© Max Merckenschlager

Winner, 2008 ‘Country and Horse Festival', Beaudesert Queensland.

We’re delivered by dogs to her generous grin,
as she opens the screen door to welcome us in;
there's a kettle on simmer for callers or kin,
and we're sure of a seat at her table.
By the sink in a bucket with Steelo and Jex,
is her morning’s collection of dirtied and flecks,
and a sweep of her forearm is clearing the decks,
as she asks us to lunch if we're able.

On her sideboard a sepia image of Gran
stares a book-end away from the pioneer man,
who received all the credit for taming this land,
and she’s hiding their secret of sharing.
For she worked in the wings, copping hardship and pain;
not a seeker of praises, nor one to complain,
and if time was recycled she'd choose to again,
in their country of heartache and daring …

making home between hessian on wattle and mud,
where she once nursed an accident covered in blood;
either bagging a fire, or bagging a flood,
and “recruitments of labour” delivered …
making do for her family when prices all fell,
standing firm when the bank was determined they'd sell,
and the pandemic missed her - she had to stay well
as her sickened community shivered.

Where she learned how to handle an axe and a rake,
either splitting a mountain or clearing a break,
and dispatching in segments a home-sharing snake
with the air and aplomb of a bushie …
where she buried the past of a city-bred bride -
like she buried her face in a pillow and cried
on the evening he swept up and took her inside,
at a hut that made hovels seem cushy …

where the scrub was still beating a path to her door,
and the meat-ants mined hillocks all over her floor,
and a season could pass between trips to the store,
there was seldom a nag or a grumble …
where the trimmings of lace from the gown she had worn,
for a feminine touch to the windows were torn,
and the sunshine of laughter that greeted each dawn
filled her eyes and her cottage so humble …

where the drought-stricken country once toasted and parched,
saw her youngest to oldest all lined up and marched
into weekly-bathwater their clothes could have starched -
saved for mother, and then for her garden …
where the orphans in dozens were reared on a teat;
all her surrogate-shadows of twitching and bleat -
every cutlet-conversion she chose not to eat,
because parts of her never could harden …

where she battled depression both mental and real,
when her man was off droving with dogs on his heel,
and the Nineties conspired to rob their next meal -
though they feasted on love at her table …
where she faced every element throwing its worst,
suing peace with her Maker to bury their first,
for the life which He gave her was bless-ed, not cursed;
she was queen, and the scrub was her sable.

But the musings are popped, for our hostess-ignored
has returned from her kitchen with black-coffee poured;
she is wearing both hats of the labour and Board,
and her rationale's simply survival.
She is often the farm-hand and always the cook,
and she downloads their data and balances book;
all her roles are essential while farming is crook,
and the pundits don't fancy revival.

For her kids are in Uni and planning careers,
that will keep them in cities with most of their peers,
and she handles the logic while swallowing tears,
for the land and its people are wearing.
And those legendary yardings of heavenly hosts -
mobs of drovers and ringers and glamourised ghosts -
look below from ‘The Muster’ on all at their posts,
and salute country women for caring.

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