© Colleen McLaughlin

Winner, 2009 ‘Bronze Spur Award’, Drovers’ Camp Festival, Camooweal Queensland.

For centuries men have reckoned time by the
position of the Southern Cross constellation on
its nightly orbit through the skies.


Call me when the Cross turns over — then I know the dawn is near,
dark is thick and silent round me, still the stars are shining clear.
I should hear the horse bells ringing — hear the clink of hobble chains —
know the horse boy, Jim, has risen long before the darkness wanes.


But there’s silence.  There is waiting for the far off distant whirr
of the chopper blades rotating, setting all the bush astir.

Smell the smoke.  The coals are glowing and the cook is on his feet.
Tucks the damper in the ashes, stokes the fire and checks the heat.
Sees the billy’s boiling briskly — time to throw the tea leaves in —
pull the boots on, roll the bluey, let the day long tasks begin.

Generator breaks the silence —cook van lights are all aglow —
armth and comfort are around us — steak and onions on the go.

Take the bridle, think while walking, “There’s a long, hard day ahead,
need a horse whose heart will take me over plain and watershed.”
Saddle’s on.  He tenses muscles. “Mate, just pull the girth up tight —
you can tell the way he’s looking, he’s just itching for a fight.”

Bikes will maybe need refuelling — check the tyres and climb aboard —
kick the starter — gun the motor — overhead the chopper soared.

Fifteen miles to reach the bound’ry, and the wings are spreading wide,
turn them in and search the pockets where the rogues and laggards hide.
Time goes by and dust clouds eddy, dinner camp is far behind,
mob is steady as the sun sets and the holding yards we find.


Eighteen hundred head are yarded, in the time we took to ride
from the breakfast camp at daylight to the fence the other side.
Rotors whirring — bikes back-firing — bawling mothers calling calves —
time’s the essence of the contract.  Nothing can be done by halves.
Not a drover now is waiting for a mob to hit the road.
But by sundown trucks are leaving taking out each drafted load.


Call it change, or call it progress, call it what you think is best.
Time’s we knew and old traditions, all are gone and laid to rest.
Men whose hands were light as feathers, when they touched the bridle reins,
grab the bars of bikes with passion, as they search the hills and plains.
Still, call me when the Cross turns over, when the dawn winds cool the air,
and the bush begins to waken, for my heart will still be there.
When I see the daylight breaking, see the stars put out their lights,
then I know that time is timeless, while the Cross turns through the nights.

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