OLD COUNTRY HALLS
© Will Moody
Winner, 2017 Dunedoo Bush Poetry Competition – Serious Section, Dunedoo, NSW.
All those ‘Big City’ halls where they hold fancy balls
when the upper-class make their debut
built of granite and glass, massive doors, polished brass,
they are big and impressive, it’s true.
But there’s many, like me, who’d be quick to agree
that when ghosts of the past come to call
it’s a fairly safe bet that the scene would be set
in the grounds of an old country hall.
But the years have moved on... nearly all are now gone,
having served their communities’ needs.
But a few still survive thanks to locals who strive,
backing up their brave words with good deeds.
Take one typical case... it’s a much cherished place
that a high scarp enfolds in its arms
where a forest once grew. Now its river winds through
down a valley of neatly fenced farms.
There are only two roads and they meet where the goads
of the bullocky once pricked the hide
of the beasts in his team, as they forded the stream
one road crossed and one ran alongside.
At this old crossing place, time has scarce left a trace
of the hamlet that once used to stand
where the forest recoiled as the pioneers toiled,
carving out a new life on the land.
Just a church and a hall and some gravestones are all
that remain for the tourist to see
as they’re towing their vans ’cross the bridge that now spans
where the bullocky's ford used to be.
Though the village is gone, local hands carry on
with the work of preserving their hall,
giving what they can spare to maintain and repair,
lest this relic should crumble and fall.
And the ghosts of the past, to my fancy, hold fast
to the history these walls enfold.
Oh, if these walls could speak, could we just sneak a peek
at the scenes they have witnessed of old!
Lit by kerosene lamp, safe from cold and from damp,
see the dancers retreat and advance.
See the bashful lads blush as they ask in a rush
“Would the young lady care for a dance?”
From the fiddler’s bow come the songs they all know
with a bush bass providing the beat.
Then a squeeze-box joins in to contribute its din,
while a tin whistle tries to compete.
Now the older folk waltz with occasional false
steps as silk dresses rustle and sway
to the lilt of a song that makes grandparents long
for the home that they left, far away.
Now another day dawns on the neatly kept lawns;
on the fence rails, like birds, children perch.
There’s a wedding in hand and the well-wishers stand
as the newly-weds walk from the church...
...to the hall that’s now decked out with all you’d expect:
there’s white ribbons and gold wattle boughs.
There are white table cloths drawing flies, bugs and moths,
while the music’s supplied by the cows.
But the gathered crowd care not a bit, for it’s there
friends and neighbours and kin join as one
in community pride to salute a new bride
and her groom, as they always have done.
Then our ghost pioneers share a day drenched in tears
that are shed for an old comrade’s sake.
For he’ll come back no more from that faraway war
and the old hall is dressed for his wake.
And the plaque on the wall of the old country hall
gains a new name to add to its list.
A community grieves. Sorrow under the eaves
of the hall where their laughter is missed.
The community shrinks as, increasingly, links
with the past become rarer each year.
Those first settlers are gone and, as time marches on,
signs of wear on the old hall appear.
As our phantoms retire from these scenes they inspire
leaving shadows to dance on the walls,
echoes ring down the years from those dour pioneers
who bequeathed us our old country halls.
But those few that remain are revived once again
by the loyal and hard-working few.
And the shadows we cast mix with those of the past
as our bush band strikes up right on cue.
So I offer my thanks to those thinly manned ranks
who are holding time’s progress at bay.
We salute one and all. May your old country hall
stand for many and many a day.