Spirit of Progress

Brenda Saunders

Chainsaws pierce the chilly silence, pulp trees 
to a useable size with speedy expertise, 
operate under floodlights to erase 
all signs of the ancient trees by morning. 
Commuters on the bus notice new patches 
of sky, drivers stuck in morning traffic feel 
the heat building under the summer sun, 

miss the shady spread of Moreton Bays.


Generations of passers-by have looked up, 
wondered at the screeching in the night, 
the frenzy of flying foxes, possums feeding. 
The mass of figs scattered at their feet.                     
I remember long days hiding in the trunks                     
as children, climbing the canopy to explore
the ropey roots, their twisting mysteries.

The sweet, musty smell of decaying fruit. 


Today those in power, continue to survey
the ‘Sydney Common’ as prime vacant land. 
Green space, valued at city prices
waiting for progress to turn in a useful profit.        

Trees once destined to out-live us all, replaced 
by concrete, silver rails, smart trams. 
People movers to the city of the future. 

Note: The Sydney Common: Centennial Parklands 

Contextual Essay: the title refers to the once popular modern steam train, which once ran from Melbourne to Sydney’s Central Station. 

In 2018 we commemorated the 100th anniversary of the Anzac sacrifice and the first planting of these now huge commemorative fig trees along Anzac Parade in Sydney.

Ironically, it was also the year when a great many of these trees were destroyed, causing public outrage across the city. I was particularly shocked and saddened by the loss, as they had dominated my natural environment since childhood. The area was redeveloped for the new light rail by the present State Government.

Brenda is a Wiradjuri writer and artist. She has written three poetry collections, her most recent, Inland Sea (Ginninderra Press) published in 2021. Her poems and reviews appear regularly in anthologies and journals. Brenda won the 2014 Scanlon Book Prize (Australian Poetry Inc) and in 2018, the ’Oodgeroo Noonuccal Prize’ (Queensland Poetry) and the Joanne Burns Award (Spineless Wonders). Several of her prose poems and micro fiction have been developed into short films ( ‘Voices of Women, 2021) and recorded as sonic pieces with ‘Ensemble Ichos.’



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