Malcolm McFarlane - The Water Cart - Saturday 11th August

To be launched by Chris Sarra

Several years ago I made notes for a poem based upon a very memorable conversation. While teaching in Wilcannia (Far Western NSW) I witnessed a visit by our junior high school students to a health care centre for the community’s elders. All students and elders were Aboriginal.

The elders shared anecdotes from their youth in and around Wilcannia and along the Darling River. The most memorable of all was from a woman who explained that for years as a girl she would accompany her father on their water cart. The journey was a week each way on a horse-drawn dray between the river at Wilcannia and the mining town of White Cliffs some 90 kilometres away across an arid landscape.

What has evolved since those first few notes is a narrative poem tracing an arc of Australian history that I feel should resonate with contemporary minds. The young girl I chose to place a little further back in Australia’s history: the turn of the 19th Century leading up to Federation in 1901. Her name is Grace and her life is viewed through the eyes of the protagonist, Jack, a non-Aboriginal boy who regards Grace as his closest friend.

An Australian outback community at that time was both a very multi-cultural affair and one of great hardships and inequities. Yet it was peppered with extraordinary characters; men and women of great strength and vision for what their country and the world may become. The narrative follows a plot that hinges on both unresolved crime and love lost, exploring themes of inequality, sustainability, compassion, leadership, racism, diversity and justice.

The text is introduced through a fictional Preface written by the protagonist’s grandson who discovers a notebook among the belongings of his own father. This ‘play within the play’ – openly echoing the very successful Australian novel of the late 19th Century, Such is Life by Joseph Furphy – enables an authentic witness to the times and an explanation for the adoption of a memoir written in verse. It has not been my desire to create anything approaching a bush ballad from the times, yet I acknowledge I may be accused of so much. The work is in free verse though at times I have been ambushed by rhyme.

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Date and time: Saturday 11th August, 3.30pm for 4pm

Please RSVP here or phone 02 9660 2333

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