Waiting For Water

A poem by Edward Dyson

’Twas old Flynn, the identity, told us
That the creek always ran pretty high,
But that fossicking veteran sold us,
And he lied as his quality lie.
Through a tangle of ranges and ridges,
Down a track that is blazed with our hide,
Over creeks minus crossings and bridges,
High and low, mere impertinent midges
Trying falls with the mighty Divide,

We came, hauling the boxes and stampers,
Or just nipping them in with a winch;
Now and then in unfortunate scampers
Missing smash by the eighth of an inch;
Round the spurs very daintily crawling,
With one team pulling out in a row,
And another lot heavenward hauling,
Lest the whole bag-of-tricks should go sprawling
Into regions unheard of below,

We came through with the shanks and the shafting,
And the frames, and the wonderful wheel;
Then we put in a month of hard grafting
Ere we nailed down the last scrap of deal.
She beat true, and with scarce a vibration,
And we voted her queen of the mills,
And a push from the wide desolation
Drifted in to our jollification
When her drumming was heard in the hills.

Now the discs by the cam-shaft are rusting,
And the stamps in the boxes are still,
And a silence that’s deep and disgusting
Seems to hang like a pall on the mill.
Just a fortnight she ran then she rested,
And we’ve little to do but complain;
For a bird in the feed-pipe has nested,
And we’ve spent every stiver invested,
And are praying for tucker and rain.

Billy’s Creek theme of eloquent fables
Drips like sweat on the breast of the wheel,
And the blankets are dry on the tables,
And the sluice-box is warped like an eel;
Sudden dust-clouds run lunatic races
In the red, rocky bed down below,
And the porcupine scrambles in places
Where Flinn swears by the faith he embraces,
Fourteen inches of water should flow.

For a time we were proof against sorrow,
And we harboured a cheerful belief
In the plenteous rains of to-morrow
As we belted away at the reef.
We piled quartz in the paddocks and hopper,
And the pack-horse came in once a week:
Now our credit is not worth a copper
At the township, and highly improper
Is the language the storekeepers speak.

We no longer talk brightly, or snivel
Of our luck, but we loaf very hard,
Too disgusted to care to be civil,
And too lazy to look at a card.
Only George finds some slight consolation
Crushing prospects a couple a day
And then proving by multiplication
How much metal is in the formation,
And the ‘divvies’ she’ll probably pay.

But our leisure is qualified slightly
By the cattle from over the Fly
Who have taken to pegging out nightly
In our limited water supply.
And the snakes have assisted in keeping
Things alive, for the man, you’ll agree,
Will be spry who may find he’s been sleeping
With a tiger or chance on one creeping
In the water he wanted for tea.

Though our sweltering sky never changes,
Squatter Clark, up at Crowfoot, complains
That prospectors out over the ranges
Have been chased out of camp by the rains.
Veal, the Methodist preacher at Spence’s,
Who the Cousin Jacks say is ‘some tuss’
As a rain-making parson commences
To enlarge on our sins and offences,
And to blame all his failures on us.

We don’t go to his church down the mountain:
Seven miles is a wearisome trot,
With the glass playing up like a fountain,
And the prayers correspondingly hot.
So on Sunday each suffering sinner
Has a simple, convivial spree,
A roast porcupine, maybe, for dinner;
For we daily grow thinner and thinner
On the week’s bread and treacle and tea.

We’ve been scared, too, of late by Golightly,
Him who kept up his chin best of all,
And predicted with confidence nightly
Heavy rains that neglected to fall,
And enlarged on the sure indications
(While we listened, and wearily groaned)
Of tremendous climatic sensations,
Fearful tempests, and great inundations,
That, it happened, were always postponed.

He’s gone daft through our many reverses,
Or the sun has got on to his brain,
For he cowers all day, and he curses
To a fretful and wearing refrain;
And at midnight he dolefully screeches
In the gloom of the desolate mill;
Or he goes in his shirt, making speeches
To the man in the moon, whom he reaches
From the summit of Poverty Hill.

So we’re waiting, and watching, and longing
With an impotent, bitter desire,
And new troubles and old ones come thronging,
Drought, and fever, and famine, and fire;
And we know our misfortunes reviewing
All the pangs that in Hades betide,
Where the damned sit eternally stewing,
And, through days never ending, are suing
For the water that’s ever denied.

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