Poetry Collaboration



Manly Art Gallery & Museum

Ekphrasis selected to be read in celebration of the artworks in the Gallery’s “Spirit of Nature” exhibition.


Curated by Michele Seminara



Kathryn Fry, K. A. Rees, Samuel Elliott, Anna Kerdijk Nicholson, Judy Johnson, Marie McMillan, Magdalena Ball,

Eileen Chong, Jill Carter-Hansen, Gareth Jenkins, Martin Langford, Ruth Nelson, Justine Poon,

Shale Preston, Peter Lach-Newinsky, Teena McCarthy, Mohammad Ali Maleki, Lorne Johnson & Anne Casey.







Archived in Pandora


from Meuse Press –



Swifts in the Sclerophyll                            Kathryn Fry

after Gill Burke’s 'The Nectar Eater'


You might wonder how those feathers

came to be: the streaks of red above

and below the beak, the cheek and crown

washed in blue, lemon splash here and

there, the remarkable greens, the long fit

of a scarlet-trimmed tail. As you might


consider the ruffle of stamens and rub

of nectar in robusta, maculata, gummifera

and other woodland trees, the grey box

and white, the blackbutt and ironbark.

Our evergreens. And you might suppose

when it first began, this blossoming of


purpose: the birds from across Bass Strait

to lean into flower after flower and lerp, over

winter. The sure, swift flights. You might stop

to simply be under the chatter and busyness.

Yet, most of all, you’ll know the price of this

feasting. How it can persist. Why it must.


Swamp Mahogany                           K. A. Rees


after Gill Burke’s ‘The Nectar Eater’


We are flying again. Across the Tasman

headphones jacked in—volume dialled

to eleven, ignoring the cabin crew as they mime

the brace position, how to inflate a life jacket

with a tube of plastic; how to blow a whistle

to attract attention if we plummet

into the Strait. This is only

one type of emergency: a thing broke, exploded

or gave up the ghost—expiration; immediate.

There are other emergencies too

grey to notice in the first misting of snow.

Despite our noise we are missing

each other, songs stretching out, echoing aloneness.
I’ve been in the trees, searching through stands
feathers stroking the skin of blue gum, the tickle

of white floral circles, honeyed buds within reach. Now,
the long return to the beaches, searching for trees:
Winter flowering Spotted Gum; Red Bloodwood
Ironbark. White Box. So few Swamp Mahogany.


Bandicoots were bastions                           Samuel Elliott


after Julia Sample’s ‘Once, high on the hill’ 


When the Bandicoots were only and all

Tones were sepia and

Lush when vegetation

Was a gilded green kingdom

Silence was golden and strident sounds

Were blissfully rare so was


On the hill

On the creatures that dwelled in its manifold embrace

Darkness was a friend

The shores were mighty and steep

The waves warbled

Carriers of the ocean’s brooding

But dry land was paradise

The dead of night was the heart of all life

A time of industry

Bandicoots were bastions

They supped no more that most

They returned more than they took

They grunted their contentment

Mellifluous staccato 

Movers and shakers

Moving and turning over the

Rich heady fertile soil

Never mistreated always worshipped

Then an intruder

Darkened their dominion

Cleaving the virginal waters

Offloading a cargo of a scourge

Man many of man

Their hordes spread as their singular hand curled into a fist

That thudded the earth decimating

The Bandicoot people were eradicated

But not all

They the resourceful

Burrowed deep and prayed hard

For mankind’s reckoning

For the return of normalcy and the splendour of


Closure and certainty are still denied them

In this repurposed realm

Where the killer monster cats and dogs rove and reign and grow fat

On the unwary and the bereft

There are still the brave few Bandicoots

Holding subterranean parliament

Existing waiting

For man to turn on man

Then when the dust settles

So too will the ground

Nature will breathe easy not bated

As the Bandicoots arise to rebuild

The grandmotherly night will take her eternal mantle again

Host endless new markets in her zenith

The harmonious babble will carry out as it used to way back when

Hushing the envious encroaching ocean

As the gentle hues repair the vista once



Elsewhere people have never felt you—but what are you?                        Anna Kerdijk Nicholson


after Elizabeth Harriott’s ‘GBF’


You are impact, rib-affecting, long term,

you feel rare, a bit poetic (worthy of sensitivity,

slightly out-of-place in society). In the corner house,

messy and shambolic, maybe they don’t care.


Your booming hum comes from the wetter land.

I wonder if the school kids at the bus

or the tradies feel you. I text my friend when

I think I’ve found you on the Internet.


I don’t quite know what it is, this me and you

thing. It’s certainly not you, most disruptive,

unidentifiable, physically present sound.

Round here, the luscious reeds are nearly gone.


I guess you’re not in the alpaca paddock

or in with the swings and trampoline.

I also guess you’re ex-spawn—and static,

if your constant sonorities prove the place.


I want corroboration that some other person

has woken and looked at the speckled blackness

in a new place and found your resonance

in their throat, in their being.


Brittle Midge Orchid                        Judy Johnson

after Rebecca Baird’s ‘Bauer’s Midge Orchid’


Perhaps he saw in you his own redemption.

            Ferdinand Bauer: the Leonardo of Natural History painting.


In his lifetime he remained un-lauded.  Barely published

            or exhibited.

                        He left no portraits behind.  No diaries of his journeys

to chart the floral and faunal minutiae

                                                of his newly discovered world. 


At best, a handful of letters remain

                        and they are guarded.  No way to read the man behind the man. 


It is as though, as artist,

                                    he desired his acts of replication, if they must include him

                                                to do so, not in a realm above his subjects

                                                            but instead in the measure

                                                                        of just another


environmental curiosity: a shy creature read only by the tracks

            that his brush left behind.


As artist aboard Investigator, Bauer circumnavigated Australia

with Matthew Flinders. 

                                    There is that half-true cliche that no man is

an island, but the other half is that an island


eventually erodes the most diffident of men, exposing the stark cliffs,

                        the perilous

                                           battering waves of his loneliness.


After Flinders’ ship was condemned,

            Bauer stayed behind in Port Jackson, an aging bachelor,

                                    longing to pick up the faint scent

                                                            of his last chance at happiness.


Instead he found you, and in you, his true reflection. 


You were the last plant he collected and painted in 1805

            just before he sailed home, alone, to England.


                               Like a wife, you took his surname: baueri.


He called you Brittle Midge, for your fragility and for

the diminutive flies who were your pollinators. 


                                                            He raised you above

the obscurity of your retiring nature, as he never quite

                                                                        managed to raise himself.


I think of both of you:

                               elusive, clinging to the margins. Neither of you haunting

                                                the habitats of showy blooms


            those other native orchids who brazenly jut from rocks

                        on sandstone peaks

                                    or else find a high perch in the fork of a tree.


            The artists who push themselves forward for posterity


You were both more at home in leaf-litter’s camouflage.


Back in London,


                        I imagine Bauer dreaming

            that your single cylindrical leaf,

                                                wrapped tightly around your stem     

                                                                                                for protection


                        and the cloak he gathered snug to his body

in Winter, as he wandered the banks of the Thames

                                                                        were one and the same. 


He would have known back then what it was

                                                that would make you endangered.


Your impossibly fussy,

                                    incurably romantic habit,

                                                so like his own,

of waiting year after year


                                    to be stimulated into flower

                                                by the perfumed intoxication

                                                            of the perfect texture of droplets

                                                                        in the exact volume

                                                                                                of autumn rain.


He must also have realised, the world does not cater

                        for the likes of you two.


It was enough that you took his name as your name

                        (no woman ever did). 


And in return he took the tiny, perfect red bloom

inside you

            as emblematic,

                                    a miniature replica of his secret heart.


Top Billing                    Marie McMillan


after Marguerite De Fondaumiere’s ‘Our soul has flown away’


Our bodies some artists have painted,

extolled breasts, curves, nipples and arms,

the crack bifurcating cheeks’ dimpled,

not to mention l’origine du monde*


Avian creatures some artists have painted,

some in trees or sabulous habitat,

extolled crests, their feathers, their plumage

variegated or multi-coloured,
speckled eggs, nests an’ legs short an’ slight


‘Top billing’, I gave

Limicola falcinellus,

for extolling beccus so hefty and broad,

so puissant when pecking and probing,

mandibles there in arabesque curved


Simple, striking an’ sickled Sandpiper,

from treeless Siberian tracts,

has visited our shores of Pittwater

eye keenly invigilating

molluscs, biofilm or mites, 

not to mention preening or probing,

when not feeding or pondering leaving


While I, ‘neath the arch of your beak,

so keratinous and audacious,

see the oval of infinity





* a painting by Gustave Courbet


orchid inventory                     Magdalena Ball

after Rebecca Baird’s Bauer’s ‘Midge Orchid’


it’s always a matter of scale

incremental changes remain invisible

until it’s too late, blind embossed

the image of an orchid receding

a body in motion

so easily unhinged


it’s always been a matter of when

fleshy terrestrial sister


I feel the brush


stems, stalks, bracts

against my face


body brittle

unhinged by the lightest wind

by growth, progress, heat, and of course

hunger, the ever-present danger

your beauty a curse


it’s a matter of urgency

size doesn’t indicate importance

or the speed of decline


sound is slipping back

a Doppler shift

birdsong altered into silence

dry sclerophyll forest, moss over sandstone

the abstracted impression of what

you once were


Sweet truth                              Eileen Chong


after Wendy Morrison’s ‘Salt’


I push a fingertip along the rail:

salt. My hair stiff and obedient


in the weighted air. Salt blooms

within the kiln; eats away at steel.


The long march, the spinning wheel.

The wife who would look: a crystallised


pillar. Blocks of currency dissolving.

Rake the ponds of salt, let them shrivel


for the harvest. Pink like a stain that won’t

come clean. The magic salt grinder fallen


from the captain’s ship, sunk to the bottom

of a salted sea. Were it so simple,


this knowledge that we are all but salt—

Sweat and tears. Sweetness and truth.


To The Barking Owl                         Jill Carter–Hansen


after Negin Maddock’s ‘The Barking Owl’


Could there be any doubt about that call at night-

your call  - when creatures pause and freeze in fright?


Your talons tightly clutch that ancient bough 

prepared - to thrust you forward and down

towards your prey, as evening lengthens

on a closing wing of light.


Your prey - I pray for them sometime,

those creatures - that your golden orbs of sight, magnify

to fit within your expectations and your appetite.

With powerful wings prepared, you wait the time to strike,

assessing subtle movements far below.


Those soundless wings - their feathers lightly fringed -

defy the normal turbulence of air, so quiet - superbly spread, 

a promised shroud descending on your prey,

delivered by a ghost whose talons pierce

a sugar-glider on her maiden flight.


The final mea culpa of the day.


That sacrifice - that gift dropped in your nest

while, resting there, your pleading brood

and faithful partner waits.

                She checks the distribution of the meal.

                She checks the feathered pattern on your breast,

                each season reassured you’ll stay together,

                until that final rest.


The Shadowing                       Gareth Jenkins


after Bernadette Facer’s ‘Coping with salt’


Because I am reading Irradiated Cities

Little Boy and Fat Man

conjure atomic plumes

like bolls of cotton,

plaited hair,

strands of wool.


Look how shadowed background

looks like a body's shadow

looking back

from that day,

when suddenly only shadows remained,

minus the bodies to make them.


Because of 'make' my mind goes to 'grace' then quickly to 'grease'

but of course the heat

that was nothing like any heat previously known

would have done away with all that and the bodies that held it.

In the night, those that survived the shadowing

called for water

and in the bottom right corner you can see the dark run off.


A beauty in these margins:

the sluice marks

of right to left ink drag,

topographical bottom left

sound wave valley and crest,

new shoots lifting from the top edge,

            the organic delicacy

            of chance.


Look how the plumes look like bolls of cotton

and my mind in Wilcannia

with steamboats

steaming around Steamer's Point.

Remember the one that sunk?

And the stories they told of the sinking:

that thing down there in the deep hollow

elbow of the river,

            I dare not name.


Because that was 100 years ago,

when water still ran in the Darling,

it is wool, not cotton

that washes ashore from the sinking steamer,

woven into a thick fat plait

of hair

falling from a dark neck

shadowed by one last scene

in miniature,

top right: black crust of sky cracked by lit column,

momentary fission of atoms

silent from behind cockpit glass

from within war room

leather recliner crystal decanter

refracting polished mahogany

in depleting afternoon light.


The Line                        Martin Langford

after Gill Burke’s ‘The Nectar Eater’


We need to draw a line a line of pipes  

against those who think they’ve a right to complain

if their tap-water smokes, or refuses to flow.

Who are these people?

And what makes them think the stuff’s theirs?


And we need to draw a line in five-storey blue  

against those who gabble and squawk

about room for the bird with the splotchy red mush.

What is this? Coast-views for cocky?

When we’re not allowed near that blade-ready, high-margin scrub?


We need to draw a line a line of conveyor-belts  

against those who whinge about sea-levels rising

Who bought there! Who knew how to read!

And even for those who have lived there for five generations  

Ownership’s no guarantee against natural events!


We need to draw a line a line of transmission-wires  

hard, high and long: against those

who threaten the hum of a smooth-running grid:

planting unsightly, vertiginous, sickness-inducing, bird-splattering fans

on our personal hills our proprietary views.


And we need to draw a line:

a line of jocks each with a weird need

to nuzzle the ears of the strong

a line of conspiracy-theories and blunt, bare-faced claims

against those who still believe evidence:


a moist line of private anxieties;

a line of raw memories, pegged out with photos of kids;

a line of resentments, of sour gobs of knowledge;

of lost loves the sweetness and wreckage of beds

a line of the needy, who will not who can’t afford ever

                                   to weigh or to budge.


Honeycomb and Salt                        Ruth Nelson


after Wendy Morrison's ‘Salt’


I see myself reflected in the waters of Wendy —

A child on holiday at the beach,
climbing on rock shelves, through the tunnel, dark and a little frightening.


What is obvious is the mingling of yellow and blue-green; the sliding
of water over rock’s honeycombed weathering; the saltiness
as the sea bites your mouth. The urgency of its flavour.


I remember a boy shaking his thin country body as he spat —
It’s salty! Who put the salt in


I think of a school friend driving west today
with a trailer full of food and supplies
to where farmers haven’t planted their winter crop
because there’s no moisture in the soil. None at all. 


Out there, men shoot themselves after they shoot their cattle
and women have thick forearms, from holding up so much over so many years. 


I remember someone in the playground saying —

From a geological perspective, the Earth will be fine


Then we all looked at our babies, oblivious to the dirt and salt.




Coping with salt                      Justine Poon


after Bernadette Facer’s ‘Coping with salt’


the channels all converge here.

from the air a tightening

weave of river delta and dense

rhizomic shrubland

crawling outwards

like the atomic bloom

of your stems in close up,

furred with salt.


your leaves a spine of succulent tongues

entwined at the edge of the land,

snaring feet and sheltering small animals

beneath an unruly lattice

that holds down the salt breath

where the liminal zone exhales.

but it is becoming too much

like human tastes, there are degrees

to which you welcome the jolt

of brittle crystalline minerals

leaching into your bones.


we can dissect the disaster in slow motion,

parse out the parts that are dying

in the hope that knowledge

will fight the retreat of your wild domain.


hold the image close

remember, death comes

cell by cell.  




Sound pictures                        Shale Preston


after Rosanna Jurisevic’s ‘Large Eared Pied Bat’


I make sound pictures

As I fly


The pulses I send out

Through my nose and mouth

Return after a slight delay

To a point just in front of

My splendid ears


If there is nothing much about

The pulses slow

And the images are indistinct

But when insects come into my orbit

The pulses quicken into shimmering dioramas


I like to fly around the street lights

To catch the ones who find themselves

Beguiled by the light

And I particularly enjoy

The mezzo-staccato point

Of my sound articulation

Just before I catch the large ones

In my brilliant, expansive wings


I am not shy to underscore my attributes

Far better to impress you with the majesty of my gifts

Than to speak of my fear of losing the hollow of the old tree

That affords me the warmth of my kind

For it too will go

In the interests

Of the strange imperatives

That appear to guide the instincts

Of your kind


Glossy Black Cockatoo                     Peter Lach-Newinsky


after Avrille Ciccone’s ‘Birds of a Feather’


Still my dignity towers skywards

from this fire continent, my colours

red as flames, black as embers, seven


feathers falling in a flurry of loss,

the slow sad joy of my call stranded,

unheard inside glass tractors, screens,


dailyness, distraction from bone-deep

knowledge that we all inter-are.

Disrupted, displaced, applauded,


shall I close my ancient feathers like

some final fan among the last casuarinas?

Yet perhaps through your dreams


my flight may still drop down gravity

like a wave of black light shining

a spiralling way down through the maze


of compassion, anger, grief, some dark

sense of planet plastic bereft of birdcall, 

the silence, the space, the soul I sing.


A Single Black Cockatoo                           Teena McCarthy

after Avrille Ciccone’s ‘Birds of a Feather’


A poem for Janice aka JBird, 1958-2004


While we stood boiling the billy,

the river whispering

and you declaring
your last will and testament,

your imminent death


a single black cockatoo

flew overhead —


The bird

stopped us in our tracks.


We held our breath

as it swooped above

crying out loud as if it knew

that all I could do

was love and comfort you,

my friend of twenty years.


I suggested you head north to Kakadu,

follow the bird

to a place in the sun,

with green trees, pandanas

leaves and crocodiles lurking below.


Later, I was happy to hear

you’d found joy in the Top End; not knowing

it was also where you’d meet your end…


Travelling to our old lookout spot

searching for signs of you

at this moment

a single black cockatoo

again flies overhead —

signaling what — life or death?


Either way, it’s a sight I’ll never forget.


And when the world is quiet,

I look to the sky and smile

remembering the story of me and you
and that single, black cockatoo.


Parrot                            Mohammad Ali Maleki


after Gill Burke’s ‘The Nectar Eater’


I went to the jungle —

It was serene and green,

beautiful and fresh.

The sun was playing in the trees;
it was a scene
from nature’s heart.


Deep in the jungle
butterflies danced on flowers,

birds ate from berry bushes

and sang sweet and joyful

messages to their friends.


But I also heard the moan of a bird

from inside a flock of noisy parrots.

I moved closer and saw that one parrot
had fallen to the ground

It had fine
features, rare and brightly coloured.

Feeling pity, I brought it home,
feeding it medicine day and night

until it was strong enough to be set free.  
Then I returned my pretty parrot to the wild.

After a few months I visited the jungle

but couldn’t find her anywhere.

Tired and worried, I started home…

when a voice from behind me said Hi.
I saw no one but felt something on my shoulder —

My parrot with some of her young!

She had learned to say hello.


Dear Friends, come —
Let us help this next generation of birds to survive.

Don’t you know that as we rely upon her,
Mother Nature relies upon us?


Red Crowned Toadlets                     Lorne Johnson


after Helen Clare’s ‘The Red Crowned Toadlet’


When everything was imploding

in our shrinking Pymble apartment,


and we’d both turned ourselves

into Namibian sandstorms,


I’d take lengthy nighttime walks

in delicate summer rain,


through a wide Ku-ring-gai gully

below a shale-capped sandstone ridge


festooned with boronia, fern and banksia,

close to where, in the early twenties,


a returned World War One veteran

built miniature stone pyramids,


a miniature sphinx. The rain

would produce what sounded like


an old Cuban musician slowly scraping

a wooden guiro — really chirruping toadlets,


under leaf litter. I’d carefully dig

them up, cup them in a warm torch-lit hand;


they were grubby red, black and white

humbug-jewels the size of my thumb nail;


still, calm, with delicate throat membranes

pulsating, pulsating, pulsating,


and tiny eyes as dark as scarabs

pinned to a pharaoh’s bandages.



Scion                              Anne Casey

after Ruth Thompson’s ‘Remnant Community’


high on a branch

on a soaring crown

in a grove of trees between

sunbeam starburst leaves

that twists and turns

but goes nowhere


kookaburras canoodling

far above the middle of

everything that is all

cicadas calling to prayer

the crash of a branch

in the out there somewhere


a memory infused in cells

falling to earth

immersed engorged dispersed

echo of all that is everything

cycling through dirt to rise

to a branch on a soaring crown


in a grove of trees somewhere

in the








MEUSE PRESS publishes this collection.

All work © the authors.



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