"He strode, she swept.” The opening image of Don Watson’s maternal grandparents in The Bush is unforgettable...Son of a Florentine sculptor, the precocious in marble », aged 20, set himself a modest challenge: Carve the human soul soul
Nothing could be better done than his description of that which he knows best –the home farm that was cut from the dominant Gippsland bush in living memory and swept clean daily by his maternal grandmother ready for his grandfather, to stride out upon, to complete its conquest. Watson covers all triumph and failure, and maps the territory of our continent with wry description and a classless eye. On the whole, he skirts around the edges yet strikes at the very heart of what we like to think makes Australia great … a ‘freshness of spirit’ is a potent phrase.
"At the Queen Elizabeth Hall, I found myself listening open-mouthed to a Russian woman playing the piano accordion while making wordless vocal sounds into a microphone. Her name was Evelina Petrova and the sounds varied from whoops and bird-like twitterings to a kind of demented lamentation. God knows what it was all about, but it had me transfixed."
Myths and legends have a life of their own, because we need to believe
in the possibilities they offer. They don't die. Slovak view of the
world includes miracles and angels, beast-men and women of unearthly
beauty, gods walking among us and ceremonies that can end a drought.
All of these things are as ordinary to you as tractors, mountain
streams, and ice in the tropics. At the same time, the whole world is
enchanted, mysterious. Cars, mountain streams, and ice are all as
astonishing as angels. Slovak folkloric ceremonies are not unlike magic
painted by Leslie Marmon Silko in his novel Ceremony. There is a scene
in which a abandoned woman is dancing very angrily. Miles away, the man
who betrayed her is checking the commotion his cattle are making in the
night. Descriptions of the woman's heels stamping the floor are
alternated with descriptions of the cattle trampling the man to death,
back and forth from one to the other. No assertion of causality is
made, but the dancer's heels and the animals' hooves become linked so
powerfully that the reader doesn't just "get it." What's conveyed is
not a symbol or a metaphor, but the reality that a woman can be so
angry that when she dances, her lover dies ...
Don Watson with a Slavic looking sickel our grandfather in Pilhov had identical one!
Throughout Don Watson's writing life, spanning academic history, television comedy, film writing, political speech-writing, plain language essays, biographical portraiture, and travel, nothing he has written quite matches the wonders of The Bush.
SMH reviews the Bush
The Bush is the crown in Watson’s oeuvre, a magnificent, sprawling ode to the best in Australia, a challenge to us all to find new ways of loving the country
Don Watson with links
Coda ... Deeply impressed as a teenager by John Kennedy’s feat in becoming the first Catholic US president, Keating felt that he too, as a Bankstown "tyke" (a description from Watson’s book Recollections of a Bleeding Heart), had a duty to outstare Protestant bigotry and become Prime Minister of Australia. A wary feeling of uniqueness resulted, with off putting effects in terms of an adversarial and aggressive personal style.
In the early 1930s, Patrick Leigh Fermor decided to go for a walk. With characteristic Irish enthusiasm he walked from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople. His memoir of the trip was published as A Time of Gifts . He has a dazzling way with metaphor:
As I listened to the muffled vowels of the Slovaks and the traffic-jams ofconsonants and the explosive spurts of dentals and sibilants, my mind's eyeautomatically suspended an imaginary backcloth of the Slav heartlands behind thespeakers: tbree reeds on a horizontal line, the map-makers' symbol for a swamp,infinitely multiplied; spruce and poplar forests, stilt houses and fish-traps, frozenplains and lakes where the ice-holes were black with waterfowl. Then, at theastonishing sound of Magyar - a dactylic canter where the ictus of every initialsyllable set off a troop of identical vowels with their accents all swerving one way like wheat-ears in the wind ...