Rosalie and Merle clasped their ‘cold ones’,
forced their smiles, relaxed their chained
ankles – a little, pretended to ignore
the brewing of outrage and fear.
Their beer had a balanced, bold flavour
with a hint of bitterness,
it wasn’t that weak mix of spirit
confined to the Ladies’ Lounge.
The law arrived that hot day,
blue uniforms sweating and quibbling
about batons and saws,
retreating and re-entering
with troups of specialist authority
endeavouring to remember
the exact section of what Act?
It wasn’t easy for Merle to discipline
the tremor rifling her body
when the ‘bag-man’
who carried the system in his back pocket
breathed a threat in her ear,
but she was married to her vision
of woman and man speaking
about their day at the office
together, at the bar,
clinking their glasses
to thoughts of work and life entwined.
Pauses of thought
bought the women more drinks,
and a chance to shift
between public and private,
gender and sex,
culture and custom.
When the hammer came down
like a judgement
to smash the chain’s padlock,
two women were free
to speak to wives, mothers, daughters…
waiting on pub verandas
for their blokes to finish
shouting their mates.
A photo of Merle Thornton and an interview with her in a book triggered an obsession to pen that moment in Australian history when Merle chained herself to the bar at the Regatta Hotel. In the interview Merle states: ‘It was 1965. I should preface this by saying that I felt a sense of outrage when I first came to QLD at seeing women sitting in cars outside hotels with their children, waiting while their menfolk had a drink.’ So Merle was railing about women not being able to drink alongside men. This poem has something of a bush ballad about it inspired by Banjo Patterson’s sweeping narratives.
Angela Costi‘s poetry collections are: Dinted Halos (Hit&Miss Publications, 2003), Prayers for the Wicked (Floodtide Audio and Text, 2005), Honey and Salt (Five Islands Press, 2007) and Lost in Mid-Verse (Owl Publishing, 2014).
An award from the National Languages and Literacy Board in 1995 enabled her to study Ancient Greek drama in Greece. In 2010, she received funding from the Australia Council to work on an international collaboration involving her poetry and Japan-based Stringraphy Ensemble. Her formative languages, Cypriot and Greek, influence her poetry. Both her parents are from Cyprus, migrating to Australia to escape poverty and war. Her poetic lens is drawn to urban existence, highlighting those moments of connection among routine and struggle.