Friday, 20 August 2010

A Month Not in the Country

I've spent the best part of the last month in Melbourne, and I have absolutely loved it. It is a really fascinating and comfortable city that makes you feel easily at home (and, if you want to breakfast or lunch in a place run by very nice people who make really delicious coffee and food and also provide absolutely terrific service and don't care how long you sit around taking up space reading the paper, I highly recommend Earl Canteen in the NAB building, Bourke Street [the owners' are delightful and Rhys, their main man, is a treasure - in fact, all the staff are terrific]).

Strangely though, despite Melbourne's many attractions (about which I will probably write at length before too long), I was glad to return home yesterday to the world's only country town masquerading as a capital city. And on the drive back to Canberra I was struck by a road sign that directed travellers to Wagga Wagga and Tumbarumba. It made me think of this poem, which revels in the place names of Australia.

Country Places by AD Hope

I glean them from signposts in these country places,
Weird names, some beautiful, more that make me laugh.
Driving to fat-lamb sales or to picnic races,
I pass their worshippers of the golden calf
And, in the dust of their Cadillacs, a latter-day Habbakuk
Rises in me to preach comic sermons of doom,
Crying: 'Woe unto Tocumwal, Teddywaddy, Tooleybuc!'
And: 'Wicked Wallumburrawang, your hour has come!'

But when the Four Horsemen ride their final muster
And my sinful country sinks in the fiery rain
One name shall survive the doom and the disaster
That fell on the foolish cities of the plain.
Like the three holy children or the salamander
One place shall sing and flourish in the fire:
It is Sweet Water Creek at Mullengandra
And there at the Last Day I shall retire.

When Numbugga shrieks to Burrumbuttock:
'The curse of Sodom comes upon us all!;
When Tumbarumba calls for spade and mattock
And they bury Hell and Hay in Booligal;
When the wrath of God is loosed upon Gilgandra
And Gyulargamobone burns red agains the west,
To Sweet Water Creek at Mullengandra
I shall rise and flee away and be be at rest.

When from Goonoo Goonoo, Underbool and Grong Grong
And Suggan Buggan there goes up the cry,
From Tittybong, Drik Drik and Drung Drung,
'Help, Lord, help us, or we die!'
I shall lie beside a willow-cool meander, or
Cut myself a fly-whisk in the shade
And from Sweet Water Creek at Mullengandra
Fill my cup and whet my whistle unafraid

When Boinka lies in ruins (more's the pity!),
And a heavenly trump proclaims the End of Grace,
With: 'Wombat is fallen, is fallen, that great city!'
Adding: 'Bunyip is in little better case;'
When from Puckapunyal and from Yackandandah
The cry goes up: 'How long, O Lord, how long?'
I shall hear the she-oaks sough at Mullengandra
And the Sweet Waters ripple into song:

Oh, there's little to be hoped for Grabben Gullen
And Tumbulgum shrinks and shudders at its fate;
Folks at Wantabadgery and Cullen Bullen
Have Buckley's chance of reaching Heaven's gate;
It's all up with Cootamundra and Kiandra
And at Collarenebri they know they're through;

But at Sweet Water Creek at Mullengrandra
You may pitch your camp and sleep the whole night through.

God shall punish Cargellico, Come-by-Chance, Chinkapook;
They shall dance no more at Merrijig nor drink at Gentleman's Halt;
The sin of Moombooldool He shall in no wise overlook;
Wee Jasper and Little Jilliby, He shall not condone their fault;
But though I preach down Nap Nap and annihilate Narrandera,
One place shall yet be saved, this I declare:
Sweet Water Creek at Mullengandra
For its name and for my sake the Lord shall spare.


Alas! my beautiful, my prosperous, my careless country,
She destroys herself: the Lord will come too late!
They have cut down even their only tree at One Tree;
Dust has choked Honey Bugle and drifts over Creeeper Gate;
The fires we lit ourselves on Mt Boothegandra
Have made more ruin than Heaven's consuming flame;
Even Sweet Water Creek at Mullengandra,
If I went there now, would it live up to its name?


  1. Oh that's great, I should read my Hope book which I bought way too long ago and have only ever dipped into ...

    I only came across Burrumbuttock for the first time earlier this year. Had to stop and photograph the sign! We have so many names that roll off the tongue so wonderfully. I also like Coonabarabran and Mt Tibrogargan...and well, once you start you can't stop can you.

  2. brilliant! I was always impressed by aussie place names. My favourite was wee waa.

  3. Whispering and Worm - my favourite used to be a place near where one of my aunts lives in Northern Victoria: Tangambalanga under Mount Murramerangabung. Sadly, it has been officially shortened to Tangamabalanga (and, of course, the locals shorten it further - to Tangam)