© Donald Crane

Winner, 2009 ‘The Nandewar Poetry Competition’, Narrabri NSW.

Because of an active outdoor lifestyle perhaps nothing worries a bushman more than old age, the thought of becoming old and useless, but there comes a time in every life when we must face this fact.

Is this the fate a man deserves who’s laboured till the end,
Who’s long outlived his ‘useful’ years and much too patient friend?
There in his squatter’s chair he rots, the ling’ring years now left,
A body sapped by time’s cruel hand, life’s spirit now – bereft.
A drover’s horse meets kinder fate to end long years and hard,
That finds itself alone, en route – to fiendish knacker’s yard.
Where life’s end comes, as soon it must, brings swift and blest release;
A long and painful death replaced by everlasting ‘peace’.

No stockman would such ‘peace’ deny his pain racked equine friend,
Or bushman e’er whose time has come not seek such speedy end.
For thoughts that plague a bushman’s mind and fill his heart with dread,
Are drawn out months of living hell, when best that he were dead.
What harsher hand could man be dealt than spend his final days,
A shuffling shell of former self – his mind a muddled haze.
To shuffle ‘round in slippered feet, house-bound by day and night,
With pallid face and faltering mind – a sad and hapless sight.

Is this the price a man must pay for ‘extra time’ he’s gained,
When ‘useful’ years are gone, long gone, when sense of worth has waned?
For rough tough men from outback runs, however smart or great,
In life’s last draft, when time is up, are shown the same ‘bush’ gate.
Unkindly shunned and mocked by those too young to understand
The hurt they cause in hearts of men who wear the bushman’s brand.
How many days must man endure this pain of ling’ring hell,
How many more to wait, forlorn, till tolls the final bell?

The old man sat in squatter’s chair in drear and sombre mood,
With naught to do to pass the hours, with too much time to brood.
For oft the vaunted ‘golden years’ can be the most unkind,
And idleness a worthless balm to soothe a troubled mind.
The old man knew his time was nigh, his spark of youth was gone,
Long gone as well the will to live and wish to carry on
Along the one way track that leads to sadness and despair,
A hasty and a peaceful end was now the bushman’s prayer.

That evening found the self same scene – the old man sitting there,
with fresh tamped pipe and mug of tea, in well worn squatter’s chair.
But – pall-like o’er the now mute scene there hung a ghostly chill,
His pipe – unlit, his brew – undrunk, his body strangely still.
A fleeting glimpse at prostrate form, one glance at crease lined face,
Showed from the cards that life had dealt, he’d played his final ace.
No need the pallid face to scan to know his soul had passed,
His fervent plea’s been answered now – he’s found his ‘peace’ at last.

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