Lawson’s Legacy

© Shelley Hansen

Winner – 2020 Bronze Spur Written Bush Poetry Competition – The Drovers’ Camp, Camooweal Queensland.

Author’s note:  In 1900 Henry Lawson took his wife and children to England, in search of employment and recognition in London literary circles.  The trip was a creative and financial disaster and the family returned to Australia in 1902.

You’re shaking with a shiver as a mist lifts off a river
reflecting back the city lights at night.
Your mind is fixed on work
but your heart is back o’ Bourke
and longs to tell the stories of the plight
of farmers and their cattle, and the dusty, weary battle
through years of drought that end with too much rain.
The house where you were born
rises sharply to adorn
sweet memories that take you back again.

You’ve come here on a mission to fulfill your grand ambition
to infiltrate the Mother Country’s voice,
and stake your claim to fame –
or return in abject shame
to face the consequences of your choice.
Whatever were you thinking?  Were you prompted by the drinking
to say the stamp of Londoners might lend
more credence to your craft?
Come on, Henry – don’t be daft!
Think back on all the poetry you’ve penned.

Beyond the city’s glowing, you can hear the cattle lowing
by Reedy River, shaded from the sun,
as Andy on his horse
navigates the water course,
preserving life along the Western run.
The drover’s wife is grieving for a husband who is leaving
to guide the herd to where the grass is sweet.
She knows she’ll wait and yearn,
counting tears till his return
as seasons stumble by on leaden feet.

There’s Smithy and the Spieler – out to swindle some old sheila,
as faces in the street are blurred from view.
The roaring days of old
bring to mind the shouts of Gold!
as lights of Cobb & Co come riding through.
You can’t forget the mountains, or the misty, mossy fountains
that punctuate the Great Dividing Range –
or death-sky barren plains
where the bleached and white remains
of stock are proof that some things never change.

Your outback trekking tired you, but these things are what inspired you!
Your voice does not belong on England’s shore.
The endless numbing chill
makes you weak, and old – and ill,
and rattles your foundations to the core.
Your wife and children suffer as you strive to build a buffer
to manufacture quiet time and space
to meditate – to write –
but you’re locked within your plight
as hunger, want and need claim pride of place.

The dullness of your hearing deadens footsteps disappearing –
you walk the gaslit street with vacant stare.
The foggy silence haunts
and the empty pavement taunts,
but you are seeing something else, somewhere.
Each window pane reflection is a frame of recollection,
the scent of nutmeg wafts from custard pies.
Your mother’s work-worn hands –
proof that someone understands
the loneliness that you cannot disguise.

The qualities that make you are the same as those that break you,
but Henry, you must turn the rudder back
to where your heart belongs –
where they sing the sweetest songs –
to where the billy boils along the track.
Return and tell your story where the colours shout their glory,
where southern stars illuminate the skies.
Your legacy will last
with endurance unsurpassed –
for each of us is mirrored in your eyes.


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