© Yvonne Harper
Winner, 2012 Bush Poetry Festival, Dunedoo, NSW.
Across the creek, Dave called to Meg; “You’d best clear out to town.
A neighbour came to warn me that a flood is coming down.
This storm will only make things worse so you must move your stock
away from where the rising creek is running through your block.
“You’ll need to push them hard my girl as there’s no time to lose,
for soon the creek will break its banks and you may have to choose
to leave your stock to save young Bess and Granny from the flood.
I wish that I could help you but my truck’s bogged in the mud. “
Young Bess, Meg’s sister – only twelve – who’d never shirked a load,
swung wide the gate for Meg to drive the cattle to the road.
Then Bess, on Starlight rode for help, against the rising gale.
Because her Gran was in poor health, she knew she must not fail.
The sleeting rain soon swallowed up the mare and plucky Bess
while Meg prayed that she’d bring the help to save them from distress.
The water was now rising fast – the roof their only chance –
their struggle up the ladder executed in a trance.
Huge waves of water beat against the house as they both clung
onto the chimney stack against which fallen trees were flung.
A blast of wind, as rain drummed down, shook them as they held on.
Without a sign of Bess they felt that all their hope was gone.
And then a “Coo-ee” pierced the storm – deliverance was near.
A row-boat with three men aboard were trying hard to steer,
towards the roof where Meg and Gran, both weakened by the cold
were almost comatose and just about to lose their hold.
But as the pitching boat was almost buried by a wave,
a brave and stalwart bushman leapt upon the roof and gave
his hand to Meg who pushed her Gran into his strong embrace,
and Gran was placed into the boat, fatigue etched on her face.
Next moment, as he reached for Meg, a drowning sheep swept by,
and dashed her from his hands despite his most determined try.
The current was so strong that Meg could scarcely keep her head
above the torrent rushing down. Her mind was filled with dread.
She grabbed a branch but it was swept from fingers that were weak
and when she’d almost given up, she heard her sister shriek.
Then Bess was there beside her in the flood on their grey mare –
Bess reaching out with both her hands – so white and small and bare.
Despite the horse’s mighty heart, the burden was too great
and watchers in the boat knew death would be their awful fate.
Bess knew it too and in a flash slipped off into the creek.
With whispered words – a last “goodbye” – she kissed Meg on the cheek.
At first Bess swam with strength across the seething, whirling swell –
then helpless – then inert – was broken, like a fragile shell.
Meg never knew just how their horse had reached the bank that night
as she lay ill, assailed by guilt that she could not put right.
“Why was it her?” and “Why not me?” kept drifting through Meg’s mind
until her anguished life became a never ending grind
as Meg believed she’d always see her sister’s drowning form,
a tiny body tossed by waves and buffeted by storm.
But life moves on and over time, Meg’s anguish ceased to bite.
She had a little daughter, Bess, who was her heart’s delight.
Together they would go and sit where “Auntie Bessie” lay
who’d saved her Mum – so long ago – on that fierce, stormy day.
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