© Ellis Campbell

Winner, 2010 Charlee Marshall Memorial Festival – Golden Cockatoo Award, Banana Shire, Queensland.

The rabbit trapper staggered on, his haggard features woebegone –
steel traps upon his stooping back a burden long endured.
Across uneven ground with skill, where stunted scrub decked barren hill,
he knew midst burrs and hollow logs good setting was ensured.

He knelt upon his bony knees—the moisture stained his dungarees
and soiled his hands that deftly set the steel-jawed rabbit trap.
It roused the rheumatism’s smart—a pain he tried to set apart –
but sleepless nights were torture as he fought this handicap.

His last trap set as darkness fell—his lonely camp a distant spell –
he sat upon a log and rolled a clumsy cigarette.
His calloused hands were caked with grime; his aching legs cramped all the time –
the shirt across his bony shoulders stiff with drying sweat.

He slowly rose from off the log and wearily began the slog,
across the hills and gullies’ maze, back to his dreary tent.
A welcome sight at last to see the half-dry billabong and tree
beyond his camp where dully glowed his fire—almost spent.

A tent of canvas wearing thin, a rough bunk on the ground within,
to spend the weary hours’ rest his irksome work allowed.
A lonely and depressing life—no place out here to bring a wife –
far from the busy city where the teeming thousands crowd.

His billy* boiled on burning log, amidst the frost and early fog,
he ate a hurried breakfast by the lantern’s sluggish glow.
A chaff bag draped across his back he tramped into the murky track,
in time to beat the eagle hawk, goanna and the crow*.

The rabbit squealed as—petrified by instincts long instilled—it tried
to fight against the steel trap’s clinging jaws and rattling chain.
He broke its neck with one swift flick—its frantic squealing stilled so quick –
long steeled against compassion for the creature he had slain.

Repeatedly the rabbits died in merciless dispatch beside
each sagging body added to the swiftly stretching sack.
His hand bled freely from a tear a frantic rabbit’s scratch laid bare,
and piss and blood seeped from the bag to stain his aching back.

The rabbits all expertly skinned and pelts hung out in drying wind,
before he grabbed another hasty snack of tasteless grub.
Then off again in ceaseless tramp to brave the winter’s chill and damp,
and set his traps on feeding grounds beside the scattered scrub.

The bushman is no stranger to the strain of constant working through
the shearing, fencing, timber logging—somewhere down the track.
But rabbit trapping is some work that many bushmen bluntly shirk –
they hate the endless, trudging miles with weight upon their back.

No doubt that rabbit trapping was a hard and thankless job because
it lacked compassion in eradication’s ruthless quest.
But trappers suffered torture, too, to make a bob* the way they knew –
a slavish occupation that denied the bushman rest.

Perhaps he earned a little more than average bushman did but score
of gruelling hours, living rough and constant toil took toll.
It was the only way he knew to make an honest quid or two –
he much preferred this agony to bludging on the dole.

*Billy: Billycan boiled by all bushman to make their tea.
*Crow: Crows, hawks and goannas sometimes killed rabbits in the traps and destroyed the skins before the trapper reached them.
*Bob: Slang for one shilling—equal to ten cents decimal currency.  Old time bushmen invariably referred to their wages as, “making a bob”.

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