Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Scone With the Wind

There is a book by Barry Humphries called Neglected Poems.  It contains no real poems but a lot of epically vulgar comic verse, which I find amusing but others regard as merely offensive. In amongst the ridiculous doggerel there are also several attempts at something nobler. These fail as poems just as much as the more ribald stuff does, because they too are infected with Humphries's fear of ever being serious.

One example is Wattle Park Blues, in which Humphries looks back at his childhood outings to Wattle Park in outer Melbourne. As so often in Humphries's writing there is a really strong sense of genuine nostalgia in the poem, but, because he insists on making fun of the things he used to - and seems still to - love, hiding to some extent behind the Everidge persona (not that she is mentioned in the poem, but the use of the word 'kiddies', for example is very Edna-esque), Wattle Park Blues, although it does paint a vivid picture, ends up just being jarringly sentimental:

Wattle Park Blues

Back in the wattled thirties
Before the world went dark,
They built this noble chalet
On the crest of Wattle Park.
The trammies on their days off
Came for Devonshire teas,
And outside the kiddies seesawed
With mercurochromy knees.
A graveyard for old cable trams
Lay below us in the valley,
Where we played till creamy soda time
And dixies in the chalet.
How we envied the conductor
On the tram on which we'd come.
With his cubes of coloured tickets,
Nippled rubber on his thumb.
Loved his uniform of navy serge,
Scarlet piping on lapel; 
Wished we could say, Move down the car,
And tug that leather bell.
Above us in the giant gums
Were bird houses built on high,
Little chalets for the maggies,
Tudor surburbs in the sky.
We grew older, came less often,
To watch the wattles burst here,
Though Geoff, Jeanette and Alison
Each had their twenty-firsts here;
But we'd outgrown creamy sodas,
Were spottier - and thirstier.

We drank Pimms and puffed on Garricks,
Hugged gardenia'd girlfriends hard,
As we parked our mothers' cars by night
Along the Boulevard,
And Wattle Park was quite forgotten
And the trams' metallic rumble.
Dear to the heart of childhood,
Like the taste of Violet Crumble.
And so dear friends and strangers
I presume to be your guide
To the terminus of memory
I have shouted you a ride.
To the place where me and Colin
And a thousand kiddies more
Picnicked underneath the pollen
In the days before the War.
Today the trees seem sparser
The old cable trams have gone,
But they still serve in the chalet
Melbourne's finest buttered scone.

Mind you, despite my gripes about the poem, finding myself with nothing to do one afternoon in Melbourne, I was unable to resist the twin attractions of wattle and scones, and so I boarded the No. 70 tram outside Flinders Street station and headed out to Humphries's former haunt.

It was rather lovely. There were trams lurking among the trees:

There was a clock set in stone:

There was a child of the Gallipoli Lone Pine:

Humphries's chalet was still there:
Promisingly, it advertised itself as a tea room:
Alas it was no such thing - it is only available now for 'events':

Sconeless, I wandered off in search of solace in the form of wattle:

Which I soon found:

Along with evidence either of illiteracy in the Victorian Department of Parks, or, if we're being charitable, of a one-man crusade to reinstate an earlier usage (presuming 'remenant' is an earlier usage for 'remnant'):

But pedantry is banished in the face of wattle, surely:

I had the place pretty much to myself:

My sense was that it was somewhere that was less visited than it had been, populated more by ghosts than people. This impression was reinforced by the fact that the former stables were now used by departmental workers as a tea room:

and final resting place for aged park benches:
Meanwhile, the Wattle Park cottage has become the headquarters for the basket makers of Victoria, which is ludicrous enough that it might amuse Humphries:
I came upon a stone edged pond with a decaying Italianate fountain. It looked like the kind of place where once people took tea. Now it is neglected and abandoned:

A last blaze of wattle led me to the park exit:
Why do we no longer put such care into the design and building of municipal structures:

I suppose it's a question of economics, but why have we reached a point where we prefer cheap to good?


  1. According to a couple of online dictionaries I've just checked, 'remenant' is indeed an obsolete spelling of 'remnant.' The Miriam-Webster page for 'remnant' claims that it is actually a contraction of the other word.

    "Middle English, contraction of remenant, from Anglo-French remanant, from present participle of remaindre to remain

    First Known Use: 14th century"

    So that's interesting.

    1. It is, but I'd still bet that the sign was just a mistake.

  2. Oh, such a lovely post, I have had to break through the pain barrier of commenting. Wattle Park was a big picnic spot and Sunday afternoon with Dad place for our family from the wattled fifties onwards. We travelled by tram, too. And, later, 21sts at the Chalet, and then wedding receptions. I have taken all the members of the next generation there at various times. For old times sake.

    A visit to Wattle Park features in one of the Sandy Stone monologues, Can You Keep a Secret? Sandy and Beryl - plus picnic - take the visiting kiddies Wayne and Marilyn there for an outing one Good Friday.

    Loved reading this, and the photos, and just the fact that you made the journey. From the poem.

    Rosie L.

    1. So nice to hear you're familiar with it. I loved my trip out there. My mother is Australian - from Victoria - and my father was English and we didn't live in Australia when we were children but would come over a lot, and some of the time we'd stay with cousins in Melbourne. In the 60s it seemed to me that Melbourne still had a very calm, dull but oddly pleasant feel - it seemed quite a gentle (maybe genteel?) world where the only thing that anyone did that was even faintly remarkable that I can recall - and everyone did remark on it - was that one aunt wore a hat indoors. Going to Wattle Park brought that world back for me a bit.