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In praise of Venie Holmgren: at 92, still an activist, adventurer and poet

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The Western Australian’s voice has been heard at anti-war and anti-logging rallies, in pubs and prisons, ferries and demos, and universities from Austin to Calcutta

While the only poet named among Australia’s 100 Living National Treasures is Les Murray, Venie Holmgren is a splendid candidate to add to the list. At 92, the writer and poet can look back on a life of activism, adventure and enterprise. And that life is far from over as she works on what she sees as a neglected history: the story of the anti-Vietnam war movement in her native Western Australia.

As she wrote in her most recent book, Tea House Poems, she is often “snuggling down/ down deep/ into bed/ when suddenly/ a poem limps in/ needing attention”. In a soft, clear voice, Holmgren presents her poems from memory. That same voice has been heard at anti-war and anti-logging rallies, in pubs and prisons, on river ferries and demos, and in universities from Austin to Heidelberg, Germany, and on to Calcutta.

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