© Tom McILveen

Winner, 2023 Blackened Billy Verse Competition, Orange, NSW.

I had met him at the orphanage in nineteen sixty-three,
in a hellhole named Saint Patrick’s Armidale.
We were similar in age, but he was different to me –
he was black...and I was pure Caucasian pale.

I had never met a native aboriginal before –
it was though he came from Jupiter or Mars.
And although he wore the hand-me-downs we other children wore,
we were different as sun and moon to stars.

There was something in his eyes that seemed to linger like the spark
of an ember left to smoulder late at night.
It was something inexplicable...yet primitive and stark
as the difference between us – black and white.

He had come from somewhere further out the back of Inverell,
where the Catholics had claimed him as their own.
They had built a Koori mission there, a mile or so from hell,
and occasionally threw the dogs a bone.

We were introduced by Sister Jean, the nun in charge of ward,
who’d adopted him like some abandoned stray.
As he had no home or family, except for Christ The Lord,
we were told to call him simply...‘Freddy K’.

All the other kids had mocked his strange abbreviated name,
and began to call him ‘K’ for Koori Boy.
He would slink away to sulk and bow his shaggy head in shame,
till I told them ‘K’ was for Kamilaroi.

The Kamilaroi, he’d said had been his family and clan,
and were older than the sun and earth and moon.
They were children of Eingana and the Gamilaraay Man,
who was coming back to free his people soon.

When I looked into his eyes I saw the misery and pain
of a puppy dog I’d found some years ago.
It had crawled into the culvert of an open council drain
and was stuck inside the opening below.

He would follow me around just like that puppy used to do,
and was there when no one else had seemed to care.
He would come and sit beside me and instinctively he knew
that a load that’s shared is easier to bear.

I’ll admit at times I snubbed him as the other kids had done,
when they mocked his western gibberish and drawl.
They had thought it was hilarious, a bit of harmless fun –
he was just another Koori after all!

It is true that every dog will have his day upon the hill,
and our Freddy ‘K’ was soon to sample his.
For it seemed he was endowed with an extraordinary skill,
and at football was a natural – a whiz!

He was faster than a rabbit and as slippery as glass
and could run around the other kids with ease.
He was gamer than Ned Kelly and was twice as bold as brass,
and could bring a crowd of hundreds to their knees.

He was poetry in motion and had played from half to wing,
and could kick a ball to kingdom come and back.
It had seemed at last his time had come, for Freddy ‘K’ was King,
and they didn’t seem to mind that he was black.

But all kingdoms come and go as they inevitably must,
and the king concedes his kingdom and his crown.
When the season is all over and the fields return to dust...
then the final curtain folds and tumbles down.

So they gathered up the jerseys and the boots were put away,
and the footy fans had found another toy;
for the King was soon forgotten and the famous Freddy ‘K’
was again the simple country Koori Boy.

On the day I left Saint Patricks, I had finally been freed
of the shackles that had bound me for so long.
I had left behind a brother there, a friend in time of need,
and a confidant who’d taught me right from wrong.

I remember how he brooded as we said our last goodbyes,
and then lingered till the car was out of sight.
It was then I came to understand and sadly realise...
that our worlds were now divided – black and white.

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