An apology to Australia’s youth

About fifty per cent of Australia’s adults – if I dare call them that – have just sent you a message: they have told you that your future and the future of the planet on which you live are unimportant. They have told you that their concern for their own wellbeing and way of life overrides any concerns you might have about future employment, education, and a place to live.

They have told you that being able to spend their remaining years on the deck of a pleasure launch – assisted in part by a handout from taxpayers – is more important than contributing to your education and healthcare; more important than fighting to mend the earth you will inherit, an earth so badly damaged by previous generations that your very existence is threatened.

They have told you that education should be only for those who can afford it, as it has been for all but a few years of the last several centuries; that first-class health care is only for the wealthy, and that the environment doesn’t matter. They have told you that self-interest is more important than the good of the nation and the health of our beautiful, ancient land.

They have told you they believe they are more worthy than you.

In a few months’ time, I shall be 79 years old, an age that is beyond your imagining – I know this, because I remember what it was to be young – and I have seen and done a lot of things. Some things I am not proud of, but I don’t regret them; regrets are futile, mistakes are lessons. But one constant in my life has been my love of people and the love of my country.

I love people because they are human, and being human means that they are all different with a different story to tell. One of my grandfathers, a man named George Hamilton, once told me to “never look at the colour of someone’s skin”. That worried me until I was old enough to understand what he meant.

When I was growing up, Australia was a country frightened of difference. The indigenous peoples were different and, having at last become ashamed of our efforts to exterminate them, we tried to change them. We tried to make them whiter by regulating who they were allowed to marry, and when that didn’t work, we used other laws to regulate their lives. The general public just ignored them for the most part.

We were frightened of the Chinese who came to Australia during the great goldrushes and so passed into law the “White Australia” policy. We were frightened of the Italians and Greeks who came here in large numbers after World War II. We were frightened of the “Balts”, the peoples of Eastern Europe who were allowed in as refugees.

Did you know that before these migrants came to Australia, zucchinis, tomato paste, capsicums, egg plant, salami, and a thousand and one other now everyday foods were unheard of? That olive oil was sold in tiny bottles and used as a medicine? It’s true, I know; because it was in my lifetime.

But our country grew up during the 1960s and ‘70s and we became accustomed to different faces and customs. And we came to love different foods and new celebrations. We rejoiced in our diversity.

A Prime Minister named John Howard changed all that. In his time in office, he fought hard to send attitudes back to the 1950s, a trend that continues to this day and has now been reinforced. And like John Howard, many politicians hate the changes that have been made and want us to be frightened of everybody who is not “us”: they want us to demonise people born in Africa and Asia and to mistrust anybody who is a Muslim, regardless of their ethnicity. They would prefer it if we were all white and Christian and certainly not gay or vegetarian.

Conservative governments have always used this fear of “the other” to divide us to their own advantage. But “the other” has broadened. It now includes the unemployed, the less wealthy and those people for whom life has never been easy. For a brief time, the “fair go” was an Australian certainty, it is now a myth.

When the Indigenous peoples indicated that they would like to see a First Nations committee set up to advise government on formulation of any policy affecting them, they were given a blunt refusal. It would, the government said, amount to another Chamber in Parliament. They had become “the other” again; more than 60,000 years occupation of this continent apparently doesn’t entitle them to a voice in government.

When next you attend an Anzac Day ceremony, bear in mind that the men and women whom politicians glorify as wonderful and heroic Australians – particularly those veterans of the two World Wars – are the same people whose votes gave us the benefits that conservative governments are now bent on taking away. Votes for women, health care, free education, pensions, and numberless other things we once took for granted but no longer can. They have become “privileges” not entitlements.

These same politicians are fond of telling you how much they “love Australia”, but what they are saying is that they love it for what they can get out of it, not what it does for them. They really have no concept of the land itself, that mysterious “thing” that sustains both their mental and physical health. They don’t feel its heartbeat through the soles of their feet, for they “have no time to grow; they have no time to waste”*. If they did, they would be in Parliament today and every day, addressing the biggest crisis to face this planet and all creatures that rely on it since the day a hominid first picked up a burning stick.

The people who voted against your future have benefited most from programs put in place by more enlightened governments and it seems those benefits have shortened their memories and made them selfish.

But there is hope. When brave young Greta Thunberg made her appearance on the world stage, my heart lifted; she is, or should be, an inspiration to us all. The door will only be open for a very short time before the processes our politicians ignore become irreversible, and because fifty per cent of your elders – and sadly it seems, some of your contemporaries – refused to put the interests of the nation ahead of their own, this huge burden is now on your shoulders.

Be strong.

My generation and the one just after seem to have forgotten that we took to the streets and stopped a war; we took to the streets and ended apartheid in South Africa; we took to the streets to help our Indigenous brothers and sisters in their fight for dignity. Young people were jailed – and in some countries, the USA among them, killed. But they won. In the end they won. And you can win this fight, you must win, there is no alternative worth contemplating. Fifty per cent of us will be behind you as best we can, but it will be your energy and determination that will save our planet and your future from the barbarians.

*From A B Paterson’s Clancy of the Overflow

A miscellany

My Molong Express page 10 — 16 May, 2019

The lies and selective truths infesting the airwaves and muddying up the newspapers are becoming a bit overwhelming, so I thought I might give the politics a bit of a miss this week. Except for something I recently stumbled across. What follows is only a brief excerpt from an article in National Geographic (NG),that venerable US publication that has been almost a household name since the 19th century. Published in April this year, it looks at the cost of global warming and, in light of our current PM’s ardent desire to be enlightened on the subject, I thought I’d slip the relevant paragraph in. The article refers to the latest findings on warming in the Arctic regions, adds them to what has been estimated as the global cost of the challenge Earth is facing and claims that:

“The $25 to $70 trillion cost of Arctic warming adds four to six percent to the total cost of climate change—which is estimated to reach $1,390 trillion by the year 2300 if emissions cuts are not better than the Paris Agreement. However, the costs of the current business-as-usual path could be more than $2,000 trillion.”

Using the lower estimate, and if my maths is right, that’s about $4.5 trillion a year if we start now. In 2016, the world’s entire GDP was about $76 trillion. I’ll leave it there, but if you’d like to know more, here’s the link to the story: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2019/04/arctic-climate-change-feedback-loops-cost-trillions/

And now the Namoi

According to the latest scientific reports, the Namoi has now joined the list of threatened rivers in the Murray Darling Basin: “at tipping point” was one description used. Once again, the gross lack of oversight – not to mention foresight – on the part of regulators and legislators has been brought to light. And until real changes are made, until truly independent, science-based, expert bodies are appointed to manage the ecosystems vital to our survival, it will not change. The key word here is manage, not advise. Since when have politicians listened to advice they didn’t want to hear?

No matter how many dams we build, how many aquifers we tap, how many rivers we divert, there will never be enough water. Governments, individual politicians, their corporate backers and good old human greed will see to that. Some day, someone will come up with a scheme to grow roses in the Simpson Desert and will convince a political party that it is vital to the national interest that he do so. The politicians will commission a feasibility study into the damming of the Finke River, and a committee of rural economists will claim that if the scheme doesn’t go ahead, 200 Queensland jobs will be at risk. Back to square one.

Far-fetched? Well not so long ago, a mega-rich American (with no experience in viticulture) planted grapes at Nundroo, in the country abutting the Nullarbor. Now Nundroo gets its water from bores by means of windmill power, using the old-fashioned, traditional type of windmill. Not much forward thinking there. I was through there not so long ago and didn’t see any evidence of a burgeoning wine industry.

If you don’t want to read the linked article, here’s an excerpt:

Case, 72, formed a trust to buy a 50,000-acre spread in South Australia and planted the 10-acre test plot earlier this year. Next, he wants to add some Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. The first crop won’t come until 2005, but he is betting that the resulting wine (which he expects to sell for $25 a bottle) will outshine other Australian Cabernets and give Napa a run for its money.

“The Australians don’t know what they’re doing,” sniffed Case. “Their Cabernets are wimpy. I hired some viticulture consultants, and they just wanted to treat the vineyard like they do in McLaren Vale. I hate McLaren Vale Cabernet.”

Case has no prior experience growing grapes or making wine. He is a chemical engineer with four degrees from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He holds more than 20 patents, and his current big project is to get a catalytic fusion plant working. That’s right, cold fusion. His process involves converting heavy water to helium using palladium and carbon as catalysts.

Note: I’m searching for more up-to-date information on this proposal to put at risk more of Australia’s scarce and fragile natural resources.

Why we used to have proofreaders and copy editors

We all make mistakes, of course we do, but increasingly we are being bombarded with news stories, political handouts and company public-relations releases that make absolutely no sense. They are written in such a way as to obfuscate or at best appear intelligent, educated and well-read, leading to the stripping of any real meaning from the reporting of even the most serious events. This piece I wrote for the USA’s LiketheDew springs to mind:

Writing in Kentucky News Review, Lu-Ann Farrar said that “Peter Kraska, a professor at Eastern Kentucky University had told the Detroit Free Press that paramilitary troups are being used more often in police situations.”

Now right there I’m puzzled. What’s a police situation, a job with the service? And do paramilitary services have entertainment units, even misspelled ones? She goes on:

“A Detroit imam, Luqman Ameen Abdullah, was arrested and shot by an elite FBI Hostage Rescue Team.” Arrested and shot? In that order? By a rescue team? She continued: “Abdullah is the first time a religious leader has been killed by government forces since…”

Abdullah is the first time? Wouldn’t “Abdullah’s is the first death of a religious leader at the hands of…” have been a little less confusing? Then Ms Farrar quotes the professor: “We’ve seen…real serious problems with various SWAT tragedies…Real problems arise when it’s misapplied to the wrong circumstances.” Pardon me; could you repeat that, please, professor? Doesn’t writing an article about something this serious warrant a little care?

This sort of stuff crops up all the time these days, and yet just five minutes work by someone could have made the story more readable. Of course, there’s the old Golden Rule to take into account: “Never proofread your own work”. Why? Because you understand what you have written but a reader may not – and there is also a tendency to overlook your own literals, which is trade jargon for spelling mistakes; technically speaking, typos are very different things.

I’ll never forget my chagrin when, on receiving the first edition of a book I’d written (and proofread/copy edited) from the printer, I opened to the Introduction: the first thing to hit my eye was a spelling error. I’d ignored the golden rule I’d always preached to writers whose work I copy edited.

I wonder if, given the chance, the ABC Breakfast News anchor MJ Rowland, would like to do a retake of his part in the “promo” for ABCTV’s election night broadcast, the part in which he says “…you can almost hear the audible sigh”.

Of course you should always review your own work, making improvements and correcting errors where you find them. But if it’s something written for general consumption, then get someone else to cast an eye over it before you send it “out there”.

A long-held passion

I’ve kept pigeons of one sort or another off and on since I was about 13. Even in my most nomadic years, if I looked like being in one spot for more than a couple of months, I’d put together a small flock to keep my hand in.

Why? Because I like them, I suppose is the best I can offer in this brief introduction to that passion. People keep them for all sorts of reasons: some are hooked on racing them, others like to show them, still others enjoy the high-flying or aerobatic varieties. Me, I’ve always liked tumblers, aerial acrobats that do flips of various sorts while in flight. But I also like pigeons for the romance associated with them, the images they conjure up. They were domesticated long before the horse was tamed in Europe and were being bred for special attributes at least contemporarily with ancient Mesopotamia – famous in antiquity for its white ‘doves’. (In the strictest sense, the words ‘dove’ and ‘pigeon’ are interchangeable, the former coming to us from the Germanic languages, the latter from Latin via Old French. These days, however, dove is used mainly to describe the smaller members of its large tribe – except by poets who prefer it over pigeon on every occasion.)

Pigeons figure in the myths and legends of many of the ancient civilisations. To the Hebrews, they were an acceptable sacrifice to their god. The pigeon informed Noah that the waters were subsiding, a story common to all the Abrahamic religions, and the pigeon is still symbolic of the Holy Sprit to Christians.

They were carried with the caravans that plied the Silk Road and traded along the way. The ancient cities of Bokhara, Lahore, Damascus, Istanbul, Iskenderun and others are commemorated in the names of pigeons that first came to the West from them, sometimes carried among the chattels of returning crusaders.

Pigeons are bred in bewildering variety: for their voices; for their speed, endurance and ability to navigate over hundreds of miles; for their plumage; their aerobatic abilities; their colours, and yet they all share many common traits. They are intelligent and affectionate to their keepers, whom they recognise by their facial characteristics, and feral pigeons will remember for years the face of someone who once fed them. Darwin kept pigeons and they helped shape his thinking on evolution.

I once produced and edited the magazines of Australia’s National Pigeon Association and its US counterpart, and was commissioned by Ivy Press (UK) to write the text of a small coffee-table book titled Beautiful Pigeons. These days I keep Iranian Highflyers, an ancient breed of Persian origin, bred for its ability to fly for an extended time at great height, occasionally performing elegant backward somersaults.

If you’d like to learn a little more about what Andrew D Blechman called “the world’s most reviled and revered bird”, please ask me. If not, then forgive us pigeon keepers our passion – it takes all sorts, as my Grandmother would say.

A Jacobin pigeon, one of the more extreme of the feather breeds, with its hood trimmed for the breeding season. One of Queen Victoria’s favourite breeds, the Jacobin was once known as the Cyprus pigeon, having been brought to that island by Crusaders, who had headquarters there. From Cyprus it was introduced to Europe by Crusaders returning home.

A reply to The Other Side

I write a column for the Molong Expresshttp://www.molongexpress.com.au, the newspaper serving Molong and the other villages in the Cabonne Shire of New South Wales. On May 2nd, 2019, we printed an article titled Politicians again show “Real Genius“, and given the subtitle “The view from The Other Side” by me. Sent as an email by a reader, it was harshly critical of governments past and present, and of institutions responsible for the research that often influences government policy.

Prompted by questions from another reader, I carried out some research on sources used in the submitted piece and found that at least some of the statements made were to be found in an online blog by a Joanne Nova, the ‘author of the “Skeptics Handbook”, blogger and “libertarian”,’ and a supporter of the IPA, an ultra-conservative right-wing think tank, with aims as dubious as its published philosophies. Though Ms Nova would appear to agree that there is some degree of global warming, she believes that it is not nearly as serious as the overwhelming majority of scientists argue and that the rise will only be in the vicinity of 0.5°C. In her blogs, she often puts forward the view that the push to renewable energy is nothing but a money grab on the part of governments and some corporations.

Lack of an apostrophe and US spelling aside, “The Skeptics Handbook” raised alarm bells. How can anyone of scientific background (Ms Nova has degrees in, among other things, microbiology) dispute the findings of the overwhelming majority of the world’s climate scientists? Some of her comments also suggest that she believes in conspiracy theories, though whether or not she follows those who accuse NASA, China, the UN and a cartel of Jewish bankers of spreading fear of climate change to aid them in their quest or world domination is not known.

To anyone who cares to think about such things, to deny the scientific evidence on climate change is akin to denying that vaccination has saved millions of lives and untold suffering or believing that the world is under the covert control of a race of lizards from outer space who appear to humans as Jews. Before you spit out your cornflakes over that last statement, one candidate in the forthcoming election believes that it is so.

So, if you’ll bear with me, I’d like to go back to that article and look at some of the points it raises. The first was in connection to the reference to the then Whitlam Labor government’s plan to build a vast network of pipelines to carry gas from the North-West Shelf to every major city in Australia. Obviously it was something Ms Nova doesn’t agree with, something she has in common with the Liberal Party then led by Malcolm Fraser and the English government of the day, though the latter’s objections may have been based more on the fact that Whitlam’s government had said it was going to use loans arranged by “a mysterious Pakistani” (Nova’s words) rather than from a British institution.

Having blasted Whitlam and his government for daring to have a grand plan for Australia, Nova goes on to harshly criticise successive governments for not having one. Of course, all the reasons for Whitlam’s dismissal by the Crown will never be known until the relevant documents are released by Buckingham Palace, but Nova’s view does seem contradictory.

Ms Nova then goes on to criticise renewable energy and the transmission network, delivering “piddling amounts” of power and funded by raising foreign debt, while coal- and nuclear-powered generation plants go unbuilt. Apart from the environmental damage wrought by coal-powered plants and the risks to future generations posed by both, the time involved in building both types of power plant is an important factor. Years, if not decades are involved, by which time the social fabric and economy could be dissolving into chaos unless governments all over the world stop sitting on their hands while Earth undergoes changes on a scale unprecedented in human history.

She also bemoans the fact that no hydro-electric schemes have been built in recent years, and argues for more and bigger dams to trap water that otherwise would go to “irrigate distant oceans”. This is always popular with the proponents of the Bradfield scheme* and the dam-everything school, but it ignores the fact that water flowing into the oceans is not wasted; it is vital for maintaining the health of estuarine and coastal ecosystems. Fisheries depend on these systems to replenish stocks and to maintain inshore populations of species. Equally important, this run off is vital to the survival of mangroves, the first line of defence against storm-surges. Mangroves will become even more important as sea levels rise.

Also ignored is greed-induced blindness, something seemingly hard-wired into politicians and their corporate backers. No matter how many dams are built, or how much water and land are “available”, it will never be enough. Over-allocation of water and the associated cronyism and corruption will lead us exactly to where we now find ourselves, but on a larger scale.

Environmental advocates and Indigenous peoples cop a bit of criticism in the first paragraphs, but more of that later. Ms Nova also blames “Canberra and the states” for the protests against gas exploration – presumably referring to the Lock the Gate movement among others – ignoring the fact that these are people-based protests, often made as a direct result of governments’ pro-mining-at-all-costs policies.

She goes on to criticise the CSIRO for contributing to climate change hysteria and science generally for promoting gender-equality issues and green activism. Not only is this utter rot, it conveniently ignores the fact that under Tony Abbott’s ultra-conservative, anti-science government, the CSIRO was gutted of both funding and staff (as was the Antarctic Division), severely curtailing many of its research programs, climate study among them, and flying in the face of global trends. Abbott then allocated funding to cancer research (presumably “believable science”), a noble initiative but I suspect more in the hope that his name would forever be associated with a “silver bullet cure-all” while at the same time allowing him to deliver a kick in the guts to those involved in what he believes is the “crap science” of climate studies.

Now to Ms Nova’s concluding paragraph: “As Australia’s first people discovered, if today’s Australians lack the will or the knowledge to use our great natural resources, more energetic people will take them off us.”

It’s hard to ignore the racism inherent in this statement, racism also apparent in her reference to uranium deposits “sterilised by the Giant Rainbow Serpent”. Okay, perhaps she’s not racist and just believes Australia’s Indigenous peoples are lazy beings who practice a primitive religion that deifies mythical creatures. What about the recent outpouring of grief in the “energetic” and sophisticated Western world over the loss of a building representing a religious sect whose adherents practice ritual cannibalism, believe virgins can give birth and that people can rise from the dead.

And who are these “more energetic people” poised to seize our coal and uranium? Let me guess…the Chinese? The Indonesians? Well they’d better get a move on; giant global corporations with no loyalty to any particular country are already in there getting our resources out of the ground as fast as governments will allow. There seems a philosophy present in the corporate world that urges its adherents to make as much money as they possibly can before it all hits the fan. Are the few “energetic” people hoping their money will save them and the rest of us will have to cope as best we can?

Perhaps Ms Nova could revisit that last paragraph and alter it to read something like “As Australia’s first people discovered, the land in which we live is capricious and finely balanced. If today’s Australians lack the will or the knowledge to properly care for it, nature will take it from us.”

*The “Bradfield Scheme” was put forward in 1938 as a means of irrigating and “drought-proofing” arid regions of the Queensland and South Australian interiors. Involving damning and “turning back” of northern rivers, calculations were faulty and projections based on European models were unrealistic. Politicians are fond of extolling its virtues, especially when elections are held during periods of drought, as is now the case.

Suffer The Little Children

Written at the height of public interest in Australia’s Royal Commission into the institutional abuse of children

For the first couple of lines I wish to acknowledge my admiration of Joe Hill, who influenced them.
Your altars are of marble, your plate of beaten gold,
But your souls are of base metal and your hearts are stony cold;
Your bells are cast of finest bronze and they peal your man-god’s name,
But all the bells in all the world can’t drown out years of pain.

Gentle jesus meek and mild, look upon this weeping child
Please let me die before I wake…

You march to your salvation, with tambourine and drum,
And say you’ll be uplifted on a day that’s yet to come;
On judgment day you will be saved, and bathed in holy light,
While those that you have raped and flogged remain in dreadful night.

Onward christian soldiers, marching as to war
With the cross of Jesus, crushing all before

You took the dark-skinned children, and stole both tongue and mind,
Defiled their bodies and their souls and left just shells behind;
You scoured the streets of England for the children of the poor,
And gave them into slavery, then locked and barred the door.

Jesus loves the little children, all the little children of the world;
Black, yellow brown and white, they are precious in his sight

At least that’s what your hymnals say, the ones you make them read,
To sing your holy songs of praise, to spread your blighted creed;
But all the hymns and all the psalms, shouted at the sky,
Will not erase the wrong you’ve done, and know that when you die

Washed in the blood of the lamb

Your prayers and praise of jesus’ name, your blinding faith in god,
Won’t serve to straighten out the path, the crooked road you trod;
It seems a pity, really, that one day you will die,
For if you lived for ever, you might just learn to cry.

Your father, who art in heaven;
Blackened is his name

To Ms L McC

Written after the 2017 Gulgong Folk Festival. It never did go any further
than friendly conversations on social media.

Well, at last I’ve plucked up courage,
My spine’s no longer slack;
No more prevarication,
Straight in – no holding back.

So here I go, chin tucked in,
Fingers curled and tense,
Poised above the keyboard,
And hang the consequence.

It was easier on Friday,
Before I knew your name;
I could stare and think more freely
The words more eas’ly came.

I was taken by your outfit –
Your trilby and your top –
And the cheeky way you bagged us,
The men you gave the chop.

And your face was springtime raindrops,
Gleaming in the sun;
Your smile lit up the pub yard,
And spoke of endless fun.

But then, on Lawson Sunday,
It became a little hard,
Just as I was leaving,
I asked you for your card.

(That’s poetic licence,
It had to be I fear,
To repeat the “conversation”,
Wouldn’t fit in here.)

Actually, you offered it,
For which I’m very glad,
But just before the giving,
Things went well – or bad!

Depend which way you want to look,
And how you make it twist;
If the looker’s always hopeful,
Or a die-hard pessimist.

But I’m dodging round the subject,
I’m drifting right away;
The boots that once would jump right in,
Are now on feet of clay.

You walked right up to talk to me,
But didn’t slow your pace,
And gently bumped what I’d admired,
Into a touchy place.

A sort of ero-wotsit zone,
On my middle chest,
Just above my diaphragm,
And just below the rest.

And so comes the great big question,
The reason for this mail;
Strewth, the very thought of asking,
Is making me quite pale.

Was it, I just want to know,
An action of intent,
Or misjudging of the distance,
Completely innocent?

See, I really fancied you,
I really like your smile;
The way you looked and acted,
This musician to beguile.

But I’ve never been an expert,
At signals from the girls;
I’d never ask them face to face –
The thought my toenails curls.

So that’s the reason for this poem,
This bland, pathetic verse;
To get from you an answer –
For better or for worse.

An e-mail would be lovely,
In poesy or prose;
’specially if it didn’t read:
‘You’re getting up my nose’.

But if you dialled the number Oh
Then four eight eight, five zero seven,
And followed up with four one four –
That would indeed be seventh heaven.

Literacy and the feral goat

This was written while at the 2016–17 Gulgong Folk Festival. In addition to my musical performances, I was moderator of a Henry Lawson celebration that was part of the festival and thought I had best contribute, so I dashed this off the night before. As usual, it’s rough, but as I am with recording music, I hate going back over what was spontaneous. Poetic licence has treated the people of Bourke unfairly. Since the day I arrived to perform at the 1000 Stories Festival in September, 2016 and lobbed again in November as soon-to-be managing editor of their newspaper, ‘The Western Herald’, they have shown me nothing but kindness and warmth. However, the goats do seem to have vanished. On two long trips down the Mitchell Highway since I have taken up residence here, I have seen not one. When I drove up from Tasmania for the Festival, they were everywhere.

 

“Goat abattoir for Bourke”, it read,
In letters bold and black;
The headline in our paper,
That serves the great outback.

The Western Herald’s never slow,
To print the latest news;
And this, I thought, will lift our town,
From its economic blues.

There’d been no decent crops for years,
But now with soaking rain,
There’ll be cotton in, this year at least,
It’ll help to ease the pain.

Those Dorper sheep have helped a bit,
They’ve saved the situation;
An economic boost to life,
On many a western station.

But unlike goats, those feral goats,
To whom life’s just a breeze,
The Dorper doesn’t do so well,
At climbing up in trees.

But “abattoir”, that magic word,
It made the townsfolk gloat;
An economic miracle,
Wrought by the feral goat.

You see, there’s goats in great big heaps,
Along the roads out west;
From Nyngan on they’re everywhere,
A proper flamin’ pest.

They treat the blasted countryside,
Like some caprine supermarket;
And in droughts that stiffen camels,
Goats never seem to kark it.

But since I wrote that headline,
Things have somewhat queered;
From all round Bourke and elsewhere,
The goats have disappeared.

Drive from dawn to dusk each day,
You’d see ’em by the ton;
But since that paper hit the street,
I haven’t seen a one.

And townsfolk, who a week ago,
Were glad to see me there;
Now cross the street to dodge me,
Or simply stand, and glare.

They look at me as if I’d crawled,
From some dank and smelly ditch;
And this from one young cheeky kid:
‘Me gran says you’re a witch.’

Had some superstitious citizen,
Spread the word about;
That I’d tempted fate and providence,
When I let the news leak out?

But I’ve hatched a scheme, a good one,
I’m going to lift my game;
The town on even keel to set,
And restore my honest name.

I’ll pen an editorial,
“To whom it may concern;
(I won’t pursue identity,
The name no-one will learn).

“Would that scoundrel, name unknown,
Of dubious mongrel breed,
Desist, forthwith, instanter,
From teaching goats to read.”

A discussion on rivers

In September 2016 I was invited to give music and song performances at the 1000 Voices Festival held at Bourke, in western NSW. Bourke is an isolated town in a shire the size of Denmark with a total population 0f somewhere about 3000 and on the boundary between the zones of (relatively) reliable rainfall where grazing and some cropping under irrigation are still viable (the latter in good seasons) and the arid zone. The iconic Darling River, part of the country’s largest river system and once the highway for a bustling riverboat trade, still pervades the character and life of this resilient and warm-hearted town. As one of the artists in residence on a poet’s trek that retraced the footsteps of Lawson and Ogilvie during the festival, I thought I’d better contribute something original, so I penned this simple tale during a dinner camp. For the non-Australian, Hughie is the bloke who brings the rain – especially violent downpours. In the latter years of the twentieth century he also assumed the mantle of a surfing god.

One man’s creek is another man’s Barwon

You see a lot of rivers as you wander here and there —
I reckon in my travels I’ve seen a decent share —
But one feller’s “mighty river”, is another codger’s creek;
Try to tell him different, and he’ll argue for a week.

The south-west’s Avon River would be sneered at in the east;
And the Torrens? Strike me purple, it’s a weird sort of beast.
More mud than flamin’ water, like a claypan upside down;
And there’s another one just like it, runs through Melbourne town.

I lived in Old Kentucky, of Stephen Foster fame —
Though the beggar never went there, he just liked to use its name —
And if I said “the river” when I spoke of Cedar Creek;
It kept the boys in Stamping Ground laughin’ for a week.

To get to little Stamping Ground, you have to go across,
The South Branch of the Elkhorn Creek, where the buff’lo used to cross;
More water than the Murray — though nowhere near as long,
And wider, too, in places, with a flow that’s awful strong.

A 46-inch annual rainfall, keeps her flowing well,
And it’ll up and drown you, easy, when the summer storms give hell;
For what them durned hillbillies call a “summer shower”,
Is the edge of a tornado, and a foot of rain an hour.

But still, it’s just “a crik” to them, though it seemed much more to me,
The blow-in from the Old Brown Land, a place they’ll never see.
But like us old-time Aussies, those hill-folk love a yarn;
They love to hear what life is like on someone else’s farm.

And so we’d pass the evenin’s, swopping tales—all mostly true,
Though sometimes lightly seasoned with a little lie or two;
They loved to hear my stories, of a country that, to them,
Seemed strange—well weird really— and far beyond their ken.

One night as I recall it, a memory slipped out,
Of the Darling down at Wentworth, in the middle of a drought.
I told ‘em how that mighty stream, was down to three foot wide;
How the carp were wriggling up the banks, to pull grass from off the side.

I tried to tell them how, the mighty river gums,
Seemed to hunch their shoulders, as drought he country numbs;
And push their roots down deeper, into the drying mud,
To wait the Darling’s blessing, as she brings another flood.

“And,” I began — here I paused as all good yarners should,
To ratchet up the tension, make the telling of it good—
Here I ask indulgence, I should have taken time,
To do a little extra and fix that bloody awful rhyme…

“And,” I said, and drew a breath, adding drama to my tale,
“When the mighty Darling River floods, she’d drown a bloody whale!”
“Thar h’aint be whales in rivers,” the local cynic scoffed;
“He’s a-paintin’ pitchers, cuz you cain’t read, hush your mouth, Clem Goff.”

Rescued for the moment, I went on to tell them how,
The rains would always come at last – “Like it’s doing here right now”.
And then that sluggish river that they might call a creek,
Spreads out to cover acres by the million in a week.

Down she comes majestic like, a relentless, sliding flow,
Ignoring bends and channels, spreading as she goes.
The TV news might tell us that the “country is in strife”;
In strife Aunt Fanny’s bed socks! The country’s come to life!

The livestock will get fat again, the wildflowers bloom;
There’s money for improvements and for an extra room.
The outback wife will smile again, her old man not so gruff;
For when that river’s banking, things never seem so tough.

It was Dorothea Mackellar said they “could not understand”,
Our love for what outsiders see as barren, sunburned land;
Perhaps because they never wait, they never stick it out,
To see that Aussie miracle, the breaking of a drought.

They never know the joy that’s felt along the Darling side,
When Hughie smiles upon us and sends the swift brown tide.
When life’s transformed and the world’s turned bright, all in a single week,
As the mighty Darling River proves, she isn’t just a creek.