Visiting the drought country
By Adam Gibson ©
He wanted to touch the country more firmly
so from his home on the smooth warmth of the coast
he'd moved through the steppe country in his motor car,
passing from the sandstone shelf into the dark soil land and
up and beyond the ranges to where the road signs were falling down
and the rivers under the bridges were showing only faint trickles.
There were abandoned homesteads dotted here and there;
he was alone now and if he wanted food
he'd have to fetch it from the boot and same went for petrol,
stored in two casks strapped to the back bumper bar.
Early on he pulled out a pen and jotted this:
'Homesteads lie where they've
fallen down under spindly trees.
A sky streaked orange and
the rivers drying'.
And soon the rivers dried out completely
and his throat sucked on the dwindling water supply he'd brought.
his arms were tired from the heavy wheel.
Thirsty. Another dry river.
Another abandoned homestead.
Another bare tree.
He slept under the car.
He checked his map by the firelight of a clutch of twigs and,
with three Aborigines who wandered to his motor car
when he stopped one afternoon, he ate a meal of wallaby.
Ashes rose to the air and he fell back where he sat
after the four of them had drunk his only bottle of whiskey
and looked backwards at the ranges he'd crossed back in the far distance.
He wrote: 'The Aboriginals are long-limbed
and muscular and smell of smoke
and despite the harshness of the land
are in tip-top physical condition'.
After weighing the differences in his body:
'One longs for such muscular arms actually'.
As for more abstract views, he noted the way the land
had a sense of once being full of people and hope.
But it was now as if, after the initial shock,
the land had regained its composure and fought back.
it had won a battle it never even thought it would have to fight.
The land had said:
'Throw no water at them then,
throw mystery nights,
throw sun to burn the hair on the arms off.
that will win the cause outright in the end.'
On the fifth afternoon he wrote:
'The clouds you notice come in layers out from the west.
It's as if there is a giant machine over the back of the horizon
which is pumping them out but not putting a drop of moisture in them'.