Have you passed by the iconic mural in the Opera House ‘Five Bells’ by John Olsen? That celebrated piece of art is an ode to a poem by Kenneth Slessor, a poet, war correspondent, and journalist.
He lived in Chatswood at various times of his life and is commemorated by a park that is located a short walk from your club.
He was of German descent and his father changed the family surname shortly after the outbreak of WW1. Interestingly enough his middle name was Adolf. Ken Slessor worked as a journalist for most of his life and
was an official war correspondent during WW2.
His best known work is the aforementioned “Five Bells” but his most poignant poem about his war experience is “Beach Burial”. It is harrowing, evocative, and notably one of Australia’s most famous literary pieces detailing the suffering of war.
His is commemorated in Chatswood by the aptly named Kenneth Slessor Park. The setting may be the perfect spot to delve into the deep body of work and war correspondence he left behind.
Softly and humbly to the Gulf of Arabs
The convoys of dead sailors come;
At night they sway and wander in the waters far under,
But morning rolls them in the foam.
Between the sob and clubbing of gunfire
Someone, it seems, has time for this,
To pluck them from the shallows and bury them in burrows
And tread the sand upon their nakedness;
And each cross, the driven stake of tidewood,
Bears the last signature of men,
Written with such perplexity, with such bewildered pity,
The words choke as they begin –
‘Unknown seaman’ – the ghostly pencil
Wavers and fades, the purple drips,
The breath of wet season has washed their inscriptions
As blue as drowned men’s lips,
Dead seamen, gone in search of the same landfall,
Whether as enemies they fought,
Or fought with us, or neither; the sand joins them together,
Enlisted on the other front.