top of page

The Tidbinbilla Plates

after Fred Williams’ ‘Sherbrooke’ etchings


1. Grounding the plate


Over familiar suburbs, the mountain’s blue silhouette

clouds lowering their balloon gondolas onto its peak

little white faces of tourists peering down

at a precise grid of firetrails, fences, plantations

containing the strewn canopy.

A hawk patrols the mountainside’s green hoarding. 


Adam with a ranger’s guide, I prepare by making the names

of ghost gum, scribbly gum and barrel gum strange

against my tongue. Dabbing at the plate

as if to cover earth beneath asphalt, wax and resin. 


2. A drawing is cut onto the plate


A human thing, to want to know what that light is

that has followed me all my life, and now waits for me

to lay out gravers, make a groove, add another.

As I clear the detritus, light

advances in its trenches, as if to witness each incision

add ornament to the world. 

Motion itself is the thought, every score

brings me a step closer to the forest

the lines I cut a stencil of what I have yet to see

a script I have yet to learn.


3. The plate is dipped in acid


moving words to their vanishing point.  Torn, abraded,

gaps on the plate. The mountain no longer visible in the west.


Mordant bites into memory, the drawn forest

degraded like cellulose film lost in the archives.


Where the plate reveals its face I’m given the remnants of bushfire,

wet eucalyptus bark, years mottled as mackerel skin.


The more the acid takes away, the less I control,

the less I know what I’m going to find there.


Names of things and people becoming elusive,

memory restricted to ritual, repeated actions. Plates rocking in their bath.


4. The plate is inked


from the Greek for ‘burned in’.  I step back,

allow sunlight to enter a stand of dark saplings

as though I looked out, sight without frame

through rain compiling its index to the world.

Dark patches in pools where lines converge and cross,

Styx as Tube maps, explorers’ voyages

traced in a school atlas.  Dark spice capillaries.

Ink runs darker from deeper cuts on the backs of slaves. 

Memorial poles in shades of black and grey

showing absent nations their way back to the mountain.


5. The plate passes through a press


In the evening, I cut a forest in its image and after its likeness.

            Rollers pressed above and below the plate; ink bled and feathered

in designs of faulty replication, each state degraded to its truth in my sight

            as though there were a plan all along: first, receptacles of air, light, water, earth,

then animals, birds, completion of the sequence

            as though this were the final state. But I watch

how acid’s random, momentary action makes one thing

            resemble another, while that demands resemblance of something else.

I wipe the plate clean and begin again, cutting

            into morning light, sun rising into its silence.

First place, 29th Melbourne Poets Union International Poetry Prize 2024

bottom of page