(The Story of Thomas Wentworth Wills, 19.08.1835 – 02.05.1880)

© Brenda Joy

Winner, 2016 Eastwood Hills Fellowship of Australian Writers ‘The Boree Log’ Bush Poetry Literary Award.

How can I overcome the stress, the pain of ‘Cullin’s curse’?*
My life is in an utter mess, my drinking makes me worse.
These latter years I’m just a wretch, they’ve labelled me insane
as traumas rent my mind and etch their fissures in my brain.

A child of wealth, I’d made my name, ‘Australian Native Son’,
the founder of our football game,* my accolades were won.
And cricket too had honoured me, as legend of its code.
I’d entered sporting history.  I’d paid the debt I owed.

But Father, you were harsh and raw, convictions strict and strong.
Emancipists like you sought more – the right to co-belong,
the right of opportunity despite your ‘convict stain’,
the right to live at liberty beyond your roots of pain.

You forced me to your station land, enslaved to your commands,
to ways I could not understand, to work of harsh demands.
An empire hewn in family toil above the sandstone seams,
Cullin-la-Ringo’s fertile soil would help fulfil your dreams.

You drew me from my “…futile…” ways into your new pursuit
to forge your ownership assays where tensions were acute,
where tribes had lived for centuries – wild men of hardy stock.
They knew the hidden qualities of every vitros rock.

You claimed your right of ownership to land not yours to own.
You felt you had the right to strip the Black Man from his throne.
Did you expect the native race would simply run away?
It was their home, their sacred place – they made their bid to stay.

I was not there when you were killed.  Returning I would find
communal graves with bodies filled with stench to haunt my mind.
I heard the tortured screams resound where nineteen lives were lost.
On this horrendous slaughter ground, you paid your final cost.

This massacre – one tragic link in retribution’s chain –
whatever those to come may think, my terror will remain.
I tried to keep your scheme alive, despite the fears and strife
but knowing I could not survive, I left to save my life.

I joined the sporting world again to reconstruct my dream,
I even undertook to train a Native cricket team,
but nothing left can compensate.  My mind is still a mess.
I’ll end this hell, obliterate this fierce, traumatic stress*.

My agony is nearly through.  I had my hour of fame.
I spurred the visionary view to form our nation’s game,
but it has brought no inner peace and demons urge me on
to make the pain of living cease. My era’s nearly gone.

My grave may lie a lonely plot, a patch of mounded earth.
There’ll be no headstone on the spot to signify my worth,*
but if the future recollects my tale in prose or rhyme
it will be seen my life reflects a mirror of my time.

*    Cullin-la-ringo – sheep holding property near modern Springsure in Queensland.      
*    AFL (The Australian Football League)
*    The worst massacre in recorded history occurred at Cullen-la-ringo in 1861.
      Nineteen white men were slaughtered by local Aboriginies.   
      Horatio Wills, Tom’s father, was one of those killed.
*    An Aboriginal team – known as the Australian Native XI – the first Australian cricket team to go on tour to England.
*    We would now term Wills’ illness PTSD ‘Post Traumatic Stress Disorder’.
*    Tom’s grave was unmarked for one hundred years before the Melbourne Cricket Club erected a headstone to its ‘…most famous son…’ in 1980.

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