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(March 1865 - 22 August 1931 / Ballarat / Victoria / Australia)

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Stop-And-See

I’M STEWING in a brick-built town;
My coat is quite a stylish cut,
And, morn and even, up and down,
I travel in a common rut;
But as the city sounds recede,
In dreamy moods I sometimes see
A vision of a busy lead,
And hear its voices calling me.

My flaccid muscles seem to tweak
To feel the windlass pall and strain,
To shake the cradle by the creek,
And puddle at the ‘tom’ again.
I’d gladly sling this musty shop
To see the sluicing waters flow—
A pile of tucker, dirt on top,
And simply Lord knows what below.

’Twas lightly left, ’tis lately mourned,
The tent life up at Stop-and-See,
When shirts with yellow clay adorned
Were badges of nobility,
When Sunday’s best was Monday’s wear,
And Bennett gave us verse and book—
Poor Dick! a crude philosopher,
But, bless his heart, a clever cook.

An easy life we lived and free;
The wash was only ten-weight stuff,
The ‘bottom’ dry and soft at knee—
With Hope to help us ’twas enough.
Then none could say us ay or nay
Did we agree to slave or smoke;
The pan was ready with the pay
E’en though the graft was half in joke.

’Twas good when ‘spell-oh!’ had been said,
To watch the white smoke curl and cling
Against the gravel roof o’erhead,
The candles dimly flickering
And circled with a yellow glow—
To sprawl upon the broken reef,
And pensively to pull and blow
The fragrant incense from the leaf.

And where the creek ran by our tent,
Or lingered through embowered ponds,
In dusky nooks that held a scent
Of musk amid the drooping fronds,
It was a pleasant task to lay
The dish within the stream, and there
To puddle off the pug and clay,
And pan the gleaming prospect bare.

Oft in the strange deceit of dreams,
I swirl the old tin-dish again,
And Wondee’s rippling water seems
To cool my weary limbs as then;
And down the hill-side bare and dry
A digger’s chorus faintly comes,
And mingles with the lullaby
Of locusts in the drowsy gums.

The barrels rattle on their stands,
And in the shaft the nail-kegs swing.
The short, sharp strokes of practised hands
Are making pick and anvil ring.
I hear the splitter’s measured blow,
The distant knocker rise and drop,
The cheery cry, ‘Look up, below!’
The muffled call of ‘Heave, on top!’

No piles were made at Stop-and-See,
No nuggets found of giant size,
But, looking back, it seems to me
That all who laboured there were wise.
For there was freedom void of pride,
There hate of forms and shallow arts,
And there were friendships all too wide
For narrow streets and narrow hearts.

Submitted: Tuesday, April 13, 2010


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