And why shouldn’t a woman be tall and strong?
Louisa Lawson, The Bulletin, ‘Red Page’
behind Louisa those diggers in the hills, trousers yellow-mullocked from the mines and never washed. brawlers lurch from grog-shanties, leery of a woman’s righteous anger, men burnt to blackened stumps on claims that often peter out though some, like Bernhardt Holtermann, grow rich – can-do, confident, short-lived. they grub and gouge those wooded Mudgee hills, open veins of gold in gullies and reefs on hillsides dazzling with their blinking fires of quartz. outside the frame, she’s heard hushed talk of the Hairy Man, watched Gothic shadows flicker on canvas – a hawker’s cart at dusk, ghosts of convicts shuffling past in darkness. Louisa, stiff-backed and tall, steadies herself on the fence-rail posing with sister Phoebe for the travelling photographers. they’re not to know she’s craving Bret Harte, or that the City calls, deep wells of other lives, seduced by dreams beyond the rocking of a cradle bitter quarrels, the ladling of gruel, the bread and dripping of her woman’s life.
Louise Wakeling is a Sydney poet who lives in the Blue Mountains. Off Limits (Puncher & Wattmann, 2021) is her fourth collection of poetry. She has been published online and in anthologies such as The Best Australian Poems (2010), Antipodes (2011), Contemporary Poetry (2016), Caring for Country (2017), Live Encounters (2018), Wild Voices: An anthology on wildlife issues (2019) and Messages from the Embers, an Australian Bushfire Anthology (2020). She is currently working on a second novel about coercive control and intergenerational trauma in the lives of three generations of women in Sydney and on the Central Coast.