Hell and After: Four early English-language poets of Australia


Les Murray: From the Introduction

All Aboriginal poetry is sung; spoken verse arrived in Australia in 1788 along with the means of writing it down. For convicts, which is the term we use for victims of that strange marriage of hard Puritanism and early welfare, names were a fraught matter too, though in a different way. Many gave false names to the authorities every time they could, so as to confuse the records and maybe slip into a lesser category of punishment. Thus Francis McNamara sometimes appears in the records as Francis Goddard, and gets confused with a non-poet prisoner of that surname who had a different history. And then there is the famous Crow, or epigram of self-introduction, printed in this book, and its shorter ideogram form Frank the Poet, his claim on renown and on authorial credit. From his use of the term 'convict' – they preferred to call themselves 'prisoners' – we can tell that he meant his work to go beyond the penal barracks and reach the general public, which only knew the official term. Very little of it ever did so in his lifetime, though, and when the bits which emerged from the memory of fellow prisoners as relics of the penal period were collected, they were slow to be firmly attributed to their author – and it might have been much worse if he had not written out a holograph text for posterity.