© Don Adams

Winner, 2011 ‘Coo-ee March Festival – Outback Section’, Gilgandra NSW.

The sun will rise, so will the heat.  The air will seem to burn.
As skylines fade to washed out blue and keen-eyed crows return,
the limitless horizons will, through distance, dust and glare,
display a chain of  rippling lakes.
But that is false, the parched earth bakes.
While whirling willies pirouette in paddocks brown and bare.

Although just dawn the boy is dressed, prepared for come what may.
With breakfast done he saddles up and rides to greet the day.
His first task is to coax the sheep to where they will be fed.
But patience, patience. Keep it slow.
A steady, trickling, even flow.
The drought has reigned for quite a while and their reserves are bled.

These sheep are only half alive, the remnants of a flock
of many thousands.  All Merinos, hardy fine wool stock.
But now they stagger as they walk.  Don’t rush them lest they fall.
For then would come the crows and flies
to lay their eggs and pierce their eyes
and he’d be left to pluck dead wool.  He hates that most of all.

A careful watch while watering then hope they’ll all get back.
He’ll head for home, his horse much brighter on the inward track.
He’ll feed him, groom him – that he loved – but other chores won’t keep.
The chooks and dogs await their grub.
Then, finally, a hasty scrub, .
a meal, a book to take to bed.  Too soon he’s fast asleep.

And that wraps up a long hard day for someone just thirteen.
The early start, the searing sun, the sorry sights he’d seen.
You’d think that he would come to hate this unforgiving land.
But no, some hidden alchemy
has led him even now to see
that place as something special.  But it’s hard to understand.

He lives, these days, by sparkling seas with bush-clad hills behind.
No scorching heat, no bare brown plains or dust to daze his mind.
Compared to those harsh early times he lives a life of ease.
So why, now, will he face the west
as if, to set his mind at rest,
he needs a warm wind on his brow to stir his memories?

A bond exists between the plains and those who’ve called them home.
As if a magnet draws them back, no matter where they roam.
In times of drought the land is harsh, it’s pain is clear to see.
But  when the rains arrive at last,
the balm of plenty dims the past.
You ask me how I know all this?  Why, that young boy was me.

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