The Light River
Foreword by Les Murray
$22.95 (Price includes GST)
The Light River is Hal Colebatch's seventh collection of poetry. The
poems range from the romantic love-story "Redhead with Phosphorus,"
to the high and epic heroism of "The San Demetrio." Many are lyrical
evocations of Western Australia and in particular the Swan River and Rottnest
Island, with travels and meditations in Britain, Asia, Canada and the Middle
East. Others include tributes to the great science-fiction writer Poul
Anderson, the heritage of King Arthur and celebrations of domestic happiness,
as well as some sharp political comment. There are many celebrations of joy and
delight. Equally at home in free-verse, rhyme, and highly-structured forms such
as sonnets and even sestinas, Hal Colebatch is one of Australia's most powerful
and versatile poets.
If you love the Swan River in Perth, then this is the book for you.
Colebatch's bursts of ferocity (no Australian poet writes more scarifyingly in
anger) are prompted by love of some larger ideal which is being denied or
perverted ... Colebatch is concerned with what might be called the heroism of
duty, as against the heroism of Ego ... And yet what gives Colebatch his fond
affection for the human race is the fact that there is no automatic cut-off
point between the heroic and the mundane ..." - Peter Kocan
tone ranges from appreciation to a moral indignation he serves up plain, and he
is capable too of a wry and meditative irony as he contemplates the hard facts
of the present ticking away under the surface of things." - Christopher Koch
appreciates the whole sweep of history and the ironies it throws up. But more
than such ironies he savours moments of unalloyed emotion, especially courage
and that continuing determination to "hold the line." - Geoff Page
Hal Colebatch's many books include a widely-praised
biography of his father, Steadfast Knight, and a series of
science-fiction novellas in the saga of The Man-Kzin Wars. His Blair's
Britain was selected in the London Spectator as a Book of the Year. He
received an Australian Centenary Medal for Writing, Law, Poetry and Political
Archbishop Hickey's Speech at the launching of The Light River
BOOK LAUNCH - THE LIGHT RIVER
by Hal Colebatch
This is a benign book, a gentle book, one to read slowly with ears and
heart open to receive the pictures painted through the words of one who
can bring the best out of the English language.
Anyone who knows Hal Colebatch will know that his words are not always
benign. He more than occasionally lines up his targets and lets the
words fly like penetrating arrows.
This is a different book. It is Hal in a more introspective mood,
conscious of the beauty of ordinary things and aware of the little
cameos of elegance and charm that he sees in nature or even in a cat.
Hal writes about cats in this little book. Perhaps he has a special
interest in cats, an admiration for their qualities of apparent
contemplation and aloof superiority. Cats often look thoughtful, and
wrap themselves in a deep meditative trance as they close their eyes
before the winter fire. It may be that thoughts are just too much for
their small brain, but they fool us all with their show of
May I quote? (Summer morning p.64)
“… patrolling Winston and his small compass of whiskers and his purring buzz-saw that seeks to hold a mystery” (p.28)
The Light River
, called, I presume after the shimmering Swan River,
asks us to look again at familiar things and places, beautiful
experiences in Kalgoorlie, Rottnest, Nedlands, along the river at
Nedlands, and Augusta to name a few. He even takes us to the England he
delights in, to Egypt and to Israel and to Lebanon.
This book is full of phrases that take you by surprise, as poets do. On August he writes: (p.30)
Who of us would ever think of calling the wind a “black wind”, yet the
word is just right in describing the sensation/listening at night to
the rain and howling wind outside.
Of course the book contains more than beautiful lyrical poems and also
of his own Haiku. This is a long epic poem about the fate of a cargo
ship, the tanker called the San Demetrio. It is set in 1940, in the
North Atlantic during the war, when it found itself caught up in a
I launched out on the poem, thinking to read it in stages, but once I
began I could not stop till I had finished it, so powerful was the
language and the dramatic and relentless pace of the story.
There was no blame in this poem, no criticism of the actions of the
hostile battleships in firing their destructive artillery, no
condemnation of war that caused such pain, destruction and death, only
admiration for the courage of ordinary people faced with the slim
challenges of survival. They were not admirals or generals or trained
fighters, these people were, in his words “mostly anonymous, dressed in
dungarees, serge oil-stained tropic whites doing a fairly dirty job”.
“Mr Pollard, who has something to do with the engines,
“Mr McNeil, the Scottish seaman, there is Boyle, a little man who mixes engine-grease and wipes machines.” And so on.
What the poem does is show the nobility under enormous pressure and the
threat of death, and the great courage of ordinary people.
This book of poems will please ordinary people like us because the poet
takes us to ordinary places and shows us ordinary things, revealing
If there is perhaps a hint that he is asking us to think about the
origin of all these beautiful things, as he dwells on dove shells on a
Rottnest Beach. P.24
The beauty of the dove shell on the white sand, he says, “is no accident”.
It reminds me of the insight of the Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins in “God’s Grandeur” when he said.
“and for all this, nature is never spent;
There lies the dearest freshness deep down in things….
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent World
broods with warm breast and with, ah!
I have great pleasure in launching this refreshing book “The Light River” and offer my personal congratulations.
Most Rev B J Hickey
Archbishop of Perth
25 June 2007
This product was added to our catalog on Saturday 18 August, 2007.