Peter McFarlane

Peter McFarlane was born in Glenelg, a suburb of Adelaide, and educated in South Australian high schools and at Scotch College. He received a BA Dip Ed from Adelaide University and, apart from two and a half years in Canada, he taught in SA Education Department High Schools where he was an English Coordinator and Arts Adviser. Since receiving the Carclew Fellowship from the SA Department of the Arts in 1994 and a Category A Fellowship from the Literature Board of the Australia Council in 1995, Peter has complemented his time as a full-time writer with speaking engagements and writer-in-residencies.

In past years he has had extended periods as editor of the SA English Teachers’ Association Journal, Opinion, and as Publications Officer for the Australian Association for the Teaching of English, as well as a heavy involvement with SA’s Friendly Street Poets, being present at the inaugural meeting in 1975 and published in the first 17 readers. In addition to his first poetry collection, My Grandfather’s Horses, (TAT 1983), he co-edited a range of poetry texts for schools: Orange Moon (Rigby 1975, with Garth Boomer), A Book to Write Poems By (AATE 1983), A Book to Perform Poems By (AATE 1985), Making the Magic (AATE 1988), and Doing Bombers Off the Jetty (Macmillan 1997, all with Rory Harris); and Blue Light Clear Atoms (Macmillan 1996) and Among Ants Between Bees (Macmillan 1998) with Lisa Temple. Books one and two on the teaching of writing, Exploring the Writer’s Craft, were published by Macmillan Educational in 2000.

In 1977 he also prepared for Rigby, The Projected Muse, a book of excerpts from Australian filmscripts. Since 1988 Peter has published ten novels: the semi-autobiographical, The Tin House (Scholastic 1989), Rebecca the Wrecker, Betty the Balloon Buster, Bruce the Goose, Soula the Ruler, Max the Man Mountain, Barnaby the Barbarian and Michaela the Whaler (Harper Collins 1995, 96, 96, 97, 97, 98 and 99) and The Enemy You Killed, More Than a Game, Goat Boy and Bomber Boy (Penguin 1996, 1999, 2001, 2002), as well as two Penguin collections of short stories, The Flea and Other Stories (1992) and Lovebird (1993). The Enemy You Killed (Giochi di Guerra) and Lovebird (Controllo a Distanza) have both been translated into Italian. His short story, Wasim, is included in Personal Best, a Trans-Tasman anthology of short stories on sport that he co-edited with New Zealand author, Tessa Duder, for Reed Books in 1997. Peter lives in Adelaide with his wife and two of his five children.

Ash Wednesday

If the world is going to end
it will end
on a day like today
It’s an end of the world day

If the world is going to end
it will end with cars
flinching through dust
headlights on in the heat

it will end in lifts
in buildings black from power failures
expecting a frayed spinning fall
any instant

If the world is going to end
it will end with fire
the haphazard destruction of fire
a wall of wind like a blowtorch

it will end with us inside the oven
inside smoke inside explosions
fragments of us
a meltdown

If the world is going to end
it will end on a day like today
a pungent smell
and a thinning cloud of dead ash

From Friendly Street No. 8 and Tuesday Night Live

The Bell

for Clifford Coulthard

The woman held the bell
to her breast
the bell
releasing her sons from 40000 years
the bell
more precious
than the most precious Grecian vessel
handed over to missionaries
held out of reach
then smashed on the stone serpent head
teeth still embedded in the wall of Wilpena
shooting star
eye of the female serpent
a tear disappearing like the bell
into darkness
the bell
lying amongst broken beer bottles
at Arkara
Adnyamathanha straining like kangaroos
against a fence
the sacred circle around the heart
never knowing
what the old people know

“If only we could
get our land back
start our ceremonies again

“If only we could put the bell
back together again
pick up the pieces

“If only we could catch
the old men and the old women
in the heat haze up ahead”

From Friendly Street No. 9 and Tuesday Night Live


for Alexander

Adolescence half covers you
like a quilt in hot weather.
Sleep is more a recuperation
from the battle of days, where loss
is constant and you have to shout
to be noticed. You act without knowing,
wagging school, stealing from shops and
answering police and parent questions
as if you’ve been hit and burnt by lightning.
I want to press lullabies like hot towels
on the confusion of your loss,
or sisters leaving home and parents
in different houses. I want
to wrap up friends and put them
in pillow cases at the end of your bed,
like Christmas presents that won’t fade or break
when you play with them in the morning.
Hush a bye, don’t you cry.
Go to sleep my baby.

From Friendly Street No. 17