Information about work, life and play in Regional Australia

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Judith Wright's The Hawthorn Hedge - Regional Australia writers

Photo: Just about in the middle of nowhere, above the gorge, sits this orange tree. Presumably, once upon a time, a homestead once sat nearby. From Gordon Smith.

Across the Australian countryside you will find remnants of past settlement. Now they just sit there. Once they were a symbol of human hopes and dreams.

Judith Wright is one of Australia's premier regional writers. While she wrote on many things, her writing was formed by her early experiences in New England 's Northern Tablelands, the same area covered by Gordon Smith's photos.

Judith Wright's poem The Hawthorn Hedge captures one element of the New England experience. The very title is indicative of this, an English plant transplanted into an Australian environment to provide a feeling of home.

The poem begins:

How long ago she planted the hawthorn hedge -

she forgets how long ago -

that barrier thorn across the hungry ridge;

thorn and snow.

The phrase hungry ridge echoes another traditional Australian bush phrase, hungry country. This is country that has to be fed, but does not give a proper return for the effort. Snow, because snow is not uncommon in the high New England country where Judith grew up.

The poem goes on:

It is twice as tall as the rider on the tall mare

who draws his reins to peer

in through the bee-hung blossom. Let him stare.

No one is here;

We can see the hedge grown tall. However, it is not true that no one is there.

Only the mad old girl from the hut on the hill,

unkempt as an old tree.

She will hide away if you wave your hand or call;

she will not see.

Obviously the rider know that she is there. So we are left wondering why, how she came to this? Judith's next verse drives home the point:

Year-long, wind turns her grindstone heart and whets

a thornbranch like a knife,

shouting in winter "Death"; and when the white bud sets,

more loudly, "Life".

Now Judith contrasts present and past:

She has forgotten when she planted the hawthorn hedge,

that thorn, that green, that snow;

birdsong and sun dazzled across the ridge -

it was long ago.

She goes on:

Her hands were strong in the earth, her glance on the sky,

her song was sweet on the wind,

The hawthorn hedge took root, grew wild and high

to hide behind.

I grew up in this country. When Judith writes, I can see and understand.

Entry Page for Posts about Judith Wright's poetry


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Anonymous said...

How is this relevant at all?

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