Poetry by guest contributor, Dr. Cameron Hindrum, with an introduction and conclusion by Bec Taylor
Dr. Cameron Hindrum is a distinguished novelist, poet, teacher, and playwright. His most recent award is the Tasmanian Literary Award 2022 from the University of Tasmania, for the manuscript of his new novel, The Sand. He also coordinated the Tasmanian Poetry Festival for 17 years.
Cameron and I were connected through my inspirational dance and drama teacher in high school who is still in close contact with my family. Cameron’s award-winning manuscript is inspired by the unsolved murder of a young backpacker that rocked my hometown when I was a teenager.
The death of Victoria Cafasso, and years of ensuing media speculation tore our community apart, and remains traumatic for many local residents to this day.
In this post, however, Cameron takes us back to another seminal moment in Tasmania’s history, the Tasman Bridge disaster.
The Bridge, January 5, 1975
For my father
Something quiet punched a hole in the road
across water: in near darkness,
no one saw it coming.
The cleft in the great wide night-mouth
yawned under evening traffic,
and as deep
People fell: in cars now graceless
with gravity, unflighted like drunken birds,
diving through dreams
darker than water,
a criminal current
washing over grave
more deadly than a hard nudge:
starboard against cement.
Before there had been the only way home,
now there was an edge:
Watch the curving spine ascend
and return with equal grace
to earth: its vertebrae stand erect,
proud over poisonous water: watch
the silent eddies lap abutments,
falling and receding.
The thousand vessels,
the thousand cars,
the thousand turns of sun: watch
the simple act of passage, time
and time, and time again.
Remember bloody Des Kelly? Cocky bugger,
chugging beers as the ferry chugged
under the lightless gap.
Des, the bloody champion
making the crossing, Hobart to Bellerive
in ten 10-ounce beers
and a seven-minute piss.
Days truncated, as working men measured
the line between shores
in empty glasses.
Across the bodies
where water meets water
and no one talks about the bridge
We pulled him from the yawning dark, oil-slicked
and bloodworn, drenched
in diesel and the smell of fear,
and lost in the darkness of losing his ground,
cold and coughing to raise the dead, folded
in the corner of the wheelhouse.
We said, fuckin what happened mate,
where’d the bloody boat go? And he said
she’s gone, cut by the road across the bow,
down like a poor man’s puddin she went. Fuckin
fifteen minutes it took.
Any a youse blokes got a smoke?
East and west are meaningless
in the great scheme of things.
There is no homeward turn,
away from metaphor:
there is only the promise of being home
crossing the benign bridge
that great homeward arc:
that intersection of here and elsewhere,
of what is important and not. It withstands
the power of the tide to turn
the vastness of a vessel against itself.
Look upon that infinite cleft and let it
remind you: nothing can be promised.
One car we never found. Might be
crushed under the roadway
that fell across the Illawarra’s bow
but we never found it. Only a strip of chrome:
six, seven inches, twisted.
All that was left
of the journey
The tide will always come.
skin like old ash, eyes
rollin back in his head like marbles.
The garage door
safe where they should be
the roll of the river
as if to sleep.
lending its meeting place:
what is, what has been.
© 2023 Cameron Hindrum
Poem Background, written by Cameron.
At about 9pm on Sunday, January 5, 1975, the 7000-ton bulk ore carrier Lake Illawarra drifted off course while navigating the Derwent River through Hobart in southern Tasmania, and collided with several pylons of the Tasman Bridge, which at that time was the only bridge that carried traffic across the river between the two major sections of the city. Three bridge spans and a 127-metre section of roadway collapsed into the river and onto the bow of the tanker, which sank; several cars drove off the resulting gap and in total 12 people lost their lives (seven on the Lake Illawarra, and five in cars).
My father was stationed in Hobart at the time, where I was born, serving with the Water Police; we lived in Yarram St., Howrah, on Hobart’s eastern shore; I was four at the time of the disaster. For those unfamiliar with Hobart’s geography, the Hobart CBD and Constitution Dock are on the western shore of the Derwent, and since the late 1960s the Tasman Bridge connected the two. Tasmania Police’s vessel the Vigilant was moored at Constitution Dock. The story is famous in my family that late that night, one of Dad’s colleagues knocked on our front door with the news that the bridge was down and Dad duly set off to work, not realising initially that access to the police vessel on the other side of the river was now cut off. Legend has it that he and his police colleagues visited the Bellerive Yacht Club and commandeered a boat to ferry them across to Constitution Dock.
This poem is the result of an idea I’d had for some time, to capture both a documentary sense of what happened and marry it with reflections on home, dichotomies of east and west and so on. I was chatting to Dad about it one afternoon and he relayed the stories in the poem of Des Kelly and pulling survivors from the Lake Illawarra out of the dark waters of the river; they are included almost verbatim and the decision to include my father’s voice was one of those revelatory moments you have as a writer when something suddenly makes almost alarming sense, with quite a fierce clarity.
I think overall I have worked harder on this poem than any other I’ve written; it may still not be fully complete but in various ways perhaps poems never really are. I am interested in poetry as a documentary text though—it seems to run counter to some traditional conceptions of poetry. I am grateful to the amazing Kristen Lang for her editorial guidance and wisdom in helping to shape this poem. It will appear in my forthcoming collection Every Sunrise (Walleah Press), due out in August or September of this year.
More about Cameron
Listen to Cameron read his poem “Oceans”.
Read about the inspiration behind Cameron’s first book, and one of his plays – his childhood home of Queenstown in the rugged bush of the Tasmanian west coast.
Buy Cameron’s books
Contact Cameron directly to buy his books: email@example.com
You can find Cameron’s latest poetry anthology for sale on Walleah Press.
I would like to pay my respects to the traditional custodians of the land, the Palawa people of Tasmania, and to their Elders, past, present, and emerging. I acknowledge their deep spiritual connection to the land and their ongoing contributions to the culture of this nation.
About guest curator, Bec Taylor
I’m Bec Taylor, the EY3 – Grade 2 cybrarian* at the International School of Beijing, China. I’m a global nomad with Australian roots and a Chinese family home – all my immediate family have lived and worked in Beijing as international school teachers for many, many years.
Overly enthusiastic about everything especially children’s literature, Australian Rules Football (go Doggies!) and food, glorious food, I am easily bribed with coffee and dark chocolate. I am a passionate advocate of social justice, female financial literacy, and finding ways to tread more lightly on the planet. Alongside the demands of a busy family and professional life, I enjoy cultivating community through volunteer work that focuses on healthy families.
I am the current Chair of the Chinese international schools reading promotion, the Panda Book Awards. Titles chosen for the shortlists of the Panda Book Awards meet selection criteria that focus on social justice, diversity and inclusion by up and coming authors and illustrators from across the world. There is an added spotlight on titles that feature Asian settings, characters or creators.
Twitter is my favourite professional development space so please come find me there: @becinthelibrary
The educational hills I will die on are:
- a child’s right to choose what they love to read,
- there is serious magic in reading aloud,
- and the belief that schools are happier, more equitable places with better academic outcomes when the properly funded school library is well staffed with qualified, collaborative and passionate professionals.
*a fancy name that formalises and acknowledges the incredible work teacher librarians do each day to find authentic ways to integrate and explore educational technology in order to capture, expand, and enhance student learning.