© Tom McIlveen

Winner, 2014 FAW Eastwood/Hills ‘Boree Log Award’, Eastwood NSW.

They call me ‘The Stringybark Butcher’,
and continue to slander my name,
and say that I kill for the decadent thrill
of achieving distinction and fame.
But what would they know of emotions that grow
in the heart of a penalised child,
whose kindred and peers have for hundreds of years,
been relentlessly plagued and defiled?

My father was flogged as a convict,
and enfettered in shackles and chain;
then stripped of his pride, till it smouldered and died,
to be never rekindled again.
I watched him succumb to the demons of rum,
as he struggled to cope and survive
on remnants of dreams and insidious schemes,
that sustained him and kept him alive.

Eureka’s stockade was still burning
in the murky grey shadows of dawn,
and Bakery Hill had been smouldering still
on the morning that I had been born.
My father had said he had christened me Ned
on account of an uncle of mine,
and firmly believed I’d been duly conceived
to continue his dwindling line.

He’d died with a chip on his shoulder
and an ache in the core of his heart,
when made to conform to society’s norm,
which had shunned him and torn him apart.
Perhaps he was spared from those demons
who had shared in his devious damnable sins,
and taken their tolls on the vacuous souls
of the Kellys, the Lloyds and the Quinns.

As heir to the throne I was chosen
to redeem every woman and man
who’d ever been chained and indelibly stained
by the blood of our tyrannised clan.
Though only fifteen and still guileless and green,
they had locked me away in a cell,
and buried my soul in a bottomless hole
that was deeper and blacker than hell.

I learnt to survive in that jungle
where the Devil remained undisclosed
behind his disguise of deception and lies,
as he prowled every night unopposed.
Confined to my cage and surrounded by rage,
I’d been battered by knuckle and knife…
then made to conform to the prisoner’s norm
of brutality, hatred and strife.

I wondered at times of an evening,
as the shadows had started to crawl,
if Father O’Hea had been able to pray
for the righteous who’d answered his call.
Perhaps he’d have saved every sinner enslaved
by his wicked iniquitous foe,
who’d scattered his seed of corruption and greed
from the raging inferno below.

It seems that his spawn wasn’t wasted,
as it sprung in each vacuous soul,
and flourished until, it began to fulfil
every need in that bottomless hole.
I’d paid for my crime and had finished my time
by the autumn of seventy-one,
when trouble and strife had re-entered my life
on the back of a thoroughbred dun.

Another three years in the dungeon,
had been more like a hundred to me,
and spurred a desire to emerge from the mire
and acknowledge my right to be free.
By seventy-four I was eager once more
to return to familiar terrane,
and savour the feel of a stirrup on heel
and the pull of a bridle on rein.

But prison continued to haunt me,
far beyond the confines of my cell…
invading my dreams with iniquitous schemes
from those bottomless hollows of hell.
Eureka stockade, although battered and frayed,
was a symbol of hope to us all –
and Bakery Hill would be smouldering still
if I hadn’t have answered its call !

The embers that I had ignited,
had provided a beacon of light
for tyrannised folk who’d been chained to the yoke
of imperial crimson and white.
My comrades and peers had been herded like steers
into government slaughtering yards…
then treated like hogs and indentured as dogs
by Her Majesty’s troopers and guards.

So why do they call me ‘The Butcher’,
and then mock me whenever I speak
of grievance and guilt for the blood that was spilt
in the trenches at Stringybark Creek?
The troopers who’d died had undoubtedly tried
to eradicate me and my gang,
by gunning us down in the name of the crown
and condemning survivors to hang.

I stand on the gallows and ponder…
what I’d give to be homeward and free –
redeemed of my sins, with the Kellys and Quinns
and a boiling hot billy of tea.
Despite my remorse, I could kill for a horse
to be saddled with bridle and reins –
to savour the feel of a stirrup on heel
and be free of these shackles and chains!

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