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Tangmalangaloo -- John O'Brien

Guest poem sent in by William Grey
(Poem #1795) Tangmalangaloo
 The bishop sat in lordly state and purple cap sublime,
 And galvanized the old bush church at Confirmation time.
 And all the kids were mustered up from fifty miles around,
 With Sunday clothes, and staring eyes, and ignorance profound.
 Now was it fate, or was it grace, whereby they yarded too
 An overgrown two-storey lad from Tangmalangaloo?

 A hefty son of virgin soil, where nature has her fling,
 And grows the trefoil three feet high and mats it in the spring;
 Where mighty hills uplift their heads to pierce the welkin's rim,
 And trees sprout up a hundred feet before they shoot a limb;
 There everything is big and grand, and men are giants too --
 But Christian Knowledge wilts, alas, at Tangmalangaloo.

 The bishop summed the youngsters up, as bishops only can;
 He cast a searching glance around, then fixed upon his man.
 But glum and dumb and undismayed through every bout he sat;
 He seemed to think that he was there, but wasn't sure of that.
 The bishop gave a scornful look, as bishops sometimes do,
 And glared right through the pagan in from Tangmalangaloo.

 "Come, tell me, boy," his lordship said in crushing tones severe,
 "Come, tell me why is Christmas Day the greatest of the year?
 "How is it that around the world we celebrate that day
 "And send a name upon a card to those who're far away?
 "Why is it wandering ones return with smiles and greetings, too?"
 A squall of knowledge hit the lad from Tangmalangaloo.

 He gave a lurch which set a-shake the vases on the shelf,
 He knocked the benches all askew, up-ending of himself.
 And so, how pleased his lordship was, and how he smiled to say,
 "That's good, my boy. Come, tell me now; and what is Christmas Day?"
 The ready answer bared a fact no bishop ever knew --
 "It's the day before the races out at Tangmalangaloo."
-- John O'Brien
This is a Christmas poem by my favourite Australian bush poet: Patrick
Joseph Hartigan (1878-1952) who published under the alias "John O'Brien".
The poem immortalises an incident that took place at a school at
Tanbangaroo, a "Back-o'-Bourke" town (see notes to [1]), near Yass in New
South Wales. Tangmalangaloo is a fictitious town, presumably invented to
serve the poet's prosodic requirements.

Hartigan was a Roman Catholic priest in rural New South Wales, in particular
the Goulburn diocese and later at Narrandera. He is less well known than
Banjo Paterson[2] and Henry Lawson[3][4], the doyens of the Australian
bush ballad tradition, though he expresses a closer and gentler affinity for
the Australian bush and its communities than either of them. Hartigan has
another connection with Paterson: he gave the last rites to Jack Riley of
Bringenbrong, the man whose legendary exploits are supposedly recorded in
Paterson's epic bush ballad 'The Man from Snowy River'.

According to legend, Hartigan was in the Albury presbytery in 1914 when word
came through that an old man named Riley was dying at a place called
Bringenbong on the Upper Murray, and had asked for a priest to bring him the
last sacraments. It took Hartigan several days to reach Riley, who he found
not at Bringenbong but at a place called Hickeys, in sight of Mt Kosciusko
at the end of the track. After administering the sacraments it was too late
for Hartigan to return to Albury, so he gratefully accepted local
hospitality and, in front of a blazing log fire, recited one of his
favourite poems, 'The Man From Snowy River'. After he had finished he
remarked that it must have been in these parts that the man from Snowy River
had made his famous ride. To his astonishment the laconic reply came that
the subject of Paterson's poem was none other than Riley, the old man he had
just prepared for death.

Hartigan was known as an ecumenist and was greatly respected for his
pastoral care, particularly during the Great Depression, for those of all
faiths and none. 'Tangmalangaloo' was published in [5]. A second collection
of his poetry [6], honouring his Narrandera parishioners, was published
posthumously.

William Grey

[1] Poem #1573, 'Said Hanrahan',  John O'Brien
[2] Poem #566, 'Clancy of the Overflow',  Banjo Paterson
[3] Poem #569, ' The Great Grey Plain',  Henry Lawson
[4] Poem #1569, 'Past Carin',  Henry Lawson
[5] John O'Brien. 'Around the Boree Log and Other Verses'. Sydney: Angus &
Robertson, 1921.
[6] John O'Brien. 'The Parish of St. Mel's and Other Verses'. Sydney: Angus
& Robertson, 1954.

54 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Ian Tait said...

Great submission, I did not know of this poem before, but I have long
been a fan of O'Briens "Said Hanrahan" I especially liked his images
of "the two storey lad" and "trees that sprout a hundred feet before
they shoot a limb". This has to the High Country or Monaro district.

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Tangmalangaloo is a best poet as per my opinion. He wrote really fabulous poetry over here. It is great to read this amazing creation.

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He's also one of my favourite Australian bush poet. I read this poem every Christmas to my children.

Mark Elhum said...

Australians have been best poets, i like the best samples like one here, this amazing specially these lines are heart touching..
" The bishop sat in lordly state and purple cap sublime,
And galvanized the old bush church at Confirmation time.
And all the kids were mustered up from fifty miles around,
With Sunday clothes, and staring eyes, and ignorance profound.
Now was it fate, or was it grace, whereby they yarded too"

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