The Princes of the Highway

For a change, I’m turning this page over to another writer.  Camilla Chance is responsible for a very fine book called Wisdom Man, which preserves the legacy of Australian indigenous elder Banjo Clarke.  Well worth seeking out (contact me if you wish).

This piece, however, is her own effort at ‘Bush poetry’, a genre that was very significant in Australian literary history.  I may ponder more on that soon, maybe even have a go myself.  Meanwhile, here is Camilla’s work – enjoy!

Dedicated to the Potato Pickers near Warrnambool, Victoria, where I lived for 25 years, especially to ”Spud Murphy,” an elderly shell-shocked war veteran to whom I gave lifts along the Princes Highway.  The Potato Pickers, mainly of Irish stock, slept by the side of the road or in paddocks, and rabbit holes were their cupboards, where they kept bottles of “grog.” 

THE PRINCES OF THE HIGHWAY

Between Killarney and Koroit

There runs the Princes Highway

And many men have loitered there

Upon a long-gone-by day.

Each rabbit hole was storage space

For swagman, tramp or Gypsy,

And if the bottles’ corks came loose

They made the rabbits tipsy.

Men picked potatoes in the fields

And slept below the pine trees.

Good workers, they slept on the job!

Another sip of wine, please.

By wine, I mean the wind at night

That brings back long-gone-by days …

If homes are castles, these men were

The Princes of the Highways.

And now a man feels like a king

Upon the thing they use now.

He grandly guides the great machine –

A man can hardly lose, now.

But still, some pickers pick by hand,

Though few and far between, now.

So cheer the wanderers, clap your hands,

And think of what has been, now.

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