Hand Upon Hand - strip

Every year on 21 March UNESCO celebrates World Poetry Day. Poetry can tell a story, can express a feeling, can create new worlds or help to describe the world around us.

Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO said: “Poetry contributes to creative diversity, by questioning our use of words and things, our modes of perception and understanding of the world.

Through its associations, its metaphors and its own grammar, poetic language is thus conceivably another facet of the dialogue among cultures. Diversity in dialogue, free flow of ideas by word, creativity and innovation.”

Here in Centennial Park we have a wonderful poem, written by Adam Aitken, that was commissioned to be part of the “Hand Upon Hand” interpretive sculpture located near CP Dining in Centennial Park.

Unveiled in 2001 as part of the Centenary of Federation celebrations, the poem explores the themes of Federation and multiculturalism in Australia.


Bells - Hand Upon Hand

Bells - Hand Upon Hand

This freedom-we sometimes
find it here
fragile, in a wild
land we did not
full of nations of a kind
before we came
and more to come

we grow to love
must learn to forgive
making stranger into friend

our steps much lighter now
and more
gentle on the ground

the past a message
in trees and waves, and in your palm
your history mingles with the earth

and from the mouths of the wise ones
custodians sing a Law of living
that writes us
yields its path

and gives us
message of repair
that says
‘it’s fine, it’s clear
you are here
your homesickness
will not last
you’re home
within us,
clear path to sweet water:

all spirits
be spoken for.


The sculpture and the poem were designed in collaboration with words from the poem engraved on the sculpture’s hanging bronze shells. By twisting the shells you can reveal a pattern of words that reinforce the unity and diversity of our cultural backgrounds.

This interactive and tactile experience is much loved by children, even if they can’t reach all the shells yet! However as they grow, they will be able to touch and read the shells which were previously out of reach – a symbolic gesture to their growth as an individual as well as the growth of our trees and the growth of our nation as a whole.

Have you, or your children, visited the Hand Upon Hand sculpture and poem? What did you find inspiring or thought-provoking?


Hand Upon Hand

Hand Upon Hand, Centennial Park


Who is Adam Aitken?

Adam Aitken, photo by Pam Brown

Adam Aitken, photo by Pam Brown

Adam Aitken is an Australian poet, born in London, England, in 1960, to an Anglo-Australian father and a Thai mother. He spent his childhood in South-east Asia, before migrating to Australia where he graduated from the University of Sydney in 1982.

He was a co-editor of the poetry magazine P76, named after a failed Leyland car model, and for a time was associate poetry editor for Heat magazine. He has traveled widely, visiting Thailand, Malaysia, and Cambodia; his experiences overseas continue to inform his poetry.

Aitken published his first collection, Letter to Marco Polo, in 1985. He has since published five further poetry collections, and his poems and short fiction have also been published widely in anthologies and literary journals. His third collection Romeo and Juliet (2000) was shortlisted for the John Bray South Australian Literary Festival award, and was runner-up for The Age Book of the Year poetry prize.

His writing shows a deep interest in contemporary cultural issues, especially issues of identity and cultural hybridity. Adam’s work has been translated into French, Swedish, German, Polish, Malay and Mandarin, and is published internationally.

He recently spent six months as writer-in-residence at the Nancy Keesing studio in Paris.



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