Why, I wonder, was Barcroft Boake not on the list of poets I read at school? Was it because Australian poets were rarely included in school curricula at the time? Whatever the reason, it’s taken me a long time to discover Barcroft Boake. And the discovery is even sweeter, given that much of his poetry was inspired by the Monaro and Snowy Mountains regions where I spend quite a lot of time. This book, by Hugh Capel, examines Barcroft Boake’s life and includes some of his poems. I’ve included a link (both here and towards the foot of my review) to ‘Where the Dead Men Lie’ at the Australian Poetry Library. Poetrylibrary.edu.au
This is the story of Barcroft Boake, bush poet from Australia’s colonial past.’
Barcroft Henry Thomas Boake (1866 – 1892) is most famous for his poem ‘Where the Dead Men Lie.’ It’s a poem I may have encountered earlier but which I don’t remember reading until comparatively recently. My interest in Barcroft Boake arose from his connection with the Monaro district. I’ve been reading a bit about the Monaro district and the Snowy Mountains over the past few years, and I picked this book up after reading ‘Kiandra Gold’ by the same author.
So, who was Barcroft Boake? What does his life tell us about life in the Monaro district in the late nineteenth century? Why, aged only 26, did Barcroft Boake take his own life? In this book, Hugh Capel seeks to try to answer many different questions about Barcroft Boake’s life and death: did he take his own life because of his love for a girl? And, if he did, was it one of the McKeahnie girls from Rosedale (now Bolaro Station)? And, if it was, was it Jean or May?
Is it possible, given the amount of time that has elapsed, to have definitive answers to these questions? While I think that it isn’t, I really enjoyed reading Mr Capel’s account of Barcroft Boake’s life. I kept recognising names of places I’ve been to, and names of people who feature in any history of the Monaro region. The book is presented as a novel because it includes both facts and fiction. Mr Capel has included some of the letters Barcroft Boake wrote, as well as some of his poems.
I kept wondering about how Barcroft Boake’s life might have developed had he not chosen to end it in 1892. What might he have written? I think of him when we drive past the Bolaro Station, or visit Lake Eucumbene. The Lake covers Old Adaminaby, and some of the country that Barcroft Boake would have been familiar with.
Anyone familiar with the country of the Monaro and the Snowy Mountains will recognise its influence in some of Barcroft Boake’s poetry. I’d recommend this book to anyone with an interest in either the Monaro and Snowy Mountains regions of Australia.
And, yes, I think Barcroft Boake deserves far more recognition. If you’ve not read ‘Where the Dead Men Lie’, it’s well worth reading – aloud.