History in Verse
THE ISLAND QUARRY
The Island Quarry is quiet now, cicadas sing around
The placid waters of the pond that fill the gaping ground.
But shadows of those basalt walls, now silent and austere,
Still stirs my stomach to the pit, with things that happened there.
I hear the call “It’s start time boys!” I see them stand in line.
Sixteen blokes stood back to back and start to swing in time.
Fourteen pound of steel was swung from dawn to dusk in there,
To dig a hole so near to hell, the heat would well compare.
For no breeze blessed that sunburnt hole, from summers start to end.
The heavy dust stung eye and lung and still the backs would bend.
Bare backs and shorts and working boots was all they ever wore,
While razor flakes and splintered spalls flew ‘round the quarry floor.
Three men a week were carried out, their bones exposed and white,
A dirty rag wrapped ‘round the wound – no medic was in sight.
You’d think the men would make complaints or even vote to stop
But any man seen talking there, was sent to harder rock.
Harder rock for weeks on end and still the quota stood,
Ten cubic yards per man per day, and any man that could,
Would give his brother some of his, behind the foreman’s back,
For bonded by their burden, they all were, when times were black.
This story reeks of chain gangs back a hundred years or more
But men were breaking rocks in there ‘till nineteen sixty four.
It might have been an ‘Eon’ back for all the workers knew,
They stood the storms, they beat the heat, they toiled ‘till day was through.
Not minute more, not minute less, the foreman filled his role;
He checked his watch, he raised his hand, the workers left the hole.
The hole was known as Alcatraz (a joke by those inside).
The only way that you got out, was ‘compo’ or you died.
But now they say RESTORE the place? This surely is absurd.
What make it what it was before?! Please – use another word.
Let’s SAVE it as it’s standing now – a bluestone monument,
To men who knew what working was – and practised what it meant.
Col Hadwell, 1997.
* Compo = Sick leave for workers compensation.
KINGS OF THE SEA
There once was a time when life was sublime and whales were the Kings of the sea;
They travelled our shores aloof from the world and roaming majestic and free.
Then man came along and shattered their song with the thunder of guns in their ear;
We woke to that roar but chose to ignore the whales lying dead on the pier.
And meanwhile at school they pointed with pride at all of the progress we’d made,
By processing meat and premium oil, we’d boosted our external trade.
And papers proclaimed –‘An industry born.’ Our clippings recorded the news.
And folk far and wide seemed quite satisfied, expressing no alternate views.
There wasn’t a thought of rights or the wrongs, when cannons heard clearly by all,
Were merely a signal to climb a sand hill, to witness the hunt and the fall.
While back on the pier the bloated remains were toted like trophies of war;
Towed slow on a track that wound its way back to crowds standing blankly in awe;
They came in by bus from north and the south, to bolster the tourist trade;
They held a tight handkerchief over their nose while eating meat pies in the shade.
And down on the floors the butchers’ backs bent for twenty four hours a day.
The stench and the steam hung low in a cloud that billowed out over the bay.
The flensing knives flashed and steam winches strained as blubber came crackling clear
And workers sweat flowed with the blood on the floors from May to October each year.
For eight years straight the chasers would wait for the cream of the crop to come by
And year after year less whales would appear, ‘till hardly a whale came to die.
One-twenty we took in late ‘fifty four.’ They later allowed thirty more
And by sixty two the numbers were few – we dragged the last humpback ashore.
“And earlier years were good!” So they said. “We captured our quotas with ease.”
“It’s culling down south that’s caused their demise, down there they just shoot as they please”.
Yes that’s how it was not so long ago, but now, when the new calves are born;
They find human friends instead of the guns that greeted their parents at dawn.
But peace on our shore is only one door and freedom will need many keys
As homeward they go where cannons still glow, down there, in those dark southern seas.
Col Hadwell, 1998
BEACH SAND GOLD OF BYRON BAY.
I dream’t of gold, how I craved it
In the rivers of this new land
On Byron’s beaches, I found it
Grains shining there in the sand
I panned the gold, how I saved it
Sluiced tonnes of black sand each day
Disease or hunger, I fought it
An ounce a week was good pay
Gone is the gold, how I spent it
Years working myself like a slave
Gold grips my heart, how I hate it
Alone at the edge of my grave
John Main, 2015.
forever at gallipoli.
a dawn landing a day ago
in a cove near gallipoli
somehow the turks seemed to know
they killed so many ruthlessly
i never heard the rifle crack
a hidden sniper’s single round
it shattered the bones in my back
with crippled legs i fell to ground
now alone on this barren strand
helpless here for a second day
in the earth of a foreign land
my vital red blood seeps away
it is not pain that is the worst
nor death with no chaplain’s prayer
it’s the raging consuming thirst
that drives me mad beyond despair
i cannot recall now whether
king, country, patriotic chore
or shame of white coward’s feather
was the reason i joined this war
mum’s kind words cant now soothe me
how secure was my youth just passed
dad’s strong hands cant now hold me
all my memories come so fast
goodbye to you darling jenny
such a short time as man and wife
one year shared, we dreamed of many
i wish you a contented life
tom my unseen son, little man
oh how i curse this senseless war
my life ended as yours began
and you will never know what for
the weakness spreads, all seems darker
my body’s limp and grows colder
breathing’s slow and so much harder
one more lonely dying soldier
i’ll join the many others slain
turk and anzac now brothers free
free from all fear free from all pain
forever at gallipoli