Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Wednesday Words: The Bunyip and the Whistling Kettle

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Back when I was a nipper I read the poem below.  Thereafter swimming in creeks and waterholes never felt the same, there was always a tinge of 'What's under the water?'  

The poem is by John Manifold and, for the benefit of overseas readers, a bunyip is a large mythical creature said to lurk in swamps, billabongs (lagoons, cut off river bends), creeks, riverbeds and waterholes. The word is aboriginal and the belief comes from aboriginal mythology. During the early settlement of Australia by Europeans, the notion that the bunyip was an actual unknown animal that awaited discovery became common. Early European settlers, unfamiliar with the sights and sounds of the island continent's peculiar fauna, regarded the bunyip as one more strange Australian animal and sometimes attributed unfamiliar animal calls or cries to it.

Manifold (1915-) was born in Melbourne and became known as an Australian poet and critic.  He served in intelligence in WW2 and was a published war poet. In later years he worked on and published mostly Australian songs and music, reciting ballads at arts festivals. 

His poem of the most superior camper who, ill informed and ill advised brings the conveniences of urban life into the bush, meeting his fate in a bunyip haunted creek as his kettle screams, used to be part of each schoolchild’s literature studies in primary school.  Is it still?  Who remembers it?

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The Bunyip And The Whistling Kettle

    - John Manifold

I knew a most superior camper
Whose methods were absurdly wrong,
He did not live on tea and damper
But took a little stove along.

And every place he came to settle
He spread with gadgets saving toil,
He even had a whistling kettle
To warn him it was on the boil.

Beneath the waratahs and wattles,
Boronia and coolibah,
He scattered paper, cans and bottles,
And parked his nasty little car.

He camped, this sacrilegious stranger
(The moon was at the full that week),
Once in a spot that teemed with danger
Beside a bunyip-haunted creek.

He spread his junk but did not plunder,
Hoping to stay the weekend long;
He watched the bloodshot sun go under
Across the silent billabong.

He ate canned food without demurring,
He put the kettle on for tea.
He did not see the water stirring
Far out beside a sunken tree.

Then, for the day had made him swelter
And night was hot and tense to spring,
He donned a bathing-suit in shelter,
And left the firelight’s friendly ring.

He felt the water kiss and tingle.
He heard the silence—none too soon!
A ripple broke against the shingle,
And dark with blood it met the moon.

Abandoned in the hush, the kettle
Screamed as it guessed its master’s plight,
And loud it screamed, the lifeless metal,
Far into the malicious night.

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