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by Cliff Forshaw

The term "Vandemonian" refers to Van Diemen's Land, and Cliff Forshaw's sixth collection focuses on its inhabitants, both human and animal, newcomer and Aborigine, to piece together a fragmentary history of Tasmania. The first section moves from the island's mythic beginnings as Trowenna, through its discovery by Europeans and the subsequent destruction of native peoples and wildlife as it becomes a penal colony's own penal colony. Here there are songs and ballads for Trucanini, the last full-blood Tasmanian Aborigine, and also sonnets for the Tasmanian Tiger, officially declared extinct, but living on through folklore and unconfirmed sightings.

The poems roam wider and eventually fetch up on the mainland. "A Ned Kelly Hymnal" reflects on the legend of the famous outlaw, its use by artists such as Sidney Nolan, and its ambiguous ubiquity as a symbol of Australian identity.

The book concludes with "The Shoal Bay Death Spirit Dreaming": an elegy for one whitefella victim of the Australian sun. The poem considers death and displacement through the disorientating effects of modern travel which foster oblique reflections on a famous aborigine artwork, the huge collaborative painting by Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri and his brother Tim Leura Tjapaltjarri, The Napperby Death Spirit Dreaming.

Cliff Forshaw's Vandemonian is an absorbing, entertaining and accomplished collection that marshals a great deal of historical material and presents ideas in a polyvalent manner that both challenges and satisfies.

Michael Woods, Iota Magazine

Price: £8.99
ISBN 978 1904614 60 9 (pbk)
Price: £11.99
ISBN: 978 1904614 72 2 (hbk)
Published March 2013