TOP CAMP – ‘Up in the Devil’s Lair’

© Terry Piggott

Winner, The Betty Olle Poetry Award 2021, Kyabram and District Bush Verse Group, Kyabram, Victoria.

Where the stony creeks meander and the schist clad hills rise high,
you can feel your heart beat faster as you near where nuggets lie.
Yet this country can be treacherous for those who don’t take care,
death has long since cast its shadow here up in the devil’s lair.

There’s a lonely grave that greets you where the ghost gums line the creeks
and it’s here he’d sought his fortune once amid these crumbling peaks.
There’s a worn-out pick and shovel there and boulders still lay strewn
and you hear the dingo’s howling with the rising of the moon.

On a termite ridden tree trunk is a rusty frying pan,
where his mates had scratched the name once of this long-forgotten man.
But the words have disappeared now, so there’s just a stone lined grave,
that’s a poignant last reminder of a mate they could not save.

Far out in this wilderness his friends could only hope and wait,
praying for a miracle to somehow save a dying mate.
Though by then their hearts were hardened to the perils faced outback;
death no longer was a stranger to those men who blazed the track.

When you look down at his grave, you think of how it was that day
and you wonder at the heartache of a mother far away.
Then you think about a sweetheart and the life they’d hoped to share
and you feel a tinge of sadness here up in the devil’s lair.

Time has silenced all the voices now of those who’d been his mate
and there’s little still remembered of the way he met his fate.
With no comrades left to mourn him and no lover to shed tears,
he has rested here forgotten for one hundred dreary years.

Yet this country holds him to its breast and guards his resting place,
while the changing seasons come and go at their unhurried pace.
When the summer storms arrive each year to swell the creek once more,
you can hear the boulders crashing and the raging river roar.

At a waterhole that fills here after cyclones have passed through,
there are signs he may have camped there to enjoy the peaceful view.
As the nighttime shadows gathered and the sun began to sink,
he could watch the country stir again as creatures came to drink.

There’s a haunting feel about this place when stars are shining bright
and you sense you’re not alone, although there’s not a soul in sight.
As the nighttime breezes stir the leaves they whisper as they go
and it sounds just like his voice at times around this old-time show.

As you daydream by your campfire at the closing of each day,
you imagine he’s there with you pointing out where nuggets lay.
For it’s easy to believe now that his spirit roams here still
and he guards these creeks and gullies from his grave up on the hill.

There’s a nagging urge to come here, though I never stay for long,
yet I find it hard to leave at times; the lure of gold is strong.
It’s remote and inhospitable when summer’s in the air,
but again, that sense of sadness as you leave the Devils’ lair.

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