Where Even Windmills Die

© Peter O’Shaughnessy

Winner 2021 Bronze Spur Award for written bush verse, Camooweal, Queensland.

A dreadful drought destroys these desert lands.
Few living things can stand the sun’s demands.
Dust-devil’s spiral plumes and dancing twists
twirl fiercely on the plains, like dusty mists.
‘Heat shimmers’ dance beneath the sun’s hot hand,
but breezes don’t disturb this burning sand,
for here the fearsome fiends of fiery hell
have been released to cast their scorching spell.

This tortured land has seen it all before.
Ten thousand droughts and there’ll be many more,
but now the precious grass and feed has gone
this sparse dry scrub can barely carry on.
Too many hooves have trashed these lonely plains,
the land destroyed, not much of worth remains.
Distressed, these lands have had to pay the cost,
and no one can repair what has been lost.

And so we see a fence hang uselessly,
loose wires, on mulga sticks, strung brokenly.
A sheep’s-head skull with ghastly broken teeth,
hangs from a post, dry bones lie underneath.
Bare, well used tracks converge through broken gates
to where a worn-out windmill stands and waits,
a futile wait on this dry salty crust
of hard red dirt baked by the sun’s hot lust.

But then a swirl of dust – a hint of breeze –
though not enough to stir the mulga trees
until the swirling dust becomes a twirl
of leaves and sticks, a fitful dancing whirl.
For then the mill disturbs, a soft, slow glide
that pushes rods to shudder, strain and slide –
then stop! The creaking mill goes softly slack.
Worn valves within the mill go flop and clack.

Then once again the burning breezes stir.
The great fan creaks, then spins, a hissing whirr.
The pump begins to slide then with a jerk,
rods shudder, groan, they screech and then they work.
The mill lifts water up from deep below,
a drip at first and then a tiny flow.
A sign of hope that promises rebirth,
but quickly dries out on the dry red earth.

Dust-devils swirl and dance as they incite
dry leaves and sticks and dust to frenzied flight.
Rods rattle, strain, then creaking softly – stop!
The sticks and leaves that swirled so lightly – drop!
The wilting scrub returns to what it’s been
a silent place where little life is seen.
Hot silence fills the furnace of the air.
There is no breeze just heat and dry despair.

So now the useless mill’s hot creaking’s fade.
Dry dirt now lies where once cool pools were made.
And in the drooping listless scrub we see
a desiccated crow – too parched to flee.
The crow, a gruesome, black and awful bird
croaks out a mournful aaaark – it sounds absurd –
a dreadful sound, a requiem to say,
this mill has died, the drought has had its way.

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