new books on their way

Riverton Press has two books in the making, one about a house and its people, the other about a bomb aimer with the Australian Air Force in WWII. The first is evidently about life and love, family and friends, yet the other book is too, even while it tells of the aerial bombing of Germany and France. For the only hope of an Australian crew dropping bombs from a Lancaster aircraft would be to survive this mission, live tomorrow, dance and drink tonight, get a letter from home…

It’s different to think of the Second World War while this violent sudden Russian invasion of Ukraine continues. Watching old re-runs of Foyle’s War is no longer the simple comfortable consideration of its moral dilemmas. I know wars are always raging, I know I haven’t paid sufficient attention to those in Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan, that the current one is considered shocking by our Western media because it’s Europe and Europe was supposed to be over it. Not true of course, remember Chechnya, Georgia, Kosovo?

I have written a poem about learning ethno-geography through news bulletins from war fronts. How did I learn of the existence of a country called Chad, called Timor Leste, called Rwanda? Of people called Saharawi, called Mapuche?

Wars haunt us, and that’s one reason Lyn McGettigan is keen to publish her father’s memoirs from WWII. Wars haunt us, just read WG Sebald. As I prepare to publish Lyn’s book I think of the history of aerial bombing, of Guernika, the Blitz, the napalm in Vietnam, today’s missiles hitting Ukraine.

Lyn McGettigan wants us to know how it was for her father to fight the war he was sent to. We follow Jack Bewes as he moves from young man keen to learn and travel to the man five years later who realises – in his understated prose – that he “was not quite right” when he got home. His dancing and singing, his caring for others, his notes on 35 flying missions, his humour, carry us through the miracle of his survival.

The other book coming soon… I’ll tell you about in a separate post. It’s a translation!


poetry reviews

Some reviews have come in about sprinting on quicksand and it’s surely time to share them here, along with a photo from my bookshelves, a miniature from my world.

“I have a new way of starting my day – with my early morning cup of coffee I savour your poetry and it’s such a joy! I’m taking Jan’s advice to go slowly, which I can also apply to my activities after reading a few of your poems. I’m sure this is good for my blood pressure.

“I loved your searching for Haiku! You can see I’ve jumped to the back of sprinting on quicksand, but I’m also into Bedrock. I love the images in the shearing shed, as I have memories of visiting sheep properties in rural Queensland years ago, and the little girl watching the re-invention of clouds – magical! (I used to lie on the ground and look at the sky watching clouds, even several years ago when I had my cottage in Tassie, but never thought of them being re-invented). And then there’s the contrast of the modern counting of “sheep” at the train station. Such different worlds.

“I look forward to continue reading your poems that create perfectly the images and stories that can lead me gently into a new day. Thank you for sharing your gift through words.” Annaxue

“Your gift: I read with recognition, reflection, curiosity, delight and wonder. I haven’t proceeded apace, I want all these experiences and more to continue. I want to spin out, be languid in, let your words, their placement play in my mind and create images, thoughts, ideas.  How special. Truly, who receives a book of poems from the poet for their birthday. Thank you, thank you. I’m honoured.” Sue

“Thank you so much for sending me a copy of your extraordinary new book of poetry.  It arrived on Friday and I have snatched some brief moments to look through and read some of your creations.  In that short time I have come to this conclusion: from book title to photography; publishing to personally signed book; exquisite wordsmith and ordinary poem titles that capture the extraordinary, you have created a masterpiece.  Congratulations!” Maureen

“I have just finished a first reading of sprinting on quicksand, and like the collection a lot.  You cover a tremendous range, and the book is full of surprises (among them, the line that the title comes from), but I can always hear your voice. 

I think “Taking down the shingle” got to me particularly. But I also loved the sequences, including the haiku adventure.” Raewyn


Is a poet to blame for this kerfuffle?

thoughts on the brumby wars

As a poet I find it interesting to reflect on a poet’s role in giving wild horses a prominent place in Australian imagery, and thus indirectly leading to current debates:

heritage of the brumby VS environmental destruction by the brumby

It seems people are inspired by the story of The Man from Snowy River by AB Paterson when they argue that the feral horses known as brumbies have social/cultural heritage value for this nation. Others argue that the proliferation of feral horses in the Snowy Mountains is destroying soil, vegetation, native fauna and their habitat, and ultimately the health of the Murrumbidgee and Murray river systems.

When has a poet been behind such impassioned conflict?

As I child I knew Banjo Paterson’s poem off by heart and recited it. I’ve never seen the film, I imagine it’s a blokey thing with all those crack horse riders from the stations near and far… Harrison, Clancy, the stripling on the small and weedy beast and the rest of them. I know that this kind of man on a horse starred in the inauguration ceremony of the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000, so the image was obviously seen as a significant national symbol. Which is funny, when you see today’s urban society, full of people who may have met a horse rarely or never.

I read Paterson’s poem again now, and I’m still moved by its rhythmic energy and movement, especially when I reach the climax and denouement, when I break:

And he ran them single-handed till their sides were white with foam.
He followed like a bloodhound on their track,
Till they halted cowed and beaten, then he turned their heads for home,
And alone and unassisted brought them back.
But his hardy mountain pony he could scarcely raise a trot,
He was blood from hip to shoulder from the spur;
But his pluck was still undaunted, and his courage fiery hot,
For never yet was mountain horse a cur

Andrew Barton Paterson. The Man from Snowy River and Other Verses, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1896

This is not an honourable ride among the noble animals, it’s a merciless hunt, man against animal, man having to see the animal cowed and beaten so it bends to his will. Spurs, for those who don’t know, are cruel pointy metal things attached to the rider’s boots specifically for the purpose of sticking them into the horse’s sides. Any rider who wears spurs mounts the horse with intent to hurt the animal. And why? Paterson has already told us the rider let the pony have its head to find its own way down that terrible descent, where the wild hop scrub grew thickly, hiding a terrain full of wombat holes.

Perhaps the wild hop scrub was the creeping hop bush, Dodonaea procumbens, native to the Monaro region. It is now a threatened species. It grows along with the Snow Gum, Eucalyptus pauciflora (pictured), in alpine woodlands.

Dr Clare Buswell, chair of the Australian Speleological Federation’s Conservation Commission, says that visitors go to the Kosciuszko National Park to see and experience the uniqueness of its flora and landscapes. To put it another way, you can see Eucalyptus pauciflora niphophila in all its glory only in the Australian alps. You can see horses in paddocks all around the country.

The NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service recently accepted submissions on the management of feral horses in the Kosciuszko NP and the 2018 legislation that allowed for increased numbers of brumbies in the park. The Speleological Federation, referring specifically to the karst area around the wonderful Yarongobilly Caves, was one of many concerned groups and individuals to make a submission.

An excellent documentary film has been made recently: Where the Water Starts, by the hard-working and grand-hearted film makers Mandy King and Fabio Cavadini. It’s available from

The film examines the campaign to reduce numbers of feral animals that are damaging water sources, the habitat of native species, and Indigenous cultural heritage in the Kosciuszko region. Neglect and contempt for Aboriginal land management practices has certainly played a part in degradation of the natural environment.

Feral horses directly impact 23 threatened flora and 11 threatened fauna species in the Kosciuszko National Park. Brumbies disrupt natural habitats by trampling and wallowing, track creation, soil compaction, erosion of stream banks, overgrazing, and destruction of sphagnum bog and wetland, where, as Banjo put it,

the reedbeds sweep and sway to the breezes…

Where the river runs those giant hills between.

The Snowy Mountains ecosystems cover a tiny region of the continent yet are vital to the health of land and rivers in Victoria, NSW and South Australia. Think: food production, vineyards, watermelons, backyard gardens, think: town water supplies, think: Gundagai, Narrandera, Echuca, Mildura, the Hay Plains, the Coorong.

The Snowy alpine region was a grand setting for a good yarn in the 19th century. A poet might say, Don’t let the facts stand in the way of a good story. But if we’re concerned about survival in times of climate change, let’s turn the phrase around: Don’t let a good story stand in the way of the facts. And here is a fact: large numbers of feral horses are destroying the very environment in which they are allowed to roam. We should care for the Snowy Mountains, for what they are, for those magnificent contorted snow gums, for the wonderland that is found in the Yarongobilly Caves, and because we depend on them.

The poet created the myth, brumbies are doing the damage, but it’s women and men today who must resolve problems created by introduced species that have gone wild. Think also: camels, cats, deer, cane toads, bindiis, asparagus fern, garden escapees. Decisions have to be made on complex environmental and ethical questions. Let there be movement at the station!


of shawls and words

While Riverton Press has its origins along the Murrumbidgee River, it has strong links to Mexico and the Spanish language. I’ve been thinking recently about the Mexican shawl known as the rebozo and simultaneously heard comments about la mexicanidad, the essence of being Mexican. I have always seen a similarity between weaving and writing, and Riverton Press accepts that this post is relevant to the business of words, as in spinning a yarn.

The rebozo is finely woven cotton and/or silk, in varieties of black and white / grey and white / grey and silver, it belongs to the rural working woman, la campesina. The soldaderas wore it when they rode the trains and tramped miles with guns and kettles for the Revolution in the early 20th century. You could say the rebozo has marched for Mexico.  Women carry babies in those shawls, at front or back, and today you can watch videos on how to use a rebozo during childbirth.  

The shawl is sold in the market place, no-one said you, foreigner, can’t wear this, for Mexico is always generous and a merchant happy to sell. I wear it gladly, though it feels too big, I don’t have broad industrious shoulders and carry no baby there, but fold it around me, wrap myself in Mexico.

Mexicans abroad might say that you don’t have to dress like la china poblana to express your mexicanidad, but I used to wear my rebozo like that, a statement of my acquired-something-Mexican, and my shawl seemed stiff and new for a long time.

Just so you know, la china poblana wears a white blouse, a full coloured skirt and a woven silk shawl, with beads, embroidery, floral motifs, often with colours of the Mexican flag (green, red and white) and indeed the very flag might be embroidered there sometimes.

I think of a certain Señora at the Sunday market who doesn’t pay for a stall but places her avocados and wild mushrooms on a strip of plastic to one side of the square. Her rebozo is a faded old second skin across her back. She lends no thought to any mexicanidad.

Of course the idea of quintessential Mexican-ness is contested. On social media someone recently posted a short video of a young woman singing La Llorona at a taco stall. The workers served the food, the clients ate, no-one seemed to pay her much attention, except for the person behind the camera and those of us caught up in the “video-went-viral” moment.

No sooner had I watched the clip when a comment was posted by a person known to me, praising the singer’s talent and declaring that she and the taco stall were more Mexican than a well-known singer who flaunts una mexicanidad que no tiene (a Mexican-ness that she doesn’t have). I thought that was a bit unfair on the famous singer, who has done a great job expressing things Mexican, including a fantastic version of that same song.

There are words so Mexican I can’t happily translate them into English, as you will have noticed while reading this text. I am never content to translate campesina as peasant, because I see too many socio-economic shades of difference. I see I have not translated la china poblana (the Chinese woman from Puebla) or told you her story. I can translate an expression I just heard on the radio: bigger than Ben Hur, without knowing who or what was Ben Hur and how big he or it was. All this brings us to the question of translatability and the transfer of meaning, which we can leave for another day.

Let me just say, millions of shawls are woven in Mexico and around the world, but when I use the word rebozo, I’m not thinking of all the coloured varieties, only of those in tones described above. And, to me, the rebozo is quintessentially Mexican.

Riverton Press usually takes its images from personal photo collections but our photo of a rebozo was definitely dull compared to the one borrowed from

It shows an image from the Mexican magazine Revista de Revistas (1910-2005), with Mexican actor Maria Felix in a film called La China Poblana. Apparently all copies of this 1943 movie have been lost.


free books!

The free street libraries are one of the best things in our cityscape.

There are treasures to be found, books I’ve always wanted to read, authors I’ve heard about, books that look interesting, and all for the taking! Then of course, it’s wonderful to be able to clear out our own bookshelves and give old books a new life by “returning” books to a library.

I’m in the business of making and therefore selling books, but I am delighted by the proliferation of free books. I have managed to curb my initial enthusiasm of “it’s up for grabs, seize the day” in an effort to prevent stockpiling.

Most street libraries have at least two shelves, some even have compartments and categories, books for children and books for adults. The library called “Free French Books” has at least four well stacked shelves. Book for adults seem to be just that, not as in “adult fiction”, “adult movies”, expressions which seem to mean pornography. When I see libraries labelled with more than three sections, such as fiction, travel, cooking, youth, I think, OMG they’ll be using the Dewy system soon!

I have begun to notice the architecture of street libraries. They imitate other city buildings, and a plain square box, which might be adequate, is rare. Most libraries have arched rooves, and indeed, they have to let the rain fall down and away, just like a house. Some are old and the wood is cracking, the paint is chipped, the doors have fallen off. Some are free standing, others, I suppose you might say, semi-detached. By far the most beautiful local one glitters with its polished wood and even has a miniature staircase, also in wood. Somehow it reminds me of the old wooden houses in Michoacán, Mexico, called trojes. And anything that takes me off today’s suburban street to the beautiful (though troubled) lands of Michoacán is very welcome, so that particular street library has tripled in value.

Riverton Press has not placed any of its publications in these libraries and is still open for business to sell you our books. Plans for new editions are also being slowly cooked.


a hybrid affair

The launch of Journeys in Canberra on 16 July was a hybrid event – pandemic style – live and via zoom. Not a fortunate coupling without adequate technical support, but “we’re all in this together” and “we are constantly having to adapt”. Those of us on zoom could see the speakers, and hear those with louder voices. At times the camera turned to the audience and from zoom we saw them and heard fragments of their questions / comments.

Photo: Manon Saur, Ruth Adler, Remo Moretta, Caroline Schuster

The Australian Ambassador to Mexico, Remo Moretta, spoke about elements the two countries have in common, one of these being indigenous populations and history. It’s not all about trade and money, he said, we could grow and learn by sharing indigenous experience, past and present.

At least that’s what I think he said, I was a bit distracted because a dear friend and colleague was urging me in the chat room to put my hand up and say something. She tried several times, and finally wrote “think of your mother” (founding force behind Riverton Press). So I did, and I remembered something about her that related to one of the questions, about the book’s cover image. In the end I didn’t get a chance to speak, so I’ll tell you here.

Manon Saur’s painting for the cover has a skeleton in it, why is that? someone asked (I think). Obviously both the question and the skeleton are pointers to speak about the annual major happening in Mexico that is the Day of the Dead. Manon was one of the launch speakers, so she related some of her experiences of el día de los Muertos. Thanks to Penny’s urging, I remembered when my mother Nita visited Mexico and we went to Oaxaca.

We didn’t particularly plan it that way, but it was THAT time of year. Oaxaca was dressed for the occasion and the streets were full of performers dressed as skeletons. I found it a bit mono-thematic, given that Oaxaca is so rich in history, art and social currents. Of course, we visited the archaeological sites of Monte Alban and Mitla, were gold-struck in the church of Santo Domingo, tried the mezcal and ate the mole, but each evening we were pursued by noisy and colourful skeletons. I think Mother was a bit frightened, she had asked if it was safe to go out at night.

At the end of the weekend her comment was, I was chased by death, I was nearly grabbed by death, and when I got back to the hotel, death was waiting for me (in the form of miniature you-know-what on the dresser). I’m still alive, hurrah!

Later when she talked about what she liked of Mexico, she would say that she loved that it was not a materialist society in the way of money-loving, real-estate-hugging Australia. She admired Mexicans for having the spirit to look death in the face, play games about death, and not hide it away. Nita appreciated that in Mexico there was space for magic.


We launch in Canberra

Journeys: Australian Women in Mexico

Compiled and edited by Ruth Adler, Jacqueline Buswell and Jenny Cooper
(Riverton Press, 2021)

The Australian National Centre for Latin American Studies (ANCLAS) is pleased to invite you to the Canberra launch of Journeys: Australian Women in Mexico. The event will be hosted by Dr Caroline Schuster of ANCLAS and the book launched by Australian Ambassador to Mexico, Mr Remo Moretta. Other speakers include Mr Eduardo Martínez Curiel, Minister/Deputy Head of Mission, Embassy of Mexico, Dr Ruth Adler and (via Zoom) Ms Pamela Skuse.

Friday 16 July, 2021, 10:00am – 11:00am
Level 1, Lecture Room 2, RSSS Building, 146 Ellery Crescent, ANU

If you are able to attend in person, RSVP  by Wednesday 14 July.

Copies of the book available for sale. Price: $25 (Cash sales only)

All proceeds go to Misión México, a refuge for children in Chiapas, Mexico, established over 20 years ago by Australians Pamela and Alan Skuse. Their project also includes teaching children to swim and surf, and the photo (taken from Pam’s chapter in the book) shows us that it’s a very good thing.

Join Zoom Meeting if you are unable to participate in person: 
Meeting ID: 825 5131 0998 Password: 12345

Or an H.323/SIP room system:

Dial: +61262227588 (AUCX) or
Meeting ID: 82551310998      H323/SIP Password: 12345
Join by Skype for Business


a story about the brolga

The book sprinting on quicksand includes a poem about the Australian crane known as the brolga. Well, really it’s about the near extermination of the brolga in the Riverina, New South Wales, and it concludes:

until I see the brolga dancing

I swear

I’ll write no poem about the crane

More than one of my critics/readers have contested that last line, they say, “Well, you have” and I say, no, I’ve written about their absence.

Those of you who know Wagga will know the Wollundry lagoon, one of many billabongs along the Murrumbidgee River that rise and fall / fill and empty according to floods and water flows. Mary Gilmore talks about the Eunonyhareenyha waters in her book Old Days, Old Ways (1934). The original Wiradjuri name for the Wollundry lagoon was Walangduray, according to

Now in Sydney’s inner west, in Covid lockdown, condemned to endlessly walking the local streets, I saw a mural high on a house the other day and had to get closer, muttering, they look like brolga. And so they were, two brolga dancing!

You can listen to the poem here.

brolga dancing


We support Misión México

Proceeds from sales of journeys go to Misión México, a charity based in Tapachula, Chiapas, in southern Mexico. Founded by Australians Pam and Alan Skuse, it works with and for children of all ages who have been abused, neglected, orphaned or abandoned. It provides food, housing and education for children and also runs a surfing programme for them. And as Pam says, before you teach anyone to surf, you have to teach them how to swim! You can read about Misión México on their website

One of the editors of journeys, Jenny Cooper, recently organised a book launch, a live one, in Mexico. We had had a virtual launch in March, but this was our first live presentation, at the bookshop La sombra del sabino in Tepoztlan, Morelos. Bernard Unkles from the Australian Embassy in Mexico commented: The venue and turnout were excellent, people asked interesting questions and all the available hardcopies sold out.

We are planning a launch in Canberra for July, this is being organised by editor Ruth Adler. Details are still being confirmed, so I won’t say anything more now!

And talking of printed copies of the book, we have some available for sale through this website, please contact us if you’re interested.


talking about art

At an exhibition of work by Australian women artists I recently encountered an old friend from a poem of mine, “Grace’s sister eternally knitting that sock”.

Grace Cossington Smith’s painting of her sister knitting for the World War I war effort is a well-known Australian portrait with its own story. Hanging beside it in the gallery in Canberra was a reworking of that piece by Destiny Deacon, this time showing the artist Fiona Hall knitting one of her own artworks from a reel of video tape. Possibly that film showed footage of war, perhaps not. But the conjunction of the works brings out the connectivity throughout art and between artists, and reminded me of my poem.

The photo is from a mural of portraits at Know My Name: Australian Women Artists 1900 to Now, a fabulous show at the National Gallery of Art in Canberra. It’s a poor photo, I apologise to Destiny Deacon, I couldn’t control the light and its reflections in that busy public gallery, but it gives you a chance to see what I’m talking about.

I’d like to share the poem from sprinting on quicksand, and add a few pointers. I think the poem is best understood as four different reflections on art. It arose from a discussion many years ago in a group of Spanish speaking Australians. We used to meet to talk about Spanish language, literature and our own writing… and then we didn’t. In those days pre-Covid, how lightly we took our opportunities to meet or not to meet! Anyway, one day Miguel Cabezas contributed a poem reflecting on subjects being immortalised and/or stuck in painting frames and sculptures. I started thinking about that, and the following poem resulted. You can decide for yourselves about Grace’s sister, but I rather think she’s perpetuating.

art works

 art has captured them in rectangles
 Grace’s sister eternally knitting that sock
 the sons of Clovis always drifting downstream 
 the Pope in the chair, screaming 
 graffiti on the overhead bridge 
 the miracle of reaching – 
 when time is of the essence – 
 the forbidden canvas 

 take my rites of spring
 break every rule but one 
 harbingers of any new art form 
 will have mud thrown at them
 in the observation or the listening 
 something grows large around 
 steadies within
 at times silent, or stupendous 

by Jacqueline Buswell

Grace Cossington Smith, The Sock Knitter, 1915

Destiny Deacon, Fiona Hall, Artist, 2004

Évariste Vital Luminais, The Sons of Clovis II, 1880

Francis Bacon

Street artists everywhere

Igor Stravinsky, Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, for example

Joan Sutherland, soprano, known as la Stupenda