© Tom McIlveen

Winner, 2018 Laura Literary Awards – Bush Poetry, Laura, SA.

On the road to Pappibarra, there’s a tree of sacred jarrah
in the valley where the tallest timbers grow –
and according to tradition and a local superstition…
it was planted many thousand years ago.
‘Twas Baieme and Eingana, Rainbow Serpent and Goanna
who’d supplied the seed when Dreamtime had begun.
It had sprouted forth and flourished, to be sanctified and nourished
by the Mother Earth and Goddess Of The Sun.

The Koori tribes revered it and had burnt the bush and cleared it
to appease their Gods’ perpetual demands.
It had thrived and propagated till the forest was created
from volcanic rock and barren desert sands.

I was rousted from my dreaming by the shrill persistent screaming
of a cockatoo who’d lost his way in flight.
We arose that Sunday morning to the sounds of creatures warning
us that something in the forest wasn’t right.

In the rafters just above us, was a pair of spotted plovers
who were screeching loud enough to wake the dead.
They had seemingly been frightened by a cloud of smoke that whitened
as it billowed ever upward overhead.

Then a wallaby had bounded through the clearing now surrounded
by an eerie shadow cast from smoking wood.
He had smelt the fire approaching, long before it was encroaching
on his grazing patch just west of where we stood.

In the chaos and confusion, I remembered our seclusion,
with the nearest neighbour half a mile away.
I could feel an inward tremor as we faced the real dilemma –
of escaping now or buckling down to stay?

But before it was decided, an inferno had divided
us from any access coming in or out.
With a hot nor’wester blowing, we had little way of knowing
how the bush would fare from eighteen months of drought.

If the fire had found us driving, then our chances of surviving
would be smaller than a snowball’s chance in hell.
There were walls of flame appearing in what should have been a clearing,
but was now ablaze as far as we could tell

Since the Greens had been elected, many trees were now protected
from the loggers and the lumber mills in turn.
But if nature had intended for her trees to be defended,
she would never have allowed those trees to burn.

With a sense of hopeless yearning, we had watched our cottage burning
as the flames had roasted everything in sight.
They had scorched the eaves and gutters and engulfed the open shutters,
and then set the doors and window frames alight.

In amongst the ash and sorrow, broken dreams and no tomorrow,
we had wondered if the forest would prevail.
Would it be regenerated or completely decimated
till the bush returns to desert, rock and shale?

When I’m dreaming of Eingana, Rainbow Serpent and Goanna,
I can see again that underlying theme.
Was it simply intuition or some type of premonition
from a superstitious, visionary dream?

On the road to Pappinbarra, there’s a tree of sacred jarrah
in the ashes where the strongest timbers stand…
and in spite of Blackened Sunday, we will build again there one day –
in the very heart of sacred jarrah land.

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