Empire  &  Commonwealth



In memory of Anne McCosker's uncle, Lieutenant Fred Martin M.M



I was born into the British Empire in the Mandated Territory of New Guinea, a trust territory of the League of Nations administered by Australia. Then the British Empire covered a quarter of the world's population. It included a continent, a sub-continent, island archipelagos, great swathes of Africa, separate islands - large and small, strategic ports, areas in the Middle East, vast chunks of northern America reaching into the Arctic.

The British Crown held these diverse peoples together and was by the majority of its subjects honoured with love and respect. And in all those far flung lands before WWII there was much peace, with seas open and safe. There were as many types of government in this empire as there were peoples and locations, ranging from totally independent nations to isolated communities governed directly from London.

Obviously this Empire was to influence and shape millions of peoples' lives especially the children born into it. What might have been achieved if the understanding and sometimes sense of dual identity - an intuitive sense of 'other', and yet with a strong sense of one's own blood ties - had been allowed to develop to its full potential, can now only be visioned by those few able to remember.  For the environment that fostered this was wilfully destroyed either through ignorance or deliberate intent.

In an ever increasingly violent and racially fraught world one can only hope that the true nature of the British Empire will become better understood and some knowledge of the duality it gave many of its children be recognised. And perhaps too, somehow, maybe through the present Commonwealth, it will be discovered that those seeds of duality are dormant, not dead, and from this realization will come a saner world.

For that purpose I am giving in the following pages a selection of my poetry and prose dealing with Empire and Commonwealth.


Link to  WWI veterans  of Rabaul and surrounding islands

Link to  New Guinea Waits


This page,  Empire & Commonwealth (1)  contains poetry and links to eight articles:-

WWI Veterans
Rabaul, my Home Town
NGVR Museum, Brisbane, and Bustard painting
Barker College, Sydney N.S.W.
Australia's first battle as a Sovereign Nation
Capture of Rabaul from Germans, WWI
Extract from "Our New Possession"
David Behrens

The page  Empire & Commonwealth (2)  contains further articles




 Poetry by Anne McCosker 

New Britain Birth
Frangipani and Daffodil
Black or Thatched House of the Hebrides
Britain has spawned a Breed
Waterhole by Mapleton
1 Charters Towers
2 Glasshouse Mountains
New Guinea - My Country
Gumyitke Creek
Witch Doctor

  Articles & Photographs

World War  I  Veterans
 of Rabaul and 

surrounding islands, captured and killed by 
the Japanese following the Fall of Rabaul in 1942.
Rabaul  my home town.
NGVR Museum, Brisbane, and Bustard painting
Barker College, Sydney
Australia's first battle as a sovereign nation
Capture of Rabaul from Germans, WWI
Extract from "Our New Possessions"
David Behrens, "South Pacific Cross Currents"
Extracts from three articles


For Noel Barry and his translation of
Thirty Years in the South Seas.
Extract from this translation
See  Other P.N.G. Articles  by Anne McCosker







New Britain Birth

At birth I heard the drum, witchdoctor shadowed me 
I, Nordic, once boned and bookless as this tribe 
Chanting humanity into the dark of jungle.
Born into the shadow of my primaeval past 
I cry primitive with crafted tongue of speech.
A-walk with earth in toes, I breathe in fashioned shoes,
I cannot stamp out the whirl of European dust 
Moulded up to tower of choired Europe. 

Palm leaf and coconut lullabied my childhood
Yet I rocked in the cradle of Europe.

 CAMP FIRES       1972

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In colonial New Guinea the white children were often looked after by a black nanny. Sometimes a very deep relationship developed between the black woman and a child.

I loved you so 
White child of mine.
Born to my world 
I give you a gift,
The rite of my people.

By palm and coral
Nut and fern, 
I carried you 
Close to my heart.
Black skin armed white. 

Dance, piccaninny, dance.

My ancient craft 
In play I give 
I taught you 
Tumbuna can
Use or be used.

Skull white the beach 
When you first saw 
The magic shells
Skilled by my kind
To capture creatures.

Dance, piccaninny, dance.

With flesh still forming 
The tribal fire
Cut off your shadow,
Helped me to power
Beyond my rivals.

White child of earth
Toed out by black,
I teased the night 
And shook the stars
With your racial eye.

Dance, piccaninny, dance.

Fearful the time 
When the dead 
Are walking.
Soul without limb
Face without feature.

Then white darling 
You give me 
To witch my will
On all I hate.

Dance, piccaninny, dance.

My bones are beads
Around your head
As spirits rise 
Release by me,
They feed on you.

I loved you so 
White child of mine.
Long now apart 
We are together,
My work well done.

Dance, piccaninny, dance.


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Charters Towers

I felt my mother here
In this verandahed place
Open to the plains
And sunset solitude.

At peace where once she played,
I saw a house of hope
Wide-windowed to the world
Spreading out to touch
A land with ancient light
Absorbed from centuries
Of educated action.

Gold was panned
Fine buildings planned,
Heat and dust and distance
Became a town.

Canvassed by such movement
Men worked assured
That what they did was good.
Pride and confidence
Gathered into streets
Of bustling elegance
To form a Christian nation.

Sweat mingled into Art
The page and spade together
Accepted as a right
By school and miner's camp.

From this north a future
From this north a past
Where disciplined desire
And visionary thought
Imaged and imagined
A culture that was equal
To the best from which it came.

I wonder at them now
Those of my kin
Who crafted and created,
With pioneer clarity.

Witch  Doctor  2003


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On meeting again my father's old plantation overseer and friend.

East is east and west is west 
And never the twain shall meet,
Yet Rombin loved my father,
I saw from Rombin's eye.

Across the caste of skin 
I looked into your eye 
And knew that mateship good,
That black and white can love 
As true sexed lovers do
Aware of alien pulses,
Close creatures of the blood
Each heart a life in Being. 

Endless is the jungle seed,
The sea has many shells,
All mixed into a pattern 
Of growth about the world.

Warm, so full of joy, that day 
When black and white did meet
As equal souls in natural law
Both single, whole, complete.
Your race, my race, our colour
As different as our sex,
We spoke a language human
Yet lipped from breasts apart. 

East is east and west is west 
And never the twain shall meet,
Yet my father had loved Rombin 
I saw from Rombin's eye.

Potter's Clay     1973

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Black or Thatched House of the Hebrides

Desolate and dead the hearth
Within these great stone walls
That crumble slowly to the earth 
From which once humans chose them.
Only the mute swan with its mate
Will spend the summer through
Teaching the young to understand
This world wrapped in rainbow hues.

So small these houses, tiny homes,
Just toadstools made of rock
Hunching tight against each gale 
Beneath thick grassy caps.
Yet many, many children
Were born and bred within 
These half- forgotten places,
About them laughed, and lived

Far from the crowded cities 
Far from the lands that lie
Out there beyond the islands,
Life here like salmon spawning
Was building up a breed 
That would forsake the stillness
The clear dream-hiding loch
For deeps beyond all vision.

Out they would go these children 
Out over every ocean 
Through every strait and sea 
That felt the storms' white whip
Until all shores were reached 
By those who once did know 
Only those minute dwellings 
Unwindowed to the world.

Lonely heaps of history
Tumbling monuments 
Of such magnificence!
From here came strength that spread
As easy peer to all
Great England gave her sons
So that in Empire far away 
Celt and Saxon worked as one.

Desolate and dead the hearth,
The heart does ache to see
The lintel gone, the room so bare,
Life only memory.
Yet there should be no sorrow
The Black House like a pod
When all its seed had scattered
Can crumble as it grows. 

Leaves     1987

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Britain has spawned a Breed

My spirit is a migrant in myself,
I fly from home to home haunting the upper air.

Britain, where in calm sunset 
Ghosts of my race arise,
Children of the oak and birch
Old men of the peat and clay,
Who lived my ancient memory
As Puck in pleasure roamed 
About the river's dancing light
Feeding those fields of home. 

Britain of the Celt and Pict,
Land of the Saxon's wheel, 
Where every sound of sunset 
Sighs through my tribal soul.
No fear in British meadows 
No alien pause in the brain,
Moulded from ancestral skulls,
This country is my home.

But I am migrant in myself
For Britain made an Empire,
I am the Empire Breed.

I know in personal memory 
The sharp scent of the gum,
The vast Australian sunset 
The dark dusk of a land 
That is not me or of my blood 
Yet where my childhood was,
Unknown and yet known 
I feel Arunta's sun.

The red globe of a sunset 
Wild from New Guinea shores
Catches the raw Pacific
In a brilliance I can love.
Yet my eye is not the black man's 
And his dusk is not my peace,
I am always intruding,
My tribe's soul was not born here.

I touch the palm and coconut
I smell the salt of shark 
As the powerful, lonely oceans
Roll the world around my limbs.
My flesh is white of Britain 
And the daffodil I pluck 
But the green beneath my toes
Is jungle tough with ants. 

For Britain spawned a breed
Named in Empire's day
And I the Empire Breed.

Strangers in the noon heat
My urgent wandering breed
Of hurricane or bushfire birth 
Are made of British bone. 
We cannot lose our vision,
Forget the dance of Puck,
He dreams about our languid sleep 
Cold ghost in tribal blood.

And we cannot break the trochus shell
Bright in our childhood hand,
For Britain she has breed herself 
All around the earth.
She has spawned a new race,
Flung out the skin of home,
Made us men of different ways
Yet hearth-faced to the oak.

We, hunting shades of Britain,
Sweat in the shadow's light ,
Tongueing spirits British 
In memory of our seed.
We can never lose our race,
Transfuse that virgin blood,
We are the sunset migrants,
Twofold we live in one. 

My spirit is a migrant in myself
For Britain made an Empire 
And I the Empire breed.

Potters Clay    1973

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Frangipani and Daffodil

Seed of a self, unseed born,
Black and white,
Sun, ice.

Frangipani in the hair
Heavy scent,
Daffodil in the hand
Light flower.

Race ignored, race explored,
Birth shaping roots
In rootlessness. 

Lush frangipani
Thick sleep,
Slim daffodil,
Bright eye.

Single core, dual skin,
Black and white,
Sun, ice.


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Waterhole by Mapleton,  Queensland
Pioneer thoughts

What did you dream of as you sat
Here in the noon-day heat,
Your face awash of sweat
Weary limbs at rest.

Were you again in Scotland,
In heathered hills of Home
With a fresh breeze blowing.

How cool it would be there,
And lovely as a lass.

Did you shut your eyes
Lean into the shade
Wish for rowan trees,
Not these cedar leaves.

Sleet you understood
Snow about the door,
Winters full of frost.

Nowhere to hide here, even shadows sting,
The sun quite merciless.

Yes it could be hot,
August, in the glen,
Heat though did not claw
Through creatures on the moor.

Rough and tough there then,
Men and women struggled
In those family bothies.

Yet everything was old,
Mountain, rock and croft all partners with the other.

Did a lizard give
Remembrance for you
Of adder by the pool
Watching salmon move.

Light filtering down
Through miraged vine
Draws dream-space.

Was that the cry of plover?
Oh no, a kookaburra.

By lochy side the fern
Nestled into earth,
Here the frond uncurls
As a roof of whirls.

Hazed out through Time
Can Memory weave
Itself another image.

So different and yet … yet …
Creek has lilt of burn.


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Glasshouse  Mountains

'They are very remarkable on account of their singular form of elevation, which very much resembles Glass Houses, which occasioned my giving them that Name.'
Extract from Captain Cook's Journal.

From out at sea Cook saw them stand
So strange and yet familiar -
Shapes from England waiting
In the bright, strong air
To dream out their doing?

For suddenly there was
Building, planting, reaping,
Shipping, railing, carting.
Vast distances disappeared
Hot horizons travelled.

After silent aeons
A continent was kindled
With energy and action.
So swift the transformation,
Was earth willed in with people?

Amazing pioneers
Able to achieve
In poverty and pain,
Often all alone.
Had they indeed come 'home'.

My family settled round
Those mountains called 'glasshouse',
Imaging so well
The manner of their being
New background, ancient root.

Tough, sturdy, ready
With axe to chop
And knife to prune
They planted, grew, created,
Working in two worlds.

Today the mountains stand
Still strange and so familiar.
Do they know what spirit
Worded with their past
Awoke them from the Isles?

Witch  Doctor    2003


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Witch Doctor

Night, and the witchdoctor moves
Softly through the mind of a tribe
Taking decisions, creating
A world in fantastic fire.
A world where he is the master
And only he can tell
Who will live in the morning
Who will die by the tide.

Day, a Doctor talks
In the double-glazed, tight room
Watching students scribble
Words that could be used.
He is analysing
His lectures for next term,
Wondering which idea
Will bring the most reward.

Every people have them
Which is one to choose
He who holds to the old lore
He who turns to the new.
Man of superstition
Man of studied thought
Slowly through the aeons
Both might be understood.

Witch  Doctor    2003

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New Guinea  - My Country

Thunder moves toward the mountain
Clouds press their sullen rain
Upon a sea frown-forming.
Stones and pumice stir
Uneasily with bones
Cratered in Rabaul.

Eyes watch from Kunai grass
Forms, shoed in ignorance
Mirror themselves, then vanish
Before dark dancers can
Face them with their craft,
Test strength in single combat.

The sun fidgets towards night
And a new moon breeding shadows
From where ancestors speak,
Tattooed, shelled, and speared,
Of a past denied
By smug complacency.

Blackbirders of the soul
Would make this land impotent,
As they challenge from a distance
With clever, twisted tales
A country whose spirits
Have power only in place.

Who really cares
About this 'no where land'
This elemental earth
Of energetic passion.
It is used, abused,
Made play-thing by arrogance.

Yet this, my country, is no 'no where land,'
She has the right to choose
Her destiny
Rise from her own roots,
Know her past unhindered
By lies masked out as learning.

Fronds, slender, nervous
Finger day with agitation.
A wind arises, tears,
Thatched roof and roped canoe.
Blood-red berries split
Their juice across old tracks.

Thunder moves towards the mountain
Lightning drags the sky
Into feverish shade.
A figure pauses, squats,
Medium of movement
Around the tribal hearth. 

Witch  Doctor    2003

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Gumyitke Creek
Gold claim, Baining Mountains, New Britain, Papua New Guinea

Wanting you I waited
As high within those hills
You helped
Another's daughter.

Stars dart about the moon
Water glides through gold.
In speck and splash and shadow
Night comes to dream
And ghost in form
Bodies long grown cold.

Day gave the creek bright light
Creation in your soul
Echoed happiness
Out into a place
Where now, and ever, were
Existing in one space.

Here was your peace and comfort
A sanctuary untouched
By two world wars' corruption.
And here your mind forgot
Spheres so sighted out
In pitiless destruction.

I waited far away
As mouths deceived
And minds diseased
Cut love to cancered bone.

Palm thatch dripping down
Dampness everywhere.
The creek is now in flood
No panning there today.
Will gold ever be found.
Do you really care?

There in forever silence
Surrounded by such sound
That's never stilled in jungle
You sat and watched smoke curl,
Catch the air, then go
Slowly out in whirls.

You joked and swore and sang,
White man far away
From all your blooded kind,
Yet brother to this tribe
You could understand
In shared simpleness of mind.

I waited, wanting you
You, my father gone
Up into the hills
Where I could dream of being.

Mingling mind and matter
Breath wanders through the shade
Black and white are patterned
All divisions crossed
Bones are picked and gathered
Limber from the grave.

A-stir through bird and blanket
Leaves leant into the dawn.
You listened as the earth
Moved through its seeding cycle
Shaping out decay
Into a world reborn.

Lost my father yet not lost
For I was bound by birth
You and the mountains, mine.
In an energy of spirit
Called out by elementals.
We three were of one sign.

I waited with no anger
Nor have I now
Towards you or the peoples
Your life was spent amongst

I knew why you were wandering, 
Was I not wandering too?
To those tough hills you took
The talents many spurned
And there you gave in action.
The Bainings watched and learned.

Now though I know despair
As ignorance and hate
Let tales spin out of time
Hoping thus to kill
All your years of caring
Kindness and goodwill.

Watching now, I wait,
As tongues deceive
And minds disease
All our history.

A bleak world knowing only
Selfishness and greed
Seems no more to understand
Or even try to sees
How relationships developed
In different countries.

I must fight to keep you
And the peoples we both loved.
Gone all sense of season
Each growing on their own
In ease with one another,
A circling out of reason.

I waited, wanting you,
You, my father, gone,
Leaving me to follow
A pioneer, lonely path.

Witch  Doctor    2003

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