Poetry: Life Cycle

Life Cycle (for Big Jim Phelan)

by Bruce Dawe

When children are born in Victoria
they are wrapped in club-colours, laid in beribboned cots,
having already begun a lifetime’s barracking.

Carn, they cry, Carn … feebly at first
while parents playfully tussle with them
for possession of a rusk: Ah, he’s a little Tiger! (And they are …)

Hoisted shoulder-high at their first League game
they are like innocent monsters who have been years swimming
towards the daylight’s roaring empyrean

Until, now, hearts shrapnelled with rapture,
they break surface and are forever lost,
their minds rippling out like streamers

In the pure flood of sound, they are scarfed with light, a voice
like the voice of God booms from the stands
Ooohh you bludger and the covenant is sealed.

Hot pies and potato-crisps they will eat,
they will forswear the Demons, cling to the Saints
and behold their team going up the ladder into Heaven,

And the tides of life will be the tides of the home-team’s fortunes
– the reckless proposal after the one-point win,
the wedding and honeymoon after the grand final …

They will not grow old as those from the more northern states grow old,
for them it will always be three-quarter time
with the scores level and the wind advantage in the final term,

That passion persisting, like a race-memory, through the welter of seasons,
enabling old-timers by boundary fences to dream of resurgent lions
and centaur-figures from the past to replenish continually the present,

So that mythology may be perpetually renewed
and Chicken Smallhorn return like the maize-god
in a thousand shapes, the dancers changing

But the dance forever the same – the elderly still
loyally crying Carn … Carn … (if feebly) unto the very end,
having seen in the six-foot recruit from Eaglehawk their hope of salvation


  1. Love this piece, used it as a base for my yr 12 English exam.

  2. That jumper would be enough to give the poor little bloke colic.

  3. Ian Syson says:

    Come on Phil — get on board the mythology express!!

  4. John Butler says:

    Disagree Dips.

    A young fella couldn’t wish for a better start in life. :)

  5. Phil Dimitriadis says:

    I reckon Dawe is taking the piss a fair bit in this poem. He marvels at the mythological possibilities with his tongue firmly in cheek. I also think this poem may be a little outdated since the National competition, but it certainly still captures the hyperbolic language of hope in footy fans, particularly at this time of year.

    I love the line about having the wind in the last quarter. So much hope and expectation in that line. I prefer ‘High Mark’,but this still rates if not read too seriously.

  6. Dave Nadel says:

    Don’t know whether anyone heard the Coodabeens this morning. They played a tape of the actor Annie Phelan reading Dawe’s Life Cycle. Annie is the daughter of Big Jim Phelan to whom the poem is dedicated.

    Phil, I reckon affectionate irony is a better description of what Dawe was doing than “taking the piss.”

  7. Phil Dimitriadis says:

    Dave, you’re right about the affection, but I still reckon there is a satirical element that overrides the affection. Cultural cringe perhaps?

  8. Ian Syson says:

    The poem say a lot about the dilemma of the exile. Dawe is writing about something that had already passed — even when he wrote it.

  9. Polythene Pam says:

    A marvellous poem – and I see Bruce is alive and well and writing poetry today in The Australian’s letters page.

Leave a Comment