For those who’ve not experienced one, a Southerly Buster is a weather phenomenon synonymous with long hot Sydney summers. After days of increasing heat, powerful cold fronts charge up the New South Wales coast, bringing abrupt and extreme drops in temperature, strong winds and rain. These dramatic events have been part of my Christmas holiday season since childhood, and I love the climatic atmosphere they bring!
Which made it all the more fun to write this poem, and all the more satisfying to have it included in Les’s inspired poetry project. Twenty poems written about Sydney were performed at a group poetry reading at Manly Art Gallery, surrounded by the glorious artwork of legendary Australian artists Brett Whiteley, Lloyd Rees and Elisabeth Cummings. It was a great honour to be part of the event and to read my work alongside some of Australia’s finest poets.
My poem, ‘Southerly Buster’, is a found poem sourced from the novel ‘Seven Poor Men of Sydney’ by one of my favourite Australian writers, Christina Stead. You can read my poem below, and the other poets’ excellent work here.
Wishing you a peaceful holiday season, whatever the weather brings!
A bloody sun rose through misty veils —
another steaming white day.
Morning smoked on the red roofs
swarming the hills,
the barren headland
curled like a scorpion in the blinding sea.
At the wharf
people burst out of the turnstiles
flushed girls in floating dresses
twisting in streams through the streets.
Cicadas skirled from the foreshores,
trees rose up to dissolve into light
and picnickers deliquesced
in the cool pools
of deep green between the pines.
The afternoon, wearing on,
shone copper, the whole ocean
rolling in molten motion toward the land,
meteorologists singing up a storm
as the people, waiting, wilted.
Dusk gathered, houses shadowed,
the eight o’clock ferry
trailed its golden lights out of the wharf,
street lamps yellowly came on…
In the gloaming, the wind charged in.
Dusty leaves twisted and blazed
the grass reared itself with a pugnacious thrust
rats streaked up from the waterfront
cockroaches scuttled into cracks.
The sea was running high
gathering force in mile long rollers,
a howling parliament of waves plunging
booming into the caves
then draining hissing back off the rocks.
For hours the squall drove from the south,
battering at the window panes
chattering at the doors,
and bursts of rain rang like blasts of shot.
Then, an imperceptible illumination:
in the west, a faint low glimmer
announcing the setting of the moon;
in the east, dawn breaking behind the black clouds,
the pale contour of the Heads emerging
like a somnolent lover’s limbs.
* A found poem sourced from Seven Poor Men of Sydney, by Christina Stead