The Year Your Voice Broke

Noah Taylor in The Year My Voice Broke — image source: http://tix.sff.org.au/html/s_TheYearMyVoiceBroke.htm

“Train Journey” by Judith Wright

Glassed with cold sleep and dazzled by the moon,
out of the confused hammering dark of the train
I looked and saw under the moon’s cold sheet
your delicate dry breasts, country that built my heart;

and the small trees on their uncoloured slope
like poetry moved, articulate and sharp
and purposeful under the great dry flight of air,
under the crosswise currents of wind and star.

Clench down your strength, box-tree and ironbark.
Break with your violent root the virgin rock.
Draw from the flying dark its breath of dew
till the unliving come to life in you.

Be over the blind rock a skin of sense,
under the barren height a slender dance…

I woke and saw the dark small trees that burn
suddenly into flowers more lovely that the white moon.

This poem appears in one of the classroom scenes in The Year My Voice Broke, lovingly recited by Danny’s English teacher to a class that doesn’t seem particularly interested. I guess I’m lucky that my classes are always completely absorbed by the poetry that I read to them…

The poem personifies the Australian landscape and uses sexual imagery that fits in well with the subject matter of the film. John Duigan didn’t just choose a random poem, he chose one that had interesting resonance with the story he was telling. The lingering shots of the landscape that we see in the film also fit in well with the poem.

Even more than the poetry, which the teacher seems more enthusiastic about than Danny, music plays an important role in the film. As well as providing background to the story and helping to establish the 1960s setting, the lyrics of some of the songs seem to have a connection to what we see on screen. The songs that we see Danny singing are particularly interesting, such as “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”:

When Liberty Valance rode to town
The women folk would hide, they’d hide
When Liberty Valance walked around
The men would step aside

Because the point of a gun
Was the only law that Liberty understood
When it came to shooting, straight and fast
He was mighty good

From out of the east a stranger came
A law book in his hand, a man
The kind of a man the West would need
To tame a troubled land

’Cause the point of a gun
Was the only law that Liberty understood
When it came to shooting, straight and fast
He was mighty good

Many a man would face his gun and many a man would fall
The man who shot Liberty Valance
He shot Liberty Valance
He was the bravest of them all

The love of a girl can make a man
Stay on when he should go, stay on
Just trying to build a peaceful life
Where love is free to grow

But the point of a gun
Was the only law that Liberty understood
When the final showdown came to pass
A law book was no good

Alone and afraid she prayed that he’d
Return that fateful night, ahh, that night
When nothing she said could keep
Her man from going out to fight

From the moment a girl gets to be full grown
The very first thing she learns
When two men go out to face each other
Only one returns

Everyone heard two shots ring out
The shot made Liberty fall
The man who shot Liberty Valance
He shot Liberty Valance
He was the bravest of them all

The man who shot Liberty Valance
He shot Liberty Valance
He was the bravest of them all

(Music by Burt Bacharach and lyrics by Hal David)

While the ‘Wild West’ setting is a bit different, the film is certainly set in a “troubled land” and the showdown that Trevor has with the law is evoked in the lyrics, as is his love for Freya: “The love of a girl can make a man stay on when he should go…”

Danny also sings “Corinna Corinna”:

I love Corinna, tell the world I do
I love Corinna, tell the world I do
I pray at night she’d like to love me too

Corinna, Corinna
Corinna, Corinna
Corinna, Corinna
I love you so

Oh little darling where you’ve been so long?
Oh little darling where you’ve been so long?
I ain’t had no lovin’ since you’ve been gone

Corinna, Corinna
Corinna, Corinna
Corinna, Corinna
I love you so

I left Corinna way across the sea
Oh me I left Corinna way across the sea
If you see Corinna send her home to me

Corinna, Corinna
Corinna, Corinna
Corinna, Corinna
I love you so

Corinna, Corinna
Corinna, Corinna
Corinna, Corinna
I love you so
Oh darling don’t you know
I love you so

Darling don’t you know

(Written by Bo Carter, Mitchell Parish and J. Mayo Williams)

In this case, Corinna is fairly obviously a substitute for Freya, whom Danny loves and he “pray[s] at night she’d like to love [him] too.” Instead of Freya being “across the sea,” though, he loses her to Trevor, but continues loving her nevertheless.

The final song we see Danny singing (pictured at the top) is “Get a Little Dirt on Your Hands”:

When I was a little boy my daddy used to say to me, so-on
You’ve got a whole lot of livin’ and a lot of hard work to be done
He said, go get your marbles, put ’em in the house
Tear down your castles in the sand
Come with your poppy to this cotton patch
Get a little dirt on your hands

Get a little dirt on your hands, boy, get a little dirt on your hands
If you want to grow up to be a big big man
You gotta get a little dirt on your hands
You gotta get a little dirt on your hands

Well I got to be twenty and I thought I was a pretty big whee-eel
Left the country for the city, met a slicker with a shady dea-eal
He said hold up the tavern, grab all the money
Run as fast as you can
If you want to get along in this big bad world
You’ve gotta get a little dirt on your hands

Get a little dirt on your hands, boy, get a little dirt on your hands
If you want to grow up to be a big big man
You gotta get a little dirt on your hands
You gotta get a little dirt on your hands

Well it’s four in the mornin’ and the warden is callin’ my na-ame
Said he’s teachin’ me a lesson, gonna send me out to work in the rain
He said dig that ditch boy, chop that wood, I’ve gotta make you understand
The only way to straighten out a boy like you
Is to get a little dirt on your hands

Get a little dirt on your hands, boy, get a little dirt on your hands
If you want to grow up to be a big big man
You gotta get a little dirt on your hands
You gotta get a little dirt on your hands
You gotta get a little dirt on your hands
You gotta get a little dirt on your hands
You gotta get a little dirt on your hands
You gotta get a little dirt on your hands
Get a little dirt on your hands

(Written by Bill Anderson)

This is another song that evokes Trevor’s lawbreaking, but it’s also evocative of the overall coming of age theme of the film, and Danny’s journey towards adulthood with the realisation that “If you want to grow up to be a big big man you gotta get a little dirt on your hands.”

John Duigan uses images and poetry and film to help tell Danny’s story (which is also his own story, as the film is loosely autobiographical). Now I want you to do the same. Write a post where you choose:

  1. an image (preferably an artwork of some kind — see sites like Artsy or Olga’s Gallery to find good images)
  2. a poem (good places to search for or browse poems include Poetry Foundation and Australian Poetry Library)
  3. a song (include the lyrics and a video if available)

…that all have some resonance with your life. What do they tell somebody about your life and your environment? The image and the poem will probably be new discoveries, but it’s possible that the song will be one you know already and that is important to you. I’ll get people to stand up in front of the class and explain why they’ve chosen the particular image, poem and song, so give some thought to these and don’t just choose the first image or poem you come across.