• John Kinsella




Ancient river bed hacked and carved whittled deep

by winter run-off river as sudden as a dust storm

in the long summer red bed red dust caves haunting

level best upper storeys where sea breeze ratchets

off ocean and estuary black bream spiky and petrifying

in their pools cut-off omphaloi each and every one

an oracle of seams and joins worked by heat rising

and stretching to breaking point the ripple and crackle

of segregation; onto the sandy riverbed soft and cool

to feet when waded through like frothy low-level surf,

encapsulated by shadows crosshatching from red

river gums in nooks and crannies down down

from ledge, onto sand the flung sack came down on,

its pulsating and cavorting arc, aerodynamic mischief,

anomaly in flight to parabola and plunge to thud

and be absorbed into white sand reddening as hessian

soaks up last breaths and catfights and mews into grey

currawong and red-tailed black cockatoo distraction

and camouflage, seed-eaters and carnivores mixed

to a pitch of blur. And witnessed by teenagers mucking

about after school: sack wrenched straight from car

lurching on dirt track a lover’s leap moth-eaten or chewed

to disappointment, the sack hurled up and down down

with such force the face of perpetrator lost or encrypted,

the type and colour of car forgotten, number plate

unthought of; just the sack now twitching between pools

shallowing with heat and red motes and litotes in the air,

choking and irritating, down down onto the cool sand

(sandals kicked off), to cut open the stitched-up sack

with a pocket knife (be prepared), and reveal the mince

of kittens all trauma and extinction and two or three

with mouths carelessly wired together, half-open

half-closed so their noises would come out all wrong.






Tethered near the firing range

the pop and crack and blast

wear it down to passivity,

a second breaking-in. Trigger.

Seriously, that’s what they

called him. An excellent jumper

past his prime. A new role to play.

Gunhorse. Rifle scabbard

slung alongside saddle, weighted

level with horn, slung on latigo

straps, stock towards skull of Trigger,

angles for ease of drawing

the Winchester lever action,

to fire hell-for-leather

from the mount. To canter

over salt crust, deep omega

impressions. A one-rider war-

horse, the retort has it swish

flies with its tail under percussive

blue skies. Reports are a clutch

of centrefires, close grouped

hollowpoints. Exploding fox.

The saddle shifts slightly

with muzzle flash, musket

recoil. Gentle disposition.

Not easily spooked. Not gun-shy.

Who would have thought once?

Which day-walking fox who’d

made that once jumpy horse bolt

before its conversion, would

have guessed? Led by the nose,

Trigger nuzzles the red fox corpse,

blood on his lips, nostrils and teeth.

Eyes sheen and glaze with sunset:

the fox’s the hunter’s the horse’s.

Off the salt the reflections

are muted: dressage of saltbush,

shaky entry of fox den fox

not quite reached. If our rider

had dismounted to shoot, fox

would have made shelter.

The advantages of saddle-fire.

Of a gun-happy horse.




Peter Negotiates the House Paddock, 1965


The two-year-old standing tall

in the battered push-car signed Peter

is happy—he cannot smile falsely.

Held in place by bent deadwood

threatening to grow, and kinked

tetanus-wire of fences. The ‘dust bowl’

curves beyond with barely shelter for gwarder

or dugite, though in hollows just below

foxes and rabbits plan for the coming of crops

in related but contrary ways.


It is 1965 and the toddler is vivid

on baked ground. Just five years later

lines of saplings will nuzzle firebreaks

and shade sheep-runs. A paradigm change.

It was unmade as a place of shade

much earlier. Tartan overalls

cut from a tried and true pattern

passed between mothers and sisters,

and a long-sleeved white skivvy.

Dust is cold dust tamped down;

ground is rock hard—there are

no tyremarks from Peter’s

peculiarly angled wheels.

All vehicles on the farm

have done hard service.


Lines of bricks buried up to fetlocks

show whole garden-beds ready to be.

A seasonal hope. A hose crosses

the image like a wish, bisecting doubt

and consequence—total clearing followed

by carted water, trickle from a muddy dam,

maybe cool, fresh potable water from wells

before they run salt after the Meckering

quake, which they would have anyway

even if God hadn’t shaken it all up.


The toddler has been baptised; will be confirmed

in 1975. Kangaroos and emus will take refuge

in the sheep-runs then, their feet barely marking

hard ground. This is not a photo.

It’s a black and white rendering

of a discoloured world. But there’s

the light, the suffused light

around Peter wheeling through

a world remade for him.