© Tom McIlveen

Winner 2013, Rathdowney Heritage Festival Bush Poetry Competition, Rathdowney, Queensland.

The apple gum was hardy as it thrived in barren dust
and seemed to be an icon that we children grew to trust.
We knew it would be standing and awaiting our return,
not knowing of our journey and the lessons we would learn.

Just like that gum we persevered, endured the harder years,
despite the separation, all the heartache and the tears.
When relocating saplings, they will struggle to survive,
at best they will be stunted, only rarely will they thrive.

Our sibling group was split one night in nineteen sixty two,
the younger ones were taken and the elders never knew
the misery and heartache of the dungeon on the hill.
The memory still haunts us and it likely always will.

As helpless little children are like fledglings in a nest;
if taken out too early you will traumatise the rest.
The ones that have been taken, start to fret if they’re denied
the comfort of a family, alone and terrified.

With fear and apprehension, we were taken off by night;
our father’s sorrow warning us that something wasn’t right.
That first cut was the deepest and the scars would soon reveal,
that wounds no longer bleeding are the ones that never heal.

Like tragic little soldiers we marched bravely off to war;
attired in somber uniforms and boots that others wore.
The youngest just a baby and too young to face the foe
of fear and shame and loneliness, that only orphans know.

Ten thousand plus had paved the way and walked the floors before;
their ghostly presence lingered in the basement corridor.
You’d feel them in the clothes we wore for they had worn them too,
and see them in the listless eyes of those we met and knew.

You’d hear them on a windy night; they’d howl and whine and moan,
and knew they were among us still, their wretched souls unknown.
The chapel of a morning, was aglow with candlelight
and offered something better, giving hope and brief respite.

A seed of hope was planted to be answered with a prayer,
that ‘God loves little children and he handles them with care’.
We prayed to be delivered from the misery and pain,
the solitude and sadness of that terrible domain.

Those cold New England winters, nearly more then we could bear,
as hungry little refugees without enough to wear.
The coloured stained glass windows showed how Jesus paid the price,
from birthplace in the manger to his final sacrifice.

Despite His healing miracles, they sentenced Him; He died,
betrayed and persecuted and then harshly crucified.
His final words inspired us and we knew them to be true;
‘My Father please forgive them, for they know not what they do’.

That hardy apple gum back home, for which we’d often yearned,
was there to give us comfort when we finally returned.
We’d left as little children, and came home as soldiers will,
with smiles to hide the heartache–of the dungeon on the hill.

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