MUSQUITO, THE BLACK BUSHRANGER
© Max Merckenschlager
Winner, 2009 Rolf Boldrewood Literary Award, Dubbo NSW.
Old Hobart sighed her weary sounds, the priest had done his nightly rounds,
a grunting turnkey saw him out and banged the prison doors,
while in his dismal stony cell, the blackman had a tale to tell,
for on the bleak tomorrow he’d depart these fatal shores.
I’d hear him out – they’re all the same – a shift of ground, a twist of blame;
another rogue, misunderstood, the world would hang to die.
My country, him the Hawkesbury; we dig‘m yams, we livin’ free,
began the black Musquito as he held my sceptic’s eye.
We spear’m fish, we catch’m roo, but whiteman want my country too;
we give’m plenty trouble and the gub’nment get mad.
It liberated captured blacks who led the troopers on the tracks
of those it held responsible – the unrepenting bad.
The Darug and Musquito’s clan were rival mobs, their feuding ran
incessantly, he said, and Darug traded him for peace.
To ease the tensions and foment, away this rebel black was sent;
off-shore to Norfolk Island, where his influence would cease.
Eight years then more his term would be; they never meant to set him free.
When Norfolk closed, Van Diemens Land became his second jail.
He’d stand above its spumy strait and linger where the seabirds wait,
for signs of promised passage in a clipper’s jaunty sail.
The gubernor tell too much lie; he send’m homeland by and by,
but first I catch’m bushrangers. I do as gub’ner say.
Then knockit ‘bout in prison camp, but people swear‘n call me ‘tramp’;
no liket him Musquito when he help’m lock away.
He’d lived among the whites too long; to send him home where ties were strong
would work against the interests of this infant colony.
Musquito’s skills were in demand, so Davey blocked his clear command;
another job, another job, then (maybe) set him free.
I help’m catch the outlaw Howe — s’posen free Musquito now?
‘No bloody fear’ they tell me, so I slip into the scrub,
and get along wid “tame gang” blacks, no trouble whiteman, no attacks,
an’ sometimes givet bakky chew, an’ sometimes givet grub.
The mob went down to Grindstone Bay, a favoured spot for native prey,
and found a recent hut was built upon their hunting grounds.
The game was thin in numbers, lean and scattered over pastures mean;
they tumbled to the keepers’ guns and ruthless baying hounds.
For dealing roughly with the gins, the keepers soon would rue their sins
when angry spears of tribesmen rained upon the fleeing whites.
With hue and cry the word rang out; “Come hunt Musquito,” ran their shout;
this ‘leader’ who had stirred the mob was firmly in their sights.
Musquito squatted in his cell. He’d little other left to tell;
his trial, a bitter mockery of justice, whiteman style.
No chance to speak in self-defence, no witness called, no voice of sense;
his rebel eyes were gleaming now. He gave a rueful smile.
No good for blackman hangin’ me! he whispered philosophically.
Musquito, why not hang a black for murder, like a white?
Ah, hangin’ whiteman plenty good. I wondered if he understood.
The whiteman, him been used to it! Perhaps, I thought, you’re right.
Footnote: Musquito was a real life person (c.1780-1825), an Aboriginal resistance leader and tracker. My poem follows his story as accurately as possible.
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