home paddock.

Blue Hills 36

The open desert
this not-you, not-your-problem place
a necessity to be emptied into
as a man at the point of death
raises a rifle in Capa’s photograph.
A foul wind blows rhetoric away
leaving the clouds insignificant
and the sky brighter, cleaner,
able to colour the mountains.

Blue Hills 37

white masts
dense hail

a pale blue band over Williamstown
fix of the Westgate Bridge

seagulls huddle and peck
at twigs, without option

a man carries a sign
over his head down the pier

Blue Hills 44

So much of a city
is light on stonework, woodwork;
demolition turns us into archaeologists
using the maps;
a particular daub of colour
there, to the right,
of that mountain down the street.

Blue Hills 45

Sunlight on a west wall lights up brick
beneath a band of concrete:


The top level of a woolstore, gridded windows
early lights of an office shadow a nursery

evenly spaced fruit trees in royal blue tubs,
shadecloth and trellis, the yellow tuft of a cockatoo

that screeches at 5 p.m. In a cage huddle
love birds and exotics, bougainvillea rims the stone path

Buses run below the river apartments, grey tin roof curves
upper windows still in the light, ducts, ventilators, aerials

brown and blue ripples shift northeastward
across the river an inner bend of mangroves,

factories and abandoned warehouses,
a slope beyond this, the main street of a suburb

made visible at night, lights rising to a school on a crest
jets disappear across en route to the international airport

Blue Hills 48

Deflected light
of a Vida Lahey intensity

— Vida Lahey, who painted interiors
whose wood blinds throw

diagonals of brightness
against the warm dark; space

polarised, intense, tropic,
as though art and heat might

combust, the luminous aftermath
too instant for climate to abrade or dissolve.

Blue Hills 50

Damp seats sprayed with some cleaning substance,
two men, edgy, slicked with brilliantine
en route to, maybe, Goulburn.

To sleep, perchance to dream
face forward into the Southern Tablelands
fortified on fennochio, eggs and aspirin.

At Mittagong, the police board
to remove an unruly drunk.

The dry hills, snow-covered last season.
A farmhouse kitchen (1870)
soon to be sold

linoleum squares
and light from all directions.


And did these feet in ancient time
step from the kitchen to a techno hum
about the fireplace, high-altitude
bush birds, and a hall clock for bottom end.

I fall asleep to the scent of pot pourri.
Distant rattle of a gate
the sound of footsteps on gravel (as in a novelette)
a streetlight over near the church.

Awake to hydrangeas and gathered wood-fire twigs,
an outside temperature of 16 degrees.

A Grecian urn mimicked in wood, repeated
in ceramic on the table:
the fallen figure from a dark sky
of moons and sea creatures

(which turn out on close inspection
to be a palm frond and the neck
of a camel.

Blue Hills 51

From a place deeper than the larynx
the voices of Tibetan monks
broadcast into the gallery cafeteria
as an undertow to all that is available:
the harbour, arrayed for delectation outside,
a crane above it like a John D Moore painting
(blue letters on the counterweight spell GREED).


A southerly, off Botany Bay
moves the palms in a backyard
at Hurlstone Park
chimes hang in the air
talking wind
spiky fluttering
of the natives
all modulation and
cracking branches
then the riff
of the Bankstown train
shadowy behind
dark timber.


Nearby shops fall into decrepitude
as the centre of gravity moves
to the new strip:
my former city remade
as a remote configuration,
its familiarities stars
in shifting nebulae,
a body recomposed to perform
different tasks. The burden
of memory is drawing
the same old figures,
earlier lives, disjunctions
fused for a moment
in broken light.

Blue Hills 52

night lights
                     the 191 bus
down Vernon Terrace
                                   half-lit books
in the hall
                     a rattle of venetians
as the change moves in.

Blue Hills 62

a fraction of sun
behind the spires

Blue Hills 64

stretch of the building, torsion,
heard night after night,
storm     hard and distant
over Stradbroke and Moreton islands
the little lights across the river
damped, as if
shut inside a grand piano

Laurie Duggan, 1980, photo by John Tranter

Laurie Duggan, 1980, photo by John Tranter

Laurie Duggan lives in Brisbane and is an Honorary Research Advisor in the Australian Studies Centre at the University of Queensland. He has published eleven books of poems as well as a cultural history, Ghost Nation: Imagined space and Australian visual culture, 1901–1939. A new selected poems, Compared to What, is to appear from Shearsman Press, UK, together with a reprint of his 1987 book-length poem The Ash Range, in May 2005. A further book of poems, The Pursuit of Happiness, will appear from UQP in 2006.

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