Vonda Stanley's collection of early Australian bush poems



The Last Muster 


All day we had driven the starving sheep to the scrub where the axes ply,
And the weakest had lagged upon weary feet and dropped from the ranks to die;
And the crows Hew up from the rotting heaps and the ewes too weak to stand,
And the fences Haunted red skins like flags, and the dour drought held the land.

And at night as I lay a-dreaming, I woke, and a silver moon
Shone fair on a dancing river and laughed to a broad lagoon,
And the grass turned over the fences and rippled like ripening grain,
And clouds hung low on the hilltops, and earth smelt sweet with the rain.

And in at the open window the lowing of cattle came -
A mob that had never a laggard and never a beast that was lame;
And wethers, a thousand thousand, and ewes with their lambs beside,
Moved over the green flats feeding, spread river to ranges wide.

And horses whinnied below me, and leaning I watched them pass,
Lusty and strong and playful like horses on spring-tide grass
When they whinny one to another, strong-voiced, and a gallop brings
Foam to the Hank, be it only from paddock to stockyard wings.

Slowly they moved in the moon-mist, heads low in the cool night-dew,
Snatching the long bush grasses, breast-high as they wandered through;
Slowly they moved in the moon-mist, and never a horse on the plains
Was red with the gall of the collar or marked with a chafe of the chains.

And behind them a hundred drovers rode slow on their horses white,
All brave with their trappings of silver that Hashed in the silver light;
Buckle and stirrup and bridle, and spurs for their better speed -
Singing behind the cattle like drovers on royal feed.

And I cooeed, and one came over that rode on the nearest wing,
And I called to him, "Ho, there, drover! say, whose is the mob you bring?"
Then he reined his horse by the window, all silver-bitted and shod,
And spoke, and his words rang sadly, "These are the cattle of God!"

So I said to him, "Where are they bound for?" and he raised his hand to the West:
They are bound for the star-fenced pastures on God's own rivers, to rest."
And I asked him "Where did you muster?" and he answered me sadly again,
"From every gully and sandhill, from every valley and plain,

"From the swamps of the green kapunyah, from the reeds at the red creek-side,
From the thickets of twisted mulga, from the clay-pans furrowed and dried,
From the track to the Western goldfields, from the ruts of the Great North Road,
Where the dingoes go and the crows fly low we have gathered the beasts of God."

And I said, "Then has God repented because that He sent no rain?
And has God looked down in His pity on the poor dumb beasts He has slain?"
But the drover turned in his saddle and answered, his eyes in mine,
"Not so; for the beasts were slaughtered by man of his greed's design:

"God gave to them feed and water and pastures so wild and wide
They had fed him a thousand million from here to the ocean side;
But man in his greed came after and fenced them on hill and plain
And cursed the God in His heaven that would not send them His rain;

"And man's be the blame of the bleaching bone and the shame of the rotting hide,
And the pity of lorn lambs crying alone on the wind-swept mountain-side,
Of the weak horse down in his harness, of the bullock dead by the dray,
Of the moan of the thirsty cattle for ever and ever and aye!"

And he spoke to his steed and left me - moved out on the mist it seemed,
And I woke to the red burned acres, and knew that I had but dreamed.

                                          William H Ogilvie


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