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.