Giles Watson

Giles Watson

Posted on 06/29/2014

Photo taken on June 30, 2014

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Great Kanguroo

Great Kanguroo
Great Kanguroo

I ‘eard tell they speared some redcoats
as went out alone, an’ they was found
wi’ their eyes pecked out by crows.

But with me, they was kind, as though
they took one look at these convict rags
and knew th’ difference. After I ‘scaped,
‘twere nobbut an hour afore I knew
I ‘ad no chance, wi’ no gun nor tinderbox,
an’ what fruits I found might be poison
for all I knew. An’ then this boy were
starin’ at me through the hangin’ leaves
an’ red blossoms, an’ afore I knew it,
I were surrounded by ‘em. Aye, I got
a few prods wi’ th’ blunt end of a spear,
an’ one owd man, ‘e comes up an’ starts
tuggin’ at me trousers an’ jabberin’,
pointin’ at ‘is own equipment, an then
I knew: ‘e jes’ wants ter know if I
were built th’ same as ‘im underneath
me rags. Well, I ain’t ashamed:
I lobs it out there an’ then, an’
th’ grizzled one looks right impressed.
That were ‘ow we met. An’ I stays
with ‘em – I know not ‘ow long,
an learns ‘ow ter turn shells into
fish’ooks, ‘ow ter build a sort of boat
out o’ bark. An’ t’owd man, one day,
‘e comes wi’ a great lump o’ hair
an’ sinew slung upon ‘is back, wi’
long fat tail slumpin’ behind, an’
huge leathern-soled feet. ‘E lets it
fall aside th’ campfire, an’ I thinks,
ere’s one word o’t’ natives I already
knows, on account of ‘avin’ ‘eard
o’ these creatures, so I points an’ I says,
“Kanguroo – kanguroo”. “Patagarang,”
‘e says back, “Patagarang”, an’ then,
like ‘e’s doin it outer politeness, ‘e tries,
“Kan – kang – Kanguroo – Kanguroo?”
then touches his mouth. Well, Kanguroo
or Patagarang, ‘e soon has it draped
across th’ fire, an’ as th’ sun goes red
between th’ branches, they all gathers
outer nowhere, an’ we’s sinkin’ our teeth
in like ‘ungry dogs, Patagarang grease
smirchin’ our chins. That was when
th’ redcoats came upon us – tracked us
by th’ firelight. I sticks up me ‘ands,
an’ looks from side ter side, but they’s
all vanished ‘mongst th’ tree-boles,
an’ there’s me by a spittin’ fire, me gob
still wrapped round a great Patagarang
longbone, starin’ down a musket.

Them was th’ best days I ever ‘ad,
after all th’ birchings an’ gin-swillin’
an’ treadmills, an’ then bein’ shipped
out ‘ere – me who’s never gone
ten mile from ‘ome – an’ the stocks
an’ th’ floggin’s an’ me owd friends
dyin’ o’ scurvy, an’ th’ gov’nor’s
endless rantins’, claimin ‘ow ‘e
gives ‘alf a shit for our welfare.

Aye, there’s th’ story of ‘ow I ‘scaped to
civ’lisation. An’ look – there’s a great ‘erd
o’ Patagarangs on that rise, some standin’
an’ some grazin’, all ‘aloed by sunlight.
An’ mind you don’t let me ‘ear you callin’
‘em Kanguroos. That be th’white man’s
mis’earin’. Th’ white man don’t know nowt.

Poem by Giles Watson, 2014. Picture: The Naturalist’s Miscellany, written by George Shaw and illustrated by Frederick Polydore Nodder, published in twenty-two volumes between 1789 and 1813, Volume 1. When Cook’s expedition encountered Kangaroos, the tribesmen at the Endeavour River used the name by which the marsupial has since been known. However, the Aboriginal inhabitants of Australia were divided into innumerable nations, each with its own language, defined by territorial and topographic borders. The local tribe in Sydney, where the First Fleet landed, were known as the Iora, and they called the kangaroo “patagarang”. They assumed that “kangaroo” was the white man’s word. See Robert Hughes, The Fatal Shore, London, 1987, pp. 5-11; Mark Abley, Spoken Here, London, 2003, pp. 13-14. Cook had noted in his Journal that, “Excepting the head and ears which I thought something like a Hare’s, it bears no sort of resemblance to any European animal I ever saw.” Shaw compared it with the jerboa, but recognised that it was a pouched animal. The animal illustrated by Shaw is probably an Eastern Grey Kangaroo, Macropus giganteus.

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