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Feature Poem with Judith Beveridge: Cocky Farming

1 August 2014

Robert Frost once said about writing poetry, ‘You gotta get dramatic’. Caroline Ross’s poem, ‘Cocky Farming’ dramatically enacts the hardship, fight and struggle that can beset Australian farmers, the worst foes being harsh weather and unsympathetic banks. I enjoyed the way the poet comes at her subject matter from an aerial view, looking down upon the landscape and noticing all that is happening over a wide vista. The tone and shifting perspectives in the poem are mainly what deliver the drama, as does the imagistic acuity. Her selection of details creates a compelling sense of the futile endeavour of trying to make a living when faced with immutable forces. The hardship extends also to birds and plants. A terrific touch in the poem is the vernacular use of the term ‘cockies’, so that the birds mentioned in stanza one seamlessly transfer over into farmers: ‘Cockies fight against/ the sun, the wind, the Banks, all threatening/ to snatch away the living/ clawed and scratched each day// from basalt rock.’ The word ‘cocky’ is also not without a certain irony.

The quintessentially Australian flavour of this poem is a highlight and the contrast with English farms gives added intensity. Towards the end of the poem, the long panning shots give way to a more intimate focus, and the image of the farmer holding a grand-child’s ‘tiny hand’ is moving and poignant. I also enjoyed the way the short and long lines seem to imitate and embody the visual movement of the poem from wide to closer perspectives. The voice is strong, authoritative, convincing. – JB

Cocky Farming


White cockatoos swoop 
down from morning’s unsuspecting dawn 
and land, as if one wing, in the eucalypt.

Dirt’s brown odour floats 
up from caked, cracked earth while what will later 
be a scorching sun 

rises above the roses . 
Mulberry trees extend their hands 
one to the other, seeking 

shade even from the dawn.
In England, farms have sheds snuggled neatly 
to the side of great estate homes. 

Inside these huts, machinery 
is hidden by labourers who sharpen, oil, 
and maintain the country idyll’s 

image guarded by generations’ mute 
agreement; owner, farmer, worker, serf.
Australia’s country life

is less genteel, the homestead’s haunted
by a bleakness born of desperation. 
Cockies fight against 

the sun, the wind, the Banks, all threatening 
to snatch away the living 
clawed and scratched each day 

from basalt rock. Here, machinery 
rusts in yards, vegetable gardens are bordered 
by fences invented from dented cans 

filled up with cement and steel posts 
like prison walls built to keep out goannas. 
Low crawling vines sacrifice 

rockmelons’ babies to shrivel 
in the dawn; decoys they hope will distract predators 
while the mother ship 

hides many more under fat 
green leaves growing close to the ground.
In the end, all of this is just a place 

for the elderly farmer to show 
the grand kids; a place to hold a tiny hand 
and deliver sermons on the way 

of things in this country, a wisdom
bequeathed from his life of holding back the dragons 
of sun and wind and Banks.
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