Discovering Banjo Paterson's magic at a small school in Woody Point introduced the young mind of Rupert McCall to a poetic rhythm which now beats in time with his own heart.
Let's set the scene, it was 1980 and his year 5 class at Our Lady of Lourdes Primary School was learning A Bush Christening by Paterson.
“I suppose it was the first contact with Australian poetry as far as I can remember,” Rupert explains.
“I just thought that it was a pretty cool way of telling a story. It had the rhythm, it had a little bit of larrikinism, laughter. For me, it was like a jigsaw puzzle of words and putting the words together in a clever kind of way that ultimately came together and told a story.
“It became scratched into my psyche and opened my eyes to that side of Australian life. You were in your own little bubble on the Redcliffe Peninsula and you read the poetry of Banjo Patterson and Henry Lawson and it opened your eyes and your heart to the country that we call home. It became part of a rhythm that I could feel and then when I started writing my own stuff it was very influential.”
Rupert wrote his first poem the following year – a dedication to trees that won him a highly commended poetry competition at Arbor Day and gave him the confidence to continue writing.
The sporty youngster wasn't much of a reader at the time, spending every free moment with his brothers in the backyard and looking forward to seeing his heroes at Dolphin Oval every second Sunday.
“I talk about this beautiful collision of what happened in that year, 1980, when I was in Grade 5 and was introduced to Banjo Patterson at the same time Arty Beetson was leading Queensland out of the sheds at Lang Park as it was for the first State of Origin match,” Rupert explains.
“I knew Arty was a Redcliffe boy and the next year he came back to Redcliffe to play for the Dolphins. But all that kind of stuff it was swirling around in the passionate recesses of my mind and so I started combining that want to be creative with that great passion for sport. I think something developed in an artistic sense that way.”
He graduated from school, continued his studies at university with a law degree, and landed a job as an articled clerk with a Brisbane law firm, but a desire to be creative kept on growing.
Rupert wrote tributes to mates for their 21st birthdays and was soon noticed by friends and family outside his circle.
“Triple M (radio station) had a competition where you had to send your supporter fax in to support the Brisbane Broncos in their first season. I wrote a poem and Rod Tiley read it out on Triple M as the winner,” Rupert recalls.
“I won 12 tickets to a home game – it went better than the ode to trees! I got the first prize for that one, and I thought life couldn’t get much better than that.”
Rupert juggled life as an articled clerk and part-time poet, often writing while he was waiting for his number to be called to file documents in court.
“You had to occupy that time, so I started writing the poems that would form that first chapter of my professional life,” he says.
“The first book was Rhymes, Idols and Shenanigans in 1993 and for the year or two before that, I was paying tribute to Queensland State of Origin teams and heroes like Ian Healy and Dawn Fraser.
“I remember they wrote an article in Rugby League Week and they printed my poem Queenslander but didn’t put my name to it and said it had been written by one of the Queensland Rugby League players.
“There was all this mystery about where this poetry was coming from, so I rang (editor) Tony Durkin and said, ‘Listen, that wasn’t written by Mal Meninga, I wrote it’. He did a story on me in the next edition.”
Rupert was ducking out in his lunch break before too long to participate at activities and knew he had to make a decision.
“It was this snowball rolling down the hill. I self-published Rhymes, Idols and Shenanigans and then a year later I did Slops, Props and Goosestep Flavoured Lifesavers, but in between, I had retired from the law and was determined to have a crack at making it on the road less travelled as a full-time poet.”
He has since conquered shyness in order to refine his delivery and created a craft that combines rhythm, rhyme, and style that is simply Rupert McCall.
Rupert has honoured his heroes on and off the sporting field and travelled the world making audiences laugh and cry.
“It’s the full circle. When you’ve had the honour and you’re humbled to speak at the funeral of one of your heroes, I’m thinking of (Redcliffe Dolphins’) Peter Leis, that’s really hard to describe. You’ve come the full circle and it’s as honourable as anything could be,” Rupert says.
“Maybe that’s symbolic of the against-the-odds story of the lawyer turned poet whose work took him across the country and around the world.”
Rupert lists his career highlights as reciting his poem A Firefighter’s Dream during a Ground Zero ceremony in New York on September 11, 2010, and reciting 90 Years Ago at Anzac Cove on the 90th anniversary of the landings at Gallipoli.
“It’s just very special and it’s something that changes the course of your life a bit. It puts you on a different wave. Thinking about everything, that’s certainly at the top and Anzac Cove is up there with it,” Rupert says.
“In terms of sporting pieces, reciting to a corporate tennis event in America with Andre Agassi and Bill Gates in the audience that was a bit of a spin-out. I remember thinking as I was standing up there looking out at all these legends and billionaires, that it only just seems like yesterday that I was collecting aluminium cans at Dolphin Oval.”
His favourite poem is More than a Horse, the verse he wrote about the people’s racehorse and underdog Super Impose.
“It was a first offering, a pretty standard verse structure tribute to this horse that used to win against the odds. It’s the horse that came from last, down the outside, to win races.
“The jockey Darren Beadman would say that there were all these horses in the race but when the crowd roared, Super Impose knew they were roaring for him, he just knew it and picked up a gear.
The Redcliffe kid has no idea how many poems he has written since taking that leap of faith, but his sixth book is now out.
It’s called Golden Soil and is a compilation of his best-known work.
Visit rupertmccall.com.au for details
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