QLD Writers Week Feature #5: Gabrielle Bryden

Day #5 of QLD Writers Week, and this time we are pulled from the big sky country of the west by the current of the mighty Brisbane River… Gabrielle Bryden reflects on her lifelong love hate relationship with our city’s river.

The Picnic at Hanging Rock Effect

Place has its place in my poetry. The observation and description of places, the creation of images, the use of references to places, similes and metaphors utilising places, sensory exploration of places – all of these things are important in my poetry.

However, to be honest, my poems are more about the inner space between my two ears (concepts and issues), people and the person, than particular places. This is not surprising given my background as a psychologist. On the other hand, grounding a poem in a real space is an effective way to concretise a conceptual idea and often I will find a specific place for the idea or issue to sit. In other words, the place is the setting to make the idea blossom into life.

This is not to say that place is not important to me. I feel a strong relationship, bordering on the spiritual, with the Australian landscape. I have an intense love of this ancient, worn down land – the bald hills, the volcanic remnants, the wallum, desert lands, rainforest and the list goes on. I have lived overseas several times and each time, after a few months, I felt a great longing to return home – I really missed the natural landscape, particularly the Eucalypt trees.

I can’t explain it very well but I have sometimes felt overpowered by my surroundings out in the bush; insignificant, in awe and in danger – I call it the Picnic at Hanging Rock effect – an eerie feeling that I could simply disappear into the landscape, swallowed up by the spirit of the rock. I like to recreate that feeling in my poems and to highlight the insignificance of the human race, in their place, within the universe.

The Brisbane River would be one specific ‘place’ which has strongly influenced my poetry. I have a love hate relationship with that brown, strong river, which has permeated my dreams for as long as I can remember. I literally dream about the river all the time – flying over the river (hands flapping), swimming in the river, clear water, muddy water – it changes depending on the subliminal message of the day.

I grew up in Indooroopilly and the Brisbane River flows along the border of that suburb. I grew up with stories of the river leaking into my subconscious:

‘Your brother nearly drowned in the Brisbane River when he was four’;
‘It’s impossible to swim across the Brisbane River – you’ll drown trying; the currents are too strong’;
‘John’s sister killed herself, jumping off the Walter Taylor bridge, when she was twenty’;
‘The river water came right up to the Jindalee Bridge in 1974’
‘They found his body on the edge of the Brisbane River’.

The river looks beautiful and powerful and I admire and respect the river but I have never trusted him.

Gabrielle Bryden


Brisbane River

Brisbane River isn’t petite and pretty
like the Cam of Cambridge

he won’t invite you
to gondola

won’t even tell you to take a hike
you are the clichéd flea on bear

he’s got the monumental on his mind
how to shoulder bash Moreton Bay
day after day

how to carve out a name for himself
in ancient sediment
with no sentiment

he won’t care if you
go under.


Gabrielle Bryden is an Australian poet published in a range of books, print and online journals including: Short & Twisted 2010 and Mystic Signals; Ripples, Aspects, Speedpoets, and Extempore magazines; Cherry Blossom Review, Red Poppy Review, Verity La, Asphodel Madness, Sorcerous Signals, Lunarosity, Bolts of Silk, Third Eye, Specusphere, and Poetry24 ezines; and on local and national ABC Radio. In 2009 she won first prize in Ripples magazine’s poetry competition.



Filed under events & opportunities, poetry & publishing

13 responses to “QLD Writers Week Feature #5: Gabrielle Bryden

  1. Ah…one of my favorite poets.

  2. Pingback: Queensland Writers Week | Gabrielle Bryden's Blog

  3. Thanks again Graham (and slpmartin 😉 )

  4. awesome – love the “simplicity” and realism in this – makes it really a strong poem

  5. Wonderful poem, Gabrielle. Surrounded by pretty, manicured rivers here in the UK it is awe inspiring to consider this: a river with a wild side.

    • Thanks Kate – I do love the tidy rivers in the UK (I went to school in Cambridge for 6 months and the Cam is so pretty – very tame in comparison to the Brisbane river – and if I was to go boating, a tame river I would prefer 😉 )

  6. “Picnic at Hanging Rock effect”, indeed! You have got it there, Gabe. And I love “Brisbane River” – it is the first poem of yours that I read and one of my favourites

  7. A brilliant feature. I completely relate to Gabrielle’s expriences of the Aussie bush – there is a sense of insignificance and awe. ‘Brisbane River’ is excellent!

  8. Great series Graham. I’m with Gabe on this, my sense of place is as a reflection of the inner place; I suppose this in itself leads to a oneness. That said, there is a fine distinction with Queensland poets, there seems to be a warm contentment that I’ve read in your collections, Gabe’s blog, the Brisbane New Voices etc. Sydney is shallow, Melbourne is deep to the point of internalisation, but Queensland is happy… beautiful one day, poetic the next?

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