I'm not a big fan of bush poetry. I can see that it has a place in Australian literature and history, and that it is enjoyed by many, many people in this big brown land of ours. But I've always found it to be a little bit twee; a little bit nostalgic, a little bit white bread and a little bit Granddad's-off-on-one-of-his-stories-again. So when one of my all-time favourite people called to suggest that I enter a bush poetry competition she'd seen advertised, I wasn't terribly keen. But then a little idea popped into my head at that time of night when it's usually rather inconvenient to write something down, and it wouldn't go away.
And here is that idea. My attempt at making bush poetry as un-fuddy-duddy as I could. It didn't make the finals.
She squinted past the crackling grass, beyond the humble creek,
Where the Mallee scrub was parted by a track.
The sun beat low, six hours ago it sweltered at its peak.
It was nearly time. He’d soon be getting back.
She’d baked the bread, the chooks were fed, she’d scrubbed the faded sheet,
Checked the traps and swept the lumpy kitchen floor.
The wood was split, the fire lit, the cooking things made neat,
There was tea with water drawn up from the bore.
A throb of air disturbed the glare enough to draw her eye
And the shimmer’s shift revealed some shapes she knew:
A man astride a flagging ride, his cattle dog nearby.
She touched softly where her cheek was blackish-blue.
She longed to know the vast plateau beyond her hardwood walls,
And to wander where the land was strange and steep;
To follow only paths unknown and unfamiliar calls
And the stars that knit the ceiling of her sleep.
To hold the reins on weathered plains ‘til mount and light were spent,
With the lay of the terrain her only guide.
To leave the bind and toil behind; to stray without intent
And to stand where men have worked and fought and died.
He’d passed the bowing redgum now; the dog had found its way;
He was nearly where the row of fence posts stops.
She’d best retire her vain desire, or there’d be hell to pay
So she hurried back inside to cook the chops.
On Sunday morning after dawn he rattled from his bed;
Rationed rum had turned his sunbunt head to rot.
A crumpled note stuffed in his coat, worn sleeping, simply said:
“Took the hors. Farewell. Yer dinners in the pot.”