Sister poems are one of a number of subsets of family poems, relating to different members of the family. A number of Australian sister poems are memorial poems addressed to a dead sister, as with nineteenth-century poet Louisa Lawson’s ‘To My Sister’. Rosemary Dobson in ‘The Sister in the Photograph’ looks back to childhood days when she and her sister were photographed with a friend and her sister was caught in a characteristic pose.
More Australian sister poems, however, involve recollections of childhood games without an overlay of mortality. Often they are set on the beach as with two little sister poems by Geoffrey Dutton: ‘The Wind Chase’ and ‘Trick Shells’, the latter involving their painting faces on shells and leaving them on the sand for others to find later. Rhyll McMasters’ ‘Beach Photograph’ is a funny sister poem about her two sisters in their swimming costumes. Her ‘Mr Leadbeater’s Band’ celebrates her sister playing in her primary school fife and drum band. Jan Owen’s ‘Little Sister’ describes the arrival of a new baby from her siblings’ point of view. David Malouf in ‘Confessions of an Only Child’, a poem dedicated to his younger sister, confesses his jealousy at her arrival but their gradual coming together as they age, so that ‘We might be twins at last’.
Big sister poems, on the other hand, can involve jealousy of a younger brother by the older sister, as in John Jenkins’ What We Do’ and ‘My Sister Says’, in both of which the sister is bossing the young brother around. Sibling relationships seem happier in Richard Tipping’s ‘Before We Go’, where he recalls playing with his older sister in abandoned cars.
Sister poems have also been written about sisters who are not members of the poet’s family. Rosemary Dobson includes the sad story of ‘Chekhov’s Sister’ in her collection Untold Lives (2000). Judith Wright in ‘The Sisters’ writes about two now elderly women looking back over their lives, while Nicolette Stasko in ‘The Walk’ describes ‘Two stout sisters’ helping their ‘ancient mother’ to walk around the block.