Portrait of Nannultera, a young Poonindie cricketer

J.M. Crossland (1799 – 1858) Oil on Canvas 1854 Adelaide

Governor Gawler said survival was plain and simple
all they wanted was to make you happy
your trade was imitation of good white men
and above all you had to love God
Archdeacon Matthew Hale’s God
the one to be found north of Port Lincoln
in the Aboriginal Mission at Poonindie.

An institution of happiness training
like English grammar boys, sport was the key
to civilise the beastly and unpleasant urges
curb and control unhealthy thoughts
and learn the rituals at the wicket.

Cricket’s sacred pitch drawn on dust
white-lined boundary on the ochre earth
the pock and crack on solid willow
red leather ball echoing the steady beat
of strokes, of swing and sweep
guiding, gliding and glancing off
the drama of the lunge, loft or leave
and always, in district matches
the sound of gentle clapping.

Poonindie boys humble yet heroic
bowlers grass juiced and polish striped
with scarlet rippled thighs
batsmen strong, supple with deadly eye.

Nannultera you were hand picked
for this portrait, just edging manhood
with your first fine fluff and stubble
handsome, healthy and desirable.

Cossland posed, you bat held tight
your strong muscled arm raised
not taking aim at any ball
not ready at the crease for action
just held as instructed, art-positioned

Black shiny hair, tamed by a comb
your unstarched white collar and cuffs
beneath rumpled swathes of red jersey
tucked into tough and yet soft moleskins
held by that sturdy broad, brown leather belt.

Your face and wistful eyes tell another story
of lost, lost boys, dying lonely
in crowded and cramped rooms
in filthy, flea pits of places
their scars, sickness and despair
used, abused by these men of mercy
and the sadness of your dreaming
lost forever.


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Filed under Art, Australian Poetry, Poem

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