Keepers of Our Heritage

© Shelley Hansen

Winner, 2019 Henry Lawson Memorial and Literary Society – Bush Poetry Award, Brighton, Melbourne, Victoria.

If you feel the urge to travel, with a passion to unravel
precious pieces of our heritage that make us who we are,
you’ll be offered many chances through technology’s advances
to imbibe tall tales and true ones – from sublime to the bizarre!

If you make the choice to enter some iconic tourist centre,
you may marvel at the wonder of a “sound and light” display,
hear the stories told with vigour by a holographic figure
which transports you on a voyage to relive a bygone day.

These displays are eyebrow-raising, but although we’re rightly praising
their technique and innovation that invades our ears and eyes
with a glimpse of former glory – there is much more to the story
of the keepers of our heritage beneath Australian skies.

There is more than just a semblance of the spirit of remembrance
far beyond the beaten track where tourist buses never go.
Where a gold coin grants permission to embrace an exhibition
that recalls what you’ve forgotten, and reminds you what you know.

It’s the amateur collections filled with shades of past reflections,
often housed in modest buildings in some lonely outback town.
It’s the volunteers who tend them and defiantly defend them
from the ever-present threat of being closed or taken down.

It’s the loving renovation of a crumbling railway station
that recalls the lost prosperity of wool “a pound a pound”,
where the tea rooms, long neglected, have been cleaned and resurrected
with refreshments in the hope that passing footsteps will resound.

It’s the work of small committees in the country and the cities
to unearth the buried stories lived by people of the past.
It’s the effort of presenting, so that visitors frequenting
may remember and re-tell them – and the legacy will last.

Through each piece of rusty treasure we should take the time to measure
time and distance that we’ve travelled through a sea of calm and strife.
Whether maritime adventures, or an ancient set of dentures,
each can tell us tales that teach us what’s important in our life.

We can see a farmer ploughing with his horse, his figure bowing
with the task of making furrows that are true and straight and deep,
and the blades, now still, remind us that we shouldn’t look behind us
when the focus of the future is the vision we should keep.

We can feel the newsroom’s clamour as the printing presses hammer
to produce the inky broadsheets that proclaim the daily news.
“Extra! Extra!” they are crying, as the passers-by are buying
paper windows to a world too far away to shape their views.

Now, as life is quickly changing, with our values rearranging,
is it time to re-evaluate our notions of “true blue”?
For to be assured of knowing the direction we are going
we must understand the lessons of the past we’ve travelled through.

Whether large or small endeavour, town or country, or wherever,
we should “dip our lids” to keepers of the lives we used to lead,
for they truly are deserving, all those lovingly preserving
Aussie heritage in stories for our children’s kids to read.

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