Kris Hemensley recalls Charles Buckmaster on the 40th anniversary of his death

The following is a slightly edited version of a post which originally appeared as a Facebook status update. Additional material has also been added.

Charles Buckmaster (Photo by Simon Vietch – From Applestealers)

Charles Buckmaster. 40th anniversary of that terrible day, 26th November, 1972. Tonight I share a paragraph from my December 1972 journal, a page following report on Gough Whitlam’s momentous federal election victory:

“[3rd December,’72] The suicide of Charles Buckmaster was the sad news forwarded to us from 2 different sources last week. Michael Dugan phoned one evening –& Margaret Taylor on the Thursday evening when we were out (visiting Betty Burstall and later Paul Adler and Ena in Carlton). It was not unexpected. Margaret said that he had seen ‘top consultants’ and that he was ‘doomed’. We are told that there is a family history of this… Charles was 21. So young. and yet –the poem he published in The Age 2 years ago –which i hadn’t seen until Judy Duffy [Loretta’s sister] showed it to us a couple of weeks or so ago– was astonishingly authoritative and mature. [The Age poem was ‘Starting Out’, beginning:

That the changes have been swift
and uninvited

That their year tore by,  your holy face
matures like the dawn: centering
on some great simplicity
of right living.

I can’t know you at all.

In retrospect all the poems appear to be suicide notes (Mark Hyatt [English poet] was another such case) –but 2 poems in particular –The Age poem, & ‘Seed’ which I published in Earth Ship #7 –the most moving epistles. i wrote a piece of prose for/to Charles three evenings ago….

[21st December] Mrs Buckmaster replied to my letter of sympathy. She says the letter was a comfort. But that Charles burnt all of his papers & letters. Thus a clue to the notice in The Digger re- he leaves us the poem he didn’t burn. Told Judy Duffy over the phone. That his death was planned. Charles evidently tidied everything in his room. His records & belongings –he prepared for his death. Judy said she couldn’t understand this. It is romantic to imagine that suicide is spontaneous & irrational. People are scared of such decisions. The formality. My return [to Australia after 3 years in England] was noted on the same page of The Digger [by Garrie Hutchinson] as Charles’ obituary. Fitting i think. For me that is –makes no odds to anyone else least of all to Charles or his immediate family & friends…”


Cant help thinking that we’re still coming to grips with all these events in our lives as poets & lovers on this fraction of the Australian poetry scene, itself just a part of the immense & incredible (English language) New poetry of our time… Coming to grips with this ‘past’ even as we thrive in the present. (What did Olson remark : it is difficult to be historian AND poet!).

 – Kris Hemensley


Kris Hemensley has an ongoing Buckmaster chronicle on his Poetry & Ideas blog. Part 1 consists of:

  • Article, Larry Schwartz (1990)
  • Poem, Kris Hemensley (1968)
  • Poem, James Hamilton (2011)

Part 2 will consist an article by Kris from The Age Monthly Review and a number of other items. Go to


The poem ‘seed’, which Kris refers to, was first published in Earth Ship #7. The version below appeared in Charles Buckmaster Collected Poems Edited by Simon MacDonald. UQP 1989 (currently our of print).


red spattered on an orchard path.  That’s all.
I saw nothing.
Perhaps they kicked dust over the blood
allowing you to double
back through the soil.

alone.  I manufactured
isolation and found you  –  and that place
is nothing, less.
For it be
the world of one mind,
we were deceived.

dark sky, cold earth
how you came such
the words
of an epitaph still bleeding
within the asylum walls.
in a garbled tongue
only one man understands.

this is the place where you came to your end
where our spent words turn out
into darkness


Brother the set paths  –  the world they have forced
destroyed you.


By this way, how so little
is needed of life, how such demands, to receive life in all seasons
to issue love, so simply and freely

are ordered within themselves.
and yet are betrayed, and counterfeited, and all gestures
are received
only to be abandoned, reverberating

within the skull.
–  And so have shuffled through postures, and cried to be free.
have lined shotgun
barrel to chest, sounded such
in an instant; your life, mine, standing by you

buried and above you:
I am of these worlds, others, and create my own,
………………….(And  write no  epitaph,  lay seed).

Melbourne April 1971

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