(Jury, M. Regent Parrot)

4. The Smoker Parrots: John Shaw Neilson (date unknown)

Section
1. Build the Nature-Human Relationship
Chapter
1.9 Poems
Page
1.9.4

The reefs have run out and the little
Dim villages sit out in the cold;
But up in the north-west the Smokers
Have taken the gold.

It is a dry land, and any
Good morning is spring in the air.
The Smokers come out of the sunlight,
And leave a love there.

The South and the West have the barley;
It is good for the eye,
And the oats are up over the fences,
And seven foot high.

They have all the sheep and cattle
The clover can hold;
But up in the North-west the Smokers
Have taken the gold.

Tis not the dull metal the jewellers
Spin out for the eye;
But the gold that the Smokers have taken
No money can buy.

Oh, up in the dry land no robber
Is surely as bold.
The Smokers have washed in the sunlight
And taken the gold.

 

Hearing the bubbling call of a flock of Smokers, or Regent Parrots, come rolling through the treetops in the Mallee of north-west Victoria is one of life’s special treats. You usually hear them before you see them and this gives you a happy sensation of waiting for the flashes of gold as they burst through the Red Gums or Black Box on their way to somewhere else. In amongst the brilliant gold are shafts of black, blue and red. Topping it all off is a jaunty, coral-pink beak.

They have a beautiful, slender, stream-lined form with a long tail and were called Smokers by the early settlers because some of the plumage, particularly of the females, has a ‘smoky’ appearance. I have never been particularly satisfied with this explanation, but can’t find a better one.

John Shaw Neilson lived in the Mallee and Wimmera of Victoria and adjacent South-East South Australia and loved the natural world there. Despite a limited education, poverty and a very hard life of farm labour, he, like Keats, revelled in the beauty of the natural world, seeking joy, celebration and solace there. To him, Nature, beauty and love were fused in a glorious alchemy: “The Smokers come out of the sunlight/And leave a love there”.

 

1 Chisholm, A. 1976. Shaw Neilson – Selected Poems. Angus and Robertson (Modern Poets edn.), Melbourne, Australia.

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