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Poem about Mike

At the celebration of Mike's life at the National Museum last Friday, several people asked for copies of the poem "Desert Archaeology" that I read there. It talks about Mike's fascination with stratigraphy and quotes many of his phrases.

I don't want to put the full poem on line since there may be plans for its publication, which require it to be "unpublished". However below are a couple of excerpts: Anyone who wants an electronic copy of the whole poem for their own interest, can email me:

Camped near the dig, mug in hand,
Out past the Tarn of Auber
(most unglacial of soaks)
In that three quarters of Oz
"Set aside for mystic poetry."

Country where you count trees to a square kilometre
And trees count the water,
A world of spinifex pixels,
Baldwin Spencer saw a people stranded in time
Primitive, but not primordial,
Modern humans, who weren't.
Tindale's deep bed at Devon Downs had no dates;
But Mike from old fires and toe-bones helped make
A story with dates, and where possible names;
Traced it all forward
To where deep time meets memory, slides into history.
Motives become known; phonemes guessed.
Walking the land between rains
"Like a clock slowing down",
Through its hushed-sand places where even to walk
Seems an act of reverence, part of
That endless fitting of bare feet to country,
He knew this high tropical plain
The height of a cloud above the coast.

 . . .
So does the work end
In a book-choked study,
A time-travelling dream before dawn,
Coffee in hand,
Staffies snoring on your feet,
That becomes a vision, a linking hypothesis
That might take a century to prove?
Or in something pragmatic?
Perhaps a draft for a Minister, now it seems on-side,
About the First Peoples’ claim to lands
For a Constitution’s preamble?
 . . . Well, we will go on searching.

Mark O'Connor

Back to The Compleat Archaeologist


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