Featured Writer Willem Tibben: poems from ‘suburban veneer’

lake cockrone

(for pam)

in the stillness before sunrise
kookaburras reclaim their selection
black swans show off   arching
moorhens   their tail-feather vulnerability
i am in this new day   beginning
remembering our first time   after midnight
two of us in the holiday house canoe
me doing the paddling you being pilot
talking coleridge  wordsworth  their lakes
the boundary hills moved with us
black shapes on starry surfaces
the waters only waist deep we knew
(but anyone can drown in an inch of it)
we were easy new and free   careful
awake   it’s twenty-eight years later
i’m listening to ocean   clear as shells
your breathing   slipping from our bed
and walking to the lake in that first light



quickened by the guide’s
demonstration of ‘cave-light’
(switching off everything)

as she clicks them back on
reinventing the cave’s tapestry
two microbats flit through

then almost before
their fly-past has registered
and the guide explibbeains

the marvel of their presence
they reprise the instant
flicker/gone again

our second chance
but we’re still too slow
to properly apprehend them

so   where were they
during those thirty seconds
of our experiment with

absolute darkness
as it permeated
how could we know

restive in contemplation
they were amongst us

tiny flying mammals
on fast fast forward
chasing down their light


namatjira’s ute door

pride of place by the museum entrance
the first photo is dated  1947
a utility   glossy black   a dodge
albert in the driver’s seat   faintest of smiles
window down   shirt open   pale sports coat
his arm on the sill above meticulous detailing
.                              albert namatjira
.                              artist
.                              alice springs
.                              tare  2.12.02
and on the side near the tray
.                             this vehicle
.                             presented
.                             by ampol
the photographer knelt to shoot up at albert
and because the ute is parked before a church
this has inadvertently placed the cross from its roof
onto the back of the ute’s cabin like some holy aerial
channelling albert’s trinity   arrernte world
white god   the colour of water

in the next room of the museum a second photo
shows a utility that’s light grey  or beige perhaps
certainly not the first one faded or compromised
the lettering on this driver’s door is identical
except it says hermannsburg   not alice springs
is this an older ute from before ampol’s magnanimity
or has there been some accident   some trading
albert’s face gives away nothing   only knowing
baptism   initiation   the finke in flood   seven lean
a dead child   unsayable   art deeper than irony

in a third room another photo shows this same utility
but now it is a wreck in a dry creek bed   no wheels
bonnet up   stripped-trashed   the door hanging open
says haast bluff    but that’s not where he’s been
albert’s been staying at the pleasure of her majesty
after being recently received by her   this photo’s
.                        taken at gilbert’s crossing
.                        the day that namatjira died
.                        8 august 1959

finally   among the exhibits at the exit
stands the door itself   donated to this place   1974
sill rusted where the duco wore under albert’s arm
frame bent   hinges unhinged   detailing
because it is riddled with bullet holes   67 of them
there is a sign on the wall of the museum   warning
.                        do not make pictures
.                        of any kind


a hard day’s night [1]

screaming began pouring from the screen
a controlled chaos flooded the theatre
girls broke down sobbing as did usherettes
but we were not swept from our first-date seats

we sat immersed in that marvellous hysteria
and did not make a sound  (i remember that for sure)
as the plot raced ahead on goonish innocence
paul’s clean uncle   lonely ringo puddles

just as suddenly it was over   the lights came up
we filed out silently   and the earth had moved
biffo drove us home   in the backseat of his FJ
your body-heat surprising   our fingers curling

unhooking   your front door ajar (mum coughed)
1/9d each   i saved those ticket stubs for years


[1] Campbelltown Picture Show – August, 1964


the rumsfeld variations

there are those who are well
and know they are well

there are those who are well
and do not know they are well

there are those who are not well
who know they are not well

there are those who are not well
who do not know they are not well

there are those who are
neither well nor unwell

who know they are neither
well nor unwell

there are those who are neither
well nor unwell  who do not know

whether or not they are well or unwell
and then there’s us


-Willem Tibben

All poems were originally published in ‘suburban veneer’ (Belgrove Press, 2017) and have been republished with the author’s permission



! ENCHANCED Willem Tibben reading at launch
Willem Tibben. photograph by Helen Lu

Willem (Bill) Tibben came from Holland to Camden in 1954 where he grew up on dairy farms. He worked in the NSW Public Service for 43 years and retired in 2007. His first published poems were in Neucleus (University of New England’s student newspaper – 1977) and since then he has published four books: near myths (1986), the conscious moment (1996), the fascination of what’s simple (2005), and suburban veneer (2017). Willem is President of Youngstreet Poets; member of Auburn Poets and Writers’ Group; and a regular attender at Live Poets at Don Bank.



Willem Tibben: Biographical note

Danny Gardner and Maureen Ten co-launched Willem Tibben’s suburban veneer at the NSW Writers’ Centre on 22 April 2017:

Danny Gardner’s audience address
Maureen Ten’s audience address

suburban veneer is available from Belgrove Press. contact: saleswt@belgrovepress.com


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