Spirited away: Judith Wright inspires the poets of Tamborine

In the spirit of Judith Wright, poetry remains part of the cultural landscape on Tamborine Mountain – thanks to the gang at Calanthe Poetry.

Jul 05, 2024, updated Jul 05, 2024
David Malouf (front row, left) and the Calanthe Poetry Group on Tamborine Mountain.

David Malouf (front row, left) and the Calanthe Poetry Group on Tamborine Mountain.

It’s no surprise that one of the most interesting poetry movements in Australia happens to be based at Tamborine Mountain in Queensland’s Scenic Rim region.

This mountain was, after all, once home to the revered poet Judith Wright. We’ve studied her at school, her environmental activism still inspires a generation and in Brisbane we remembered her by naming an arts centre after her – The Judith Wright Arts Centre in Fortitude Valley.

The centre was championed by a former arts minister, Matt Foley, a poet himself and a champion of poetry who was fondly regarded as “the minister for poetry”.

Judith Wright’s spirit presides over the Calanthe Collective and Calanthe Press, based on Tamborine Mountain or Mount Tamborine as it is also referred to.

Although, is it a mountain? Calanthe Press’s latest publication, a gorgeous little book called Ten Poems of Tamborine Mountain, begs to differ. In her introduction to this gorgeous slim volume Janis Bailey gives us a geographical profile of this South East Queensland beauty spot.

“More of an undulating plateau than a ‘mountain’ per se, Tamborine Mountain is an ‘island in the sky’,” Bailey writes. “It is the northernmost spur of the McPherson Range and part of an ancient volcanic landscape that encompasses Mt Warning (which last erupted 23 million years ago), the Lamington Plateau, Binna Burra and the Border Ranges. For millennia, the mountain’s guardians were the Wangerriburra people, for whom it was an important place of ceremony, food-gathering, journeying and storytelling.”

The poems between the covers of this slim volume (the front cover features a rainforest walk that many readers will have taken) are evocative and, of course, why not begin with one by Judith Wright herself, Two Hundred Miles, in which she writes about leaving and returning to her beloved home there.

“I have come so far: why have I come? Only because you are my home.”

There’s a wonderful poem by James Devaney, a Queensland poet who predates Wright. I remember studying his classic Winter Westerlies at school. The poem featured here is Eagle Heights: “At Eagle Heights upon Tamborine / The mountain air blows cool and clean / Springtime there is a world-a-wing, / Winter is a mild and magic thing.”

There are poems by Jena Woodhouse, Raymond Curtis, Jane Frank and others.

I can’t think of a lovelier gift. If my mum was still alive this would be her next Christmas present. I grew up on the Gold Coast and Tamborine Mountain was a place we went to as a family on Sunday drives, lunching at St Bernard’s Hotel while listening to the whipbirds.

In her later years, like thousands of others, my mother often visited the mountain. It’s a very epical place and this little volume is a very special group of poems.

The idea of giving it as a Christmas present was uppermost in the mind of Calanthe Press editor, retired academic Jock Macleod, an adjunct professor with Griffith University. When we meet for coffee in Brisbane at the Water Mall Café at the Queensland Art Gallery (where I pretend the sound of rushing water is a Tamborine Mountain waterfall), Macleod gives me a copy and it comes with its own envelope.

“It’s the perfect Christmas card or Christmas present,” he says, although you don’t have to wait until Christmas.

Macleod, 74, an author of academic works, lectured on, among other things, literature. He and his wife Margaret have lived on the mountain for two decades, which is a coincidence. A nice one.

“Judith Wright lived on the mountain for around 20 years,” he points out. “Calanthe was the name of the house that Judith and Jack McKinney lived in on the mountain. Calanthe Collective kicked off when one of our members wrote a play about Judith and Jack called Hearts Ablaze, which came out in 2015 on the 100th anniversary of her birth. Calanthe Collective, now known as Calanthe Poetry,  was formed to help publicise that.”

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Calanthe Press followed with a book by another local poet, the late Raymond Curtis, also represented in Ten Poems of Tamborine Mountain.

Another famous Queensland poet who lived on the mountain was Val Vallis.

“Val Vallis had a house on the mountain,” Macleod tells me. “Many of us, including me, spent happy weekends there. Jena Woodhouse wrote a book of poems while staying there and we published that book, Green Dance, in 2018.”

There has been a suite of publications since, including by Anthony Lawrence and Brisbane poet Jane Frank whose poem Watching Hang Gliders With Leonardo da Vinci at Tamborine Mountain is also in the book. Was she really with Leonardo? Well, in spirit, yes. Read the poem and you will see what I mean.

Calanthe Collective holds regular poetry events on the mountain including a rather lovely annual garden party which includes the announcement of The Calanthe Collective Prize for Unpublished Poetry Award and readings. You missed this year’s as did I, since it was in June and it featured a reading by none other than David Malouf. Oh, well, there’s always next year.

However, we all still have time to book a seat – or a bar stool? – at the next Calanthe Poetry event.

Poets Baileys Locals Night, Bailey’s Irish Bar and Restaurant, Tamborine Mountain, July 31, from 6pm, RSVP  [email protected]

This article is republished from InReview under a Creative Commons licence. Read the original article.

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