DESERTION

© David Campbell


Winner, 2009 ‘The Blackened Billy Award’, Tamworth, NSW.


“I can hear the country crying,” says my father, “for it’s dying,

and the passing of that life will bring an end

to the toil of generations on so many outback stations;

it’s a tragedy that’s hard to comprehend.


For the land has been our living, it’s the gift that keeps on giving,

but I fear we’ve passed the point of no return.

Though we’ve tried to keep together, in the harshness of the weather

we have seen our expectations crash and burn.”


Then he pauses in his sorrow at the pain of each tomorrow,

and I see him brush away a sudden tear.

In that instant of emotion I can glimpse his long devotion

to the lifestyle he has always held so dear.


And the moment is revealing, for I’ve never known that feeling,

never shared his eager passion for the land.

From my youth I talked of leaving for, although it left him grieving,

it was something that I couldn’t understand.


For the days are long and tiring, with a farmer’s life requiring

a commitment I was not prepared to give,

and the still, cold light of morning was, to me, a daily warning

this was not the way that I would choose to live.


I detested herding cattle and the unrelenting battle

with a climate that was always at extremes.

I could only watch and wonder at the floods that came to plunder,

and the droughts that ravaged all his hopes and dreams.


Through the heat mirage’s shimmer I would try to catch a glimmer

of the beauty he insisted that he saw,

but the ever-present danger left me nothing but a stranger

in a landscape that was rugged, rough and raw.


So I left, despite his pleading, and the life that I’ve been leading

since departing has a pace that suits me well.

I enjoy the noisy clamour, and the gloss, the glitz, the glamour;

I have fallen for the city’s magic spell.


I am not alone in leaving, with my childhood friends perceiving

that their future on the land is looking bleak.

So they’re following ambition and are breaking with tradition,

for they’ve learnt that there are other goals to seek.


With the land so unforgiving it is time to make our living

in the townships and the cities, where we try

to create a fresh beginning, find a brand new way of winning,

where the wilful laws of nature don’t apply.


But it’s hard, upon returning, to observe my father yearning

for a future that he knows will never be.

He can sense my irritation, but it fosters his frustration,

and he has to take his anger out on me.


“Ever since we lost your mother I’ve relied on you, no other,

to attain the things we’ve wanted to achieve,

but you’re lacking any vision…I can’t cope with your decision

to just turn your back on all we’ve done and leave.


You see ruin, I see beauty…it’s desertion of your duty,

a betrayal of all those who’ve gone before.

There are problems that need solving in a climate that’s evolving,

and that can’t be done by walking out the door!


It’s a certain sign of failure, a disaster for Australia,

for we need you youngsters out here to survive,

but you walk away forever, and that says to me there’ll never

be another chance to pull through and revive.”


I say nothing, fully knowing that the reasons for my going

are a fact of life I simply can’t explain.

Though my visit is but fleeting, from the moment of his greeting

I’ve anticipated leaving home again.


For the fine, red dust is clinging and the perspiration’s stinging

as the stifling heat of summer presses down.

While the sun climbs even higher I have only one desire…

for my air-conditioned office back in town.


But I can’t escape dejection for there is, in his reflection,

an acknowledgement that we are just a part

of a movement that’s increasing, growing daily without ceasing,

and it’s striking at the nation’s fragile heart.


A tradition’s disappearing as the early pioneering

is forgotten in this electronic age,

and my father’s generation is weighed down by desperation

while our history now writes another page.


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