Lady Northcote is about a coastal steamer that plied the route from Georgetown to the Northwest District.
And she must have looked
like a governor’s lady
when they flung champagne at her
long time ago; all polished wood
and brass and delicate white
for the tropics.
But when I first saw her
at the stelling at Kumaka
– a raw teenager out for kicks –
she seemed excitingly abused,
had taken her licks
from years of men and sea
with her pride and style intact
– or just sufficiently drained
that she could notice the attentions
of a mere boy like me.
When the storm hit
four hours out from Waini Point
she danced as in a fit,
nostalgic for her frolic of the past
when she sparkled with polished brass
and with the wit of those
who journeyed for the fun of it.
She plunged and reared,
taking the breaking wave upon her breast
– flat and hard now, and dun,
but comforting, none the less,
especially to a traveller like me,
still young enough to think
that strong women are the best.
Then, in the grey light before dawn,
she slipped quietly into the harbour:
breathless, mysterious, a little naughty
– like all the ‘perfect ladies’
of my adolescent dreams.
from Interiors (Dangaroo Press. 1989), Mark McWatt 1989, used by permission of the author