GULGONG, THEN & NOW
© Ellis Campbell
Winner, 2010 ‘Henry Lawson Society of NSW Literary Awards – Henry Lawson Award’, Gulgong, NSW.
In eighteen-seventy the cry of “gold” was everywhere,
and Gulgong township overnight was spawned.
The leads like Happy Valley and Black Swan discovered there –
All Nations, Parramatta quickly dawned.
Rapp’s Gully, Moonlight, Three Mile, Perseverance, too –
the Caledonian and Wait-a-While,
Ford’s Creek and Fraser, Royal George—the frantic searchers grew –
but many found the venture all futile.
Beyond the railway station—now abandoned and despoiled –
lie ghostly mullock heaps of bluish-grey.
That’s Gulgong’s famous Black Lead fields, where teeming thousands toiled –
a scattered suburb languishes today.
The lure of yellow metal snared a teeming multitude,
they came in droves from other failing fields.
A mass of nationalities that tramped their way and queued
to stake a claim and dream of wealthy yields.
Here seething throngs of miners slaved in search of precious gold –
a frantic fever surging through their veins.
Beyond their wildest dreams some found a fortune manifold –
for others stark despair and hunger pains.
And Gulgong’s population surged to twenty thousand then,
with sixty shanties serving out the grog.
Hard working and hard living—some hard drinking—rugged men,
faced eagerly the day’s eternal slog.
Now misty dawn’s approach brings wispy phantoms intertwined –
through dreary paddocks strewn with piles of clay.
You hear the creaking windlass as its steely ropes unwind,
its stanchions groan beneath the bucket’s sway.
You hear the raucous miners sing, inside the shanty’s room,
see flats bedecked with tents of calico.
You hear the groans of sweating men, picks delving in the gloom
of darkened depths one hundred feet below.
Far from their homes and loved ones, desperation spurred them on –
the dream of untold riches seared their soul.
They toiled in frenzied fervour, bearded faces drawn and wan
from weeks evading sunlight down a hole.
The joyous cry, “Eureka!” when they found a fruitful lode –
the anguish of despair when bottoms* failed.
Mushrooming population, bound by little law or code –
adversity an albatross unveiled.
You see a fleeting figure pause between the mullock heaps,
his wispy grey moustache plucked by a breeze.
In dawn’s half-light The Sad Grey Dreamer’s image surely creeps –
his lean frame indistinct amidst the trees.
His stirring words— forever vivid—live in what he wrote –
he painted Gulgong’s picture starkly real.
The Lights Of Cobb And Co—The Roaring Days are two I quote –
you hear the gravel crunch beneath a wheel.
Hub of the west, they called it—a vision strewn awry –
Black Lead’s a stretch of farming land today.
No more the spanking hoof beats as the coaches rattle by –
no more the thudding picks delve into clay.
But spirit’s undiminished and they proudly celebrate
old Henry’s birthday, mid June every year.
Their pioneering forebears’ blood will fiercely demonstrate
that Gulgong has a past they all revere.
*Bottoms: Miners sank shafts, varying greatly in depth, until they hit “bottom.” This was a gravelly drift where gold, if any existed, would be found.
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