© Kym Eitel

Winner, 2008 Dusty Swag Award, Murrundindi, Victoria.

Dark clouds engulfed the mountain tops, a storm began to loom.
It boiled and rumbled overhead and daylight turned to gloom.
Trees thrashed and snapped like stock whips as the wild wind raged and blew.
The water swirled and tumbled as the river frothed and grew.

Old Charlie tipped his battered hat to wipe the sweat away,
and said a silent prayer to see the closing of the day.
The forest echoed chains and hooves – they dragged the final log,
along the slipp’ry mountain track and through the muddy bog.

The Clydesdales paused and sniffed the river, lapping at the bank.
Young Bonnie took a backward step and Charlie tapped her flank.
Old Jock, a sour but strong old beast, stood square and wouldn’t budge.
His giant hooves had disappeared beneath the muck and sludge.

As temper flared, the whip did too, and Charlie cursed and swore.
His anger rose above the river’s loud and thund’rous roar.
He didn’t see the water rising, lapping at their hooves,
and creeping up the wagon ruts and filling up the grooves.

He only felt his aching back and hunger in his gut,
and saw his team refuse to work – they felt the rawhide cut!
The lash came down on Jock’s huge rump. He threw his massive head.
He saw the water rushing past and tried to rear instead.

In panic, Bonnie leapt and pushed the collar to her chest.
She strained to pull the log, but it had sunk and come to rest.
Again the sting of leather made them stretch the creaking chain.
Then lightning flashed and thunder boomed as clouds spilled heavy rain.

The log burst free, the horses slipped, the bank was slick and steep.
The surging torrent pulled their legs, the flood was fast and deep.
In horror, Charlie saw them sink, the log had pulled them down.
They plunged and fought the churning flood. He knew they’d surely drown.

The water rushed across their backs, he saw their nostrils flare.
They lost their footing, huge hooves thrashed in panic and despair,
then Charlie dived to free the log and hack through harness straps
to free the massive horses from their chain and leather traps.

A knot of man and horses rolled. All three were swept from sight,
then disappeared around the bend and vanished in the night.
The river swallowed man and beast, then heaved them on the shore.
Three bodies lay amongst debris, the prey of flash-flood war.

The bell-birds’ chorus met the dawn, tranquility restored.
The river sang its peaceful song and eagles wheeled and soared.
They saw two horses slowly standing, blinking and confused,
with bleeding wounds and gashes, looking battered and abused.

They limped towards their master where he lay upon the bank,
and waited for the man to move, but Charlie’s face stayed blank.
His body slumped across a log, an awkward twisted pose,
and Bonnie, faithful beast of burden, nudged him with her nose.

Old Jock was first to wander off. He nickered to the mare,
and beckoned her to follow – he smelled freedom on the air,
so Bonnie whiskered Charlie’s face, a kiss to say goodbye,
then both the horses limped away beneath the wide, blue sky.

They’ll never wear a yoke again, or feel the stinging whip,
or ache because of metal buckles digging in their hip.
They’ll never have to work again, the pair are free to roam.
They’d never tasted freedom – now the mountains are their home.

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