I’d been out splitting posts in the sun’s blazing heat,
So I rested a while in the shade
Of an old vine scrub camp – used a stump for my seat,
With a stone there I sharpened my blade.
With my billy swung over the flickering fire
I reclined with my head on a log,
And the work and the sun and the heat tend to tire
So my mind drifted off in a fog.
From the depths of the camp walks a man dressed so strange,
Like the blokes in those old photographs.
At his side trots a dog, old and tattered with mange,
As the man walks up to me he laughs:
“G’day mate, could you spare me a cup of black tea?”
I obliged , was the way of the land;
“And a slice of your bread, if you could please?” says he,
As he holds out a bronzed weathered hand.
“Thank you cobber,” he says and he takes off his hat,
An old slouch hat all stained with his sweat;
“It was me and my mates, well we cleared this here flat,
This old mongrel here, he was my pet.
Yes, the scrub on this flat was the best I had seen,
We were young, had strong arms and straight backs,
And the cedar and beech, and the fig and black bean,
Well we felled them with springboard and axe.
We’d no use for the logs, just the ground for the plough,
So we burnt them wherever they lay;
There were some big old stumps, but I don’t see them now,
O’er the years they have rotted away.
But the cattle need shade, so we left this here camp,
And that cedar’s where I carved my name.”
And he read what was writ on its trunk like a stamp:
“Dan O’Brien 1914 – the same.
I’ve not been back till now, as I traveled for work,
For the scrub was cut out all around.
I enlisted for fun, and I fought Johnny Turk,
And now mostly I sleep underground.
But it’s been nice to meet you – and thanks for the grub,
For you seem like a good sort of bloke,”
And he whistled his dog and strode into the scrub,
And was gone in a shimmer of smoke.
I awoke with a start, and went straight to that tree,
I must know what that inscription said;
It was carved, old and gnarled, in the bark plain to see:
“Dan O’Brien 1914”, it read.
Image – Young axeman on a spring board felling a scrub (rainforest)
tree (blue quandong) in Queensland, 1890’s – source unknown.
Scrub/Vine Scrub: Subtropical and tropical rainforest of Queensland
and northern New South Wales.
Camp or Cattle Camp: A group of trees left for shade for cattle
when the forest was cleared.
Billy: Tin can suspended over a fire to boil water for tea etc..
Johnny Turk: Australian soldiers fought a number of battles against the
Turks during World War 1.