ELEVEN MILES

© Kym Eitel


Winner, 2009 ‘Oracles of the Bush' - Themed Section, Tenterfield, NSW.


This poem is a tribute to the courage and endurance of the pioneering women who contributed

to the development of Australia.  They were tough and resilient ladies who showed amazing

determination under extremely demanding circumstances.  Sometimes they had to make difficult

decisions.  Sometimes they weren’t given a choice …


The year was 1886, the land was gripped in drought.

The cotton crop had failed again, the seed just didn’t sprout.

Joe couldn’t make the payments.  Would the farm be repossessed?

He simply had to find a way … no good to be depressed.


He hitched up both the horses, said he’d find a job up north,

then kissed his wife and children and reluctantly set forth.

He’d heard of work in Queensland, moving wool clip, maybe hay.

The wagon rumbled off at dawn.  Two months he’d be away.


He’d stocked the pantry, chopped the wood - enough to last eight weeks.

The children waved to Daddy as the tears rolled down their cheeks.

Eliza hugged the toddlers close - young Jessie aged just two,

and Isabelle had just turned four, their third child, almost due.


Eliza felt the baby kick within her growing girth

and prayed that Joe’d be back in time to help her with the birth.

Each day flew by with work and chores, survival was a fight.

She slept on tear-stained pillows ev’ry long and lonely night.


Then in the distance, thunder rumbled, storm clouds boiled and brewed.

Eliza prayed for rain to come, the cattle needed food.

It poured for days, the dams filled up, it overflowed the tanks.

Eliza stifled panic when the river burst its banks.


She watched the cattle drowning in the swirling, muddy brew.

Then frantic bellows silenced … there was nothing she could do.

Oh, how she wished that Joe was home to hold her safe and snug,

She saw her daughters’ frightened looks, then knelt upon the rug.


Her precious children - they were safe.  Eliza thanked the Lord.

She forced a smile, then played and sang, while outside water roared.

She held her growing belly, felt the baby move inside.

She never would forgive herself if this young baby died.


That afternoon, the pains began.  She laboured dusk to dawn.

Alone and scared, she pushed and screamed.  A tiny boy was born.

The fragile child could barely breathe - so pallid, weak and light.

She held him to her breast and ‘Liza prayed he’d be alright.


A week she watched for Joe’s return.  He’d promised he’d be back!

She couldn’t do this all alone … no movement down the track …

The pantry shelves were empty, no more chickens left for meat.

The children cried with hunger.  There was no food left to eat.


Eliza saw no choice that day - to stay would mean their death.

She’d fight to save her children’s lives, while still she drew a breath.

She tied the week old baby in a sling across her chest,

then held her daughters’ hands in prayer, then set about her quest.


A billy full of water and a single loaf of bread

was all the food she had to take, but bravely looked ahead.

Eleven miles across the flats would get them into town -

eleven miles through flooded fields of squelching, soaking brown.


She figured they could make it if they walked ‘til close of day.

Eliza didn’t figure though, the heavy, boggy clay!

They only got a mile before the little girls were beat.

They sank knee deep in puggy soil, the shoes pulled off their feet.


Sweet Isabelle was only four and Jessie only two -

They’d never make eleven miles!  What could Eliza do?

Eliza saw no other way - at home they’d surely die.

They had to make it into town, she had no choice, but try.


She carried Jessie a half a mile, then left her, headed back

to carry little Isabelle, through sticky mud so black.

Determined, brave, courageous - she refused to feel the pain.

Eliza wallowed back and forth, then back and forth again.


Her baby slept within the sling, as ‘Liza trudged in trance,

ignoring sandflies, mozzies and the bites of climbing ants.

Exhausted and delirious, she toiled ‘til darkness fell

then held her children tightly as she cursed this walk through Hell.


No water left, they shared the bread, then on and off, they slept

‘til over distant mountain tops, the rays of morning crept.

Again, all day, she struggled on through mud and stench filled breeze

from sheep and cattle rotting where they’d washed in forks of trees.


The baby’s screams filled ‘Liza’s head, no milk was at her breast.

Eliza stumbled back and forth, collapse, her only rest.

She lay in mud, her mouth was parched from midday’s burning heat.

She’d never given in before, but now she felt defeat.


She cuddled all three children, weakly sang a lullaby.

She hushed her babies off to sleep, then ‘Liza prayed to die.

As cool of night washed over them, she felt a sense of peace.

The stabbing pain within her bones began to lift then cease.


Unconsciousness brought happy dreams of Daddy coming home,

of laughter and good seasons, meaning Daddy needn’t roam.

As morning chased the night away, no movement could be seen,

just lifeless, muddy bodies, with a baby in between.


Eliza felt her body lift, the mud released its grips.

She felt a sudden warmth upon her cheek then on her lips.

Had angels come to carry her to Heaven’s lovely skies?

And then she heard her Joseph’s voice!  The tear drops stung her eyes.


“The children?” gasped Eliza, “Are the children still alive?”

then smiled as Joe assured her,  “Yes, they are!  They’ll all survive!”

Joe showered her with kisses then he held his first born boy.

His children and his wife were safe!  He cried out loud with joy.


Through drought and flood, through poverty, disasters and starvation,

our pioneering women did their part to build our nation.

With blisters, sweat and blood and tears they worked beside their spouse,

then bore their children, cooked and sewed and cleaned a dirt-floored house.


But then at night, she’d hug her children, kiss their sleepy heads,

and read a bedtime story, then she’d tuck them in their beds.

A woman’s most important role is that of being “Mum”,

and any threats to heart or home, she’d strive to overcome.


Yes, Joe was proud of ‘Liza - she’d faced hardship and she’d won.

In time, they added seven girls, but boys?  They just had one!

They named him “Bradley Walter George”, but shortened it to “Brad”.

That little boy turned out to be … my Grandpa’s father’s dad!


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