Andrew Neaum - Speech at “Boomerang Farewell Luncheon”


One of my favourite sayings goes: "There's no pleasure without pain" I would like to set it to music, faintly melancholic music, with a chorus that goes: "Stop it, I like it. Stop it I like it."


I deserve it

Don't think for a moment that this means I am all into bondage, that I have a taste for the whip, the lash, ropes, chains and masochism. My appreciation is purely philosophical. It is just that the link between pleasure and pain appears to me to be undeniable, deeply if paradoxically true. Sunlight, for example, is only truly exquisite after the pain of a long period of grey, bitterly cold, cloud and rain. Likewise is peace only profoundly apprec-iated after the pain of prolonged and hideous conflict, so too feast after famine, acceptance after rejection, love after hate, health after sickness and life after death.


And, needless to say, the joy of returning home, is entirely and totally dependent upon the prior pain of departure.


So I leave you next week, (Icelandic ash permitting) in order to enjoy my eventual homecoming. I leave you, in order to give to you the unutterable pleasure and enjoyment of my eventual return.


My departure, my leaving, my going, is altruism then. It’s no wonder you are throwing me a party. I deserve it!


I inflict the pain of separation and departure upon myself and upon you, only to grant pleasure. It is such paradoxes, the bringing together of such opposites, even when with tongue in cheek, that add spice to life.


Erudition and scurrility

And so in this my little secular, farewell sermon to you, I turn not to the bible for my text but instead to two versifiers. They are, very, very different from each other, oppo-sites, you see! One scintillatingly brilliant and sophisticated, the other not at all so, the first enabling me to dazzle you with my sophisticated erudition and intelligence, the second to surprise if not shock you with my demotic scurrility, questionable taste and coarse humour.


The two contrasting versifiers are, like me, both English. One is John Donne, who unlike me is indubitably among the very greatest of poets and Anglicans who ever lived. The second is Charlie Drake, no poet at all, but rather, like me, a mere versifier.


Hello my darlings

I will start with him: he was a comedian, only five feet and one inch tall, and he had a penchant for working with tall, big-boobed ladies, because being so short of stature, his eyes, when introduced to them, were usually at the level of their bust, hence his well known catch phrase on being introduced: “Hello my darlings....”


How sweetly innocent such humour seems these days compared to the in-your-face, fortissimo, fornicatorious effing of the likes of Billy Connolly.


The only piece of verse I know by Charlie Drake is one that has obvious connections with today’s occasion, his 1961 song: My Boomerang Won’t Come Back


I have always loved it, especially the immortal line: Oom-yacka-wurka, oom- yacka-wurka You remember it of course:

                                                                        The aborigine tribes were meeting,

                                                                        Having a big pow-wow.

                                                                        Oom-yacka-wurka, oom-yacka-wurka.


     To me that is very funny


                                                                        Oom-yacka-wurka, oom-yacka-wurka.


Disgustingly patronising and politically incorrect, for taking the mickey out of Aboriginal language and confabulation, but just because of that funny indeed.


Boney, Bazza and Matilda

When ever I am away from Australia it is not the strains of “Advance Australia Fair” or a glimpse of the flag that fills me with nostalgia and a desire to boomerang back, nor is it the thought of golden beaches, sun-bronzed Sheilas, gum trees, VB or footie.


Rather it is recalling and remembering my ancient enthusiasms for the little tid bits of Australiana that found their way into the consciousness of a peripatetic, Africa-reared, chauvinistic English boy and later man in more innocent days: the half aboriginal Detective Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte in Arthur Upfield’s novels, all of them read avidly as a teenage schoolboy on Rhodesian mission stations. The always thwarted, lasciviously amorous aspirations and outrageous exploits of Bazza Mackenzie, so crudely comic-stripped in the magazine Private Eye, a periodical I delighted in when I was a teacher in London in the 70's. Singing in my piping treble voice as a sea-scout cub on the island of Tristan da Cunha, the mysterious, haunting, melancholic words linked bizarrely to so rousing a tune in the song Waltzing Matilda, and of course Oom-yacka-wurka, oom-yacka-wurka.


Anyone who has spent years of his life, as have I, reading literary criticism and theology will be aware of just how easy it is to intellectualise what is essentially un-complicated, sweetly simple or trivial, so as to obscure, obfuscate, confuse and ruin it in wordy theorising.


Gathering dust on a University bookshelf somewhere there must, I am sure, be a PHD thesis exploring the relation of toast crumbs to smears of marmalade on a breakfast table, or on the significance of nicotine stains on the moustaches of ancient men in the early 1930's.


Intellectualising the boomerang song

Allow me for a moment then, to intellectualise and so ruin Charlie Drakes’ song “My boomerang won’t come back”.


You see, the song is really a profound meditation, cunningly disguised in a trite melody and tinsled with unsubtle, childish humour, upon the necessity in life of letting go. The song’s aborigine youngster wails his anthem:


                                                                        I'm a big disgrace to the Aborigine race,

                                                                        My boomerang won't come back.


     To which the witch doctor responds:


                                                                        Don't worry, boy, I know the trick,

                                                                        And to you I'm gonna show it.

                                                                        If you want your boomerang to come back,

                                                                        Well first you've got to... throw it."


Startling insight! Deep discernment! Precious profundity! It is reminding us there can be no return without a departure.


Good God, isn’t truth exciting! I can feel a platitudinous religious sermon coming on. Letting Go! Letting go! My dear people how necessary in life it is to let go. To let go one’s children to kinder, to school, to dissipation, to lover, to spouse, to let go one’s hopes, aspirations, delusions, sins, one’s heart to God! Blah, blah, blah, blah! Or rather: Oom-yacka-wurka, oom-yacka-wurka.


Dear Saint Augustinians and friends, if you want me to come back, to return to you, you must first let me go! More than that you must throw me out. Hence this valedictory party. God bless little Charlie Drake for granting us this insight. When I do return, God willing, I will greet you all on my knees and so be able, like him, to say to more than half of you, Hello my darlings.


The passionate lover and priest

The second of the two versifiers I have chosen upon which to build this valedictory meditation is, as I have said, the great metaphysical poet and priest John Donne.


He was a passionate man, as indeed am I, but he, unlike me, has left us some of the greatest and most ingenious love poetry ever written, as well as some to the greatest and most ingenious religious poetry ever written, passion animating both of them.


Erotic love of woman (or man) and agapaic love of God, are far closer to each other, than most puritans dare even to contemplate.


For example, Donne’s splendid 14th Holy Sonnet which begins memorably:


                                                                       Batter my heart three-personed God for you

                                                                         As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;


     ends with the most daring, startling image imaginable.


     On contemplating his wilful sinfulness, he says to God:


                                                                        I am betrothed unto your enemy.

                                                                        Divorce me, untie or break that knot again;

                                                                        Take me to you, imprison me, for I,

                                                                        Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,

                                                                        Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.


There you have, way back in the seventeenth century, the illustrious, learned, sophisticated, passionate Dean of St Paul’s, so longing for God that he asks to be raped by God, forced into relationship.


In 1611, long before he was Dean of St Paul’s Donne, then a diplomat, had to leave England to visit France and Germany, and so he wrote a lovely and ingenious poem for his wife: A Valediction Forbidding Mourning”.’


Profanation to tell the laity our love

He had married his wife for love against her guardian’s wishes and it cost him dearly, both career wise and financially, indeed it almost ruined him.


He really is one of our tradition’s greatest lovers. And it is fascinating to me, that his splendid, passionate love poetry is so wide and inclusive, celebrating, to begin with, his passion for his mistresses, then later for his wife, then later still for his God. Passionate loving is a pilgrimage then, able to remain passionate by moving on from youth through to maturity and to old age, by changing focus. It is passion on pilgrimage, passion with purpose, passion with direction. How unlike so many pathetic, static, old fogies today whose passions can’t move on, progress or change, and who therefore have to take unto themselves a bimbo, like that sad and ancient West Australian twerp Lang Hancock; or a toy-boy, like that sad and prolix old bore Germaine Greer.


In this sublime Valediction Forbidding Mourning poem Donne first adjures his wife to make no emotional fuss at his impending departure:


                                                                        ....let us melt, and make no noise,

                                                                            No tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move ;

                                                                        'Twere profanation of our joys

                                                                            To tell the laity our love.


He goes on to suggest that their love unlike Dull sublunary lovers' love is of a refined and special sort a love that is not so much breached by parting, but rather an expansion like gold to aery thinness beat. It is a beautiful image suggesting that they remain one, no matter how far apart. Like gold plate their love is simply beaten thinner and thinner and thinner with distance, remaining aerily, more exquisitely intact.


To end where I begun

He and his wife’s souls, he goes on, if they are two are only so


                                                                             As stiff twin compasses are two ;

                                                                        Thy soul, the fix'd foot, makes no show

                                                                            To move, but doth, if th' other do.


                                                                        And though it in the centre sit,

                                                                            Yet, when the other far doth roam,

                                                                        It leans, and hearkens after it,

                                                                            And grows erect, as that comes home.


                                                                        Such wilt thou be to me, who must,

                                                                            Like th' other foot, obliquely run ;

                                                                        Thy firmness makes my circle just,

                                                                            And makes me end where I begun.


My parting, our separation, cannot be better depicted than that. I go, you stay, we remain one though, like a set of compasses. If you love me, as I know you do, for you have proved that through difficult times, then when the arm of the compasses that is me, far doth roam, the arm that is you, leans, and hearkens after it, and grows erect, as I come home and no matter how far I travel thy firmness will make my circle just, and make me end where I begun.