LIFE CYCLE Bruce Dawe
Context – Australian rules football • Originated in Melbourne in 1858. • Has been played in Australia since 1915. • Australia is currently the only nation in the world where Australian rules football is played professionally. • In some regions, it is marketed as ‘AFL’ (Australian Football League). • It is also the most popular sporting league in Australia, averaging over 30,000 people per game.
BIG JIM PHELANFor whom the poem is dedicated • ‘Big Jim Phelan’ was a flamboyant, 114kg ruck player for the South Melbourne Australian Rules Football Club (now Sydney Swans). • In 1902, Big Jim Phelan revitalised Aussie Rules, which had been largely displaced by Rugby Union, in New South Wales. • He was a great enthusiast for the game, and has been called a football evangelist (a preacher who tries to convert others to a set of beliefs). • Why do you think Bruce Dawe has dedicated this poem to Jim Phelan?
Richmond football club • Richmond Football Club is an Australian rules football club which competes in the Australian Football League (AFL). • Gracing their crest is a Tiger. • Their home field is the Melbourne Cricket Ground. • Richmond were first established in 1885. • They have won ten premierships.
General terminology • “Carn” the equivalent of saying “come on” in a thick Australian accent. • “Beribboned” decorated with ribbons. • “Barracking” supporting. • “Rusk” a dry biscuit (baby food). • “Empyrean” referring to the sky, or heaven. • “Bludger” colloquial expression for someone who evades responsibility. • “Covenant” a pact or agreement. • “Race-memory” a memory shared by a whole race, shared subconsciously.
Key ideas • Football is a religion. It… • Follows similar rites of passage. • Involves ceremonial baptisms. • Is a life-long act of worship. • Is communal. • Does not leave us after death. • Identify as many words in the poem you can that have Religious connotations.
Key ideas • Football follows the pattern of the eternal life cycle. • Birth Life Death Rebirth. • Go through the poem and try to identify the four stages of the life cycle in Dawe’s poem. • What are some key words or phrases that are linked to these stages?
Key ideas • Human needs will never change. • Humans will always possess the need for something or someone that will make their lives meaningful, bring their lives to fruition, and save them. • In Victoria, Dawe insinuates that this need is fulfilled by Australian Rules Football.
Stanza 1 When children are born in Victoria they are wrapped in the club-colours, laid in beribboned cots, having already begun a lifetime’s barracking Imagery Born into football. Supporters from birth. Alliteration of “club-colours” consistent, unchanging.
Stanza 2 Carn, they cry, Carn… feebly at first while parents playfully tussle with them for possession of a rusk: Ah, he’s a little Tiger! (And they are…) Alliteration “Carn, they cry, Carn” / “parents playfully” Colloquialism of ‘Carn’ barracking, voice of fans, Australian slang. Metaphor “little Tiger”, a proud embodiment of the club’s mascot. Also suggesting that they are potentially future players. Allusion Tiger, mascot of Richmond team. Ellipsis (And they are…), suggesting that they are developing tiger-like qualities.
Stanza 3 Hoisted shoulder-high at their first League game they are like innocent monsters who have been years swimming towards the daylight’s roaring empyrean Simile “like innocent monsters who have been years swimming”, unbeknownst, strange and unnatural, beneath the ocean’s surface, unexposed to the wonders of the game. Imagery juxtaposition of the “innocent monsters” swimming in the darkness of the ocean, with the “daylight’s roaring empyrean”. Sensory imagery the silence of the cot, and the muffled sounds beneath the water, contrasted with the roaring fans of a packed stadium. Religious allusion “empyrean”, symbolism of the water, baptism into football.
Stanza 4 Until, now, hearts shrapnelled with rapture, they break surface and are forever lost, their minds rippling out like streamers Imagery “hearts shrapnelled” Extended metaphor “break the surface” (of the water). Reaching the empyrean. Religious allusion “rapture”, moment of enlightenment, transporting from earth to heaven. Simile “minds rippling out like streamers”, opening up to the world, learning. Celebratory connotations.
Stanza 5 In the pure flood of sound, they are scarfed with light, a voice like the voice of God booms from the stands Ooohh you bludger and the covenant is sealed. Imagery impact of “flood”, overwhelming. “scarfed with light”, lights of the stadium now a source of comfort, initiated. Language is rather reminiscent of religious texts, referring to the ceremonial wrapping of light around the newly initiated. “the voice of God” (simile/allusion), the thousands of fans barracking in unison. “Covenant is sealed”, child is swept up in the euphoria of the crowd, and thus, they are committed. Biblical allusion God’s covenant with man. Formalising an agreement.
Stanza 6 Hot pies and potato-crisps they will eat, they will forswear the Demons, cling to the Saints and behold their team going up the ladder into Heaven, Irony of colloquial references to “hot pies and potato crisps” in biblical language. Satirisingfootball fans (making them appear ridiculous, or over the top). Religious motif playing on the nicknames of other AFL clubs (‘Saints’ / St Kilda, and ‘Demons’ / Melbourne). Forswear: swear not to support. A play on biblical teachings to reject evil and practise good. Allusion If supported correctly, they will witness their team climb the ladder to heaven (win the premiership). Reference to the story of Jacob’s ladder, reaching into the skies.
Stanza 7 And the tides of life will be the tides of the home-team’s fortunes - the reckless proposal after the one-point win, the wedding and honeymoon after the grand-final… What parallel is Bruce Dawe suggesting in this stanza? How are football and the “tides of life” linked? The repetition of the word, “after”… What does the ellipsis at the end of the stanza imply?
Stanza 8 They will not grow old as those from more northern States grow old, for them it will always be three-quarter-time with the scores level and the wind advantage in the final term, The first line is a parody of a verse recited every ANZAC day in every RSL… “They shall not grow old as we that are left grow old…” what does this suggest? Dawe, however, appropriates the words, having a dig at the “northern States” (New South Wales). What does this comparison propose with regard to the respective supporters?
Stanza 9 That passion persisting, like a race-memory, through the welter of seasons, enabling old-timers by the boundary-fences to dream of resurgent lions and centaur-figures from the past to replenish continually the present. Alliteration “passion persisting”, passing on the enthusiasm Connotations of “race-memory” babies are ingrained with this knowledge so early that they believe they are born with it. Imagery “welter of seasons”, passing time. What do the terms, “resurgent” and “replenish” suggest with respect to the lifecycle? Metaphor of “lions”, “centaur-figures”, describing past players with an element of mystique. Based on this description, what characteristics do the past players represent? Why are they important to the “old-timers”?
Stanza 10 So that mythology may be perpetually renewed and Chicken Smallhorn return like the maize-god in a thousand shapes, the dancers changing. Chicken Smallhorn was once the star of the Fitzroy team, good enough to have won the Brownlow Medal. Simile…. Metaphor… (Linking to previous stanza) Repetition… Quick research activity: who is the ancient maize-god? Why is this allusion relevant?
Stanza 11 But the dance forever the same – the elderly still loyally crying Carn… Carn… (if feebly) unto the very end, having seen in the six-foot recruit from Eaglehawk their hope of salvation. What is the significance of repeating “Carn… Carn…” and the parenthetical (if feebly) at the end of the poem? Refer to the life cycle. Who is the six-foot recruit from Eaglehawk? What are the connotations of the term “salvation”? How is the word used in this context? What is Dawe referring to?
Creative activity • Create a three stanza poem (3/4 lines each) explaining an obsession of your own. • What gives you purpose in life? It might be a thing, a sport, a person, a job… • How do you feel about it? Make a list of terms that encapsulate your feelings towards it. • How does it impact on your life? Does it influence the decisions you make? Give you comfort? • Use poetic devices to illustrate what your obsession means to you.