How you can hold Australia’s Beating Heart

A stunning celebration of Australia’s beautiful landscapes and people through our iconic and evocative bush poetry.
By AG STAFF August 26, 2020 Reading Time: 3 Minutes

A celebration of Australia’s beautiful landscapes and people, this anthology of classic bush poetry, hand-selected by Australian champion bush poets Melanie Hall and Susan Carcary, is accompanied by images of iconic landscapes from the Australian Geographic photo library. The anthology features poems by some of Australia’s most esteemed storytellers including Banjo Paterson, Dorothea Mackellar, Henry Lawson, Mary Eliza Fullerton, and many more. Be inspired by great feats of horsemanship, the pain of separation and exploits of endurance with a combination of verse and visuals that vividly capture the true essence of the Australian nature.

“There’s no doubt that these stories resonate still, and for good reason,” say Melanie and Susan.

“Our task was to cover the vastness of our collective experience – from snow to sunshine, bush life and city bustle, glimpses of history in both war and peace, amazing animals and birds, and the extremes of climate.

“For the many thousands of fans of traditional bush poetry, it contains the classic poems you know and love as well as a selection of lesser-known works and poets. We hope these pages contain for you the scent of
gum leaves and the sounds of magpies!

“Indigenous Australians were the first to tell stories of this country – to share, over campfires, legends of the animals and trees they lived beside, of the curves and corners of the landscape. When they arrived, Europeans brought their own traditions. The first known penned poem in Australia was a big long whinge by a bloke called Frank the Poet. (Frank was a convict so it’s fair to say he probably had a few things to complain about.)

“When they arrived, Europeans brought their own traditions. The first known penned poem in Australia was a big long whinge by a bloke called Frank the Poet. (Frank was a convict so it’s fair to say he probably had a few things to complain about.) New arrivals carried with them a swag of song and verse from every corner of the British Isles, and later, from around the world. Bill Scott called it their “invisible luggage”, a tradition of histories, stories, revolution and irreverence that formed very quickly into a uniquely Australian style of storytelling. 

“Bush poetry thrived in the first hundred years of colonisation and published editions of verse sold many thousands of copies. It was an era when newspapers printed rhymed verse every day and bush ballads were learned by heart. The Bulletin, first published in 1880 by Jules ‘J.F.’ Archibald and John Haynes, was deliberately and provocatively nationalist in outlook and content; determined to contribute to the national character.  The Red Page (the inside front cover of the magazine, edited by Alfred G. Stephens) published, almost without exception, the verses that are included in this book.

“The verses chosen by Stephens resonated with The Bulletin’s readers. Banjo Paterson’s first edition of The Man from Snowy River sold out in a week.  The Sentimental Bloke (C. J. Dennis), Round the Boree Log (John O’Brien), Fair Girls and Gray Horses (Will H. Ogilvie) and many other titles all enjoyed huge sales and annual reprints.

“Radically, Stephens not only featured women poets in the Red Pages, he actively supported women novelists and employed the first female trainee journalist. His lengthy correspondence with Mary Gilmore, Stella Franklin and many other women writers are indicative of a respect not often evidenced in the early twentieth century.

“During World War I, Paterson, Ogilvie and Dennis sold over 50,000 copies of specially produced editions for the trenches – designed to fit an Aussie soldier’s battle jacket pocket and with special covers to allow for inscriptions. In turn, soldiers wrote their own poems, many with the lingo of the street and the ideology of freedom. Experiences of war led to a new style of verse post WWI – stridently Australian, fierce, independent and often very angry.

“Rhyming verse has enjoyed a resurgence in the last 40 years with a new breed of irreverent larrikins. A nationwide competition circuit encourages both writing and the craft of reciting. Bush poetry thrives at events and festivals, in concert halls and campgrounds, with the performance of uniquely Aussie stories, comic and serious, reflecting our modern diversity.

“For the many thousands of fans of traditional bush poetry, this book is for you. It contains the classic poems you know and love, as well as a selection of lesser-known works and poets.

“If this is your first ever book of poetry, this book is for you. You will find verses that seem to speak only to you; words that will drift with you through the years; poems that speak of our history, our unique lingo and the Australian character.

“If you are overseas and far from home, we hope these pages contain for you the scent of gum leaves and the sound of magpies calling. This book is for you.

“If you write poetry or aim to begin writing, this book provides a wide variety of metric patterns and rhyming schemes that should inspire and encourage you to try your hand at rhyming verse; it is for you.

“Bush poetry is for everyone. All manner of points of view and aspects of life Down Under from 1850 to the end of WWI are in the stories found in these poems. We hope you enjoy them.”

Buy your copy of Australia’s Beating Heart here.