The Land’s Meaning by Randolph Stow

For Sidney Nolan

The love of man is a weed of the waste places,
One may think of it as the spinifex of dry souls.

I have not, it is true, made the trek to the difficult country
where it is said to grow; but signs come back,
reports come back, of continuing exploration
in that terrain. And certain of our young men,
who turned in despair from the bar, upsetting a glass,
and swore: “No more” (for the tin rooms stank of flyspray)
are sending word that the mastery of silence
alone is empire. What is God, they say,
but a man unwounded in his loneliness?

And the question (applauded, derided) falls like dust
on veranda and bar; and in pauses, when thinking ceases,
the footprints of the recently departed
march to the mind’s horizons, and endure.

And often enough as we turn again, and laugh,
cloud, hide away the tracks with an acid word,
there is one or more gone past the door to stand
(wondering, debating) in the iron street,
and toss a coin, and pass, to the township’s end,
where one-eyed ‘Mat, eternal dealer in camels,
grins in his dusty yard like a split fruit.

But one who has returned, his eyes blurred maps
of landscapes still unmapped, gives this account:

“The third day, cockatoos dropped dead in the air.
Then the crows turned back, the camels knelt down and
stayed there,
and a skin-coloured surf of sandhills jumped the horizon
and swamped me. I was bushed for forty years.

“And I came to a bloke all alone like a kurrajong tree.
And I said to him: ‘Mate – I don’t need to know your name –
Let me camp in your shade, let me sleep, till the sun goes



  1. Nice, and an interesting dedication. Were they mates? (Notice I’m asking you not google because I’m being lazy.) I have a family connection w Nolan and found reading Miller’s recent book intriguing because of it. I am drawn to snippets of Nolan and his life.

  2. Thank you for your comment Jenny.
    Yes, Stow & Nolan knocked around together during their english exile.
    I can’t claim to be across the entirety of Nolan’s career but his Heide period with Sunday Reed has always fascinated me. The snippets there (Joy Hester and Albert Tucker included) draw me in.
    Do you know the Heide museum? I’ve only been there once, for a Joy Hester exhibition, but would love to visit again.

  3. Hi James, doing the rounds of the blogs, sorry for delay in reply. I haven’t visited Heide but want to. I have a bio on Sunday Reed that is very Heide-centric (The Heart Garden by Janine Burke, I haven’t finished reading it). I have a childhood memory of being in a house not far from Melbourne and standing in front of a giant painting that I found intriguing and strange. Later, I knew it was one of the Kelly series. But to be a child and know nothing of it, only that it was fascinating on its own merits and not because of provenance or anything like that. Cool memory.

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