‘Kuller Kullup’, ‘My Country’ and ‘Empirical’
by Bruce Pascoe, Ellen van Neerven and Lisa Gorton


‘Kuller Kullup’ 

by Bruce Pascoe


Kuller Kullup walked

from the stoney shoulder of Targangil

to this bend of Birrarung

spoke to all the people gathered there,

Wathaurong, Bunurong, Maap

Wurunjeri, Ganai, Taungurong,

all the people,

and he said,

the sky is falling in,

bring me poles, the longest poles,

bring me axes of sharp edged greenstone,

for the sky is falling in.

The missionary arrived, as they usually do,

but Kuller Kullup refused to speak

while the man of god was there,

for these were the great seer’s people

and his message to them was

the sky is falling in,

bring me axes, bring me poles,

together we will repair the rent

in our world.

Of course the missionary

demanded to know what was said,

as they usually do,

and for the price of a loaf of bread

to a hungry man

and a blanket,

to a woman whose child was cold,

he purchased the information

that the sky was falling in.

Oh those natives,

those children,

their savage superstitions,

Henny Penny the sky is falling in,

and soon the whole of Bearbrass

was chortling at the foolish blacks.

Some guessed, as some do, that the need for poles and axes

had a more metaphoric intent,

a more tactical thrust,

and they made sure that,

Kuller Kullup, sky master,

dream master,

was never seen again,

just in case.

How dare he assume a superior dream.

And so the dust was settled,

the gold was won,

the sheep were shorn,

banks were vaulted

parliaments raised.

Of course the gardens

followed the rule of Kew, as you do,

no natives of course, no natives at all

for nothing in this land

could please an Englishman’s hall,

except of course, the grass and gold, the beaches

a sunrise or two,

the quaintness of the kangaroo,

the docility of koala and wombat,

the duck billed ornithorinchus.

Exotica, unnecessary really,

when you could have a fox and a rabbit,

a trout and a blackberry,

thank you Ferdinand von Mueller,

creator of the gardens,

destroyer of rivers,

the founder of the real Australia.

Kuller Kullup knew the sky was falling in.

And it still is.



‘My Country’

by Ellen van Neerven


my country

is between two rivers


two ribs

two hip bones


if I mapped it for you

it would be a narrow shape


like a truck

the shape of me is shifting


hollowing wrists

smaller breasts


the places I notice

are losing and lacking


one hip bone

more pronounced than the other


is a long absence from country

related to my eating


is interrupted sleep

rivers with no beds


is dirt under my nails



is naesea



I let my stomach hair grow

so you won’t notice


I show you my blood



runs into the sea

and is returned


my hands

push into the soil


my country and I

numb until fed




by Lisa Gorton


A factory, the train line curving off to cross the motorway—

between them, these two or three acres which unevenly rise

from the storm-water gully up to the railway line where for years

the city heaped its wreckage—broken horizon-stone with

head-high fennel, milk-thistle stark from the mounds—

as of a house erupting slowly up through dirt—After he had made

what he called his treaty Batman walked back through here,

ground ‘thinly timbered with gum, wattle and she-oak,’ and named it

Maria’s Valley, Lucy’s Creek—‘Track to the Salt Water River

and Geelong’—its dotted line crosses Robert Russell’s hand-drawn ‘Map

Shewing the Site of Melbourne’—where Lightly Wooded

opens out to WOODED, inches left blank except for that

curved word—A year later, Hoddle’s printed ‘MAP exhibiting

the situation & extent of the sections of land marked off for sale’

marks Jika Jika Parish out in ‘1.5 acre allotments the greater part of which

are already sold’—The day he sailed for England

La Trobe rode his horse around this place and named it park—

bounded to the west of Hoddle’s map by a wavery line of circles—

‘Monee Monee’s Creek, a Chain of Ponds’—‘Mur-nong or Mirr-n’yong

may be seen growing on the banks of the Moonee Ponds’—

‘this part was called “The Fuse” because of the turns its course

there took and also “Lousy Pat’s Creek” after an old sundowner

who used to camp there’—Now a concrete drain beside the motorway

into the city—Moonee Moonee and Tullamareena run

from the burning prison at the back of Liardet’s watercolour painting

‘An Escape from the First Gaol’—Jin Jin, diving from the rooftop,

has flung his coat beneath him, its grey square like a trapdoor

out of the picture—Inside its soft-scribbled smoke, thin strips of flame

burn with the same soft red as its backdrop butts—In the foreground

two new-felled trees, bare stripped trunks angling oddly in, invent

a vanishing point out the wrong side of the picture—

Over the gully they used the land for a Model Farm—‘fences running direct

north and south and at right angles’—£904 4/- on fencing

in the first year alone—‘planting seeds of the acacia, cape broom,

thorn and privet &c that the live hedges will combine with and ultimately replace

the present fencing as it decays’—and ‘perennial rye grass, Italian rye grass,

Kangaroo grass, sweet-scented vernal grass, cocksfoot, Timothy,

meadow foxtail, crested dog’s-tail, hard fescue, meadow fescue,

red clover, white clover, Bochara clover, yellow clover, lucerne’—

‘It was proposed to carry on the necessary labour—by means of pupils’—

Enough sky here to watch where butts come in over the motorway

on slow dissolves of rain—Once in late-winter Burke’s cavalcade

rode past this place, ‘Burke leading on his grey horse, singing

“Cheer boys, cheer”’ as they followed him around the cattle yards,

the camel’s manure pile, past the swamp and out of South Gate

toward Essendon’—Away into TW Cameron’s magic-lantern slides,

the day of their departure mirror-bright on the blank interior

of St George’s Hall in Bourke Street—Prisoners in Jika Jika

made the camels’ shoes—‘The men have been for some time past

accustoming themselves to bush life by camping out in the Royal Park’—

The River Red Gum died that was their monument, replaced with a cairn

of mortared scoria in the shape of a chimney fenced with iron—

Esau Khan came back from Swan Hill on a wagon

to care for the camels left behind here which calmly graze

among the llamas, alpacas, cashmere goats and deer

in Edgar Ray’s etching: ‘Acclimatisation Society: Animals in Royal Park’—

The Society’s motto: ‘If it lives, we want it’—‘The introduction

and assimilation of every good thing that the world contains

seems about as legitimate an enterprise as can be conceived’—

‘During the past year there have been liberated at the Royal Park

Hares, Mynas, Starlings, Sparrows, Yellowhammers, Chaffinches, Blackbirds’—

‘The carp, tench, roach, and dace, and the gold-fish, have been introduced

and distributed in various localities favourable to their multiplication’—

‘Several of the English sparrows have hatched off young ones

in the neighbourhood of the Royal-park’—‘Sir.—It is well known

that a section of the council of the Acclimatisation Society has

long been striving to establish a miniature zoological collection

at the Royal-park—Does it not seem almost wicked

to throw away our money in the purchase of useless animals

when we have so much to do in the importation and propagation of

animals and fish which will furnish the colony?’—

‘Now that our Zoological-garden possesses an elephant, what more natural

than that it should be made use of?’—“Ranee” was at the Zoo

for 20 years, and was aged about 60 years when she died—

Her skeleton is now in the Melbourne Museum’—‘“Queenie”

has been engaged in her present task for more than 20 years’—

‘About 600 children experienced the joys of a ride on “Queenie”

on Monday’—‘Queenie, a zoo elephant, today killed her keeper,

Wilfred Lawson (69), of Brunswick’—‘The “old tip” has been used

to bury diseased trees and an elephant from the zoo’—Now

gorse, cape broom, privet, self-seeding out of the history

of their names, advance over its debris— Rebar, an iron drain top,

soft-edged blocks of gravelled concrete, a single piece of anthracite—

On the grounds of the Model Farm they made a place of Quarantine—

‘Sir—when I was getting the other children who had small-pox

removed to the Royal Park, Dr. K—informed me there was a child

in Jeffcot Street—On the next day, which was very wet and cold,

I was again sent for to see the child and told the policeman

he ought to urge the authorities to have the mother and child removed’—

That evening on an open dray they proceeded to the Quarantine-

ground at the Royal Park—The child died the next morning—

In a couple of hours the mother was allowed to depart home’—

‘In 1871, when the Board of Agriculture was abolished, Mr M—,

lessee of the Model Farm—sold off his stock—the lands and buildings

were converted into an Industrial School’—‘A large building—

orphanage and truant school combined—contains about 200 girls—

the girls learn housework of all kinds and the use of sewing machines—

At a short distance is a small farmhouse, with out-buildings and a few

acres of farm—boys drafted from Sunbury are sent here for various terms’—

‘Another batch of street arabs was brought before the magistrates—

Five lads—aged about 7 to 12 years caught wandering about the streets

at 1 o’clock that morning—The Constable ordered them off home—

Between 3 and 4 he found them sleeping in some empty barrels

in Flinders-street—Mr C— remanded the boys to the Industrial Schools

for a week’—‘Being so near their old haunts the temptation to bolt

has proved irresistible to several of the genuine street arabs,

especially as the grounds are bounded merely by rickety old fences

not even goat proof’—Boys from the Industrial School worked the farm—

‘Boys might be employed cutting some embankments and

filling up the gullies’—When the ship Faraway in Spring Cove, Sydney,

was filled with small-pox patients, in Royal Park they built

a Calf-lymph Vaccination Depot where the Quarantine-ground

had been—‘to continue and keep going the stream of pure calf lymph,

the first cultivated in Australia’—‘The Government having a building

in the Royal-park might properly be asked to send the immigrants there—

to guard against the spread of epidemic diseases’—That year

the Immigrants’ Aid Society took over the Industrial School building

and ‘Boy’s Receiving Depôt, Royal Park’—The Society noted

a ‘valuable donation of trees and shrubs for planting in the grounds—

from Mr Guilfoyle, curator of the Botanical gardens’—

Late winter, black cockatoos scrap and cry in the Monterey pines

which bank the gully’s soft earth sides, holding

an arrowhead of land where what was once named ‘Permanent Creek’

flows from a pipe under the hospital carpark to join the creek

now piped under the railway cutting—Along the cutting’s side,

spear grass and rye grass move under the wind like light on water—

They dug the railway cutting out by hand, down through sandstone,

its fossil shell remains—extinct nautilus-type molluscs, lampshells,

lace corallines, sea-urchins—overlaid on sheets of older lava

‘decomposed where it lies into a greasy fawn-coloured clay

that can be readily dug out with a pen-knife’—to Silurian bedrock,

broken, irruptive, inlaid with fossil sea liles, graptolites, trilobites—

‘Nearly every beginner in geology makes a collection of these

Royal Park fossils’—Near the carpark, where the gullies join,

‘there is to be seen a deposit of white clay overlying the bedrock—

fossil leaves were found in these clays which thus appear to represent

a fresh-water deposit’—A creek, or lake, which met old shoreline here—

In Melbourne Gaol, ‘the warder who looks after the hard labourers

is a bit of a geologist—He drew our attention to a large stone

in the prison wall—quarried, I believe, in the neighbourhood

of the Royal Park—in which he could see an almost perfect fossil duck’—

‘The idea of a collection of animals caged for public viewing

was not quite a century old’—For the ‘Centennial Exhibition’

the Park Trustees staged mimic warfare here with cannon fire—

while the Director of the Zoological Gardens and Acclimatisation Society

fetched a man, a woman and two children in from Coranderrk

to ‘populate’ the display which he and his wife had made—

‘an exact representation of an Aboriginal people’s encampment’—

‘On the sheet of water close to the camp there has been placed

a native bark canoe of the olden times’—In the Director’s

family archives a cutting, ‘Zoo House, Once Attacked by Blacks,

to be Pulled Down’, leaves out the story—Outside the zoo

‘a dozen companies of redcoats are in motion—the bugles peal out

with their quick long notes—there is a delightful apprehension

amongst the children that they will be in some fashion surrounded

and mixed up with the soldiers whose bayonets flash so bravely’—

‘Huge and empty, but not yet “swept and garnished”, stands

the military infantry camp high on the hill at Royal Park

waiting for 6000 or 7000 men who are to enter into it this week

from every part of Australasia’—‘The most modern 15lb quick-

firing field guns, of a type in use in the present war in South Africa,

will be furnished to the Victorian Field Artillery as soon as possible’—

‘Nearly 150 tents have been erected and stand now in ten long lines,

with the officers’ tents lying grouped fifty yards to the eastward’—

In the First World War the AIF fenced in these acres

for a rifle range—‘each unit of the AIF shall be at once supplied

with the necessary equipment for musketry instruction—aiming rests,

sand bags—dummy cartridges, rifles for miniature practice,

landscape targets and visual training figures’—‘In a misty shower of rain,

the Royal Park camp where 1,200 men are in training

was yesterday inspected by five representatives of Royalty’—

‘A Special Military Mental Hospital was opened at Royal Park in 1915’—

‘If [Gunner] P— had hysteria would he be a malinger?’

—‘No, not if he had hysteria.’

‘How would you test him for malingering?’

—‘With pretty strong electrical treatment.’

‘Of course, you could get an admission from an ordinary man

by using the thumb-screw?’

—‘No, there are men who will stand pain.’

‘Do you know the battery that was used?’

—‘Yes, in the Melbourne hospital we frequently used it

on this class of cases—hysterics, malingers, drunks’—

After that War, they levelled the hill for a playing field

where the swamp had been—‘to create an ordered

public recreation area from a previous wilderness’—

In the Second World War, the 1st Australian Guard Compound

in Royal Park was fenced with barbed wire—In a photograph

from the newspaper, ‘The 17th battalion—jubilantly march

towards the Royal Park railway station on their way

to overseas service’—Libya, Greece, Papua New Guinea—

‘For the return they marched as heroes—from central Melbourne

out to Royal Park’—In 1942 the US Army set up its camp

in metal huts over the railway line—Their Signal Radio

Intelligence Company used these acres as a training gound—


‘Two Australian soldiers from a camp near by, Driver M— and Cpl F—

walking through the park, were attracted by the driver of a butcher’s cart

who called to them, “There is a body on the bank” —

The soldiers ran to the locality, where slit trenches had been dug,

and saw a woman’s body lying face down in the mud’—

‘Black-trackers brought to the scene were greatly hampered

because many soldiers had trampled mud in the vicinity’—

Private Edward Joseph Leonski, tried by US court martial,

was hanged in Pentridge—He said, ‘She was singing in my ear.

It sounded as if she was singing for me’—

‘Tremendous excitement prevailed at Royal Park camp

when the long convoy of cars arrived from the Otranto—

many of the Army men were ex-prisoners from Germany—

‘The crowd of fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, wives

and sweethearts, and little sons and daughters waited

longingly in the cold’—After the war the US Army’s metal huts

were used for housing—‘Three families lived in our Army hut—

Our address was Area 4, Hut 7C’—‘Their meat, bread, vegetables,

groceries, and milk are delivered to their door’— Mrs—,

who came from Ouyen, planted maidenhair ferns on either side

of her front door’—‘Camp Pell kids, Camp Pell kids,

Camp Pell kids are we, always up to mischief, wherever we may be’—

‘Camp Pell is, in plain language, nothing but a dump

for human beings’—‘Camp Pell must be cleared at once and

handed over before the start of the Olympic Games,

Mr Bolte Premier said’—The huts sold off, foundations razed—

Now bullet casings, bottle shards, steel mesh alike

turn to monument under my eye and by this trick

here I have felt the past around me like a landscape—

ruinable, massed, a blank in thought which sets the names

in their array—Now at the level of my eye, its close horizon,

impasse—What I have named weeds and flowering grasses

being to itself single, singly forward in the instant of its

happening, pitiless, walled in silence—

The stone heaps lie around me and nothing is mine—



In writing about the colonial history of this patch of public ground, Royal Park, I was provoked by a statement in the ‘heritage assessment’ carried out by Andrew Long and Associates, in consideration of the East-West Link: ‘This location would not appear to have been of great likely attraction to Aboriginal past populations given its distance to local watercourses’. This claim seems to me to epitomise how a manufactured landscape can conceal the history of country. The ground now named Royal Park opened out alongside the Moonee Moonee chain of ponds, now a creek enclosed in concrete; what were its creeks are now storm drains running under the golf course and the railway line; and its swampland was drained for playing fields. This poem collects fragments of colonial history from maps and pictures in the State Library of Victoria and contemporary newspapers, which cite among other things reports from the Model Farm and Acclimatisation Society.