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Poems from a Zim in Aussie

A compilation of poems by Derek Fenton a Zimbabwean living in Australia.

Derek Fenton was born in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, in 1946. He was educated at Milton School and Natal and Harare Universities. He returned to Milton where he taught English before travelling to Europe.

After several years in London where he worked as a milkman, labourer and at numerous clerical jobs, he emigrated to Western Australia. On becoming an Australian citizen he returned to Africa for six years working in Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa which served as the inspiration for much of his poetry.

He now lives back in Australia where he teaches Mathematics and English as a Second Language. His poetry is informed by the experience of being a migrant and the difficulties of adjustment to a new country and alienation from the old.

He has had poems and a literary essay published by Les Murray in Quadrant magazine, poems published in Mozzie, Speedpoets, Poetry New Zealand, The Australian Rationalist and a poem short-listed for publication in the Westerly. A humorous poem about the Australian and South African accents was also published in the West Australian.





At the final whistle we were way behind:

we had stretched the rules as far as we could,

knowing that our supporters wouldn't mind,

for our intentions were nothing but good.

There is no way we'll accept the result

for we have never done anything but win.

We've always been an unstoppable cult

who have never had to take it on the chin.

We demand another few minutes more

so that we can knobble the opposition.

That way we can definitely ensure

the impossibility of concession.

For our football team is ZANU PF

and Robert Mugabe is the only ref!



Derek Fenton

Perth Western Australia






When instead of saying howsit
you greet everyone with g’day
Then totsiens doesn’t fit
and see’ya is what you say
When a day off becomes a sickie
and an order is hard to take
When your beak becomes sticky
and a gutteral accent is easy to shake
When a barbie replaces a braai
and cooking woers becomes a snag
brinjal is ousted by lamb’s fry
And a doolberry becomes a dag
When trunks become a cossie
Then mate you are an Aussie!!

Dropped off by parents into the Matopas
With sleeping bags snake bite kit and provisions
For a fortnight
Mothers white with worry
Trying not to show it
Fathers proud, remembering past youth
When things were wilder
The bush only a mile or two from home
When kudu roamed just beyond backyard fences
And leopard prowled
Where the swimming pool now stands.
The Second World War, an extension
Of the adventure begun then,
Though not as Boy’s own.
Now we in the Sixties
Only a few years from our own horror
Bade brave farewells
Not wanting to show our fear
Or the ache of a stretching umbilical cord
As Mom and Dad disappeared down a tar donga
To be swallowed by granite monsters
The reassuring call of a dove or go-away bird
As we chatted and set up camp
No thought of the hundreds of leopards
Or deadly black mambas,
We shared sweets and the last cool coke
And boasted of bream to be caught for supper
Collecting firewood to deter
Leopards ,mambas and baboons.
Friendly blacks passed us
“Kunjani picannin baasie”
“Sawubona Baba”
how many of their sons and daughters
would ambush us a decade later
or ethnically cleanse forty years hence.
Idyllic days climbing kopjes, fishing
Shooting lizards with home made catties
And nights huddled in sleeping bags
Around spitting fires
Gazing at the slowly turning stars
Trying not to think of puff adders
Crawling into fart fouled bags
Or Mau Mau yellow eyed
Lurking in the dark.
Finally school hols over
Picked up by Dad
Smelling of Star and brandy
And Mom Matinee and perfume
Wincing outwardly at maternal hugs and kisses
And paternal pats on back
Yet inwardly drinking in the love.
Who now would allow their children
That in Zim
Or in Oz
where so many of us now are;
look out of windows
and see kids ferried to and from school
cocooned in four wheel drive security;
and home, their fear assuaged,
relieved as sons and daughters rush to the internet
to escape to their Matopas
where in that darkness
undreamed of horrors lurk.

There’s an election in my homeland today
people are queuing in the African way
patiently in whatever shade they can find
with democracy, peace and hope in their mind.
The enfranchised will soon exercise their right
waiting stoically way into the night
while others who are still on the roll
wait silently in their allocated hole
where they were buried so many years before
their democratic rights now impossible to ignore
for it is they who will get Bob over the line
with ghoulish marks one at a time
but who will check if their fingers are dyed
six feet under where their tears are all dried.

Now that the somnabulent spirits have returned to rest
Their loyalty to Zanu and Mugabe put to the test
They not only just got Bob over the line
But their unmarked fingers pointed to the sign
That those still alive and struggling in the city
Would soon become the targets of oppression and pity
For those city dwellers struggling to keep families alive
Would soon find it impossible to escape or survive
Even if they could to make it to the bush
They wouldn’t be able to avoid the push
When the government forces pull their meager houses down
And stop them from trading on the streets of the town
If they are strong enough to protest and resist
It’ll give Bob an excuse to crush them with his fist

It wasn’t a mansion in Highlands or Milton Park
It didn’t have chandeliers to keep out the dark
There were no crystal glasses from which we could drink
And no stacks of Wedgwood piling up in the sink
There were no carpets or comfortable tables and chairs
But it was our home for a number of years.
We cooked our food on a makeshift fire
And drank our tea out of tins warmed on wire.
Our sadza was muhle but had no stew
During the day there wasn’t much to do
Until Mugabe’s men came and tore it all down
And forced the others out of the town;
As for me two years old and not very tall
They crushed my life and hope under a wall.

Where are the Bushmen’s spirits who once used to roam
The Matopos untroubled by a threat to their home
Before the advent of the Ndebele invasion
Who kicked them out of the simple equation,
Of them and their relationship to their land
Later having to make their own futile stand,
Against my Mukiwa ancestors and their guns;
Till later their brave daughters and sons
Rose up against their arch enemy the Shona
Who assisted by Koreans plunged Matabeleland into dishonour,
Too afraid to trespass into the Ndebeles resting place
They now control the country and disgrace
The memory of those gracious little folk
Whose spirits must now see their homeland as a joke.

Isn’t it a shame piccanin
That days like those in Matabeleland
Are over
And ashamed
We face one another
In stuffy English railway carriages
Too far apart to feel as we did
On dry dusty December days
When hot and thirsty
We waited for
The gentle rustling
Of syringa leaves
Just before
The chilling thunderstorm.
At last the cooling breezes
Tiny spots splatter and splay
On dusty drives
Tiny torrents tear
Through sun blistered cracks
To the Matsheumhlope
And you and I
Squelched in mud.
Till stockinged in clay laughing
We dropped to our knees
And moulded mud
Into cars and cattle
And shoulders touching
Chased guinea fowl
Not caring
That we smelt different
Or our language was makeshift
Until tired
mud caked on our feet and hands
the cry of parents
a gulf of years
we returned,
you to your khaya
and I to
my shack.

A farmer my age
Lies dead
His old dog guarding
His battered body
By the sort of bedspread
I used to shelter under
As a child
Its feel caressing
Sunburnt newly bathed
Shoulders smelling
Of Sunlight soap
And taking the edge
Off the cooling
Pre-thunderstorm air.
The sun streaming
Through rondavel windows,
I’d Throw off the spread
And lie naked
Stroked by the searing
African sun
Unafraid of the future
And the plethora
Of perils outside.
Cocooned by
Antipodean safety
I sit stunned,
While he
Gains none
Save from
His faithful dog
Who blankets his memory
And trembles
In mourning
And despair.

Industrious little dung beetle do you ever miss
the shadow of an elephant upon your back
the reassuring cadence of a cobra’s hiss
or a friendly puff adder on a wildebeest track.
Do you find the dung here to be a little bland
with only roo, sheep and cattle to keep you fed.
In the west do you like to feel the texture of the sand
rather than thick red clay upon your head.
Does the beautiful song of magpies bring music to your ear
or does the go away bird still haunt your tiny brain.
Do winter showers come at the right time of year
or do you prefer the warmth of African summer rain.
Why do you ask me such questions when I have work to do?
The only thing that concerns me is poo poo poo!