2 January 2024

Already well versed in acclaim, Binalong poet can now add Living Legend to her titles

| Sally Hopman
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Painting of two men and a woman under heading, Australian Poetry Hall of Fame, Living Legends of Australian Poetry.

Binalong’s Robyn Sykes has been named, along with Ray Essery and Bill Kearns, as Living Legends of Australian poetry. They were immortalised by Thundercloud Repairian – also known as James Arthur Warren. Photo: Supplied.

It reads like pure poetry: Robyn Sykes, one of the first people to be inducted into the Australian Poetry Hall of Fame, has spent the past 41 years living in Binalong, a tiny hamlet just north of Yass in the Southern Tablelands.

Binalong was where one A.B. Paterson, Banjo to his mates, went to school, moving to the district in 1869 when he was just five years old. Although a few lifetimes apart, Banjo Paterson’s words have stayed with Robyn from her days as a young girl growing up at nearby Harden, when her parents raised her on a diet of his poetry. His words are as fresh for her today as they were back then.

“I’ve always loved to write,” the former newspaper editor, journalist, farmer and arts advocate said.

“I started writing poetry in about 2008 and was talked into performance competition. I realised then it would be better if I performed my own poetry, so I wrote stuff I could perform. Some of it was about serious issues … what was going on in the world, but a lot of it wasn’t so serious. With bush poetry you’ve got to intersperse the serious stuff with something lighter.

“I was lucky,” she said. “To have been born into a family where my mother recited Banjo Paterson and when I met David [her husband], his parents also recited it too.

“I love that he [Banjo] lived in Binalong too.”

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Robyn said she had no idea that she was to receive the honour of being inducted into the Australian Poetry Hall of Fame – and named a Living Treasure of Australian poetry. She joins fellow poets Ray Essery and Bill Kearns in the honour.

She had been invited with the other poets to judge a NSW bush poetry contest at Guyra in the Northern Tablelands.

The event was held at the old Arcadia picture theatre which had just been transformed into the Australian Poetry Hall of Fame by poet, performer, artist and author, Thundercloud Repairian – also known as James Arthur Warren.

“He bought the picture theatre just before the COVID lockdown. So he spent all his time making it into this special place – the Australian Poetry Hall of Fame,” Robyn said.

“On the Friday night we were there, I wasn’t expecting it, but he took a photo of all three of the judges. Then on the Sunday he unveiled a sketch he had done from that photo – that portrait is now sitting in the Hall of Fame – next to those of Henry Lawson and Dorothea Mackellar.

“We were there to judge the bush poetry competition but after all the presentations were given out, I was surprised to find out that we were going to be inaugurated into the new Hall of Fame.”

Although her initial inspiration came from Banjo, Robyn says she has also learned much from many of her contemporaries, particularly fellow Binalong writer Lizz Murphy.

Woman leanin on fencepost in paddock

Now a Living Legend of Australian poetry, Binalong’s Robyn Sykes is just at home on the family farm. Photo: Supplied.

Writing poetry is a hard enough task, Robyn says, without adding to it, by putting yourself “out there” on a stage and performing your own words.

“It is really challenging at first,” she said. “You put your heart and soul into a poem, and it’s quite a different thing to perform your own work rather than something by Banjo Paterson.

“But I was lucky to have inherited a good memory so things come relatively easily and I also inherited a love of the theatre from my dad – he had me up on stage acting with the local theatre group when I was still at primary school.”

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Although delighted with the honour, Robyn is unlikely to rest on her laurels. Helping husband David with all the farm admin, raising their four sons, and taking an active role in the Binalong arts group and with Southern Tablelands Arts, there’s not a lot of time to write. But she makes time – as she does for performing her work in front of a crowd.

“I love standing on a stage and doing my thing. I especially love it when you can see that connection with an audience, and you see them smile at something you said.

“Sometimes you can almost hear their heartbeat when they get it. I love taking people on a journey, a storytelling journey, and getting them to come on it with me.”

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