‘Top Rail Politician’, is a complete collection of the best Bush Poetry and short stories from Far North Queensland Bush Poet, Chris Long.
Chris is often referred to by his peers as a ‘modern day Henry Lawson’ or the next ‘Banjo’. The reasons for that will become clear to the reader once they open the book. Chris draws on a family heritage steeped in Anzac legends and a pioneering history as well as a very colourful life full of adventure to find inspiration for his work.
One of his Great Grandmothers, Christine McLean is reputed to be the first white child born to pioneering settlers in Queensland northwest cattle country. Both grandfathers fought in the front lines of France during World War 1. His mother’s father Lewis Appleton is credited with being one of the men who blew up Hill 60, now made famous by the recent movie ‘Beneath Hill 60.’ He also sadly lost a younger brother who died of wounds on the beaches of Gallipoli.
Many of Chris’s uncles played their roles in our darkest days of World War 2. One uncle Jim Campbell is believed to be the youngest surviving ‘Rat of Tobruk’. Dave and Jackie Appleton, his mothers brothers both served in New Guinea and the Pacific. Dave was one of the hero’s of Kokoda and was badly wounded on the trail being shot in the neck by a Japanese woodpecker machine gun. He was one of only two survivors from his patrol and lived only because his wounds were such that the enemy believed him to be dead. During his recovery he learnt morse code and later went behind enemy lines as an independent signaler. Such is the courage and sacrifice of a history and heritage now often being conveniently forgotten, that it has given rise to the authors fiercely patriotic views which shine through in much of his work. Accordingly some of his work is used from time to time as study material in schools and is also often recited at Bush Poetry gatherings or on ABC radio by other poets, particularly by North Queensland cattle man and good mate Tom Mauloni.
Chris’s Dad, Pat Long OAM, who passed away in February 2013 also left his mark in Australian history. Originally one of the legendary North Queensland ‘Bush Pilots’ in the early 50’s. He later became one of Australia’s earliest helicopter pilots. Through his bush flying and pioneering exploits he performed much of the cursory rotor wing aviation that lead to the many roles the helicopter plays in current day Australia. That includes the first recorded helicopter rescue and the conception and birth of the heli mustering industry. His exploits as a pioneering aviator are far too numerous to recount however Chris’s book contains some interesting stories on his background. Pat was always modest about his achievements never seeking accolades, largely due to efforts of his niece Julie Jenner, he received recognition from the Australian Government and was awarded the Order of Australia two weeks prior to his passing. It is important to note that none of his achievements would have been possible without the constant love and support of his wife Heather, the mother of seven children.
Chris himself has led a life every bit as interesting and diverse as any who came before him. Inspired by his father’s stories of the bush, Chris left home a week after his 16th birthday to seek adventure as a stockman in the outback. The year was 1979. The next three and a half years saw him working as a ringer or farm hand on various properties. This included twelve months in the stock camps of Queensland’s largest cattle station, Strathmore in the Gulf Country. In those days the job included throwing a scrub bull by the tail or riding a freshly broken horse. Many of the characters he met in those days have also greatly inspired his work. After the bush he joined the Queensland Police Force, graduating from Oxley Academy in 1983. He then embarked on a ten year police career, mostly around North Queensland including two years in the Torres Straits stationed on Thursday Island. During this period he took advantage of the excellent fishing and also played Rugby League in the local competition. Chris also started karate on the Island in his very early 20’s and trained for the next nearly 30 years under a Japanese master who had immigrated into Australia as a Marine Biologist in the pearling industry. Chris has been teaching the martial art since the mid 80’s and had many a student go on to do well in State and National competition level. He toured Japan training in some of the traditional karate dojos and also used karate as a vehicle to help establish the now flourishing Cairns Police Youth Club giving up countless weekends to help struggling kids. He recently opened his own professional karate dojo in Cairns and was in 2013 awarded 8thdan black belt before a grading panel of world class masters, an extremely rare achievement. His qualification is registered in Okinawa Japan the home of traditional karate.
After leaving the police force in 1992, Chris completed a commercial pilot license in the same year. During this period he flew a light aircraft around Australia with a friend to gain experience and see the country. Later he was employed as a tour pilot flying tourists around the wilderness of Cape York Peninsula. During the next ten years of his life he worked as a pilot of light aircraft, a karate instructor and security officer. With the help of his mother Heather he also developed a small tourist based business, producing a beautiful brightly coloured style of pottery. He also spent a year flying light aircraft off the beaches of iconic Fraser Island and trekked the Kokoda Trail to honour his uncle Dave.
With such a diverse and interesting background and depth of life experience, Chris has produced some wonderful multi award winning poetry. Some highly descriptive and entertaining accounts of Aussie characters and life, some being hard hitting almost prophetic accounts of what the future will hold should we lose our identity and culture.
It is fair to say Chris has been somewhat casual about his ability. Early in the new millennium a dignitary visiting Gallipoli asked Chris permission to recite one of his poems, ‘The Last Reveille’, to the official party after the Anzac Day service. The gentleman returned with a multitude of orders for Chris’s book from an array of top Military Brass, Diplomats and Politicians including the then Federal Treasurer Peter Costello. Also a request for the poem to recited in a more general role the following year. The trouble was that Chris had not bothered to print up a book, but rather had loose pile of poems laying about the house. So began a three month quest which ended in the production of a self published book of 119 pages entitled ‘Top Rail Politician’. This title was in memory of many of the long useless debates he and his fellow stockmen would have after a long days mustering to ease the boredom. The venue was normally the top rail of the horse yards.
In more recent years one of his poems gained fame and spread throughout the country and further afield having gone viral on the internet. The poem entitled, ‘Don’t Sell Australia Out’, appears on countless websites and blogs. Sadly it mostly appears as author unknown or courtesy of someone else and often appears under a different title. However Chris maintains that he is still elated that the poem has reached so many of his countrymen. Now Chris is releasing his revised edition of ‘Top Rail Politician’, to include that poem and a few others that have gained a reputation.
It would be a big job to list the accolades and awards Chris has received for his writing. They do include several prestigious poetry awards but to Chris his greatest achievement is easily the happiness his words bought to the heart of an elderly war widow as she lay on her death bed, his mate Tom Mauloni had just recited ‘The Last Reveille’. As Tom recounted she reached across and held his hand and smiled saying, “tell that boy I said thank you for letting me die a happy woman”. To Chris, that is more than enough.
In conclusion it is fair to say his words may bring a tear to your eye or smile to your face although Chris never wrote his poetry to please an audience or gain fame. There is no showmanship or image about this poet. His poems are just a collection of observations and beliefs and are often described as the plain truth. They are the words of a true Australian and someone who respects his history and wants those stories to survive. They are the words of a man who has lived his life to the fullest.