IN MEMORIAM interlude: John Anderson

Among our guests at Girin Flat was John Anderson, like Molly Meldrum a child of Kyabram.

I met him at university where he became a close friend. He was a poet and nothing but a poet. I have never known anyone with such a startlingly clear sense of vocation. He worked painfully slowly and revised unflaggingly. He died when he was 49 having published only three collections. I think they are all masterpieces.

Gary Catalano and others have written a fine appreciation of his work. If you’re interested, go here. In the mauve block you will find ‘Anderson biography’. Other direct links don’t seem to work.

He wrote this during one of his visits to Girin Flat (and may have rewritten it several hundred times subsequently, but this is what he left us with).


The idea that the Australian bush is drab and monotonous is well established in our literature.

It has some truth but even the greyest bush is relieved by a certain fragile glassy glittery sub theme — on the drier inland slopes the more crystalline and unsoftened by climate.

The theme is picked up on the tips of things: gum leaf glitter, red gum tips — and in crevices: quartz crystals, mica, an ant dragging its shiny abdomen over leaf litter.

It is contained too in those knobs of kino, collections of hardened red gum sap fastened like rubies to trunks.

Movement is part of the quality and its keenest edge is animate. Insects and birds are its untapped cells. Unfortunately its most unstable. Here it seems that the spectrum has poured itself in an almost pure prismatic form on a few agents, parrots and rosellas flitting through a leached backdrop distributing colours.

In the dry sclerophyll, iridescence seems almost a general principle for beetles and wasps.

It is an elusive theme, one which picks its way in a series of disconnected points and for which I think Balinese music provides a successful metaphor. It provides the same tinkling contrast to the bush as is suggested by its own metallic glints. It gives just the right amount of form without imposing too much. Its rhythms are hidden and natural and yet capable of extreme exuberance and subtle enough to lend fluency to the songs of frogs, cicadas, crickets, bellbirds … sometimes disappearing, like an invisible songbird behind an elaborate screen of notes. Gumleaf glitter in the wind is the equivalent to a torrent of gamelan.

If it is conceded that life evolved from the sea — maybe in Australia it drew something too from the stars, bushfires, mineral springs, mirages, frosts, lightning, blue distances and waterfalls.

Or was some process of refraction from the gibber plains involved?images


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