Vonda Stanley's collection of early Australian bush poems


The Old Bark Hut


In an old bark hut on a mountainside

In a spot that was lone and drear

A woman whose heart was aching sat

Watching from year to year.


A small boy, Jim, her only child,

Helped her to watch and wait

But the time never came when they could go free,

Free from the bond of hate.


For McConnel was out on the mountainside

Living without a hope

And seeing nothing before him now

But death by a hangman’s rope.


Hated and chased by his fellow men,

To take him alive or dead,

An outlaw banned by the world was he

With five hundred pounds on his head.


A message had come that evening which said

“Now, Jim, you mustn’t wait,

If you want to save your father, or

By heaven, you’ll be too late.


“He’s out at Mackinnon’s Crossing, they say,

The track is rough, old man,

But if any here can do it—why

It’s you and old Darky can.”


And Jim knew well what the message meant,

As he brought his horse to the door!

While away through the gathering darkness came

The sound of the river’s roar.


But the brave little heart never faltered as

He stooped to kiss her good-bye

And said, “God bless you, Mother dear,

I’ll save Dad tonight or I’ll die.”


The old horse answered the touch of his hand

And galloped away from the door;

He seemed to know ‘twas a journey for life—

Well, he’d done such journey’s before.


Out from the firelight, and through the rails,

Out through the ghastly trees,

While all the time the warning roar

Of the river came back on the breeze;


Steadily down the mountainside

He rode, for his course was plain,

Though his heart was heavy, though not with fear,

But because of that brand of Cain.


The boy thinks over his mother’s last words:

“I’ll love him as long as I live!

He must have time for repentance on earth

But surely God will forgive.”


As he glanced back over his shoulder there

She stood by the light of the door

Trying to pierce the darkness in vain,

Thinking she’d see him no more.


Then as he looked she bowed her head

And slowly turned away,

And the boy knew that the noble wife

Had knelt by the bed to pray.


Mile after mile, hour after hour,

And then just ahead, shining and white,

Was the foam of Mackinnon’s Crossing—

What a jump for old Darky tonight!


And then Jim thinks of the long, lone years

And the hopes that are crushed and dead;

And a woman whose heart is as true as steel,

As true as the day she was wed.

As she loved him then in the years gone by

When the future held promise in store,

So she loved him today when the future held

Naught but death by his country’s law.


Jim pressed his knees to the saddle flap

And tightened his hold on the rein;

They had jumped the river last summertime,

How he hoped they would do it again!


Then a voice rang out through the darkness there,

“Hold, now hold, stand still!

We know you, lad, it’s too late to run;

Hands up or we’ll shoot to kill!”


Then he knew that the police were around him,

In the darkness they moved to and fro;

For an instant he pulled on the bridle-rein,

But he’d promised his mother he’d go.


And he thought of the poor, sad woman alone,

Kneeling in prayer by the bed;

So he loosened the reins on old Darky’s neck

And rushed at the river ahead.


Then a volley rang out through the forest dark—

A fall in the roaring flood;

And the darkness hid from all human eyes

The form that was stained with blood.


The horse struggled hard, the waters rushed on;

He sank to rise no more.

But the boy fought the flood in silence, inch

By inch to the other shore.


Slowly and sadly, but bravely on,

Brshing away the tears;

He was leaving behind in the river’s flood

His friend and companion for years.


And all the time the blood trickled down,

O God! what a hot burning pain!

And he knew he was doing is duty clean

He would never come back again.


Struggling on o’er the tough dark track,

A horrible pain with each breath;

Till he came to the hut in the ranges

Where his father lay, and the faint firelight

Showed through the ghostly gloom.

Staggering in through the yielding door

Into the cold dark room
Where his father lay, and the faint firelight

Showed through the ghostly gloom.


The bushranger sprang to his feet in alarm

And levelled the gun at his head

And his loud voice demanded, “Who are you?

Speak quick, or you are dead.”


And then a weak little voice made answer,

“It’s me; Mother sends you her love;

The police are back at the crossing now,

So clear out and meet Mother above.”


Then McConnel placed his gun by the wall

And knelt on the cold hard floor;

And somehow the tears came rushing down

As they never had before.


His arms went around the brave little lad,

He nursed his head on his breast;

He seemed to know that the end was nigh

And Jim would soon be at rest.

And the boy was speaking feebly at last,

“They shot me back at the creek,

And old Darky is dead and gone, Dad,

And oh, I’m so tired and weak.”


Then his voice fell away in a whisper soft,

So faint it could scarce be heard,

“Oh Dad,, clear out, they are coming fast;

Tell Mother, I kept my word.”


Quickly in silence the police gathered around,

They had captured the beast in his lair;

The outlaw sat with his boy in his arms,

He semed not to heed nor to care.


He was thinking now of the seed he had sown,

He was tasting its bitter fruit,

When the sergeant stepped to the door and said,

“McConnel, bail up or I’ll shoot.”


Then the sergeant placed a lamp by the door,

The rifles gleamed out in the light;

But the outlaw said, “Sergeant O’Drady,

Let’s have no more shooting tonight.


“You can take me now to the judgement seat

As God has taken this lad;

You’d die to take my life, you men—

He died to save his dad.


“I want you to help me dig his grave,

And perhaps you will say a prayer;

Then you can take me and hang me dead—

It’s my wife, or I wouldn’t care.


“Carefully now. . . Oh thank you, men,

Lay him as best you can;

The policeman is shown by his coat, of course;

But the tears—well, they show the man.”


Then the party went back to the old bark hut

As the sun was mounting the hill;

No smoke arose from the chimney cold

And all was silent and still.


The sergeant opened the creaky door,

And lifted his cap with a start,

…Ah, McConnel had broken the country’s laws

And broken a woman’s heart.


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