Tuesday, 28 January 2014


“What makes the desert beautiful,” said the little prince, “is that somewhere it hides a well…”
'The Little Prince'Antoine de St Exupéry

Poetry Jam this week has suggested that we write about where we live, where we are at, telling something that people may not know. I live in Australia, the Great Land Downunder, the island continent!

Occupying the entire continent of some 7.6 million square kilometres, Australia is the sixth largest country in the world. Its ocean territory is the world’s third largest, spanning three oceans and covering around 12 million square kilometres. Nearly seven million square kilometres, or 91 per cent of Australia, is covered by native vegetation. Although this figure may seem high, many of Australia’s desert landscapes are covered by native plants such as saltbush, albeit sparsely.

Australia is the driest inhabited continent on earth, with the least amount of water in rivers, the lowest run-off and the smallest area of permanent wetlands of all the continents. One third of the continent produces almost no run-off at all and Australia’s rainfall and stream-flow are the most variable in the world.

Human activity continues to exert pressure on the environment, land as well as marine. Pollution is the most serious problem and the vast majority of marine pollution is caused by land based activities—soil erosion, fertiliser use, intensive animal production, sewage and other urban industrial discharges.

Here is my poem about one of Australia’s perennial enemies – drought. Especially relevant as we are in the midst of a hot and dry Summer.

The Iron Sunflower

The sun bakes the red earth
And sky above is blue as blue bottles can be
With light streaming through them.

Drought, and the only noise of midsummer noon,
Is the hum of the machine and the smell of diesel
As water is pumped from deep secret caverns, below.

The bluebottle fly buzzes lazily, imitating the pump,
Sated on her feast of rotten thirsty carcass,
With her eggs safely secreted therein.

The listless children drone in the schoolhouse,
Overcome by heat, repeating by rote the lesson in chorus
Reminiscent of a dirge of Greek tragedy.

The precious water, hard-won by efforts of man and machine
Is stored, as treasured things are, safely locked up,
In corrugated iron tank, not to be wasted on useless things – like flowers.

The head of one of past seasons’ large sunflowers
With a few black, shiny seeds hangs up deep in the dark recesses of the shed,
Strung up high, safe from rodents and birds, a sad souvenir of old times.

The sun bakes the earth and cracks it, breaks its spirit:
No touch of green, no sunflowers this year,
And the wind blows, only to lift great clouds of red dust.

Fallen by the wayside an old mill-head rusts away mirroring the dusty soil.
Its sails are petals of an iron sunflower – the only flower this year.
As the monotony of the pump numbs the ear,
And the stench of petrol deadens the nose,
The rusting iron flower is a reminder of gentler times,
When machines were driven by wind, and their creaks were musical
And the air carried only the faint smell of fresh sunflowers –
Water could be spared then for useless things…


  1. Colossal writing so vast and powerful just like Australia, This speaks so well of the land and your'e love of it. Well done

  2. Amazing piece! I like the way you have linked technology and nature.

  3. Very evocative poem, Nick! You are experiencing a very dry and not summer and we can feel this in your words. The stanza about the schoolchildren spoke to me. Nice touch of nostalgia at the end.

  4. A very beautiful and wistful poem. Looking back to gentler times when life was simpler and we were less hurtful towards our environment can only evoke feelings of nostalgia for what seems a better life. The contrast between the real sunflowers and the iron sunflower is quite striking and poignant.

  5. This wonderful poem seems to be the saddest song welling up from the driest bosom of Nature....the beautifully captivating images are deeply moving....I totally agree with Alan, it's colossal writing.....

  6. Nick, you have really captured what it is like to live amidst drought. Excellent details. I liked very much "The sun breaks the earth and cracks it, breaks its spirit." The discussion of sunflowers drives your points about the drought home! We can't hellp but experience it through your poem.

  7. "The rusting iron flower is a reminder of gentler times," - this imagery expresses the harshness of the draught. Hoping some rain comes soon to quench the thirst of nature and give the "listless children" some energy!

  8. So much atmosphere here I felt as if I were there... and wish I was. I'd take heat over cold any day!

  9. The iron sunflower and broken earth evoke a sadness. I'm sorry that is where you are at.

  10. Loved this brilliant poem evoking the brutal dry Australian heat and that penetrating stillness of summer in the outback. It's a killer at this time of year.We never spend January or February there. You have created some marvellous images ...the petals of the iron sunflower, the sky as a blue bottle the rust, the diesel smells of the generator, the red dust and living on tank water....watching every drop. No flowers for us either....just statuesque cacti. A poem in the first rank Nic. Good on you mate.
    My old China does not like poetry but I made him read this and he said you've nailed it !

  11. This is a wonderful poem, Nick!! Beautiful images and comparisons. The iron sunflower is perfect! I can relate since we live in S California and so far this is the driest year since weather keeping history began here.

  12. Fantastic poem, full of atmosphere and sense of place

  13. I love this poem - it captures so well the heat and drought. The social comment on "progress" is incorporated well ingot he theme of the poem.

  14. Very nice ... I feel the agony of your people, your beautiful country. One day, I will return .. hoping drought conditions have improved.

  15. Great contrast between the natural and the man-made with a good reference to the relationship between the two. We destroy nature at our peril... Amazing poem!

  16. You create an amazing atmosphere in your poem, I can feel the dryness and the heat as I read it. The lack of water and its underlying causes is very well expressed...

  17. Yes its not only in your country........ India is worst..........You have captured it well.......

  18. “What makes the desert beautiful,” said the little prince, “is that somewhere it hides a well…”The Little Prince is my favorite for sure I love your poem!!!

  19. I love how your visuals are given strong aural links ... this poem trancends words and images for me in that way to make a complete sensory experience of the hot dry landscape of your place in rural Australia ... well done!

  20. really nice capture...you make it very visual and allow us to experience it in our minds eye...
    i fell in love with australia after reading bryson's book actually....

  21. All your images, so wonderfully described, put me "there". Beautiful work.