Bush poet who loved this region mourned

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
Alan Alexander featured with his latest volume of poetry in 2016.
Camera IconAlan Alexander featured with his latest volume of poetry in 2016. Credit: Declan Bush

Tributes have flowed in for bush poet, volunteer and beloved Cowaramup stalwart Alan Alexander, who died earlier this month.

Friends and those touched by Mr Alexander’s life gathered on Sunday at the Uniting Church to pay their respects.

The Northern Irish-born poet and former teacher had battled heart problems during the past two years, but continued his regular presence at the Margaret River Library, where he helped with everyday duties as well as entertaining young and old alike.

Mr Alexander’s poems were also a frequent feature in the Times, with the poet dropping in once or twice a year to talk words and writing with this reporter.

Library services manager Heather Auld offered her condolences on behalf of library staff, who were deeply upset by his death.

“Alan was a treasured volunteer at the library for 18 years, shelving books and assisting at the children’s storytime and baby rhyme-time sessions,” she said.

“Alan was the recipient of the Shire’s Volunteer of the Year Award in 2016 in honour of his devotion to library services. His music and songs brought the community together to sing, clap and dance. When he was not shelving or entertaining families at the library, he could often be found making himself at home in the comfy chairs to read and write poetry.”

While Mr Alexander’s family live overseas, he leaves behind numerous volumes of poetry, which mix the best of the Australian bush tradition with the refined literary heritage of his homeland.

Mr Alexander got started in poetry while training to be a teacher in Stranmillis, near Belfast. He admired the works of John Donne, George Herbert and World War I poets Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon and Edmund Blunden.

He showed his first written works to a lecturer named Frank Teskey, who took an interest in his work and helped grow his passion for poetry.

“He said to me — and this is verbatim — ‘Alexander, it does not matter what I say to you now, if you’re going to be a poet, you will be a poet’,” the writer told the Times in 2011.

Apart from his books, many published by the Fremantle Arts Centre Press, Mr Alexander was a one-time Australia Council Fellowship recipient and a winner of numerous other awards.

He emigrated from Belfast to Australia in 1965 and started visiting the Margaret River region in the late 1970s, camping at Prevelly when Margaret River was “a very different place”.

“I think I developed an attraction, as many people have, for the region, but especially Margaret River almost immediately and I was moved to write about it,” he told the Times. The poet retired to the region in 2002 and lived in Cowaramup, which also frequently featured in his poems.

He will be sorely missed.

Cowaramup

Not every tenant has this pride of place, a meditative quiet as his cup,

Tranquillity, village Cowaramup,

Farmland around, rurality and space; the business district but a little hill,

Group settlement vestiges, brave embark.

The Twenty-Three Mile Well site in the park,

Summer concert arena going still; the huge expanse of sky by which to guess the weather’s whimsy;

And the shapes of cloud, the compelling variations of mood

Visiting from ocean; these things will bless

A life lived for praise, the generous heart

Inspired by locale, virtues in concert.

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