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"Australian Pipe Dreamer"
By Meg Britton

Adam Lindsay Gordon was born the son of an ex-cavalryman in the Azores in 1835.

Little is known of the poet's early life since even Gordon himself would rarely, if ever speak of those times, even to his close friends.

In 1853 Gordon settled in South Australia, in the Mt Gambier district and took a position with the South Australian Police force. He quickly gained a reputation as a sportsman, a boxer and an excellent, though often reckless horseman. He competed in and won many district races despite the fact that he was extremely near sighted and more often than not, had to trust to his mount to judge a jump whilst he hung on for his very life.

In 1865 at the urging of his friends, Gordon ran for and was elected to the South Australian Parliament, being appointed as the member for Victoria. However, by 1866 he had become tired of how much importance Parliament gave to roads and bridges and resigned, turning to horse breaking to make a living.

If it can be said that Henry Lawson and Andrew Barton (Banjo) Patterson, give us a picture of the Australian bush with it's larrikin characters, and lively ways. It is certainly Gordon who paints for us the picture of loneliness and sense of estrangement that one can experience when faced with the vast expanses of an unforgiving land.

In the lines of an untitled poem, Gordon wrote:

    They are rhymes rudely strung with intent less
    Of sound than of words,
    In lands where bright blossoms are scentless,
    And songless, bright birds.

    Where with fire and fierce drought on her tresses,
    Insatiable summer oppresses
    Sere woodlands and sad wildernesses,
    And faint flocks and herds.

Somewhere between the years 1865-1867 Gordon's beloved baby daughter, Annie Lindsay Gordon died at just ten months of age.

Gordon's biography records that the poet was never the same man after this loss and that whereas he had always been "Solitary, taciturn and sombre in outlook, his melancholy was certainly increased and from this time forward, its signs were plainly visible to his intimate friends."

A year after Annie's death, Gordon wrote the poem 'Doubtful Dreams' this mournful and musical work gives us a glimpse into the pain that Gordon must still have been struggling with, particularly these two verses:

    We remember the pangs that wrung us,
    When some went down to the pit
    Who faded like leaves among us
    Who flitted as shadows flit;
    What visions under the stone lie?
    What dreams in the shroud sleep dwell?
    For we saw the earth pit only,
    And we heard only the knell

    We know not whether they slumber
    Who wake on the earth no more
    As the stars in the heights in number,
    As sands on the deep sea-shore
    Shall stiffness bind them and starkness
    Enthral them by field and flood
    Til 'the sun shall be turned to darkness,
    And the moon shall be turned to blood?'

Throughout the year 1869 Gordon battled again with constant fits of 'melancholy' and insomnia, although he wrote in a letter to a friend that he continued to take his daily exercise, at this time, consisting of a daily, vigorous swim from Brighton Beach.

He would often swim about half a mile out into the bay, which was known to be populated with sharks before he would turn back to shore. At one stage he was warned of the danger in this practice and told of the sharks that were seen in the bay, to which, it is said he replied that if death came without him actually seeking it, he would have no cause for complaint.

Gordon continued to gain fame in the district as a horseman of some merit, he was the owner of several race horses, one of them named Cadger, being his favorite and one of the best steeplechasers of his time. Gordon rode Cadger with a reckless abandon which it was said stemmed from the fact that Gordon harboured a secret desire to be killed in a fall.

A priest befriended him around this time by the name of Julian Tenison Woods who told of a conversation he had with Gordon some time prior to his death.

"He spoke of having often envied me my enjoyment of natural history.

I asked him did he really think he had occasion to envy anyone, seeing the share of natural gifts he himself possessed?

He said he really felt far from contented, he was often subject to a restless form of discontent, which at times almost impelled him to put an end to the weariness of life. This, he explained was a sort of melancholy to which much of the greatest poetry owed its existence."

Father Woods said of this conversation that it, "Made a deep impression on me, for I connected it with those sad and moody fits which grew upon him more and more. He was very silent and thoughtful in these times and often failed to hear the half of what was said to him."

Almost a year before his death, Gordon penned the hauntingly beautiful "Song Of Autumn" of which, the final verse proved to be tragically prophetic.

    Girl! When the garlands of next year glow,
    You may gather again my dear—
    But I go where the last year's lost leaves go,
    At the falling of the year.

The following autumn, just one-day after his most popular book of verse "Bush Ballads and Galloping Rhymes" was published, Gordon was found dead on Brighton Beach.

He had shot himself dead with his own rifle, thus silencing forever, the voice of the Poet Gordon who was: "A shining soul with syllables of fire, who sang the first great songs of these lands." — Kendall.

All Quotes in this article are taken from the introduction to and poems contained in "Bush Ballads and Galloping Rhymes the Poetical works of Adam Lindsay Gordon" Seal Books. First published by Rigby Limited 1975.

Copyright © 2000 M Britton

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