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Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Bush Poetry

Bronze Spur Awards 2007

First - Ellis Campbell "Temptress Of The Outback"
Second - Colleen McLaughlin "Silver and Gold"
Third - Joyce Alchin "Combaning Harvest"


Beyond the far Paroo, where the russet kangaroo
and emus stalk across the dusty plain,
a drover loitered slow by the spreading Warrego
and rode his horse with slackened bridle rein.

He camped in scattered scrub - passing by Wyandra pub -
where stunted mulga trees and gidgeas grew.
He rode on into town, when the sun was almost down,
and searched around for Anne Bartholomew.

She hung about this place - he'd been told by Oscar Case -
and spent some time around Wyandra pub.
Well known to every fella, from Miles to Augathella,
and talked about 'round camp-fires in the scrub.

They told him she was gone - had moved somewhere farther on -
toward Barcaldine way, so someone said.
He saw the eyes accusing, and the snickers most amusing,
and walked away with dismal, dragging tread.

For he alone there knew why poor Anne Bartholomew
had wandered from the path to cop this flack.
She'd been his droving mate, since they'd come from interstate
and knew the harshness of the droving track.

She'd been his lover, too - but he wasn't always true
and played around with girls in Charleville.
While drunk he'd had a fight, and she left some time that night,
to creep away while he was sleeping still.

She'd left a crumpled note, and the hasty words she wrote
comes back to haunt a lonely outback night.
She wrote that leave she must, for he had destroyed her trust;
she'd make her way alone as best she might.

He fingers green-hide rein, as thoughts of her again
come crowding back to haunt the Queensland drover.
Remorse and stark regret for the things he can't forget;
how much he'd give to have those days all over!

Who cares what others preach, around Winton and Longreach
on the morals of the whore Bartholomew?
At Quilpie and Blackall they will never know at all
the woman that the lonely drover knew.

Now he searches up and down every little outback town
that flanks the dry Paroo and Warrego.
He dreams one day he'll find her - leave this life behind her -
and go some place where none might ever know.

Beneath a fading moon, while the horse-bell's tinkling tune
and restless cattle's lowing sighs anew;
he's tortured by that letter and knows he can't forget her,
his search goes on for Anne Bartholomew.

Ellis Campbell

Silver and Gold

The grass is long on the training track,
And the hay has gone from the well-filled stack,
There are empty stalls in the stables red,
And the pastures fair where the stallions fed.
When the dark comes down, and the curlews cry,
And the Cross is bright in the southern sky,
And the world is hushed. If you have the ears
You can bridge the gap of the bygone years.
You can hear the ring of the plated hooves
When the moonbeams run on the rusted rooves,
You can see the gleam of the bridle bars
In the silver light of the watching stars.
And a horse goes by with a coat of gold,
And his rider's wrapped from the morning cold.
As dawn light breaks and the rails shine white
The darkness fades and the world is light.

The stables stand with their rooves of red
As they did way back when the colt was bred.
The track was ringed with the Queensland plains
But his forebears walked in the English lanes
Where the banks are starred with the primrose gay,
And the skies are soft on a summer's day.
The colt was the pride of the old man's heart,
And this was the trial for his first big start.
He shook his head, and he mouthed the bit,
And he played to show he was feeling fit.
He saw the track as a band of green,
And he gathered speed like a gold machine.
When the clock clicked off, we knew that day
That a colt of the best had come our way.
He carried the silks of the old brown boss
For many a win, or a well-planned loss.
And he and the place were the district's pride,
But the heart went out, when the old man died.

The colt was sold, and the money spent,
But no one followed the boss's bent,
The grass grew long, and the paint peeled back,
And the rails fell down on the training track.
But sometimes now if you have the ears
You can hear the calls, and the claps and cheers
That began way back on a frosty morn,
When a gold colt ran in the silver dawn.

Colleen McLaughlin


An old photograph was hanging high up on the kitchen wall,
it revealed a team of horses that inspired me to recall
sev'ral stories that were told me by a man advanced in age
who had lived a by-gone era - and I felt I turned a page,
going backwards into hist'ry, for he often let me see
that his life had been so diff'rent to what mine could ever be.
And I listened fascinated of that time so long ago
for it seemed to me important that I hear and that I know.

Now I saw the wagon laden high with bags of golden grain
waiting at the country siding to be loaded on a train,
while beneath a brief inscription in a printing proud and clear
were the words 'Combaning Harvest' - nineteen-twenty was the year.
And I knew my friend, at that time, would have been near nine years old -
had he helped to load the wagon? In the tales that he had told
he had started working big time when a mere slip of a lad -
it was deemed as some great challenge, and the only choice he had.

One could use the word 'romantic' to describe years long ago
with the horses, harness, wagons, and when pace of life was slow,
but I'd heard a diff'rent rent story from the man whom I could tell
had perceived a little heaven and a mighty lot of hell.
He had told of toiling barefoot in whatever work he did -
shoes or boots were not an option for a struggling country kid.
And it makes me kind of shudder as I think of stubble ground
or of loading wood in winter when the heavy frosts abound.

Then I looked long at the photo and I felt that I was there,
that I'd helped to load the wagon, in my mind I'd done my share
in that nineteen-twenty harvest - must have been a bumper crop -
carting hay and chaff and wheat bags - there'd have been no time to stop
while the sun burnt like a furnace from a clear blue summer sky,
then from nowhere dust storms lowered, causing thick red dust to fly.
And at night stretched in a hammock 'neath the wagon, while each star
twinkled over campfire, damper, billy tea as black as tar.

I'm so pleased that there are photos, and I'm honoured that I've known
someone who had lived through hardships, who as just a child had grown
at a time we can't imagine with our high tech farming gear -
there's a hist'ry that is waiting to be told, for us to hear.
So I think that we must listen when our old folks reminisce,
we must write what they are saying and we must remember this -
that the things that happen daily in our lives could some day be
in a photo, in a story, and be termed as history.

Joyce Alchin

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