POSSUM OF THE RIVER
© Max Merckenschlager
Winner, 2010, Henry Lawson Festival - Serious Section, Grenfell, NSW.
David James Jones (also known as 'The Possum') lived a reclusive lifestyle, trekking along the Murray-Darling river system from 1929 until his death in 1982. His heart-warming story featured in the book 'A Man Called Possum' by retired Detective-Sergeant Max Jones, who got to know him as well as any person. On several occasions, 'The Possum' walked hundreds of kilometres from the Riverland to the Murray Mouth at Goolwa, and back again. He was a shy and fiercely independent man, accepting little from the society which he avoided. But he was always ready to lend a hand where it was needed - quietly and anonymously, more often than not.
High in the gum tree, a jam jar was swinging;
the pendulum bob of a man on a limb.
Yet, he wasn't slaving for Time, but for honey -
in period past - was the "possum" named Jim!
Trekking alone by the riverine reaches
at peace under canopy heaven supplies;
living the life of a modern-day hermit,
'The Possum' avoided our questions and eyes.
Swimming the river or camped by the washaway;
watchful for work work to be done -
mending a fencepost or crutching a flystrike
and pulling up burr in the heat of the sun.
Golden those years he was wed to his river
and golden the memories he left in his wake:
we envied the life of that modern-day hermit -
a giver to others of more than he'd take.