The afternoons reading has gone well, with Carey and Goodfellow
entertaining an audience of thirty or more. Its not a size to faze Goodfellow - or
Carey, a successful actor - Geoffs read to audiences in excess of 800, his booming
voice and piercing gaze guarantee of gaining attention. On one occasion - at a Midnight
Oil concert at Karratha in Western Australia in 1990 during the band's last tour - he read
to an audience of around six and a half thousand. But thats in the past.
For years, Geoff Goodfellows been a regular visitor to the Apple
Isle, where hes toured annually giving readings in schools and prisons. Two years
ago he was diagnosed, after interminable delay, with
cancer of the larynx. For Goodfellow, it was a double whammy in that his disease was not
only life-threatening - though he dealt with that - but career-threatening as well. In
response, he allowed himself the luxury of writing to schools in advance of his visit last
year, asking for the first time that a microphone be made available. And I needed a
microphone, whether I was talking to twenty people or two hundred! This year
hes back, and hes foregone the microphone. I wanted to put myself to the
test, and its worked. Ive done a couple of audiences this week of 150
people-plus without a microphone and I felt right on top of it. I dont think I could
do 400 again - and I know I could never do 800 ever again but it gives me a good
feeling cos I know Ive made a quantum leap within the past twelve months in using my
Hes pleased to be back in front of young audiences in Tasmania, regaining assurance his words still connect.
Writing about cancer and taking it into schools
yes, I had some reservations
about whether that was going to work, but as soon as Ive done it, bingo!
Its worked! Everyone has someone in their family whos had cancer, and so many
have come up to me and said thank you very much, I never knew what my grandfather, my
nanna, was up against: this has explained a lot to me.
Geoffs struggle with cancer is the focus of his next collection
of poetry - Waltzing with Jack Dancer : a slow dance with cancer. Itll be his
tenth book, with the poetry enhanced by photographic images of his surgeons
handiwork. He says his brush with death has wrought lasting change, that having a
different voice to work with has forced his poetry to become quieter, less aggressive. But
in a sense its restored the fire in the belly and given him new material to explore
- just when hes needed it. Im a lazy writer, not the kind of person who
gets up every day and thinks Ill write a poem. With the exception
of his most recent collection - Punch On Punch Off, published in 2004 of which
there remain but a couple of hundred copies from a three and a half thousand print run -
all Geoffs books have sold out. No Collars No Cuffs went through nine print
runs, Bow Tie & Tails through four. I needed a new book, and I think
there are quite a few poems in the forthcoming collection that are absolute
It wasnt to youth that he credits the initial urge to write.
Goodfellow was thirty-four when he took up the pen, recovering from a back injury
sustained on a building site. Id always felt I came from a position of being
powerless but saw poetry as a way of changing that. Im not so idealistic as to think
poetry can change the world, but it can be a precipitator for change, poetry can make
people think in a different way. He believes this implicitly, felt it amply
demonstrated a few days previous when hed read at Risdon Womens Prison in
Hobart. Only three women turned up, yet the recital of his cancer poem The Seventh
Doctor resonated so strongly with his audience that within minutes theyd
photocopied ten sets of the poem to distribute to fellow inmates. They said,
its not normal poetry. And no, its not. I
dont want to write poetry about a vase of flowers. People can do that - and do it
very well - but Ive never had the language or inclination to achieve that, Ive
always believed there should be a social usefulness with poetry,
While Geoff Goodfellows directness of manner and ready
cameraderie is the key to his ready connection with guests of Her Majestys prisons,
hes just as comfortable in the presence of Adelaide friends including the criminal
barrister and the Supreme Court judge he meets regularly for coffee. Its a far cry
from his working class upbringing growing up in a dysfunctional family in Adelaides
northern suburbs, to iconic Australian poet dressed exclusively by an Melbourne clothing
A friend sent me an email recently, hed been to a poetry
reading in Melbourne where a young bloke had stood up in front of the mic and announced
that he was from Tasmania, that hed been at college six years ago and heard me read
and wanted now to read my poem Dont Call Me Lad. Well thats all
very fine, but then he went on to denigrate me by saying Goodfellow was a good poet
but he was a douchebag because he took sponsorship from clothing
companies. But hey, I dont want to be known as a rag-bag poet. I dont
mind being well-dressed, I dont mind a clothing company putting clothing on my back
and I dont mind supporting Phillips Shirts because they support me. I want to be
dressed neatly. I still say that Im working-class, my family is working-class and my
values are working-class. My values will always be working-class. Its not whether I
walk round with a blue singlet on and a pair of steel-cap boots or whether Im
wearing a thousand dollar suit, I still feel Im working class because of the values
that are inherent within me.
One of Geoff Goodfellows strengths is his natural ability to
reach out and build bridges with people from all walks of life. A few weeks previously
hed been working at Sacred Heart College in Adelaide as writer-in-residence where he
was asked to take a session with five indigenous boys from a mission near Alice Springs.
I said look I would love to, tell them to come up to my room. The five boys came in
full-blood Aboriginals wearing shirts and ties. I didnt know whether
they spoke very much English so I introduced myself in Pitjantjatjara language which
translated as What is your name? My name is Geoff Goodfellow. They sat up
quite startled and asked Whats your country? I was able to tell them I
did Aboriginal Studies in 1984 at uni and learnt a little bit of Pitjantjatjara; and
whilst they werent Pitjantjatjara speakers they understood what I said and it
resonated with them and made them feel comfortable. I
went on and read them a few poems - but I knew after Id read the first that I was
making them feel uncomfortable because I was making eye contact with them - its my
style to have eye contact with people, I often use my finger as a pointer so I
stopped at that point. I said, do you know the difference between my culture and your
culture? Im making you fellows feel uncomfortable
because Im looking at you straight in the eyes, pointing my finger at you and
directing my speech patterns at you. I know thats completely foreign to you, but you
boys are going to have to get used to that if youre going to live here in this sort
of society and realise your dreams of playing AFL football.
We went on to talk about other things. I mentioned I was from an
alcoholic background but Id made a life choice not to drink. I said when you go back
to Alice Springs and get off the plane, all the young fellows will be watching you because
youll be dressed flash and youll be looked up to. You cant afford to go
back there and show those young fellows once you go to the big city you change.
Youve got to stay strong, and if youre going to succeed as sportsmen you have
to act as a role model.
They all agreed on
that point, spoke of how theyd walked away from cigarettes and drugs because they
can see a future in getting an education and a trade as well as playing AFL football. It
was terrific to hear these positive stories. One of the boys noticed a photo of me wearing
boxing gloves, he mentioned he was a boxer too. I asked him how many fights hed had,
he said, ten. I asked how many hed won, he said, Ive won ten. Where did you
have these fights? I asked. Alice Springs and
Darwin, he said. I asked if he wanted to fight while he was down here in Adelaide.
Yeah. Well Ive got a mate whos a trainer, I said, he runs a gym at
the Aboriginal Sobriety Centre in the centre of the city, Ill ring him and Ill
make arrangements. And I took him in there on the Friday afternoon and got him organised.
It felt a nice thing to do for that young fellow.
Its five twenty-five, and the rooms clearing of its poetry
patrons. Musicians will soon set up for the evenings performance: the Republics a busy venue. Meanwhile Geoff
Goodfellows building bridges in the way he knows best, through his poetry. He takes
a seat, grips the young mans hand. Pleased to meet you.
Likewise. You know, you remind me so very much of a poet I heard
reading years ago, visiting my school.' 'I still remember his poetry, the young man
adds, mentioning by name the poem Dont Call Me Lad.
Geoff grins in acknowledgement. Thats
me. A little older and a little less stocky ... but thats me.