© Catherine Lee

Winner, 2012, Bryan Kelleher Literary Award, Australian Unity, South Melbourne, Victoria.

I’ve travelled very far but now my years of use are through;
I sit here in the darkness contemplating days I knew.
The constant ticking clock denotes the passages of time,
and memories are all I have of my respected prime.
My famous lights are dimmed, their glowing cheerfulness is gone;
once visible and welcomed over miles with how they shone,
these lamps no longer glitter to assure and advertise,
though visitors still come with admiration in their eyes.

In eighteen-ninety I was built, in Bathurst so I’m told;
I carried passengers and mail, and very often gold.
The company’s first journey left from Melbourne years ago
to diggings down at Forest Creek, quite near to Bendigo.
Through almost every state we blazed a trail of trust and lore—
Victoria to New South Wales, and Queensland’s sunlit shore;
across this continent we served for decades faithfully—
were known for speed and strength and our reliability.

My thoroughbrace suspension lies inert beneath my core,
the straps of thickened hide to be adjusted nevermore.
But once these helped me move, react on every roughened road,
ensuring people travelled in relaxed and comfy mode.
From local and imported timbers I was built to last,
and here I stand to prove it, though a relic of the past.
Leviathan I’m not, but seated round about fourteen,
and bore our logo proudly on my timber’s polished sheen.

With horses bred for speed and might the teams were matched for size,
performance, colour, character—all traits they must comprise;
and standing up to sixteen hands their stamina was high,
with muscles honed, broad chests and first-rate legs from hoof to thigh.
Their markings corresponded, natures bore a common thread,
both standard breed and trotter, draught or purely thoroughbred,
while some possessed the Clydesdale blood—all hybrids of the best—
descendants still remain today of ‘coachers’ that impressed.

I still recall the snorting of those creatures as they’d wait
till I was safely loaded with my passengers and freight.
You’d hear the cry, “Last call for tickets!” Travellers would board,
like shearers, settlers, diggers seeking gold as their reward,
or immigrants and squatters; then they’d bring the letters out—
that precious link to home the people couldn’t do without.
Conveying rich and poor alike from every walk of life,
the driver’s word was law, preventing any form of strife.

We’d rattle over rutted tracks, contend with bumpy roads,
yet resolutely carry on despite our heavy loads.
And sometimes there were swollen rivers, flooding plains and such,
the constant threat of robbery, the wild bushranger’s clutch,
the hazardous steep mountain tracks, those often stormy nights—
we carried on regardless, our objective in our sights.
Despite the mud and adverse weather nothing could appease,
we moved as ably as we could around those colonies.

The many inns and changing stations spread along our route
provided fresh and eager horses set to substitute.
The weary ones could be replaced and stabled, rested, fed,
while new ones then would take their turn to forge the way ahead.
In order to refresh themselves the people would alight
for damper, stews and beer, and they would sometimes stay the night.
Those shanties would be warned by horns or bugles on approach—
prepare the equine choices for the driver of each coach.

Our legendary drivers suffered much with heat and dust,
the flies, mosquitoes, kangaroos; they had to be robust.
From hold-ups, bushfire, rain and snow to snakes and blinding fog,
instructing grumpy passengers when plunging into bog,
their skill was undisputed—known as ‘Jehus’ or as ‘whips’,
they earned the peoples’ high esteem as ‘captains of their ships’.
Reciting poems, spinning yarns, their knowledge could amaze—
the pioneering men who steered us through those heady days.

Much later, with high overheads and fast increasing cost,
the years of drought affecting us, our future hopes were lost;
the advent of the railways, cars and aeroplanes on hand
reduced the time it took to cross this rough, colossal land.
The last coach drawn by horses ran in nineteen-twenty-four—
the mail run given later to our men returned from war.
The dream was over; loss of income hit a sharp decline
and led to company demise in nineteen-twenty-nine.

So now I sit reliving each exhilarating trip,
recalling jingling chains, the rousing cracking of the whip,
the softly creaking leather, flying dust and lantern’s gleam,
my body bowed by weight but strapped to primed and splendid team;
imagining the ghosts that haunt the changing stations now,
reflecting on the legacy we’ve happened to endow—
a nation building enterprise, our name lives on today,
esteemed and greatly treasured—which is how we’ll always stay.

My yellow wheels no longer turn; I sit for all to see
as part of our great heritage, restored so lovingly.
Perhaps one day I’ll roll again, brought out to re-enact,
but never can this exercise prove totally exact.
With outlaws to the left of me and thunder on the right,
I rocked and swayed through bush, up hills, a frequent friendly sight.
We made our mark on history so many years ago
when dreams became a legend in the form of Cobb and Co.

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