Coalcliff House

Coalcliff House
Ken Bolton & Sal Brereton standing beside house. Photo by Kurt Brereton (1980)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Poets reading in Sydney, 1979

Julie Rose, Leonie Blair, Pam Brown, Erica Callan, Micky Allan, Loma Bridge, Anna Couani

The Coalcliff Gang

At the moment the list of readers on the opening night poetry event at Wollongong City Gallery Friday April 15 titled The Coalcliff Gang Rides Again is, with any luck:
Ken Bolton, Sal Brereton, Alan Jefferies, Pam Brown, Denis Gallagher, Laurie Duggan, Barbara Atkinson, Anna Couani, Tom Thompson, Adam Aitken, Steve Kelen, Erica Callan.  More to be added of course if hands go up.

The following afternoon Saturday April 16: Legends v Young Guns in association with The South Coast Writers Centre. Leading local Illawarra young poets will read.

A detailed program and poster will go up closer to the event.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

and a few more

What was I doing at the time? In 1978 I had entered into a screenwriting partnership with Terry Larsen (who had written the script for Michael Thornhill’s movie The FJ Holden). We worked all through this period until I started teaching in 1983. Screenwriting was a weird experience: working at subsistence level for producers who would jet off for the States or Europe at a moment’s notice. Over the period we made a living, more or less, through the odd film grant or production deal though in the end nothing we worked on together would ever become a movie. Still, it was a useful experience. Without it I might not have been able to structure a long work. In 1979 I started work at the WEA Library with Librarian Barbara Brooks and worked there part-time for eighteen months or so. In between gigs I was funded by the poor person’s Literature Board (a.k.a. Social Security). Then in late 1983 I worked for a semester at what was then the Canberra College of Advanced Education (subsequently the University of Canberra) as a lecturer in Media Studies (I had previously taught Media, in 1976, at Swinburne, home of Australia’s first media theory course). After that position I advanced in the world to be the cleaner at Gleebooks, a position I held until late 1985, broken by a few months when a Victorian government grant sent me off to Gippsland to research The Ash Range.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

a few details

Over the Coalcliff years I was mostly living in Sydney, though in late 1983 I spent most of my time in Canberra. In 1978-79 I lived by myself in a small house at 67 Newman Street, Newtown. From December 1979 to March 1981 I was in a share house at 240 Church Street Newtown with, among others, Hayden Keenan (film producer). Then from March to May I was briefly in a small room at 9 Fort Street Petersham - a house that Greg Maguire, Jann Chambers and Morgan Smith (Gleebooks) lived in at the time (John Forbes was an earlier tenant). I returned as a permanent resident after living by myself again in a house at 156 Wardell Road, Dulwich Hill for five or so months. By that time Morgan had moved out of Fort Street and artist Ken Searle was there. Ken and I both moved in to the house Greg and Jann bought around the corner at 83 Palace Street in September 1983. I lived there until October 1985 when I moved back to my home city, Melbourne.

Sunday, August 15, 2010


Opposite the house at Coalcliff, way up in the night escarpment, lived a couple of solitary owls.
I'd often hear them in the middle of the night, answering one another.

Thrice - Readings at the Scarborough Hotel

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Monday, May 24, 2010

Wollongong Poets' Ball 1979

Nigel Roberts

John Tranter

Sal Brereton

Kurt Brereton Denis Gallagher Claire O'Connor

Dorothy Porter


Ken Bolton
Photos by Rae Desmond Jones except top two by John Tranter

Thursday, May 20, 2010

coalcliff poems

The house stood

The house stood as though it had been washed there by an enormous tide.

Lodged above the tree line, between it and the escarpment

that rose directly behind it.

It stood weathered like a wooden raft. Still in one piece

but leaning gently in one corner.

The house had been weathered like the bare wood

growing out of the side of the cliff. Everything set at weird angles,

like the undersea frozen in a strong current.

Even the garden had something of a sunken quality to it.

as though, in order to find the existing form you might have to dig down

one foot- discover the original bones of plants

gleaned white by the moon.


Trains are shunting up and down the track. It’s early morning

and the hill cliffs beyond the road are hit by the first bits of sunlight.

A movement so slight, like the buzzing of a butterfly coming

closer to the ear.


Some construction sheds are erected across the road.

Little white ones that look like toys in comparison to the hill

that rises behind them.

I imagine what they must look like from the very top – more toy-like

probably. These sheds that have been constructed to house the thirty

or so men employed to build the new railway.


I spend too much time in front of the radio.

I hear the floorboards and I know you’re out there somewhere

drawing me into your place. Curling in the space between two large rocks

behind the sand dunes.

On the other side of the house, ocean-blue Pacific O.

Windows that open out suddenly to the extended relief of coastline.

There has been a significant change in the size and placement of the horizon.

The trees upon the hill are reflecting the sun as though they are made of

some resilient galvanized iron – they are reflecting the light everywhere in

strips of green.


I stayed up reading late. My light was the last one to go out

on the whole block. I checked.

And every now and then I leave this book in which i have been looking

for the last few hours, at poems etc… mostly not reading them

and go outside and piss over the verandah into the front garden.

Feel the cold creepy feel of August wind creeping up my bare legs and

looking up to the sky, which is unarguably full of stars and bright almost

full waning moon giving everything that moves a definite shape

that sways in what now is an energetic breeze.

Among the Living

alone in Ken’s house
it can be funny sometimes
when it’s late and you’re up
reading one of his books
from his endless collection of books

and all around you
the walls lined with the shrouds
of writers
lying next to each other
or on top of each other
or standing back to back
spine to spine

and thinking,
how some poets must be dead already
and some must be dying
and some must be living

and it makes me feel good
in a funny sort of way
to be still such a young writer
with so much yet to write about
and with such a long way to go.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

the2nd half

Fantastic project. It really is worth exploring a place or a building that attracts energy/enthusiasms over a solid period of years.

I was a fairly regular visitor when Alan Jefferies was the bearer of the legacy (& yes, he deftly carried on the tradition that made the place so memorable). As before, the only constancy was words, music & friendship. Extraordinary.

The Coalcliff cottage was also a doorway for many of us to that mysteriously industrial city of Wollongong. Rae Jones was there, it had its own branch of the Poets Union -- oddly including pio who had split from the Melbourne branch. Five Islands Press & Scarp were yet to emerge.

The only time I visited when Ken & Sal were there was a time they weren't. Went down there with Donna Maegraith (sorry Laurie, she was a fine reader!) & Alan Jefferies. Pam Brown and Micky greeted us on arrival. A superbly relaxed night followed by a fragile morning. Donna and I went onto Burning Palms, another Illawarra place of resonance for a number of us.

A great mutual friend of Alan's and mine -- Mark Leabeater (artist muso and latterly poet) died some five years ago. His life has also been profoundly marked by the Coalcliff house. Some of his ashes were scattered on the rock platform down below & on the escarpment above.

More than once I've stopped at the site of the old cottage & had a couple of quiet for him & the succession of bright moments.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Here I come

Dear Coalcliffers,

Kurt has been after me for months to contribute to this blog: but I’m too inept technically to do it.

Well, except that I’ve finally broken thru, here, now: like the kid with trainer wheels, pushed by admiring — or doubtful — parents, skooting a few yards, legs trailing either side. Pitiful, isn’t it?

I’ve written a long essay that will introduce the show & will send you each your bit of it (yes, there is a cameo spot for each of you, in which you appear as I remember you. My memory is inept, too. So you may want me to change things. And I’ll do it, too, to a degree.

Last night I turned my room over to find a photo Sal wants because it features in a watercolour one of us painted showing our 1981 interior. If I find it it will verify the watercolour as ‘accurate’ — or will at least look amusing & ’curious’ if placed beside the watercolour. Which is what we intend to do.

Anyway, I still haven’t found the picture, but material we used as a table-cloth back then turned up. I had emailed Sal just the day before that, despite having kept it all this time, I thought I had thrown it out just recently. Possibly you will all be conducting similar searches soon.

“Hang on,” I hear you say, “I don’t recall them ever stretching to table-cloths!” It was just cheap material we bought as a bargain in Thirroul or somewhere. I don’t know why I kept it. Maybe it reminds me of Coalcliff.


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

invitation letter

Dear all,

Ken Bolton will be sending out an invitation letter to you all next week asking for contributions to the book/catalog in more specific terms. We hope to have everything back to us by the end of October so we can start the production process. The show is coming along well. Ken and I had a good production meeting recently (ie when his book A Little Bit of Bop was launched in Sydney) and we are all excited to start compiling all the various contributions.

We have had no luck tracking down Erica Callan so if anyone knows where she is and a contact email etc please let us know. We want her involved if possible. thanks  Kurt

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

3 Coalcliff Dazers 2 decadz on + 1

Taken at the launch of Ken Bolton's latest collection of poetry, A Whistled Bit of Bop (Vagabond Press) at The Rose Hotel, Chippendale on April 18. Kurt Brereton (left) did the launch, a revenant Apollinaire replete with bandaged head cued by the dadaist/constructivist typography of Chris Edwards's smart cover for the book. Ken (second from right) read selections with a wry/dry appeal, and when he said he was glad to be back in Sydney again we loved him even more.

On the far right, Rae Desmond-Jones, avatar punk poet editor of the 1970's poetry magazine Your Friendly Fascist and organiser of the Wollongong Poets' Ball of 1979, possibly the only occasion of public copulation at a poetry event in Australia.

Laurie Duggan has referred to the event in an earlier post. Other poets I remember at the Ball are Dorothy Hewett, Dorothy Porter, Joanne Burns, Nigel Roberts, Philip Roberts and PiO. I'm sure there were others. And there were lots of non-poets (thank you). Maybe you remember more .

The +1 is Alan Wearne (second left), renowned deep poet of the shallows and outspoken protector of the poetic flame. As far as I know he had no direct association with the Coalcliff days, living in Melbourne at that time. Today, he teaches at Wollongong University, a good excuse to be aboard this virtual caravan of pilgrims.

Monday, March 22, 2010

final journal entries

9th August 1981 When I get to Coalcliff it's in time to help Ken re-affix the posts of the front verandah (which blew away a week ago). Ken says he & Sal have split up. We walk halfway up the mountain round the old track & then cutting up the side to a dip just before the final ascending stretch. Then walk down past the cows. I think of title for Canberra poetry book - Cows & Vikings - & Ken thinks of a good cover design. Back to the house at dusk & a hot meal & listen to records. Look at Steve K's ‘Swoon Harbour’ poem - great work. Both agree that we couldn't write like that & don't know how it's done - but I say I wd. like to have written it. I go to sleep in the living room. Strong winds sound like they'll blow the roof off.

16th October 1981 Ken rang last night - he's due to go to Adelaide for a few weeks on some kind of grant from an art institution & intends to produce pamphlets on the equipment down there. Asks for a 20 page booklet. I figure on maybe ‘Adventures in Paradise’ & ‘The Great Tradition’ (with notes) - Ken's idea, and, in addition, the fake anthology [‘The New Australian Poetry, Now’]. Looks like the A.I.P. book will have to appear in pieces [this book, the present Adventures in Paradise, appeared early 1982. Ken is still in Adelaide].

Sunday, March 7, 2010

more journal entries

25th December 1980 In the front bedroom, Coalcliff, considerably stoned. Exquisite corpses [later published as Xmas Corpses - my title but my only contribution to the book] continue in the living room after a long day of food & drink - picnic in the National Park with Sal, Ken, Pam, Micky, Erica [Callan], Kurt - swim & sit on beach in intense heat, shower w. backyard hose & more dope, booze, food.

8th January 1981 This morning Sal's at work in W'Gong & Ken has gone to Sydney to the arts workshop [tin sheds] to get photo done for poster. I'm listening to early Coltrane (with Miles) & then the Giant Steps album, trying to write a parody of Les Murray.

15th June 1981 Arr. Coalcliff yesterday 3 p.m. No-one about. I hide bag & walk down to beach via milkshake. Back up to house - enter spare room window & hang around for evening train. Find The Diamond Noodle with great picture on back - Whalen looking like a delicate version of Donald Sutherland. Ken & Sal arrive abt. 1/2 hour before the train. I stick around - produce bottle of Riesling & eat with K, S & NZ woman. Down to her place for more booze & dope & T.V. Get very stoned on one joint. Silly movies. Back up to the house to crash on living room bed. Up this morning to hang about kitchen table. Ken & Sal do Go-poet interviews [these were a series of interviews I conducted in the manner of 1960s pop magazines]. Ken gives me a prepublication copy of his new book, which I advise him to call Alcohol. He has a possible cover - imitation Persian painting with donkey like bicycle-pump inflatable.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

journal entries

I'm going to feed some journal entries into this conversation. I wish I had some visuals to add but the years 1979-1982 saw me without a camera. Here's a note from the Wollongong Poetry Festival of 1979:

2nd October 1979 Train down early Sunday morning to Coalcliff & a walk by myself down to the beach while Ken & Sal put together posters & magazines for the evening. I have a calm & generally gregarious weekend. By 2 p.m. a lot of people have arrived at Coalcliff - the Hammials, Denis Gallagher, ΠO, Nigel, Phil Roberts & others. We head in to the Gong but the Al Monte reception room isn't open. Check out the station & streets then back to Al Monte's to shift tables & chairs & wait over a beer or two.

Phil Roberts delivers a paper called ‘Death of the poet’ (rather melodramatically) then there's a break & the W'Gong writers read. Ken & Sal first, then some unbelievable local writers [probably including Leigh Stokes], then another break & the Sydney contingent read. Phil R. is interrupted by the response of some Pyrmont anarchist whose kid is playing with a soccer ball during the proceedings. There's a shouting match with quite a few having a say till Claire gets the reading going again. Others read - Denis, ΠO (Mayakovsky & Nelson Algren & the fuck poems shouted from a tabletop), Tranter finally (performing the ‘Foucault at the Forest Lodge’ series of pieces in a totally unsuitable dramatic manner). Then another break & a band play lounge lizard music (Girl from Ipanema) while everyone drinks on & eats lukewarm lasagne &c. Three carloads of us go to a coffee house & ruminate over the proceedings.

I sleep in the pantry & wake early, the sun up over the ocean. A morning long breakfast turns into a picnic lunch in the back yard, then in the afternoon with Kurt & Anna we go back into Wollongong to look at the Art Gallery (2 coloured photos of Micky's on display) & walk down to the beach - barbed wire & factories - tankers out on the Pacific - ought to be mines buried there. It's grey & there are only a handful of people down that end of town.

More snapshots from the Al Monte reading:
- best readings from Nigel, ΠO, Ken & Denis.
- Lyn Tranter (to the Pyrmont anarchists): ‘What are you doing with that child!?’
- Nick turning up & catching a late train home
- Les Wicks reading in the open section - very drunk (& very broke)
- a local W'Gong hippy woman reading with the ‘jazz’ band

- Donna Maegraith prefacing each poem with ‘O'-kay then . . .’

Friday, February 26, 2010

            Some photos by Micky Allan

                    Barbara Brooks & Sal Brereton, Coalcliff, 1980

                        Laurie Duggan, Coalcliff, 1980

                        Sal Brereton & Ken Bolton, Coalcliff, 1980

                        Pam Brown & Sal Brereton, Coalcliff, 1980

        Handy Hint to The Coalcliff Days visitors - if you click on the images they will
         enlarge (this especially helps with reading scans of pages of text)

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

xmas corpses

The mere thought of a hot Christmas is enough for me now here in Kent, but that Xmas in the National Park . . . It should be noted that Kurt has the remains of the goose on his head in the photograph while I'm the closest I've ever been to a garden gnome. I wasn't, alas, around at the house a bit later when the corpses were made, but I did supply the title Xmas Corpses.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

                        Kurt, Ken, Pam, Erica, Laurie, Sal, Micky

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Tyre Pinch - The cyclist's nightmare resulted from a bike ride with Kurt Brereton from Sydney to Coalcliff in 1980 (exact date to be corroborated) which eventually ended at Ken Bolton's and Sal Brereton's house where Kurt (Bruno Donatello) took most of the book's photos. As I recall it was a long ride, it was awfully hot and I had a murderous hangover. My bike got a flat in the vicinity of Stanwell Tops and I accidentally pinched the inner-tube in an attempt to get the tyre off the wheel, a very bad thing. Kurt rode on to Ken and Sal's where he found Anna Couani who came to my rescue in her trusty VW Beetle (which must have had roofracks).
The booklet's 28 pages of photos and Kurt's pithy comments record the aftermath of my second-worst incident on a bike as well as being a pleasant reminder of happy times at Ken and Sal's now legendary house by the sea.
Denis Gallagher

Friday, January 1, 2010

Panels from A. F. Drawings & Ken Bolton's silk screened comic book
Apostrophe or Poet Talking To Clouds