[ This concludes an interview Bikwil began in
Issue 31 (May 2002). ]
Rogers: Do you think it would be true to say that you are essentially a
Bet Briggs: Iíve never thought of myself as a people
person really. I do like to be with people I care about and love. And itís
always good to be able to share pleasures and confidences with a friend.
Generally I donít feel comfortable in large groups of people, especially
huge crowds. I avoid them if I can. The only times Iíll join one ó and
even then itís not easy ó is if itís for a cause I feel very strongly
ago I marched with other like-minded people against our participation in
the Vietnam War and against Apartheid in South Africa. And recently I
walked across the Sydney Harbour Bridge in support of Aboriginal
Reconciliation. That was quite an uplifting experience. The mood of the
people and the goodwill among us was palpable. I felt good in myself about
being part of it.
suppose I could sum your question up by saying I like and love many people
as individuals, but Iím also a bit of a loner, too, and I love solitude.
It gives me time to think and reflect and try to keep myself together.
I need it to write.
What part does the humorous play in your life?
Humour, like music and the beauty of nature, helps me keep balance in my
inner life, helps me maintain a sense of proportion about me and the world
out there, especially when I feel dispirited. And I do feel that way more
often, now that Iím closer to the end of my life than I am to the
beginning. Old anxieties surface ó unresolved anguish I call them ó and I
canít know what new ones are ahead. But something humorous that lets me
laugh at myself and that I can share with others, well, thatís a tonic.
I didnít have humour, and music and poetry and nature and my family and
close friends in my life, I might as well be pushing up daisies or a gum
Are you religious?
In the strict sense of the word, Tony, Iíd have to say ďNoĒ. I donít
belong to any faith. I donít go to church and I was never christened. But
I was brought up to follow the Christian principles of helping neighbours,
doing unto others, respecting others and believing thou shalt not kill,
commit adultery, steal and so on. I went to Sunday School, too. In fact I
tried out most of the Protestant churches in New Lambton, and I remember
going to choir practice in a city church in Newcastle.
High School we had a period for religious instruction held in the Assembly
Hall. I remember vividly one day the Minister taking the class said,
ďStand up all those girls who are Christians.Ē Every girl except me stood
up. I got some strange looks and my face burned. But in conscience I
couldnít have stood up and appeared to be something I wasnít.
happening must have stirred me to think about my religious identity or
lack of it. But I didnít do anything serious about it, like getting
christened or joining a church. I was in my early teens. The world was at
war and such terrible things were happening. I thought a lot about life
and death and souls and wondered as I always had, what it was all about. I
still had a notion of God or a supreme being or a force. Some of my early
poems reflect these thoughts. At some stage I thought of myself as an
agnostic without really understanding what the word meant. Later when I
studied Philosophy for three years for my degree and did another year of
it in Aesthetics, that shaped my thinking and the way I conduct my life.
feel that life, the universe and how it all began is a mystery. Iím part
of it. Living, being is a wonderful experience. I canít give it adequate
expression. Music can say it better. In rare moments Iíve had a strange
experience where ďitĒ, whatever ďitĒ is, is known absolutely. Everything
comes together. I feel I know what itís all about. I feel Iíve touched the
heart of the mystery. But the moment goes and what I thought I knew goes
believe in the nature-nurture connection. Iím part of nature. When I die I
hope my nature is the nurture of some new being. I say it in my poem
Years ago you told me, ďIíd like to live forever ó I want to see how it
all turns outĒ. Does that still hold true?
The opposite of it, of course, is the reality. I wonít live forever. I
wonít see how it all turns out. But in moments of euphoria and optimism
Iíd probably say it again. Let me tell you about another statement I heard
years before you heard mine. A child was asked, ďWhat do you want to be
when you grow up?Ē and the child replied, ďEverything!Ē The feeling of
exuberance, the joy of being alive, the enthusiasm and the hope that that
child expressed in one word, Iíd like to think I expressed in mine.
have dreams and hopes. Iíd like to be around to see people reconciled, to
see people at peace with one another and the planet. Iíd like us to find
difference interesting rather than being afraid of it. Iíd like us to care
more for each other and practise co-operation. There are people already
trying hard to live this way, while others are trying just as hard to go
in the opposite direction. So much of what we see and hear daily on
television and radio is ambiguous and horrifying. Weíre told things are
getting better but the pictures tell the opposite story. Like the poet
Robert D. Fitzgerald who regretted he wouldnít be around to stand on Mars,
I regret I wonít be around to see my hopes fulfilled. But Iíll keep on
hoping and get on with the life I have for however long I have it.
I said, living, despite the aches and pains, is a wonderful experience.
Iíd like to make some contribution. At the end of my life I donít want to
ask as plaintively as Peggy Lee sings, ďIs that all there is?Ē