The Babies of Walloon Award – Open Age Bush Poetry
by David Campbell
I see them in the morning sun,
and they remain when day is done,
these ghosts that haunt my dreams.
Reality takes second place
to fleeting glimpses of a face,
and nothing's as it seems.
I walk the roads, a lonely man,
as I have done since time began
to find the peace I crave.
Though many years have now flown past,
these memories will always last
and take me to my grave.
So young she was, just barely ten,
that fateful morning, early, when
she slowly rode away.
We waved her off without a care,
and never thought to ask just where
she meant to go that day.
She knew the risks, for we had taught
her all the things that children ought
to know about this land,
and in the bush she'd learnt to thrive,
to see the dangers and survive
the threats from nature's hand.
So when, near dusk; she'd not returned
as sunset flamed and swiftly burned
its trail across the sky,
we only felt a twinge of fear,
assuming that we soon would hear,
that she must be close by.
But when the cloak of darkness fell,
and it was plain not all was well,
sheer panic took control;
we saddled up, we rode all night,
and searched for her till dawn's clear light,
when failure took its toll.
We'd combed the gullies, creeks and hills,
employing all our hunting skills,
and praying she'd be fine.
But there was nothing that we found
on wooded slope or open ground
that gave us any sign.
The sergeant came from up in town
and brought a local tracker down
to try to find her trail,
while others came from nearby farms ...
they rallied round, a call to arms ...
but all to no avail.
The second day we found her horse
beside a dried-up watercourse
way out past Ten Mile Creek,
but she had gone, just disappeared,
which brought the thing that we most feared ...
a truth we dare not speak.
Our neighbours whispered, gave a glance,
then looked away, to give no chance
we'd guess what it might mean,
but there was just a single word
that needed to be overheard ...
a stranger had been seen.
And even now I can recall
the awful horror if it all,
that time will not abate,
for in those moments we could see
our lovely daughter, wild and free,
and what might be her fate.
It killed my wife; she could not cope
as months went by with fading hope,
for there had been no trace.
I found her late one autumn day,
with folded hands, as if to pray,
and tears upon her face.
So I must walk the roads alone,
still searching for the great unknown,
with sorrow as my guide.
But as I go, through sun or rain,
I sense they'll always share my pain,
these shadows by my side.
For we have heard the tolling bell,
have lived and breathed the private hell
that's ruled since life began;
of many dangers in our land,
we never seem to understand
the worst of all is man.