Narrator:

Whatever it was they'd sought for on those dream-encrusted
Shores faded on arrival. When put down
They were as ciphers of themselves — still purposed on their plans,
Loud with their hopes singing, as with tribulations —
But also distanced, shadowed as with journey, cast
Upon a landscape that was not ingrained by days
That they could enter into. In rock or tree or river
Or in the trailing clouds they sensed primeval Eden:
Nugatory, other, not of their descent.
They chartered wagons, went deep into the interior, found
Only that the red dust excoriated, long twisters
Of the wind tore at their face and hair, fire crested in the clouds,
Perplexed, they travelled back, built homesteads near the coast,
Settling there more thickly as the mirages took root.

Bill:

Too right it's not a paradise out here but, Frank,
In time she'd grow to like it. Ask her, will you? Say
"Bill needs his answer shortish. Marry him or no?"
"He'll do you proud," you tell her, "the farm's a little beaut."
Otherwise, well it goes hard then, don't it? Like it was
Before. I plough up all the rough stuff hereabouts
When blow me if the lands tribunal toff don't say, "Bill,
You put that back for starters. It's abo land round there."
That's what it's come to. Reckon anyway it's time
Our Eleanor set sail, or sat it out for good.
Be a shame, though, Frank, it would. I've got to know it here,
Miles out of town, like: me, my thoughts and the sky looking
Down on all the things like in a dream I did.
With Eleanor beside me, where would I go wrong?

Kate:

What a predicament I was in, my dear. Think of it:
Hubert with a small-town floozy. Quite disgusting.
I resolved at once of course to leave him, even
Went so far as take a hotel suite in Melbourne.
But there came Hubert, all protestations. He is
So charming sometimes, and is bored: hates the posting.
I told him give it up, all of it, and gambling.
Which he has. In penitence he's bought a farm,
A William Briggs' or someone's property. Met him:
A self-made man but very nice — though so shy:
Stands there with his hat off, blushing, when he sees us.
At my insistence we've appointed him our bailiff.
And so it's country folk you correspond with,
Marjory. I hope you will. All love from Kate.

Narrator:

So there they are then, in a heat-enfabled land.
Hubert, chafing at restrictions, sports a waistcoat:
Lords it. Bill is absent with the horses: waits.
Kate bustles between them: worries. The farm hangs on.
Winter passes. The seasons over the half-bare hills
Hold their short-fused festivals. Shrubs flare
And go white. The windless days of summer follow.
Incandescent, the sand singing in inland places.
The sky balloons to the borders of their world in blue.
Small bushfires blacken like caries in the cricks of hills.
Around them at evening the land is thick with shadow, but never
Leans to rain. Stillness. Presences in the dry sticks.
Anger as a plume over them. They do not speak.
Kate busies herself. Bill mutters. Hubert is moody.

Hubert:

In short, old boy, I write in confidence. Say nothing,
I beg of you, that Katherine could get wind of here.
Matters are damnable enough at present. Sometimes
I must confess I think my wife's gone mad. Now she
Tells me that our future is assured, this play-time
Venture, as I call it, is capital to start.
Was very kind, I told her. And my thanks to Briggs.
However, I did make bold enough to wonder whether
London had not given what we both had wanted:
She her society and I my theatre column.
She says she has grown up. It's different. She is happy.
In a rough-necked country, then, I asked her, raw, that won't
Be tamed? No answer. So speak to Saunders, would you?
I imagine anywhere would suit us for the present.

Narrator:

Well before of course there had been rumours, twists
Of a scorching wind, which came, accosted and was
Nothing but what they had imagined in that spot.
Nightly, their families in town, the wagons hitched, they watched
A redness creak upon the hills, the flare to certainty,
That faded. For days nothing — but farms incinerated,
Townships burnt, stock vanished: a livelihood gone
Up in the clear air. Behind which the land wavered,
But held them as by bars. Dug in, each in his own place,
They saw whole hillsides burning, their homesteads teeth with flame -
Terrors that shifted into thinking, into which
They fell. The fire came on. Was real. First the profuse
Smoke, in puffs or creepers, pouring through the trees,
And then a footwall roaring and reaching out for air.

Bill:

Big happenings in this place, Frank. Our friend has snuffed it.
So long, Highness. No great loss, but something strange
I reckon. We had a bush fire here, a nasty little
Bleeder, that passed us in the end, but awful close.
Fair put the wind up me, I'll tell you, but not his Nibs:
Oh no, he hitches horses when the fire was on us,
The silly bugger. Of course they bolted. Afterwards
We found him on the ground, looking strange. And dead
All right. I'd say the missus took it pretty well.
She cried a bit, picked him up and shook him, stared
But didn't say a dickey. She's out there at the moment
Wondering if we'll make it. That depends I told her.
If we can, we will, she says — a right good answer,
I am thinking. Someone's looking at a bonny wife.

Kate:

Yes, thank you, Marjory, for those condolences.
I think I would have welcomed, all the same, words
A little more restrained. Because, I will admit,
You were the first in his affections, and would no doubt
Have made as well the better wife — with your forbearance,
Gentleness and so forth — does not entitle you
To lay down laws. Hubert had many weaknesses
But strove to overcome them. Out here, in new Australia,
He saw the opportunity and took it. He tried
So hard to make this place a home, but couldn't.
His spirit failed him, and I face spending years now
Cooped up in a farm I cannot rent or sell.
Will you write again, please Marjory, and make amends:
We owe to ourselves to try and stay as friends.

Narrator:

Above, in the dry funnel of their thoughts, the thunder
Mutters. Distantly. They are on their own more now,
Katherine and Bill, working. Fences are mended, a barn reroofed,
Field by field the land locked in. At times Katherine
Will walk across the fields to Hubert's grave. There Bill
Will join her. With all the world before them they cannot find
One word. So will the land empty to its purpose,
The sky mosaic with clouds, and then rhythmically
And as if immemorially the rains fall, the pastures brim,
The rivulets bubble over, and on the rivers long sheets
Of nothing but the sky slide and pool in the interior.
Where Katherine is, is rain, though. Taproots reach and grip.
She twists Bill's letter round in her small hands, sits down and writes:
Her heart takes on the triumph and diapason of the day.

 

Now in a collection published as a free ebook by Ocaso Press.