This is the poem that won at Cervantes
I have been wandering the WA goldfields for the best part of 40 years and have often come across a lonely grave or even a forgotten graveyard. This is not surprising when you think about it, the history of the fields is full of sad stories where people including women and little children died from typhoid cholera or misadventure. And then there were the prospectors who perished or just vanished never to be seen again.
There were numerous towns that at times accommodated anywhere from a couple of hundred people to sometimes a few thousand. Most of those towns have also vanished with often not a building left and the only indication that they existed, lies in the piles of rusty cans and broken bottles. People just moved on leaving only their rubbish and their dead behind.
There are times out there when you really do sense that you’re walking with ghost.
WALKING WITH GHOSTS
I hear their whispered voices as they’re carried on the breeze
and laughter’s all around me in the sighing of the trees.
Excitement ripples through the ranks despite the searing heat
and footsteps ever echo to the tramping of their feet.
I follow now the trails they blazed and sense their ghostly ways,
at night I see them in my dreams way back in bygone days.
With tucker bags near empty and their water running low,
they dared to test the limits where a mortal man can go.
A fever burnt within them as they pressed ahead so bold,
to face this hostile country in a daring rush for gold.
And many lives were forfeit in the barren wastes outback;
their ghosts are out there wandering along each lonely track.
They join me by the campfire from the shadows of the night,
I know they’re all around me though they keep well out of sight.
I’m sure they try to guide me; show me where the nuggets lay,
but earthly ties forbid me now from hearing what they say.
By day I pass a ruin where a town once used to be,
it’s slowly disappearing and there’s little left to see.
Where streets once filled with laughter you’ll find only silence now,
along with faded memories - it seems a shame somehow.
A long forgotten graveyard huddles on a nearby hill,
no markers show who lies there but their spirits rest here still.
I feel a surge of sadness as I view some tiny mounds,
among the crumbling graves here in these dusty harsh surrounds.
I cross the sun baked clay-pans on the desert fringe again;
beneath these burning sands here lie the bones of many men.
Mirages tantalized them showing waters clear and cool,
they’re always out here waiting, for a victim they can fool.
And in these arid places where the dunes reach for the sky,
the sameness of the landscape sometimes tricked a passerby.
Men disappeared forever in this harshest of all lands,
their voices may be heard now in the songs of singing sands.
Corella’s noisy welcome means there’s water in the creek
and ghost like gums are beckoning with shade that I now seek.
Some rusty cans and bottles show that others passed here first,
perhaps in search for water when a drought was at its worst.
I sit beneath a shady tree; cool waters at my feet
and visualize those people whom in dreams I often meet.
Their courage is unquestioned and their deeds will long be known
and though it happened years ago - how quickly time has flown.
© T.E.Piggott 2011