A Lot To Love And Loath About The Ocean

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9th December 2009, 03:58pm - Views: 842

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PO Box 1389

Darlinghurst NSW 1300

Telephone 02 9319 5090

Mobile 0425 312 334


ABN 35 103 464 446


9 December 2009



Australians view the sea and other waterways with a mixture of reverence

and fear, a national literary scheme has revealed.

The fear component is mostly of creatures – sharks and crocodiles being the most popular predators –

and of drowning or shipwreck.  However there is also fear of what humans may do at sea, or even the

effect of being near it. 


The findings are drawn from analysis of hundreds of poems, stories and recorded messages gathered

over a six week period as part of Sea Things – a unique project that asked people of all ages to interpret

Australia’s maritime history through verse.

The works were collected in duffle bags travelling on ships along both the east and west coasts, stopping

in Hobart, Melbourne, Port Kembla, Byron Bay, Brisbane, Cairns, Fremantle, Darwin and Thursday Island

and expanded by contributions from commissioned poets and the general public online and through

the post.

“We wanted to taste-test contemporary attitudes to the oceans as well as encourage people to draw on

personal experiences to define their feelings,” comments Johanna Featherstone, the Artistic Director of

The Red Room Company, the project’s organiser.

“The collection, not surprisingly, reveals a broad vista of thoughts about and for the sea, but a common

element in many of the poems is a mix of awe and anxiety.”

Norman A MacMillan from the Royal Australian Navy’s Anglesea Barracks in Hobart writes of the

torture of a RAN sailor aboard a merchant vessel during the Vietnam War. 


Monji Bat-Erdene, a Year 8 student from Kelvin Grove State College in Brisbane, observes a beach scene

in which the sea impacts its visitors: “Naughty boy broke a beach chair/ran off like an innocent

child/dancing through the air, and Man came skipping; he looked like a baby crawling on the

carpet./Didn’t know what to do, stood/there staring at the ocean like a child trying to find her mother.”

For some, this menace of the sea is what makes it irresistible, almost like an addiction.  

D’Kodia Laine, a school student on Thursday Island, writes of his “hide out spot” that is beautiful and

possessed despite “a snake or two.”


Zac Finestone, of the MV Victorian Reliance, which carried the collection from Hobart to Devonport,

describes the camaraderie and confidence of naval life whose “mateship…will weather any storm.”

Sailor Brett Thomas evokes the melancholy of leaving port, soon replaced by the “cruel” routine of

work, which is just as soon forgotten as “the land is sighted” once again.

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PO Box 1389

Darlinghurst NSW 1300

Telephone 02 9319 5090

Mobile 0425 312 334


ABN 35 103 464 446

Childhood and children are constantly referenced, reflecting

Cairns poet Kerry Ashwyn’s reference to the sea as a womb.  

Poems about love and joy suggest that the sea simplifies and

lightens the mood – it is flippant, playful and spontaneous. 


Sometimes the sea is a protecting embrace; or simply a bottomless

container, as seen by Brownyn Hope, of Redland Bay: “Not waving; praying/The weight

of your water bows low with secrets to be yielded at your whim/broken wings, rudder-splinters/and

drowned dreamers/black boxes with the last recorded voices/of long flown pilots”.  

At other times it is depicted as a place of harsh exposure.  Images of impending violence ripple through

the collection.  There is more than one ode to a shipwreck, including the “Casabianca”, and the “Malu

Sara” in Torres Strait.  

“Many of the poems observed the sea closely, documenting local phenomena and the way that change

occurs suddenly – in weather, temperature, mood and light,” says Featherstone. “More than anything,

the collection’s interpretations of the sea are about oneness and unity - whether in grief, as in

commissioned poet Petra White’s St Kilda, or in the impersonality of the ocean’s scale.

“The collection also includes poems that use seas and oceans as triggers for other themes or images. 

For some, it prompted poems focused on tropical flora and fauna like gulls or frangipani.  

“The fleeting lives of animals are often conjured up, as if the tidal cycle of oceans reminds these writers

of mortality and the easy destruction of life.   Indeed, environmental change and particularly rising sea

levels appears in several of the poems.” 

In “Port Phillip Bay – rising seas”, Frankston poet Avril Bradley depicts a disturbing image in which “the

seaview has swallowed itself”: “Wooden planks from a submerged pier/ arkfloat pairs of gulls./A

windlass winches the outhouse/to higher ground./People are seeking the moral high ground./Boats are

submarine./Sailors navigate the streets.” 


Adds Featherstone: “The threat of this apocalyptic vision is picked up elsewhere, by poets who chide

humankind for clearing and felling the reef and sea life just as we do to terrestrial life. Another student

from Thursday Island perceives a distant likelihood of symbiotic collapse when she writes that ‘if sea

creatures die/I will cry/Cause they are a part of me’. 


“While the sea reminds Australians of harsh realities, it also provokes dreams. For example, Sydney poet

Cathy Bray writes about dreams as though they were slippery water; commissioned poet Luke Beesley

uses the sea as a catalyst for memory; something that releases automatic or subconscious recollection.”


Media inquiries: Johanna Featherstone, Red Room Company, on 0425 312 334, or Graham Cassidy,

Cato Counsel, on 0419 202 317

The Red Room Company creates, promotes and publishes a spectrum of poetry by Australian writers, in unusual

ways. The company is not-for-profit and is supported by The Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation, The Australia

Council for the Arts, Arts NSW, The Ian Potter Foundation and The Keir Foundation.

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