From Nugan Hand to men on the land: the
Prepare the Cabin for Landing Travelling through the Family
By Alan Wearne Giramondo Publishing, 120pp, $24 By Brendan Ryan Hunter Publishers, 110pp, $19.95
PREPARE the Cabin for Landing is the second full collection from Alan Wearne since he put aside (temporarily?) his career-long preoccupation with verse novels (most notably The Nightmarkets and The Lovemakers).
Like its predecessor The Australian Popular Songbook, this new work is packed with Wearne’s quirky satire and, of course, his talent for narrative.
In many ways, Wearne’s writing is sui generis but it can also help to think of him as a radically updated CJ Dennis, he of The Sentimental Bloke (1915) and The Glugs of Gosh (1917).
Both are irredeemably Melburnian (though Wearne technically now lives in Wollongong and Perth); both are keen students of Australian slang and the vagaries of popular culture; and both seem more than half in love with the subjects they ridicule.
Although Prepare the Cabin for Landing has seven short poems that continue Wearne’s The Australian Popular Songbook project, it consists essentially of mid-length satires that send up the excesses of Australian society (or sections thereof) during successive decades from the 1960s to the present.
Beginning with the relatively mild A Portrait of Three Young High School Teachers, Wearne progresses to an unrelenting six-page demolition of an ‘‘ exemplary couple’’ from 60s Carlton. Written in anapaestic tetrameter, rigorously rhymed abab throughout, Dysfunction, North Carlton Style or The Widow of Noosa traces the marital (and extramarital) adventures of ‘‘ Rob and Ali’’, the former an architect who ‘‘ designed half of North Carlton’s extensions’’ and the latter a free-thinking woman who ‘‘ lectured in ethics, out at La Trobe’’.
It’s best not to spoil the story, other than to reveal that she has now ‘‘ turned into the Widow of Noosa / with her new and evolving collection of friends’’.
As with most satirists, the reader is inclined to ask how the narrator knows so much if he or she wasn’t involved personally? Wearne answers us partly when he has a character say at the end of Operation Hendrickson (of which more shortly), ‘‘ So three words fit, then four, five, six / and all is understood. ‘ Don’t like it? Don’t do it. / For Wearney, that’s what it’s all about.’ ’’
Of course, this is just one character’s viewpoint (and a dubious character at that) but it does reinforce the necessity for the satirist (or at least the Juvenalian satirist) to cling to the high moral ground. Such is certainly the case in Wearne’s The God of Nope about the 70s Nugan Hand Bank, whose principals’ shallow and venal ambitions are lampooned in striking iambic pentameter tercets, rhyming AAA.
No less amusing is All These Young Australianists . . . , a devastating critique of young ‘‘ postcolonial’’ academics touring Europe.