60 Classic Australian Poems edited by Christopher Cheng & pictures Gregory Rogers










Christopher Cheng’s introduction to this book is a tender recollection of his school days where poetry was a significant part of lessons.  I love how he recalls school assemblies where the whole class recited poems, memorising verses, copying poems from the chalkboard and decorating the page for homework. What a wonderful way to love and learn classic poems that form our history. These days I’m not sure if young ones can lay claim to an affectionate memory of poetry at school, it is no longer embraced as should be since many teens I asked have not heard of Banjo’s Mulga Bill or C J Dennis. Maybe teaching poetry has become too much of a task, when all that is required is appreciation to feel the verse, be moved by the rows and let your imagination guide you through the story narrated by the lines. Gregory Rogers’ pencil drawings perfectly complement the poems with lively detail.


I love this book so much because of some amusing and comedic poems, which I have not come across in other books. ‘The Ant Explorer’ by C J Dennis is a spirited poem capturing one little ant’s big adventure. It is amazing how reading this out loud can hold the attention of a 5 year old. The rhyme, studded with alliteration is soothing and the expedition is exciting. It is adorable that the ant has decided to take this journey with his Ma’s consent and leaves only after breakfast! When his energy runs out, he turns back the same way and plods back home.


‘The Australian Slanguage’ is a poem by W T Goodge that explains a whole lot of Aussie slangs! Banjo Paterson’s ‘A Bush Christening’ is a hilarious tale of a ten year old boy who hasn’t yet been baptised and when he overhears the plans, he bolts into a log while his parents and the rev prepare to poke him and name him as he runs out. The young one dashes towards the bush, but such a pity, the priest forgets the name! Rev hurls the flask, which happens to be labelled ‘Maginnis’s Whisky’, at his noggin and names him Maginnis!! Read the full poem at the Australian Poetry Library.

… And his wife used to cry, ‘if the darlin’ should die

Saint Peter would not recognise him.’

But by luck he survived till a preacher arrived,

Who agreed straightaway to baptise him…

All cricket lovers will get a laugh out of ‘How M’Dougal Topped the Score’ by Thomas E Spencer which is a delightful account of when Molongo challenged Piper’s Flat to a cricket match, the loser to shout lunch. A touching scene in the first stanza is when the poet describes the people of Piper’s Flat are hardworking folk, even when repeatedly defeated by a tough climate, that seems to be toying with them. They are not great players, and yet they score a victory over Molongo and they celebrate like never before, although it was a sneaky win rather than by skill! Read the full poem at the Australian Poetry Library.

….But the climate is erratic; and the consequences are

The struggle with the elements is everlasting war.

We plough, and sow, and harrow – then sit down and pray

for rain;

And then we get all flooded out and have to start again…..

…..When the ball sped where M’Dougal stood, firm planted in

his track,

He shut his eyes, and turned him round, and stopped it – with his back!

The highest score was twenty-two, the total sixty-six,

When Brady sent a yorker down that scattered Johnson’s sticks…..

A quarter of the poems in this book belong to C J Dennis from his ‘A Book for Kids’, 1921. These are easy and fun to read to the kids, including ‘Woolloomooloo’, ‘Triantiwontigongolope’, ‘The Teacher’, ‘A Bush Christmas’ and ‘Hist!’ Other fun poems include ‘Ough!’ by W T Goodge, ‘My Typewriter’ by Edward Dyson and ‘Native Companions Dancing’ by John Shaw Neilson.  Another quarter of poems in this book are by Banjo Paterson featuring ‘The Geebung Polo Club’, ‘The Man From Snowy River’, ‘Mulga Bill’s Bicycle’ and ‘Waltzing Matilda’. Other notable beauties include ‘Bell-birds’ by Henry Kendall and ‘Waratah and Wattle’ by Henry LawsonThis lovely book and a must-have for any bookshelf ends with Poet Biographies, Book References, Index of first lines and Index of poets.

Suggested age: Poetry for all ages here! Recommended for a confident reader.

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