Before our beards were grey

This was written more than twenty years ago now.
The memories are still bright.

My old mate Bob Pomeroy has left us. My mad old mate from the reckless knockabout days, my grand old mate with his winning knockabout ways… I got the news last night cobber, and I suppose I’d been expecting it, but that hasn’t made it any easier.

We saw a lot together you and I. From one end of our beloved Australia to the other, and over the length and breadth of New Zealand we knocked about in those wild and wandering days, working at all sorts of jobs and all sorts of lurks as we travelled: tin-mine pump guards on Tassie’s sodden west coast; sideshow spruikers in Hobart and Adelaide; freezing-works labourers and wharfie “seagulls” in Kiwiland, you and I did it mate, hard and soft.


We put up in and put up with single-men’s camps of all sorts and shared flats and boarding-houses of all descriptions and some better left undescribed. We’ve been overnight guests of the English Queen in the days when being three sheets to the wind and full of the joys of living could get you lumbered in some of our less-understanding communities.


We earned big money in some places, sometimes, and bugger-all at others; shout for the bar one week and roll up our cigarette butts the next. We blued with each other and blued our cheques together. We laughed in defiance at an establishment that spurned us because they couldn’t understand us, and we wept together at the sheer beauty of being alive in this sometimes sad old world. We were mates in the sense described so well by Henry Lawson.


And always there was the music. We supported ourselves by singing in pubs and clubs from Zeehan to Invercargill, Auckland to Adelaide. For miners and ministers, crims and coppers, bag-swingers and socialites we sang Old Shep and The Spaniard who Blighted my Life, Love is Pleasin’ and The Wild Colonial Boy and everything in between, and never missed a beat or a beer in the doing of it.


Some of our escapades together have achieved legendary status Bob old cobber, and they seem to have grown a bit in the retelling, but who are we to gainsay that, we of a generation and background which idolises Ned Kelly, that other defiant Native Son from good though dirt-poor Celtic stock?


Do you remind the time we found the old 1000-gallon tank lying in the bush between the mine and Stan Roy’s Renison Hotel? Remember how we decided to see if we could still walk inside it the way we we did as kids and how it got away from us on the last slope? How it crashed through the jerry-built fibro wall of the back “lounge” and came to rest against a table? And do you recall the aplomb with which you stepped from the tank, raised a hand in the air and said “Two middies thanks Stan”?


Remember saying to the angry young constable in Adelaide – the one I’d abused and in whose general direction I’d swung a vague, somewhat worse for the booze hand because of the way he was treating some old meths drinker: “You can’t lumber him, he’s me best bloody mate!” Do you remember the Top Pub at Zeehan and Daniel and Roy and the Blessed Virgin Mary, and Kerosene Jack and the Wallaby Twins and Nipponhausenberg and Strahan?


And what about the time you made the sign from a bedsheet pilfered from the single-men’s quarters in Zeehan. “Honest John’s Used Trains” it read. We hung it from the Cyclone fence surrounding the steam loco display at that mineral museum and, dressed in our best clothes supplemented with borrowed vests and ties, waited for the daily coachload of tourists to arrive. Do you remember the freezing purgatory that was the mine pump house on a winter’s night? The skin-lifting, gritty blast of compressed air on the face as we fought to clear the blockage in a leaky, rusted-out vanning table feed-pipe?


Oh they were the days mate. The days when yarns were born and legends made. The beer tasted better, the sun was warmer, the winters wetter and the work easier, even though the bosses were bastards one and all. The lovers and the loved, the laughter and the tears. I’m glad to have shared those times, the fat and the lean. And the music mate, always the music.


I’m crying as I write this Bob. I know you’d prefer I didn’t, but you’re a mate and mates understand. They mightn’t agree, but they don’t criticise. I don’t know how much time I’ve got left old china, so I can’t say when I’ll see you again, but we were never in a hurry to get anywhere. I know he’ll come for me in his own good time, that old ratbag of an ex council-ganger with the scythe. And fair’s fair I suppose, we gave life a bloody good shake, so we have to give the other a whirl too. I’ll see you straight after he’s been, old mate. Your hair’ll be flaming red again, and our beards’ll have no grey again, and we’ll rant and we’ll roar like we did again.


He’s half-hinched your body mate, but he can’t take the memories. See you later, cobber.

What’s that? Of course I’ll bring me bloody guitar!

More about the Sandgroper

The Sandgroper is the older ego of Frank Povah who was born in an aunt’s house in Western Australia at the onset of World War Two, the latter event overshadowing the former. As a child he lived in lots of different places: from Cockatoo Island in the Buccaneer Archipelago to Wundowie in the days when it was still in the midst of a vast wandoo forest alive with chuditch – the Nyungar word for “quoll” – and gloved wallabies, and boasted a charcoal iron smelter staffed largely by people from a large DP (Displaced Persons) camp, the civilian casualties of WWII; from a hovel in Hay Street and a house at the edge of Butler’s Swamp – now Lake Claremont  – to State Housing in Fremantle. His nomadic ways continued after he completed a compositor’s apprenticeship and he has travelled widely throughout Australia and New Zealand, working at many and varied occupations; occupations as diverse as pump guard at a Tasmanian tin mine to general whatever in a New Zealand fish-and-chip shop.

The Sandgroper is also a musician, who can be found in the archive of the National Library of Australia. He is a folklorist, writer, and champion of lost and perhaps futile causes. Respected by his peers Frank still performs at the occasional festival and other venues.

He was the featured performer in 2018 at Poet on a Plate, a well-known venue featuring Australian “bush poetry” music and yarn telling at Kidman’s Camp, a caravan park in Bourke, the legendary outback town in New South Wales. He also appeared there as the guest performer for a few months in 2019.

For five-and-a-bit years he lived on Butterfly Bottom, a small property with its own graveyard and a beautiful, Irish-mason built root cellar near Stamping Ground Kentucky, where he observed in bewilderment the US way of life as it was lived outside of his immediate environs.

For more than thirty years the Sandgroper edited and wrote for Australian Geographic – always working from various homes in the bush, and was commissioned by Ivy Press (UK) to provide the text for a modest coffee table book, Beautiful Pigeons. He also produced magazines for the fancy pigeon community in both Australia and the USA and has undertaken commissions both private and corporate for copy editing and/or book designing, typesetting, indexing and copy fitting.

He was for a time managing editor of The Western Herald, a small newspaper serving the legendary town of Bourke, in outback New South Wales, until a disagreement over articles detailing irregularities in large scale irrigation practices and alleged water theft – and he suspects his radical policy of publishing press releases from any political party that submitted them – led to a parting of the ways.

In the 1980s, the Sandgroper self-published a booklet titled You Kids Count Your Shadows: Hairymen and other Aboriginal folklore in New South Wales. Aimed mainly at children, it contains anecdotes of traditional beliefs taken from transcripts of recordings of conversations with so called “urban Aboriginals” of several groups living in country NSW.  This little book made the NSW Premier’s Recommended Reading list and has been used as evidence in at least two Land Rights hearings. It is currently in its third printing and can be ordered direct from Frank.

He occasionally works part-time at the Molong Express, a rural newspaper serving Molong (pop. 2000 give or take) in the Central Tablelands of New South Wales.

If you’ve managed  to stick with me thus far, you can read more about these and other things in the following pages.

Redemption at Silver Gull Creek

Almost from the day I first met him, when he returned from his nearly five years in the army during WWII, my relationship with Dad was a troubled one. As far back as I can remember, only once did we have a moment of togetherness, so rare that it’s still clear in my mind. But though there may be no excuses for his attitude to his family, there were reasons, and as I came to appreciate them my attitude softened.

Norm Povah in his teens c. 1930s. Like many young men of his time, he took to to professional boxing as a way
of earning money during the Great Depression. An admirer of the great US boxer Jack Johnson,
he fought under the name Norm Johnson

Young enough to be almost of another generation, my youngest brother, who along with my littlest sister missed the tempestuous earlier days of our family life, helped me forgive him and find some measure of peace in that part of me that always craved parental affection. Rest easy, Norm. You were loved by a lot of people and I learned to love you before you died. I’m glad I didn’t become you but I recognised enough of you in me early enough in life to escape.


I’ve told you a bit about Cockatoo Island and I’ve also mentioned Alf Brown, the Torres Strait man from Thursday Island and now you’ve heard a bit about my Dad. All these figure in what I’m about to tell you today, along with another protagonist – a female barramundi almost as big as I was – who didn’t want to be in this story at all but who provided source material for a valuable lesson that, when later in life I came to understand it, shaped my relationships with all children and helped my youngest son become the wonderful person that he is.

Cockatoo Island had very little permanent fresh water and to fill the big storage tanks up on the hill, supplies were brought by barge from Silver Gull Creek. This water barge was towed by Yampi Lass II and what with the speed of the tow, the giant tides – nearly 40 feet – and the time needed to pump the water, it involved a two-day trip about once every few weeks or thereabouts, depending on the season.

Yampi Lass II and the water barge (just visible at left). She is waiting for the tide to come in before continuing her journey. Perhaps this was taken on a side excursion to shoot a “wild” bullock on the mainland during a trip to Silver Gull Creek.

So, this one time I’m talking about, I’d had a pretty full-on blue with the Old Man and things in the house were pretty much on the toe. I’d stayed away overnight, in the little patch of sandy hillocks by the lagoon, and of course on an island that size there was no hiding the fact that things were a bit crook in the Povah household.

Two-Ton Tony, a mate of Dad’s and the man who gave me his first edition copy of Tarzan Of The Apes to read, suggested that if I wanted to go over to Silver Gull on the boat, he’d fix it up with Norm and Tas, the skipper and a good mate of both men. No sooner said than done. All set. I could go over on my Pat and not, as was usual, as part of a picnic excursion. You beaut!

The Central Business District of Cockatoo Island, almost at sea level and very narrow. There was a Police Station, bakery, butcher shop, Post Office and two-room school. There was a level area with a large screen on which films were shown once a fortnight. We all brought pillows and cushions to sit and/or sleep on. During king tides we could throw rocks at tiger sharks from the “road”.

Silver Gull was a magical spot, its mouth hidden among the mangroves, crocodiles making its banks exciting and its tide-torn, muddy little estuary promising the attention of voracious sharks and giant stingrays to anyone foolish enough to swim there. I suspected, too, that it’d probably be a good spot to hook a barramundi to cook up for tucker so I dipped into my bag.

The Boys who lived in Steinbeck’s flop-house had learned the same lesson as I had: anyone who went abroad in the land without salt and pepper and – along the West Australian coast at least – fishing gear was a dead-set mug. No-one ever went anywhere without Wax Vesta matches and a line. The lines were of green linen cord about as thick as number 12 fencing wire and wrapped around a flat piece of wood, the hooks and sinkers of a size to match. You needed weight to hold the line in the tidal rip and anything that wouldn’t bite on a big hook was bait – with the exception of garfish, long Tom and yellowtail.

In the absence of live bait we used whatever was handy, especially anything light-colored: tinned cheese (bait was about all it was good for), peanuts with the red skin rubbed off, white rag dipped in anything oily, a piece cut from a powdered-milk tin and twisted to turn in the current; you could catch fish by just thinking about it back then.

Back to my story. I’d just thrown the line in when Alf came up to me. “Sorry to tell yer this son,” he said dolefully, “knowing all yer worry about ’ome an’ all. But you won’t ketch nothin’ ’ere. Water’s all wrong.”

Scowling at the spot where my line met the water, I ignored him as best I could; adults, even Alf, weren’t in my good books just then. He’d hardly left my side when – bang! –a big barra hit the hook and, feeling the resistance; hurled herself out of the water. I let out a yell and wrapped a bit of line around a deck stanchion – I knew I wouldn’t be able to hang on just with my hands. Nobody came near me while I struggled with her, and I pulled and belayed, pulled and belayed, hoping like hell that something bigger wouldn’t take a lump out of her till she was tired enough to land.

When at last she was on deck, I stood looking at the brilliant silver body with that mixture of triumph and guilt that to this day still plagues me when I catch a fish. Alf’s shadow crossed us both. “Strike a light, boy,” he said. “My people, we’re saltwater people y’know; we’re big canoe people and we bin fishin’ for t’ousands of years in Hustralia and we’d never b’lieve to ketch a fish ’ere. No fear we wouldn’t.”

I forgot that it was one of my brown heroes who’d told me that barramundi bite best where saltwater met fresh, and I forgot that Alf came from an island on the other side of the country – and I forgot about my row with Dad. I also remembered I was actually worth something as a human being.

A big saltie croc cruised alongside the Lass, glowering at me for the loss of a free meal, but I ignored the old bugger. I could once again handle anything life threw at me.*

*This last paragraph may or may not be true, though there’s every chance that it could be. But the rest of the story is.

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.

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

In a past life?

We once swam together, you and I;
In some viscous, tropic sea, aglow
With phosphorescence; corals spread
In vivid chaos, like rumpled bedding
Beneath our naked bodies.

I felt your legs brush mine; soft
As the touch of lapping wavelets and so
I stroked your stomach, watching
As your wriggled, magic sea-thing
Beckoning me to follow as you swam to shore

Where, caressed by wavelets, you took me
Into your being, rising and falling with the sea
And as you came, you cried in joy, to feel
The wavelets lap us, claiming what we’d given…

The moon smiled and earth turned once more.

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.