The Scrub Feller

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I’d been out splitting posts in the sun’s blazing heat,
So I rested a while in the shade
Of an old vine scrub camp – used a stump for my seat,
With a stone there I sharpened my blade.

With my billy swung over the flickering fire
I reclined with my head on a log,
And the work and the sun and the heat tend to tire
So my mind drifted off in a fog.

From the depths of the camp walks a man dressed so strange,
Like the blokes in those old photographs.
At his side trots a dog, old and tattered with mange,
As the man walks up to me he laughs:

“G’day mate, could you spare me a cup of black tea?”
I obliged , was the way of the land;
“And a slice of your bread, if you could please?” says he,
As he holds out a bronzed weathered hand.

“Thank you cobber,” he says and he takes off his hat,
An old slouch hat all stained with his sweat;
“It was me and my mates, well we cleared this here flat,
This old mongrel here, he was my pet.

Yes, the scrub on this flat was the best I had seen,
We were young, had strong arms and straight backs,
And the cedar and beech, and the fig and black bean,
Well we felled them with springboard and axe.

We’d no use for the logs, just the ground for the plough,
So we burnt them wherever they lay;
There were some big old stumps, but I don’t see them now,
O’er the years they have rotted away.

But the cattle need shade, so we left this here camp,
And that cedar’s where I carved my name.”
And he read what was writ on its trunk like a stamp:
“Dan O’Brien 1914 – the same.

I’ve not been back till now, as I traveled for work,
For the scrub was cut out all around.
I enlisted for fun, and I fought Johnny Turk,
And now mostly I sleep underground.

But it’s been nice to meet you – and thanks for the grub,
For you seem like a good sort of bloke,”
And he whistled his dog and strode into the scrub,
And was gone in a shimmer of smoke.

I awoke with a start, and went straight to that tree,
I must know what that inscription said;
It was carved, old and gnarled, in the bark plain to see:
“Dan O’Brien 1914”, it read.

Image – Young axeman on a spring board felling a scrub (rainforest)
tree (blue quandong) in Queensland, 1890’s – source unknown.

Scrub/Vine Scrub: Subtropical and tropical rainforest of Queensland
and northern New South Wales.
Camp or Cattle Camp: A group of trees left for shade for cattle
when the forest was cleared.
Billy: Tin can suspended over a fire to boil water for tea etc..

Cobber: Friend
Johnny Turk: Australian soldiers fought a number of battles against the
Turks during World War 1.

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The River Pool

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Where the Stanley River rises
There’s a pool that’s dark and deep,
And its cool and tranquil waters
In their depths a secret keep.

Where the water gums are casting
Shadows and the eddies swirl,
O’er the grave that’s everlasting
Of a lost and lonely girl.

When her tribe from here was leaving,
Cruelly rent from ancient ground,
With her people she was grieving;
In this placid pool she drowned.

From her land she’d not be taken
To a place so far away,
And this river not forsaken;
Here her spirit it must stay.

Where the catfish guards her rocky nest;
Where deep the eel is swimming,
As the bush goes quietly to its rest
And sunlight fast is dimming;

As the twilight quickens into night
And all are hushed and dreaming,
And the silver shards of pale moonlight
Across the pool are gleaming,

Listen closely, you may hear a sound
Though all the bush is sleeping;
Where the river flows by sacred ground,
A girl is softly weeping.

© Dennis N. O’Brien, 2013

The Harrows

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Our harrows to a triangle would fold,
And so they’d stay until there was the need
To work the ground and harrow in the seed.
But now as warmer days replaced the cold;
As winter’s icy grip released its hold,
The time had come to plant the fields that we’d
Ploughed well and deep to grow our summer feed,
As westward billowed clouds, and thunder rolled.

The harrows hitched – but then a shrill protest,
For there upon them woven neat and round
A wagtail and her mate had built their nest
And from it softly came a plaintive sound
As bravely parents chided on the wing,
And so we borrowed harrows all that spring.

© Dennis N. O’Brien, 2012, 2013

Image by Andromeda44 via Wikipedia

Twilight to Night to Dawn

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Bush_Twilight

The shades of night are falling
As westward sinks the sun,
And soft the curlews calling
As day is almost done.
Clouds cloak the far horizons like shrouds spread o’er the dead,
As swirling flocks of parrots fly swiftly over head.

The moon it faintly shimmers
With soft and silver light,
And blinking starlight glimmers
Like pin pricks in the night.
The kangaroo feeds quietly, the emu seeks its nest,
As those who slept by daylight, are rising from their rest.

The possum climbs and scurries
Where the koala sleeps,
While over fallen branches
The carpet python creeps,
And dingoes sniff the breezes, and search the bush for prey,
Until the darkness passes, and breaks, another day.

© Dennis N. O’Brien, 2013

Shirley is a So and So

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Hurly_burly

With apologies to A.B. (Banjo) Paterson

I had sent my favourite ditty to an expert in the city
For I wanted his opinion and I asked him to be frank,
And an answer came by e-mail, turns out “he’s” really a female,
And she said her name was Shirley, and she said my poem stank.

Yes her comments they were biting, said that I should give up writing,
Take up knitting or macramé and destroy my old laptop,
For my writing was simplistic, terrible, anachronistic,
And if such rubbish was published would be sure to be a flop.

For my work was quite appalling, I should seek another calling,
And she said if I persisted to at least discard the rhyme,
For free verse was what was needed, this had all good poets heeded,
For they knew that formal poetry was now a major crime.

And she said she may report me, if she did then they’d deport me,
For the politicians didn’t like purveyors of such verse,
(Formal poetry they’d banned it – free verse, none could understand it,
And the public never read it for it just kept getting worse).

And she finally concluded, I was mad, quite self deluded,
And she said I should seek help for I was clearly quite insane,
So I sent her back an e-mail, and despite her being female,
It was colourful, explicit, and in some ways quite profane.

I’ve a vision of her staring as her nostrils wide are flaring
From the window of her office at the faces in the street,
And beyond the traffic winding as her teeth are slowly grinding
And with luck her corset’s binding as she sits there on her seat.

And that night I see her dining, to her friends Shirley is whining
Of this reprobate who sends her verse fit only for the trash,
And she tells the arty farty – her beloved literati,
That were she to have her way such bards would surely feel the lash.

But you know, I pity Shirley, down there in the hurly burly
Of the city where she has to ride the never ending trains.
If I had to swap with Shirley, then one day I’d get up early,
Take a gun, go for a nice long walk, and then blow out my brains.

© Dennis N. O’Brien, 2013

Wedge Tails

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This morning of a sunny winter’s day
I saw two specks against the bluest sky.
On thermals circled predators on high,
Two floating flecks, they searched the ground for prey;
Carefree, and kings of all that they survey.
Do these great birds in joyous spirit fly?
Or simply soar to reach a place to spy;
How can we know? The eagles will not say.

And man who claims dominion from his birth,
In truth has not the freedom of these birds
Who gaze uncaring on the human herds;
On man the wisest creature of the earth.
But could they trade their liberty for words,
They’d surely judge their wings of greater worth.

© Dennis N. O’Brien, 2012 – 2013

Image by flagstaffotos.com.au
Image fir0002 | flagstaffotos.com.au via Wikipedia.

The Territory ’76

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The lagoons like jewels in the yellow plain
Where the dry grass waits for the coming rain,
Like a necklace won from a tomb of old
Set with sapphires bright in a chain of gold.

Water buffalo in the herds so vast,
I still see them there in the distant past.
In a pale blue sky wheel the circling hawks
While the jabiru in the reed beds stalks.

And the geese in clouds that block out the sun
So it seems to set like the day is done;
As I sit and dream in a reverie,
How the north was then, in my mind I see.

Jabiru pronounced Jab – a – roo

Poem copyright © Dennis N. O’Brien, 2012 – 2013

Image © Tourism NT via Wikipedia

Waterfall Creek

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Clear creek water meets the muddy Daly River – Northern Territory,
Tropical far northern Australia has only two seasons – “the Wet” and “the Dry”.

The grass on the withered and burning hot plains
It sighs with the wind from the storms,
And dances and bows to the warm driving rains,
Drinks deep – as the Monsoon it forms.

And great spreading waters they cover the plains;
The cycle of life quickly turns,
Come vast flocks of pelicans, geese, ducks and cranes;
The season of plenty returns.

The creek has been sleeping, its lifeblood ebbs low
But now the creek’s heart skips and leaps,
As here at its source, from the plains waters flow,
From deluge a harvest it reaps.

There at its beginning a pool clear and deep,
Etched out from the plain over time,
And into this pool little waterfalls leap,
With sparkling beauty sublime.

So foaming and burbling the waters they flow,
As small fish that go with the tide
Are taken by giant barramundi below
Who close by the waterfalls glide.

Go rolling the waters with shimmering light,
Caressing the banks of the creek;
A fish chasing prey turns – its side flashes bright;
The river these waters now seek.

First rushing so madly then slowing at last,
The great muddy river they reach,
With rolling brown waters all churning and vast,
Its borders the clear waters breach.

So water once clean and bright muddies to dark
And lost is its beauty so soon,
The creek to the river a contrast so stark,
One pure, and one debris bestrewn.

The river a chaos of eddy and foam,
And floating thereon logs and boughs,
All furrowed and flowing like watery loam
Where fins break the surface like ploughs.

And so to the sea will the waters be drawn
And thence to the clouds by the Sun.
As rain to the land as the rolling clouds spawn,
As all through The Wet, rivers run.

And so for a time will the creek pay its dues
To its master the river below,
And late in The Dry will its sustenance lose,
Then wait for Monsoon winds to blow.

Copyright © Dennis N. O’Brien, 2012, 2013

Image by Fitzy

Daly River

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Image by Fitzy

Tha Daly (pronounced “daily”) river is in tropical northern Australia where
there are only two seasons: The Wet and The Dry..

By those northern river banks,
There in days gone by I wandered,
By clear streaming waters pondered,
Youthful hours were never squandered,
By those sandy verdant flanks.
Saw the rain in torrents falling,
Heard the native dogs there calling,
Saw from sea the rain clouds squalling,
By the Daly river banks.

Born upon a distant range,
All the streams that feed the Daly,
Flowing slow or tumbling gaily,
Come the rains it rises daily,
In a flash the seasons change.
Down the stony gullies creeping,
From the fissured hillside seeping,
Rolling clouds their tears are weeping,
Over all the monsoon’s range.

Sheeting over flats and plains,
By the creeks clear waters flowing,
To the raging river going,
As the land the heavens sowing,
Ever heavy fall the rains.
Then at last the gloom is breaking,
Sun asleep in cloud is waking,
Mud upon the flood plains baking,
So at length the wet it wanes.

In its middle reaches flows,
Beautiful and clear and gleaming,
By treed sandy banks it’s streaming,
With life in its waters teeming,
So it ever onward goes.
Over rocky bar it crashes,
Past the jutting sandbar dashes,
Dancing light in flowing flashes,
Cool but molten – bright it glows.

As the season turns to dry
Slowly flows the Daly river,
Piercing snags in currents quiver,
Sunken trees whose branches shiver,
Where at rest their bodies lie.
There a crocodile is sliding,
Close by muddy bank is hiding,
As the river calmly gliding,
Soft the passing waters sigh.

Soon the river widens more,
There a rolling wave is crashing,
White with foam and spray there splashing,
Sodden banks the torrent lashing,
Upstream runs the tidal bore.
Waters fresh and brackish blending,
Eddies, swirls, and whirlpools rending,
Still the winding river wending,
To the distant ocean shore.

Now the waters grey and wide,
As her heavy heart is flagging,
Wearily her burden dragging,
In her race to broad sea lagging,
Battling the surging tide.
But there spreads the great wide water,
And from there to every quarter,
There’s no force on Earth will thwart her,
‘Till whatever fates decide.

Copyright © Dennis N. O’Brien, 2011 – 2012

Sleepers on the Nullarbor (Trans Australian Railway 1917)

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They have no kin upon this treeless plain
Yet here now lay the bodies of their dead.
They in the forests far away were slain,
Now each one sleeps upon its gravel bed.

Half buried in their ranks they bear the rails
As east to west the belts of iron tie;
With smoke and steam leviathan prevails
And in its wake the ways of ages die.

Copyright © Dennis N. O’Brien, 2012
image from Wikipedia
Wooden railway ties (called sleepers in Australia) were used on the first railway to
cross the Nullarbor (meaning no trees) plain and link the west and east coasts of Australia