A dual Australian-Irish citizen, Nathanael O’Reilly was born in Warrnambool and raised in Ballarat, Brisbane and Shepparton. He has lived in England, Ireland, Germany, Ukraine and the United States, where he currently resides. His poetry has appeared in numerous journals, including Antipodes, Postcolonial Text, Transnational Literature, Prosopisia, Blackmail Press and Southern Ocean Review.
The Hills of Bendigo
For Sean Scarisbrick
We spent the summer of ninety-two
In the hills of Bendigo
Living in a colonial house
Replete with a croquet lawn,
A ballroom, servant’s quarters,
A wine cellar, an in-ground pool
And a deep, dark verandah
Overlooking an acre of grounds
Scattered with pine needles,
Stone benches and rose bushes.
Home from uni on summer holidays,
We lived on my parent’s charity.
After sleeping past midday
In a room with burgundy velvet curtains
And foot-thick stone walls,
Days were spent swimming in the pool
Seven steps and a leap from our beds,
Reading Eliot, Salinger and Hardy
In the shade on the verandah,
Writing long letters to girls
We thought we knew and loved,
Listening to U2, Van Morrison,
And Hunters & Collectors, always
Getting a kick out of the line
“Way out back in Bendigo.”
When the heat was bearable
We walked over the hills
Along winding goat-track streets
Left over from the goldrush,
Discovering tiny pubs,
No more than front rooms
Of miner’s cottages,
Occupied by old blokes
In op-shop three-piece suits
On vinyl bar stools.
Old Jimmy fished a battered
Harmonica from his waistcoat
Pocket, shook out the saliva
And puffed out a wheezy tune,
His narrow shoulders hunching
As the condensation slid
Down the side of his pot of VB.
Some days we walked to the mall,
After passing the oval, the Art Gallery,
The high school and the park,
Browsed countless racks of CDs
We couldn’t afford at Brash’s,
Left our sweaty fingerprints
On Thrasher and Rolling Stone
Under the disapproving glare
Of the Chinese newsagent,
Took refuge in the Public Library
Where we flipped through LPs,
Discovering Klaus Wunderlich
And His Amazing Pop Organ Sound.
Evenings were spent at home
Drinking my parents’ wine,
Eating thick slabs of cheese
Grilled on toast while watching
Day-night cricket matches on telly.
Or, if the Austudy hadn’t run out,
Drinking Carlton Draught downtown
In the Shamrock Hotel or the Rifle Brigade,
Playing pool and the jukebox,
Bullshitting about the great things
We would do after finishing uni,
What we would do for a living,
Where we would live,
Where we would go on holidays,
Which girls we would sleep with.
At night we wandered through the hills
Drinking from the silver bladder
Ripped from a box of Coolabah Riesling,
Unable to sleep in the January heat.
We took turns waiting on the swings
In the park across from the Milk Bar,
While you or I made reverse-charge
Calls from a Telecom phone box
With shattered glass and AC/DC graffiti.
Afterwards, we went back to the house
For more grilled cheese on toast,
More chilled wine, and conversations
That lasted into the early hours
And echo through the years.