for Peter Barden
Penury in Sydney had grown stale
And, at twenty-two, my childhood was in danger
So I preceded you, in all but spirit,
To the far-back country
Where the tar roads end.
In the silent lands
Time broadens into space.
Approaching Port Augusta, going on,
Iron-brown and limitless, the plains
Were before me all day. Burnt mountains fell behind
In the glittering sky.
At dawn, the sun would roll up from his lair
In the kiln-dry lake country, fire his heat straight through
The blind grey scrub, awaken me beside wheeltracks
And someone’s car, and I would travel on.
At noon, far out in a mirage, I would brew
Tea with strangers, yarn about jobs in the North
And, chewing quietly, watch maybe an upstart
Dust-devil forming miles off, going high
To totter, darken
And, quite suddenly, vanish
Leaving a formless, thinning stain in the heavens.
Where the spirits of sea-cliffs
Hovered on the plain
I would remember routines we had invented
For putting spine into shapeless days: the time
We passed at a crouching trot down Wynyard Concourse
Tell each other in loud mock-Arunta and gestures
What game we were tracking down what haunted gorge . . .
But they sustained me like water,
They, and the is-ful ah!-nesses of things.
Euroa Advertiser (Vic. : 1884 – 1920), Friday 20 February 1885,
The chains of addiction are too light to be felt until they are too strong to be broken. SWAHILI.