A Riverina Road

A poem by Thomas William Heney

Now while so many turn with love and longing
To wan lands lying in the grey North Sea,
To thee we turn, hearts, mem’ries, all belonging,
Dear land of ours, to thee.

West, ever west, with the strong sunshine marching
Beyond the mountains, far from this soft coast,
Until we almost see the great plains arching,
In endless mirage lost.

A land of camps where seldom is sojourning,
Where men like the dim fathers of our race
Halt for a time, and next day, unreturning,
Fare ever on apace.

Last night how many a leaping blaze affrighted
The wailing birds of passage in their file:
And dawn sees ashes dead and embers whited
Where men had dwelt awhile.

The sun may burn, the mirage shift and vanish
And fade and glare by turns along the sky;
The haze of heat may all the distance banish
To the uncaring eye.

By speech or tongue of bird or brute unbroken
Silence may brood upon the lifeless plain,
Nor any sign, far off or near, betoken
Man in this vast domain.

Though tender grace the landscape lacks, too spacious,
Impassive, silent, lonely, to be fair,
Their kindness swiftly comes more soft and gracious,
Who live or tarry there.

All that he has, in camp or homestead, proffers,
To stranger guest at once a stranger host,
Proudest to see accepted what he offers,
Given without a boast.

Pass, if you can, the drover’s cattle stringing
Along the miles of the wide travelled road,
Without a challenge through the hot dust ringing,
Kind though abrupt the mode.

A cloud of dust where polish’d wheels are flashing
Passes along, and in it rolls the mail.
Comes from the box, as on the coach goes dashing,
The lonely driver’s hail.

Or in the track a station youngster mounted
Sits in his saddle smoking for a “spell,”
Rides a while onward; then, his news recounted,
Parts with a brief farewell.

To-day these plains may seem a face defiant,
Turn’d to a mortal foe, yet scorning fear;
As when, with heaven at war, an Earth-born giant
Saw the Olympian near.

Come yet again! No child’s fair face is sweeter
With young delight than this cool blooming land,
Silent no more, for songs than wings are fleeter,
No blaze, but sunshine bland.

Thus in her likeness that strange nature moulding
Makes man as moody, sad and savage too;
Yet in his heart, like her, a passion holding,
Unselfish, kind and true.

Therefore, while many turn with love and longing
To wan lands lying on the grey North Sea,
To-day, possessed by other mem’ries thronging,
We turn, wild West to thee!

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