Georgian and Inter-War Mediterranean Sentiment

Two courtyard squares, two cockspur thorns.
Crataegus crus-galli, named for kratos – strength.
We came with cocks and spurs, built squares,
put these roots down just a century ago.

The north-east thorn is an exhibition specimen.
A single twist of grey-barked trunk stretched to
green hemisphere of crown, studded now
with scarlet berries. In spring white petals
cascade on the wind. Branches dance a diagram
of fractals, leaves are scalloped arrow-points.
One gall bulges near the ground, a minor blemish.
A low-bent elbow wears a garland of plastic foliage
reminding us to duck or bow, not to crack skulls
or split scalps.

I was here one year, watching its petal snow
when the Gomeroi poet challenged us.
You acknowledge our loss, your theft, she said.
Well, what are you doing? Are you giving it back?
Half the room blanched, quivered like aspens.
Others stiffened, bristled radiata pine and briars.
On Mount Ainslie the eucalyptus manniferas
swayed and sighed.

The south-west thorn has suffered amputations,
gangrene, wears a webbing belt to hold itself
together. Bears cracked stumps, visible wounds.
Perhaps a better portrait of our project?
A few branches are overloaded with unripe haws
but most are fruitless. You’d think the others
were deprived of light, bolting rampant runners
at the sky. Its dead wood heart cradles
a straggle of new shoots.

© Jacqui Malins, 2022

Gomeroi woman and poet Alison Whittaker, author of poetry collections ‘Blakwork’ (2018) and ‘Lemons in the Chicken Wire’ (2016), spoke at the opening of the Poetry on The Move Festival in 2019 at the Gorman House Main Hall.

Gorman House was built in 1924 as Hostel No. 3, for the ‘typist class’ during the establishment of Canberra as the new national capital, and now houses half of the Ainslie + Gorman Arts Centre. It is built in art-deco style, showcasing what is known as the ‘Georgian and Inter-War Mediterranean sentiment’. Its two central courtyards each has a cockspur thorn, a north-American species, as its centrepiece. Both trees are listed on the ACT Tree Register, and Gorman House is heritage-listed.