Down under with Mark Twain

In Following the Equator: A Journey Around the World (1897), Mark Twain recalls visiting Australia, where he noted the strange names of local communities.

“Those are good words for poetry. Among the best I have ever seen. There are 81 in the list. I did not need them all, but I have knocked down 66 of them; which is a good bag, it seems to me, for a person not in the business. Perhaps a poet laureate could do better, but a poet laureate gets wages, and that is different. When I write poetry I do not get any wages; often I lose money by it. The best word in that list, and the most musical and gurgly, is Woolloomoolloo.”

Today, Woolloomooloo is an inner-city suburb of Sydney. Long a working-class district, it was recently renovated. A well-known spot is Finger Wharf which, during its working life, was used for wool exports. It also acted as a staging post for troops during the World Wars as well as a point of disembarkation for migrants arriving in Australia. In the mid-1990s, Finger Wharf was transformed into 300 private residential apartments and a boutique hotel with 104 guestrooms.

TwainMark Twain included Woolloomoolloo in his “poem” which, according to its author, must be “read soft and low, with the lights turned down.” Think of Longfellow’s “Hiawatha” or Edward Lear’s nonsense verse:

“The Bombola faints in the hot Bowral tree,
Where fierce Mullengudgery’s smothering fires
Far from the breezes of Coolgardie
Burn ghastly and blue as the day expires;

And Murriwillumba complaineth in song
For the garlanded bowers of Woolloomooloo,
And the Ballarat Fly and the lone Wollongong
They dream of the gardens of Jamberoo;

The wallabi sighs for the Murrubidgee,
For the velvety sod of the Munno Parah,
Where the waters of healing from Muloowurtie
Flow dim in the gloaming by Yaranyackah;

The Koppio sorrows for lost Wolloway,
And sigheth in secret for Murrurundi,
The Whangeroo wombat lamenteth the day
That made him an exile from Jerrilderie;

The Teawamute Tumut from Wirrega’s glade,
The Nangkita swallow, the Wallaroo swan,
They long for the peace of the Timaru shade
And thy balmy soft airs, O sweet Mittagong!

The Kooringa buffalo pants in the sun,
The Kondoparinga lies gaping for breath,
The Kongorong Camaum to the shadow has won,
But the Goomeroo sinks in the slumber of death;

In the weltering hell of the Moorooroo plain
The Yatala Wangary withers and dies,
And the Worrow Wanilla, demented with pain,
To the Woolgoolga woodlands despairingly flies;

Sweet Nangwarry’s desolate, Coonamble wails,
And Tungkillo Kuito in sables is drest,
For the Whangerei winds fall asleep in the sails
And the Booleroo life-breeze is dead in the west.

Mypongo, Kapunda, O slumber no more
Yankalilla, Parawirra, be warned
There’s death in the air!
Killanoola, wherefore
Shall the prayer of Penola be scorned?

Cootamundra, and Takee, and Wakatipu,
Toowoomba, Kaikoura are lost
From Onkaparinga to far Oamaru
All burn in this hell’s holocaust!

Paramatta and Binnum are gone to their rest
In the vale of Tapanni Taroom,
Kawakawa, Deniliquin—all that was best
In the earth are but graves and a tomb!

Narrandera mourns, Cameron answers not
When the roll of the scathless we cry
Tongariro, Goondiwindi, Woolundunga, the spot
Is mute and forlorn where ye lie.”

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