In Homer’s Odyssey, the land of Odysseus’ family became occupied by a predatory population, which was squandering their wealth. Men were lost, trying to return to their families and their land. Amidst the violence, a woman, Penelope, non-violently resisted those who would dispossess her family of their land and wealth. A young man, Telemachus, matured amidst the uncertainty and threat. Mysterious beings abounded.
The violence of the Odyssey suddenly ended with Athena’s ‘pacts of peace’, and Athena adopted the role of ‘Mentor’.
“Hold back, you men of Ithaca, back from brutal war!
Break off—shed no more blood—make peace at once!”…
“Royal son of Laertes, Odysseus, master of exploits,
hold back now! Call a halt to the great leveler, War…
And Athena handed down her pacts of peace
between both sides for all the years to come.
The story lives on, and I am looking for mentors to guide us out of violence and into ways of peace.
George Ferguson Bowen was a student of ‘the classics’ before he became the first Governor of the State of Queensland. He wrote the following note to William Ewart Gladstone (later, the Prime Minister of Great Britain) on the publication of the second edition of his work entitled ‘Ithaca in 1850’.
To the Right Hon. W.E. Gladstone M.P.
My Dear Sir
I avail myself of your kind permission to inscribe to you the second edition of this little work of which the aim is to help in illustrating the Homeric Poems; a subject about which I know you to be so much interested, and so well informed.
My dear sir
Your very faithful and obliged servant
The story lives on even in the everyday language of Brisbane. From the west of the city, people cross Ithaca Creek, Gladstone St and Bowen St. People flood into the city every day across Countess St and through Roma St. Countess Diamantina di Roma of the Ionian Islands (near Ithaca) was the wife of Governor Bowen. However, it is Vulture St, which, for me, brings the stories of Gladstone and Bowen together with the Odyssey.
Vulture St was formerly known as Boundary St, South Brisbane. Governor Bowen apparently renamed the street after a Crimean warship – Vulture. Vulture St, alongside Cordelia St, are what I refer to in this meditation as the
‘Gunboat streets of Bowen’.
At the top of the hill, above Musgrave Park, Gladstone Rd crosses Vulture St. Gladstone was an outspoken critic of many of the wars of his day. That is why I ask
‘William Ewart Gladstone, what’s the merit of this war?’
Gladstone was somehow responsible for delivering a budget to fund British participation in the Crimean War.
The details of Bowen and Gladstone’s relationship to the Vulture and the Crimean war is beyond my knowledge and understanding. Nonetheless, the relationship between Gladstone and Bowen, Vulture St and Homer’s poetry does draw us usefully to the current and pressing question of renaming streets. In this case, Boundary Street, South Brisbane, was renamed Vulture St. My question, whenever the issue of renaming Boundary St comes up is ‘What have we gained from renaming other such Boundary streets, such as Hale St, Wellington Rd and Vulture St?’
The Odyssey articulates a sustained and fragile resistance to a process of dispossession, but not a complete dispossession. Boundary St in West End has become a memorial to dispossession in Brisbane, as well as a memorial of a sustained resistance to that dispossession. Perhaps the renaming of Boundary St as Vulture St offers us the Odyssey an prism through which we can further reflect on dispossession and resistance.
Thanks to Peter B and Francis Kneebone for this version of Cream’s ‘Tales of Brave Ulysses’. As part of the creation of their latest album ‘Both/And’ I asked them to bring this song into the 21st century. I believe this song is associated with Eric Clapton’s discovery of the wah-wah pedal. A generation later, I hope it is associated with new and energising discoveries. The footage is largely of the ‘Peace and Quiet’ exhibition at the State Library of Queensland in 2016.
My reflection on Gladstone and Bowen and the Odyssey has already been published elsewhere in this blog, but for ease of access I have copied it below. I have one final comment. In the associated tapestry, I included a street not mentioned in the above reflection – Creek St. Creek St represents a memorial to some of the wealth squandered during dispossession. This wealth is water, and that is where the following reflection ends.
Acknowledge Elders past. Acknowledge Elders present
Mentor Telemachus. Young people come of age
On gunboat streets of Bowen with otherworldly Beings
William Ewart Gladstone what’s the merit of this war?
Penelope di Roma in the poetry of Homer
Classical Diploma see a fleet dreaming of home.
Candlelight resistance unravel looming progress
Ithaca Athena a veil across her cheeks
Mothers see sons’ leaf-shaped gaze turn red like water falling
On Brazen suitors swagger through an absent daughter’s waters
Some are winter springs or tomorrow some are coal fields
Oil and skins and bone dry clover cloven footprints in the mud.