Barbara Barrett

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Barbara Barrett has a passion for bush poetry. As a member of the Port Macquarie Bush Poetry Society, you may see Barbara at various functions reciting some of her favourite verse … sharing tales of some amazing Australians, famous and not so famous, but all of whom have helped shaped our history in some way …

Hi Barbara. When/why did you originally move to the Greater Port Macquarie area?

We owned a farm at Brombin for 35 years, and moved here in June 2010. It was a very sad day leaving, but Port Macquarie is truly lovely in a very different way.

Please explain a little about the genre that’s known as “bush poetry”. Does this type of poetry have to be set in the bush, written by poets who live in the bush … What defines a bush poem?

I view bush poetry as people, scenes, a way of life, the love of bush and the tales told by Lawson, Jim Grahame and Paterson and Bruce Simpson, who is still a living legend.

Paterson was a solicitor, and his work kept him in the city. He went bush as often as he could. He owned sheep stations, wheat farming and his family property at Orange.

Lawson was a lonely figure, went bush more often than he should, and was engaged to Dame Mary Gilmore for some five years, when she finished the relationship due to his frequent absences from Sydney.

Bruce Simpson was a drover from 1941, droving 1,500 head of cattle at a time across from Western Australia to the train depot at Dajarra, Queensland, ‘til the 1960s. He wrote and performed his poetry riding around the herd, on watch.

How did you first become interested in bush poetry?

I don’t remember learning poetry at school, except for Clancy of The Overflow and Dorothea Mackellar’s poem, My Country. My enduring love and fascination of the bush (from a very early age) gave me the real beginnings. When camping with my children, the first item packed was my poetry books.

I was a Venturer Scout Leader and encouraged my Venturers to learn a poem and recite it around the campfire when we were rock climbing or caving. They challenged me to learn The Man from Snowy River, and they were amazed when around the next camp fire I recited the poem, and received my first applause.

What are a couple of your favourite pieces of poetry – and why do you love them?

An elderly neighbour gave me a few lines of Tale of an Old Gum Tree. Google couldn’t give me any more, but my son found it in an Arbour Day edition of The Land, July 1930. That began my love of Jim Grahame’s poetry, but I was unable to get any more.

When visiting with a 94 year old friend at Emmaus, I was fortunate enough to have her tell me her family were neighbours of Jim Grahame, a local Leeton celebrity/poet, and of Henry Lawson, when he lived there. She has loaned me a book of Jim Grahame’s, and I find his poetry so descriptive and to be equal to that of Henry Lawson. Is it any wonder it was so hard to source, as there were only 1,000 ever printed? He wrote of the times they walked the Australian bush together and some of their socialist views during the Shearers’ Strikes of 1891.

My favourite poems are those Jim Grahame wrote of his friendship with Lawson. The Bush Mourns is heartrending and tells of the death of Lawson and the way the nation felt, the country people who understood Lawson’s love of the bush and they showed their respect of Lawson by honouring him with the first State Funeral, which was attended by Prime Minister Hughes and the Premier Jack Lang.

The Poet’s Coats is of Lawson’s coat, which Jim Grahame treasured. Tale of an Old Gum Tree – one can truly feel what the gum tree tells us in that poem.

Lawson’s poems are so descriptive; they are also great favourites. I particularly favour Reedy River, of a young man’s views of the river and trees, taking his girl for a ride on horses and then how he built a home for her, had a successful crop and buried her years later in that same beautiful land.

What local poetry group are you a member of, and where do they meet?

I am a member of the Port Macquarie Bush Poetry Society. We meet at the Senior Citizens Centre, 2nd and 4th Sundays of each month from 1pm to 4pm. Visitors are welcomed and encouraged to read or recite also. But for those who want to just listen, that is also great – having people hear the works of the great poets we all love so much.

What benefits have you experienced being a part of a group such as this?

I have found the friendship of like-minded people and the sharing of a love of something truly Australian – experiencing the depth of poets of all eras and hearing the favourites of the other members and the way they present them.

I have gained confidence from mentoring and connecting with people who have a passion, as I do, for Australian bush poetry.

You’ve written two poems yourself. Tell us about these …

My first poem was Seasons, written in 1987, and talks of the seasonal struggles – both good and bad – and how people are so brave and face the hardships and joys, again and again.

The Hastings, written in half an hour just two years ago, is of the love of the river at the bottom of our farm. I realised how much I missed the river, and my inspiration poured into that poem. I talk of the wildlife I saw when I went to the river: the birds, cattle, platypus, kingfisher, the tortoise heads popping out of the water, the sounds of the river flowing over the rocks and then the quiet of the deeper pools. I thank God for having given us so much to enjoy.

I am very proud of both those poems, and I am waiting for my next inspiration to be able to write more. Maybe one day!

You’ve recited poetry at various functions … What do you feel it takes to be able to recite a bush poem well?

One needs to FEEL AND BE PART OF the story. The stories told in the poems are so heartfelt and descriptive. Express them. Don’t rush through it. Speak clearly and precisely.

What would you say to others who may have an interest in bush poetry, either writing or reading – any words of encouragement?

Come along to our group; don’t give up. Most of all, ENJOY.

Thanks Barbara.

Interview by Jo Atkins.

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