© Catherine Lee

Winner, 2011 ‘The Blackened Billy’, Tamworth, NSW.

As a bushman I’ve been wandering for all my working life,
and I never settled down with home and family, a wife.
I just worked where work was going as a drover, station hand;
did some mustering and shearing, always working on the land.

As the twilight of my years now finds me lost in solitude
and I gaze across this billabong with peacefulness imbued,
now my billycan is boiling so I rise to make some tea,
whilst it seems that Max is dozing—yet I know he watches me.

I retrieve the mug and shuffle to my horse beside the tree,
and he snorts in recognition, brown eyes gazing lazily.
Though within deceptive silence here grave threats at times arise,
he is calm tonight—no danger lurks—I see it in his eyes.

Sometimes lost in idle musings how another life might seem
if I’d dropped this roving bushman’s life for that romantic dream,
I reflect—but know the bush was ever in my heart and soul,
and persistently it called me to this solitary role.

For I craved the crackling firelight and the space that looms immense—
was enticed by blazing sunsets so inspiring and intense;
yearned for silence that engulfed me when I laid my bedroll down,
choosing harmony and peace above the noise and lights of town.

So I’ve never once felt lonely in this splendid, grand expanse,
which has never failed to stir me with its myst’ry and romance.
While its eerie, timeless wonder always held me in its thrall,
its inhabitants beguiled me with each strange, alluring call.

For I’ve seen the awesome spectacle of brumbies on the run,
with their nostrils flaring, flowing manes, their breath in unison—
heard them shake the ground with thunder and refuse to compromise,
with the love of freedom glinting in their haunted, stormy eyes.

I have ridden round the cattle resting near each water hole,
or when tailing them to shepherd and to keep them in control,
yet felt terrified excitement at a bullock’s mad stampede,
with the dust clouds dense, revealing just the crazed one at the lead.

The rewards and satisfaction earned by mustering the sheep,
or the teamwork of the ringers, building mate-ship that runs deep…
All these pleasures have sustained me on my isolated track,
so although there’s certain things I’ve missed, I wouldn’t take it back.

Though I’ve known the bitter heartbreak of the unrelenting drought,
have experienced a desert storm and feared I’d not get out,
witnessed total devastation wrought by bushfire’s wrath, and flood,
yet been stunned by man’s humanity and sacrifice of blood.

I could not forget the stillness of a soundless outback dawn,
nor the bustling sounds of creatures that begin to greet the morn;
I could not become complacent over ancient rocks and caves,
and escarpments towering—brooding over centuries of graves.

I still wonder at the boundless blue horizons that I scan
with no life in sight, and feel the insignificance of man;
where the stars look etched in crystal and the Southern Cross rides high—
seems engraved on inky blackness in an endless velvet sky.

There a crocodile is surfacing—Max growls, his ears on end,
while another spasm grips my chest and startles my old friend…
But the croc is only browsing and he slithers off downstream,
while a startled heron takes to flight with elegance supreme.

Now the great red orb is setting and the firmament’s alight—
soon the hunting preparations start for creatures of the night.
High above are flawless patterns formed by countless magpie geese,
whilst a massive eagle oversees his realm of timeless peace.

I am lying here prepared for death, for life has run its course;
when you find me, please take care of Max and this old faithful horse.
For my ticker’s let me down again and this time I just know—
and I think the dog does too—that it is time for me to go.

I suspect tomorrow’s sunrise is a glory I’ll not see—
this idyllic spot so fitting as my final memory.
On the eucalyptus breeze I will approach that unknown door,
joining countless other bushmen who have paved the way before.

There’s no spirit guide to come for me, no mystery to solve;
there are few who will remember, and there’s no-one to absolve.
And quite honestly there isn’t any better place for me
to depart this life, than in the bush that’s been my destiny.

Though I’ll miss so many things about my life here on this land,
I am leaving with a smile, my hat and stock whip in my hand;
I will say farewell to this amazing kingdom unsurpassed,
and within the great Australian bush my soul will sleep at last.

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