© David Campbell

Winner, 2020 The Kembla Flame, Illawarra, NSW.

My Grandma wouldn’t budge an inch, defiant in her chair.
She stared at Dad and didn’t flinch, and said she didn’t care
if all the rain that ever was had come on tumbling down,
she wouldn’t leave her home because she hated life in town.

But Dad was firm, and I could see that he’d made up his mind,
he simply couldn’t leave her be, and let her stay behind.
He looked at her, then gave a sigh and slowly shook his head:
“If you stay here you’ll surely die, we’ll carry you instead!”

We did just that, and though she fought and cursed her only son,
her arguments still came to nought when all was said and done.
We packed the ute with what she’d need and headed up the track,
but as we slowly gathered speed she kept on looking back.

And I could tell she had a fear she’d not return again,
for she was by herself out here, and it was very plain
that Dad would pressure her once more to leave the life she’d known,
for they had walked this path before…she wasn’t safe alone.

But then we topped a nearby rise where all became so clear,
and she began to realise the danger that was near.
“My God!” she cried, and shook with fright, “I simply couldn’t tell!”
Below us was a shocking sight, a nightmare straight from hell.

The river almost seemed alive, a wild, rampaging beast,
a monster no-one could survive, a juggernaut released.
It heaved and kicked and churned and swirled, a seething, dirt-brown tide
that clutched and caught and tossed and whirled, then roughly cast aside.

The bonnet of a truck swept by, and then a rusty gate,
a tree-root thrusting to the sky, a shattered packing crate,
a tricycle, a chicken-coop, a signpost snapped in half,
a wagon-wheel, a barrel hoop, the body of a calf.

For ten long minutes we just stood, quite overcome with awe,
and simply tried, as best we could, to deal with what we saw.
Destruction was our foremost thought, yet we could also see
the benefits that could be brought, the future that might be.

At first we’d felt a sudden chill when news had travelled south
from Roma, Quilpie, Charleville, passed on by word of mouth,
that rains had come, more than they’d seen, that rivers were in flood,
and where the dark red dust had been, was now a sea of mud.

The Maranoa, Warrego, the Balonne and Bulloo,
had burst their banks, an overflow that simply grew and grew
until one mighty river spread across our barren land,
a vast expanse that forged ahead through scrub and desert sand.
A giant snake, with darting tongue, it twisted, surged and curled,
both life and death to old and young, this wonder of the world.
Right down through all the creeks to Bourke, the Darling and beyond,
this miracle would do its work, and nature would respond.

And that, perhaps, was in Gran’s mind, for she stopped looking back,
as if to lose what lay behind, ignore what she might lack,
and focus on the road ahead, new memories to hold,
of things that could be done and said, the stories yet untold.

“It’s sad to leave,” she said, “and yet, despite what’s in the past,
fresh challenges must still be met, for time goes by so fast.
I guess we have to do our best, on life’s eternal stage,
to cope with each demanding test, no matter what our age.”

That happened many years ago, and yet her words remain,
a memory that helps to show how much there is to gain
from facing hardship, pain, and loss, to see what lies beyond,
the bridges that we still can cross if only we respond.

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