I’m on holiday. I’ve gone away. To Broome, as it happens. A very long way away. Well over 2300 kilometres. On the plane it took 2½ hours to fly from Perth. This a journey within one state and not even from one extremity to the other. Like I said, a long way away.

Why do we do this? Why travel great distances to some other place from where we normally live? Many reasons. Often more than one applies to a particular situation. As it does this time. I’ve come away to have some respite, a change from the usual. To relax without the burden of the everyday urgency of living which always seems so present in our normal biding. In addition, spending time with loved relations, my brother-in-law and his wife. So, definitely a complexity of reasons.

Being away implies some notion of a base, somewhere that isn’t away. Although I’ve spent around two thirds of my life mostly in various locations around the city of Perth, it doesn’t yet feel like my home. But if you ask me where that would be, I would still be hard up for an answer.  Most people unhesitatingly ascribe a city, a town, a suburb, as their home. Not me. I was born in Sydney. I lived in the city for the first three years of my life and then the next eleven within a radius of less than 100 kms. That was a long time ago.  Since then I’ve only visited the city for brief periods. Those early years and the collection of short subsequent visits are not enough for Sydney to qualify as my home. And if that doesn’t count, nowhere else is going to fare any better.

But I’m not stateless. I’m still in the country in which I was born. I have an unequivocal right to go on  living here, in Australia. Whether I can specify somewhere in the country as my home town or not is irrelevant to the political fact that Australia counts officially as my home. I have somewhere to live. I’m not threatened by anything more than politicians who want me to believe they’re always acting in my best interests, and business people who assure me “your call is important to us”.

According to an item on SBS News this evening, there are 15 million refugees in the world right now. People who are away. People who are not at home. People who no longer have a home. Or if they can identify a place which they call home, they cannot live there, cannot go back there. These are people who are away not from choice but because they’ve been driven from their homes by war, murder, rape, torture, starvation, terrorism, or some other hideous provocation from a long list of possibilities.

In the meantime I live in a country in which I can freely choose to go away. I also live in a country whose politicians — there’s no distinction in this case between government and opposition members — pretend that we are somehow seriously threatened by a few hundred refugees , virtually all of them bona fide, who arrive on our shores, or at least in our territories, by boat. These illegal immigrants, so-called boat people, who have come away in order to save their lives, are apparently a dire danger whereas the thousands who come by air and overstay their visitor visas pose no problem.

I would like to extend the hospitality of my home, my country Australia, to these homeless people, these people who have come away from their forbidding homelands . But my government, those politicians elected to represent my wishes and to act on them, has chosen to ignore me and deny any welcome to this particular category of refugees. And I cannot get away from this despicable policy and its inhumane application. Even if I go away from the country, which, as I’ve already said,  I can freely choose to do, I cannot get away from the shame. There is nowhere away from this.




The boat rides on, over the harbour,

Pushing beyond the headland,

Soon it will sail over the horizon;

Soon it will lie beyond memory.


I came here on that vagrant boat,

Though I would as gladly come

On the back of a great bird in the sky,

Or carried in a chariot of the gods.


On this voyage there was no fantasy,

Only a mundane and miserable passage,

Dragged across wilful currents and tides;

I should not have hoped for more.


Yet I dreamt of a different journey,

And for a time the dream was real,

Fragments remain, vaguely calling me;

I still hope, long for them to be true.


The boat rides on, over the harbour,

Pushing beyond the headland,

Soon it will sail over the horizon;

But I have come to stay.

Ruari Jack Hughes



Let’s see about writing a poem. What first? An idea, something to write about. I’ll check my list of possible titles/themes/ideas. OK, here’s one that looks likely, ‘specially since this posting is about making a poem.

Huge ball of poetry.

There’s my title; by implication it’s also my subject. So far, so good. What next? Something about a huge ball of poetry. Well, yes, but what? What is a huge ball of poetry? The answer probably lies inside. Inside the writing, I mean. Usually a piece of writing gradually says what it’s about as the words appear on the page, stretching out in a long string. I’m intrigued to see where the words are going and what will lie at the end of the string. That looks like a good image for a huge ball of poetry; a coiled up string, rolled around this way and that, over and over, strands crisscrossing, words touching each other which weren’t together in the sequence of the writing but are now tangled and twined so that coming on one, we’re falling over another which wasn’t originally tied to it at all. A bit like that last sentence which managed to go on for almost four lines, one thought leading to the next, then snaking back, a serpent trying to swallow its tail (or should that be tale?)

Have I got enough to make a poem? Well, I’ll start and see where we go.


… and this word

will be followed by that one and

then the next after it will be the one that’s meant

to follow it in some sort of agreement to keep sense and not

muck up the meaning of what the words together are supposed to be saying

so long as they’re in an order that is familiar but of course it doesn’t matter too much

since poetry can break the rules of grammar and even syntax in order to create a sense of

a feeling or the flight of the air through the winding paths of the forest or over the jumping

 waves of the sea or maybe around the flittering tails of a herd of wild horses galloping across

the steppe which stretches all the way from the coldness of the Arctic shore to the warm

lapping edge of  the great Caspian Sea where lived the ancestors of people

who some day would travel to that sunny sanctuary lying in the vast

southern ocean which somehow balances the continental

 land masses sitting on the top of the world instead of

being spread more evenly across

 the hemispheres…

Is this a poem? Let’s review what we’ve got. A huge ball of words all caught up together. Yet not too hard to follow those words along the line one after another. You may not be able to see at the beginning where those words are going be at the end, but that’s what good writing does, keeps you in suspense, at the same time gradually revealing more and more of what the writer wants to say — or at least what the writer finds himself saying (not quite the same thing when you think about it).

What else is there? Check for the usual criteria. It’s one continuous run-on line; it doesn’t have end rhyme; it’s without regular metre — though there are internal rhymes and a feeling of rhythm is present. Some may dismiss any claim that it’s verse. Others will insist this piece of writing — this huge ball of words — is emphatically a poem.

Enough! Let it be a poem or let it be just a jumble of words. For me, however, the words go somewhere, say something, and from the beginning of writing,  the beginning of poetry, its entire history, that’s been enough.

Ruari Jack Hughes

Another 500 Words

Have you ever thought about how fast you speak? Despite English being a fairly slowly spoken language (If you don’t think so, have a listen to someone speaking Spanish in a lively conversation), we, most of us, get through about two hundred words per minute on the average. Unless you’re a hermit or very anti-social, that means you chew up literally thousands upon thousands of words every day in ordinary conversation. 

Why is it then so hard for us writers to get a miserable 500 words on paper in a typical day sitting before the computer or scribbling on a pad?  I’ve just written slightly more than 100 words (up to here) for this posting in less than ten minutes (in between mouthfuls of a delicious terrine of chicken pate and pistachio paste washed down with a cappuccino). Yet earlier today it took me nearly three hours to produce a barely 500 word extension to a chapter in my novella.

At the beginning of the year I set myself a goal to complete (perhaps I should say extend) this work by approximately 13,000 words by the end of March. After a vigorous editing (and  unsentimental pruning), I found I would actually need another 16,000 words. Well, here I am, only a week short of my deadline and nowhere near completion.

Of course I can tick off a string of reasons/excuses/craven attempts at explanation —serious illness involving hospitalisation; unexpected and complicated matters in the daily business of surviving in the madhouse that is contemporary living; sheer procrastination which comes as second nature — but do any of these really point to the core of the problem?

From much that I’ve read in the peregrinations on their work by other poets, novelists, dramatists, as well as the discussions I’ve had with my own writerly associates, it’s clear this difficulty in getting words on paper is a common curse. My question persists. When we can blather on almost ad infinitum, if not ad nauseum, why is it so hard to scratch down a mere 500 of the little blighters on a page? I’m seventy percent of the way to 500 words in this posting and it’s been a doddle. But wait until tomorrow when I try to get another half ton loaded into the novella. It will seem like Sisyphus climbing up that everlasting hill. Two steps forward and roll back down the mount.

One hundred to go! Is this how we should write? Churning it out like some product on a conveyor belt? What happened to creativity? Spontaneity? Serendipity? Is Woody right, that it’s only 10% inspiration and the rest is perspiration? Where’s the Romance? What happened to the Muse who just alights on my shoulder with fully formed, matchless phrases and couplets only needing to be set down on the page, words which just flow from the mind, down the arm and through the fingers to repose in all their beauty and for all time’s ages in the little books which readers will always cherish? 

Oh, wotalotarot!                          Maybe this poem will suit you better?

My Word

Someday I will stop,

And the words will stop / still.

Only one word will be / still.

So many words I gather to me.

I am desperate / for words;

I go on / only by words.

The words, the words!

They gnaw at my body,

They tear at my reason.

They strip me / bare / me

Until only the core is left.

The word was spoken,

It only sounded like a beginning.

The one word of truth

Is the word of death.

In the basis of my being

Was my undoing, my end,

All settled / before it began.

Someday I will stop

And the words will stop / still.

The sentence will be finished.

                                                                                                            Ruari Jack Hughes

The Things You Don’t See

I went to the Ozconcert last night. This is an annual event held in Perth to celebrate multiculturalism. It’s been going for 25 years and takes the form of a series of performances in music and dance by a variety of individuals and groups representing many different ethnic and national bodies. This year’s concert included, for example, singers from Australian Aboriginal, PNG, Indian, Chinese, Middle Eastern backgrounds and dancers from China, Indonesia, Aboriginal Australia, Croatia, Egypt among others. There were also groups and bands, sometimes playing traditional material and at others, fascinating fusions of Western and non-Western music, several with a jazz underlay.

On a beautiful early Autumn evening in the grounds of the equally beautiful Government House, some seven thousand people spread blankets or sat on low chairs with picnic dinners and drinks of choice set before them, to share in this musical reminder of our hugely varied backgrounds.

We also had a reminder from Dr Eric Tan, the originator of Ozconcert, about his vision in setting it up, of a nation which could move away from historical resistance to others (i.e. non-British) which had often been expressed in outright racism. Ozconcert began in 1989, the year after the bicentenary of European (settlement, occupation, invasion, choose your own denominator) of Australia.

Both these reminders aimed to demonstrate the positive qualities of multiculturalism. The recognition of what each different ethnic group or nation has contributed to the overall mix that is contemporary Australia; the realisation that it’s only complexion and sometimes facial configuration that distinguishes second and third generation Australians from each other since spoken accents and lifestyle behaviours are mostly quite congruent.

Yet, as I looked around me, it was obvious that the audience was frequently composed in smaller groups which represented specific ethnicities and that there weren’t many groups made up of a haphazard mixing of people from obviously different backgrounds.

And also, although I didn’t go into the city last night after the concert, I know that had I done so, I would soon have been confronted by more examples than I cared to see (because one would be too many) of bigotry and racial intolerance. Police patrols which can too easily pick out aboriginal kids and harass them; gangs of particular ethnicities antagonising each other; taunting comments thrown at those who are deemed different and therefore less.

When I turn from the streetscape, there are immediately attitudes (such as “Turn back the boat people”; “Put foreign workers last in the job queue”)   by governments and politicians, business interests and  media pundits, those who like to be heard on radio talk-back programs, and a plenitude of other sources, all telling me that I must be wrong, that multiculturalism is just an idea, style without substance, like so much more in our 21st century Australia.

I enjoyed the concert last night. I went home feeling pretty good about it. I’d like to believe that the concert was a good picture of where we’ve got to in Australia in 2013. If it had that impact on me, perhaps it did also on the rest of the seven thousand who were there, and perhaps that can become the dominant view of who we are as a people.

Here’s another way to see the picture:

There was a time when…

There was a time when dragons flew in the skies,

Ice castles shone in the bright sunshine

Of fabulous tropical lands,

Birds called to each other in descants,

And animals spoke in poetry.


A time when people tall as houses

Walked the town roads, the country lanes,

And tiny ones, little men and women,

Stood easily on their giant neighbours’ palms.


All these things were quite ordinary,

Though you might be amazed to hear it.

If you had been there, you would not have wondered

For it was not something to wonder.


There was a time when people similar to us,

With skins of many different colours

Lived together in the towns,

Where people wore veils shielding their faces,

And their uncovered neighbours smiled.


A time when people worshipped their God

In church, synagogue, temple and mosque,

And everyone, children, men and women,

Were freely welcome in each other’s lands.


All these things were quite ordinary,

Though you are amazed to hear it.

If you had been there, surely you would not have wondered,

Surely it should not be something to wonder.

 Ruari Jack Hughes

The Bloody Big Book

Only it’s not so bloody big just yet. Talking about the PhD — which has been taking a bit longer than I originally planned. If I don’t count the two years to get the Masters as an entry ticket, I’ve been involved with this doctorate in Creative Writing for the last seven years. Officially it’s only half that period as I had a false start which lost me a couple of years, and then a long stretch on suspension due to very poor health. So I’m still inside the overall average length of PhD programs which is apparently around 4½ years. But it’s starting to feel like a lifelong project. On the one hand I really enjoy the writing (well, the creative stuff anyway), but on the other,  I’d just like to have it finished.

I’ve been asked more than once why I’m bothering with study at this level when I don’t have any academic aspirations. Well, it’s ego stuff. I’m a member of that brigade who left school barely fifteen years old with no certificate of any kind. I was bright enough but family circumstances didn’t favour me staying on at school when I could be out earning some money to bring home to the common pot. And yes, I do regret that was the situation though I’m not seeking sympathy. Those years working at all sorts of jobs, some interesting, a lot ‘dead end’, provide me with almost endless source material for writing.

A wonderful thing is that ‘it’s never too late’ as some wit once observed, and so here I am having a late run and a fair bit of fun doing so. I’ve always been scribbling but had never seemed to find enough time to do it properly. After a big scare (rushed into a cardiac unit with suspected major coronary going on — wasn’t, it turned out to be a virus faking things very dramatically) I decided that there were a couple of things on my bucket list I hadn’t yet ticked off. One was to get writing seriously, the other to achieve a doctorate. 

The writing is going okay. No big breakthrough but several individual poems and short stories published in Oz and overseas. Plus one book of poetry (available as a book and also as a CD with audio files).

The PhD however is having a longish gestation. I’ve nominated a re-jigged date for submission somewhere around the middle of next year (and  the end of 2014 as a desperation appointment!) I usually pull off deadlines with style so let’s hope this will be another stunning success. In the meantime I had better get back to it.


Dreams are important

But reality is where    

Your dreams can come true

Ruari Jack Hughes