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EMU Space, Level 5 Schulz Building, University of Adelaide (SA) - 20-23.07.2010


Text performed with Slawek Janicki and Domenico de Clario, Friday 23 July 2010


They called him Ugly Abe
That’s what they call him, Ugly Abe
He may have had another name but that’s what they knew him as
Ugly Abe

Across this whole vast land, the great brown land
Though it didn’t start off like that
It started off in mist and rain
In the very midst of the rainforest

Heritage Listing 1238
Heritage Listing 1239
Without negotiation or consultation
World Heritage Listing 1234
Bennett’s Tree Kangaroo and all that jazz
World Heritage Listing 1259
Without negotiation or consultation
Another excursion into instant wilderness
Where wilderness equals paradise

No, don’t rise out of your chair
No, don’t rise out of your chair in protest or for any other reason
No, don’t raise your hand in protest or as if you’re a bloody know-all or even if you
wish to excuse yourself
Bloody know-all
Know this, the raised hand is a recent invention
Part of the new wilderness
They-sit-at-the-desk-nicely-without-moving reality
They sit nicely in the desk in rows
This is the please-pay-attention reality
This is the no-day-dreaming reality
The no-chatting-to-your-pals reality
The obey-directions-from-up-front reality
The ever monarchy
The ever-sovereign-long-to-reign-over-us reality
The judgment-by-your-imagined or self-styled superiors reality
The relinquishment of all responsibility upward and downward for that matter reality

The trees grew greenly
The trees grew darkly
The wind roared and surged
The wind tore at the dark foliage
The children played ping pong with a flat ball
Me winner me winner one two three four
Me winner me winner one two three four
Your serve
No, not like that like this
And the wind howling and the wind raging
And the occasional scud of heavy rain
Coming to us from across Weary Bay
Coming to us from across Weary Bay and Cape Archer
And Ugly Abe saying to himself: I’ve seen all this before
And he had
He had seen it all before yet it was different
A growing thinness
The same story from a thousand lips
The same appeals, the same catch cries and every story dead
Every story dead and converted into some sort of heavy moral imperative
Working together
Bringing our people together
Talking for country
Isn’t it great we can all come together like this wearing our uniforms
(Hail brother, hail sister)
Isn’t it just the most worthy thing that we are all talking off the same page and all
singularity gone, spent at the counter of history for little more than half a shekel
Thuma wuri thuma wuri
That’s just too bad, rubbish one
Do it again
More gusto, do it again
And all join in

When all join in that’s the end of everything
Life reduced to sweeping the dance ground
Life reduced to wind and dust
Life reduced to wind and ashes
Life reduced to emu
Frilled-necked lizard
All stolen
All stolen some other country
Wind and dust
Minh ponjtyath
Thuma wuri
Wind and dust
Wind and dust
Nothing going to grab you like that wind and dust


Ugly Abe witnesses it all
The gongs taken from the park promptly at 4 o’clock
The council ute pulling up and the door left open as the council employee detach the
gongs and the beaters from the musical ship that the good ship lollipop endeavour
now becomes pitched to the colonial scale
Now pitched to twinkle twinkle and sing a song of sixpence and rock-a-bye baby
And chopsticks
But at 4 o’clock precisely the ship sink into musical silence
The gong no longer sound
The octave rendered mute
The interval made to zero interval, as if a proper equality
A newfound democracy of silence:
And the sound of the flat cracked ping pong ball clunk on the ping pong table
As if history sprung a leak
As if history itself suddenly queered into something rich and strangeless
As if
As if

And we thank our brothers and sisters for privileging us onto their land
We say this a hundred thousand times in case someone believe us
For repetition always plays slave and master to the final truth which is this:
The truth of over and over is certain attenuation
The product of over and over is the void invented by a terrible relentless appearance
of sincerity

A little power, says Ugly Abe, always heads to the microphone
A little power always heads to the airwaves
A little power will always having you squirming in your seat
A little power will suddenly devour time as if it is God’s very own crocodile

Next year we will bring three busloads, just see if we don’t
If I’d known this I’d have brought three busloads
We can do that easy for I am the chairman
We can do this easy for I know all about this bus business and me and my council, we
can easily do this
It is in our power
It is in our aldermanic purview

And meanwhile not a blackfella in the employ of Cook Shire  
Not a blackfella employed in the road gang where Cook came, weary and resourceful
and wrote down the lingo where it is still spoke
Not a word of difference in two hundred plus years
Not a word of difference and still it is spoken
It has, thinks Ugly Abe to himself, an odd pedigree and a tremulous presence
Ngale ngale we are here
Ngale ngale
Ngale ngale we are here
We are here
Ngale ngale we are here and ready to go
Ngale ngale
We are here and we are ready to lift off
In short, we are ready to go
We are ready, we are ready to go


Back in the big smoke
Back in the big smoke Ugly Abe and his mate went shopping
Back in the big smoke Ugly Abe and his mate got ready to perform something
Back in the big smoke Ugly Abe and his mate thought about the week that was
They forgot about ii/er
They forgot about kon kon and cho cho cho
They forgot about donna è mobile
They turned to other inspirations
The pink white tops of the sugarcane
The tinkling waters of Crystal Cascades and the seeing-eye dog that run smack bang
into the stinging tree as if it couldn’t read the signs
The abject splendour of Captain Cook doing his best Mussolini impersonation except
he’d managed to keep his weight down during what was in fact his maiden voyage
(others contest this)
And he looked southward when in fact he might have attended to the north
(Never look back)
And yes, he did look rather emaciated standing there with an ad on his back
Something about used cars
As if motor vehicles and numbered highways were now the way to go
And the Cairns Western Arterial (Innisfail this way) much to be desired over the
former route through Smithfield and the route past the airport
Given you know the tendency to gridlock at certain hours
Mostly when the planes are scheduled to depart or to arrive, it makes no difference
And the splendid new courthouse (the old one has become a pub where you can watch
State of Origin and meet your erstwhile pals from the south and order midis when you
should order pots)
And the splendid new convention centre
And the splendid new recreational pool near the Esplanade
And the splendid new everything
And the whole port area now barricaded and inaccessible
The whole Barbary Coast rendered into a new form of barbarism: high rise, spa baths,
Casino, and the special free-form breakfast with a PhD from the Phillipines by your
Waitress of the hour

Well, says Ugly Abe to himself, so much for the blood of my pals
Sometimes see you can truly die for nothing


This morning it was time to recite lessons learnt

The prongs are made of beefwood, ironwood properly but it is poisonous for children
This Uncle Eddie explains to Ugly Abe
The prongs are the proper spindle shape which pleases Ugly Abe enormously and
confirms his own certain/uncertain knowledges
(See, he did know after all)
A stray Torres Strait pigeon crosses his path
A pool of white on the grass amid the ordinary cooing doves and feeding on the bread
crumbs strewn morningly

The coast recedes, there is a handsome exotic grass growing along the shore: nambarr,
they call it
It’s only lately, they say to Ugly Abe, as if they are any older themselves
Giant melaleucas growing along the shore bare their roots and fall into the tide
Even as the tourists launch their boats into the wide-spreading waters
There is the story of Stephen Swindly and his mysterious disappearance, there one
minute disappeared the next
The ghost of Mrs Watson, went to sea in a tub, she did, went to sea in a tub
(We piss on her monument, truth be told, Uncle Abe is told
All that marble, kumpu theeng)
It’s a revenge of sorts, for irksome truths that bear other constructions)

Yes, Ugly Abe becomes Uncle Abe, all in the flash of certain repeated words:
Kalka for spear
Murranggal, 4-prong spear
Wurrpuy, stingray-barb spear
Nayfu, knife spear, what Ugly Abe knows as a blade spear meant for spearing pigs
Ngurrumuku, carved spear
Milpirr, woomera
Wapuka, rough, readymade woomera picked up on the run
Thalparn, a freak or aberrant event
A frog, a storm, anything out of the ordinary
Signs of deep disturbance
Signs of a general untoward in the universe
Yirambal’s displeasure, divine retribution

Yes, they said, we enjoyed it very much, this visit
And nothing waved, nothing waved in departure
Just a general settling of overnight rain into the sodden ground
A general whispering of cloud
And the usual tales of strategies to avoid detection, or how to sneak in unawares

That is how we departed, heading for the nearest TAB


Flight QF977 Townsville to Brisbane becomes flight to Moree
We miss Gunsynd the Goondiwindi Grey
We overnight at the Dragon and Phoenix

It never became clear which we dwelt in, the Phoenix or the Dragon

The town roared all night with palpable aggression and the noise of the highway
And we never made it into the spa, the hot springs

They recite something on the old bridge at Wilcannia
A town so present it might pinch your soul while you contemplate another barricaded
door or window
Or struggle for the keys in your pocket

(Light of your heart, oh Helena)

Uncle Abe has not been so pleased for a long time

They recite something on the bridge: I want something silent
I want something not just hushed but totally silent

Meanwhile the boys pass neatly dressed in expensive blouson jackets courtesy of
Centrals Football Club (red and white) and the Rabbitohs

Recording resumes:

For the moment there’s a big left curve
Not that we shall call this a day of correction

(They note at each turn the obvious geographical facts)

Love can strike unexpectedly
Lower its cobra hood
Creep through the sliding window
Speak in several close-lipped messages

The last of the Gilgandra bananas is eaten
The skipping receptionist a fading memory
200 km done for the day

Caltigeena Creek
MacCullough’s last resting place
Foot hard to the floor
The last booming cloud given over to the grey consistency of rain

The drummer strikes a blow
Yet what remains in my heart remains unspoken
Aloof as a bowl of breakfast cereal
Honey Crunch, winner take all

The country breathes to the rhythm of slow-breathing lungs
A cavity both vast and restricted
A red unflooded gutter

Tempos allegria
The growths that grow along the tongue and in the guts
All the unsaid things
All the things we truly cannot stomach

Ngangk waya
Ngangk pathinu, ya’a

The voice drones on to the sound of a mouth organ: Philo philo amoroso
Philo philo insenso


We shall get there eventually
We shall rattle each other’s nerve endings to the root
We shall recite stanzas on the rooftop of Mundi Mundi
We shall tally Tracey’s images against the sudden noxious revelations of Silverton
We shall marvel at the cemetery in Broken Hill
We shall listen to the conversations of others at Macdonald’s
The mutual congratulations offered all round for some triumph or other in anger
Mildura, the site of this unlikely achievement

All aboard

The prickle country has become somewhere and it will end somewhere
We compose desperate verses
Truth and wakefulness:

Petrol station

Answered with:


Lava, what about lava, please
Can lava change my feeling to you
Quarantine station ahead

Answered by:

Lap Lap
Muu Muu
No more questions

Serious rain, that’s nice
Strong sun
It must be a rainbow somewhere about

Answered by:

Oolawirra by the river
She only shaves in the morning, never at night
Your beard, she says, is unseemly


There are often questions, ill conceived
There are never answers except the most obvious

Ugly Abe opens all ears
The Main North Road lies ahead

goo goo ga ga
goo goo goo goo
pik thaet ka

da da da (short) da da
a da da (short) da da
ah ah ah ah
da da

As a prelude to yawn yawn yawn

Roseworthy 126.9 unleaded
Roseworthy 132.9 diesel
Roseworthy 64.9 autogas

Please place rubbish in the bins provided

There are those they say who refuse love
Go to hell, that’s what they say
They don’t even think that, the refusal, they think it is an offence
They enter the aggrieved
They are themselves the space and oracle of the aggrieved

On the road, on the road

How good was she in a kiss, how good was he in a kiss
Yes, he heard these things, he heard them
He heard them because they were spoken
He heard them because they were broadcast on the radio

I’m tired of people telling me to go to hell, says Ugly Abe
I’m tired of people telling me to shut up

Police line do not cross

Ugly Abe meets a fate most would consider most unlikely
Unlikely and certainly undesirable
Run over by Fed Ex near Gate 15
Run over by Fed Ex outside the Johnson Laboratories
(Ah, if you could hear your infant speak)


Police line do not cross

My wife at the time said
My wife at the time

Police line do not cross

Remove your chair, remove it
Remove your fence line, remove it
Remove your blinds, remove them
Remove your straggling curtains, remove them
Remove your marina, remove it

Each place lives in the memory for reasons that remain unknown

Forget it, forget it
Gunbanyng, forget it

Apology lies in forgetting
The only truth lies in the advance notice of sorryness

The child cries
It already understands the tragedy of things

Forget it, forget it

Gunbayng gunbayng

Forget, forget

John von Sturmer
Adelaide, 22 July 2010

 john von sturmer 2010