Bruce Dawe Homo Suburbiensis

Bruce Dawe: homo suburbensis #

One constant in a world of variables
A man alone in the evening in his patch of vegetables,
and all the things he takes down with him there

Where the easement runs along the back fence and the air
smells of tomato-vines, and the hoarse rasping tendrils
of pumpkin flourish clumsy whips and their foliage sprawls

Over the compost-box, poising rampant upon
the palings …
He stands there, lost in a green
confusion, smelling the smoke of somebody’s rubbish

Burning, hearing vaguely the clatter of a disk
in a sink that could be his, hearing a dog, a kid,
a far whisper of traffic, and offering up instead

Not much but as much as any man can offer
time, pain, love, hate, age, ware, death, laughter, fever.


This is a snapshot of an ordinary little bloke caught dreaming? worshipping? in his little patch of garden in his back yard surrounded by his prodigious vegetables who attempt to speak to compensate for his reticence. He appears “lost” in his thoughts.

The poem is dedicated to Craig McGregor, a long time journalist who celebrated the typical little Aussie Battler – the dinky-di, the Ocker, the ordinary bloke or quintessential Australian character. Usually down to earth, unpretentious, natural and unaffected, the portraits paid tribute to a form of stoicism and acceptance of life without breast-beating or complaint. Politicians often appeal to them to indicate how they are in touch with the common man.


Mixture of soft and harsh sounds;

soft— easement

harsh - hoarse rasping tendrils, - rampant, whips

onomatopoeic; clatter, whisper of traffic…


  • The more things change the more they remain the same — timeless mankind; one constant in a world of variables.

The typical Aussie male is dependable and reliable without being demanding.

  • Patch of vegetables is his territory - a place where he can call his own; vent his frustrations by gardening, a place where he has total control, with things he has grown himself. He does not need others, rather appears content with his solitude.

  • repetitive cycles of life - Man still dependent on cultivation of soil to retain bonds with the earth and for sustenance.

  • Laconic characteristics of the Australian Male; - inarticulateness of men - his vegetables try to speak for him.

  • All the things he takes down with him there - although not specified, “all the things” can be the things he carries in his head - thoughts, feelings, emotional baggage, anything that needs to be though about and solved - the man can use his garden for tension release.

  • rites of sacrifice - the universal “offering” “as much as any man” He doesn’t attempt to upstage others, rather is content with his lot in life.

  • Life is full of pain and sorrow; “Most men live lives of quiet desperation” Thoreau

  • The garden is a place for contemplation, meditation and working things through. We see an emphasis in the poem on the man’s thoughts and feelings. The “green confusion” is like a buffer against noise - the garden’s potential is seen, but at the moment it is only slightly tamed. We can see the wildness of the garden - the plants are wild and confused, similar to his thoughts before he arrived.

time, pain, love, hate, age, war, death, laughter, fever.


Dreams - reflections, nostalgic remenisciences, lost - detached disconnected

images appealing to:

Sight (visual) - isolated man - his vegetables

Smell (olfactory) - tomato vines, — smoke of somebody’s rubbish.

Sound (auditory) - hoarse rasping tendrils, clatter of dish, dog, a far whisper of traffic

Contrast: expression of garden taciturnity of man

Smoke not of sacrifice - somebody’s rubbish.

green confusion - fertility & hope - despair.

Structure: A quasi Sonnet - 14 lines;

7 line Octave describing his physical situation and a

7 line sextet detailing his spiritual condition.


Title: Latin scientific terminology of extinct evolving species progressing from homo sapiens, to homo erectus, to homo suburbensis - yet constant in a world of variables. Lends a gravitas or an uncertain significance to his stature. It could be seen as mocking.

Connotations: “down . .there” - basic, primal or elemental?

Constant is a positive comment, he is alone with his thoughts, static and unchanging, with the connotation of reliability, while the world outside continues changing. Constancy was considered a virtue by Medieval poets.

“hoarse rasping tendrils” expressive

“poising rampant” clashing ideas? rather aggressive, - significant in heraldry, where heraldic animals pose rampant on shields. Suggests the way the vines are curled back on themselves - strong, proud, and potentially dangerous.

lost in a green confusion” regenerative power of nature. offering” biblical resonances including a parallel to the Garden of Eden.

Double Meaning:


  • Australian technical term for right of way over others

  • relaxation property.

  • relief from pain or burden.

“all the things he takes down with him:

While literally this could be his spade, hoe, implements… it is more likely his day to day problems, his fears, aspirations…..