MULLING OVER MAFEKING
(Grampians retired goldfields, VIC)
The sedges and the bracken ferns are marching up the hill;
below, the scene at Spion Kopf and Ladysmith is still:
they shoulder arms to stringybarks and blackwoods in their hosts
and bow in silent homage to a thousand miners’ ghosts.
Down gullies deep, nine thousand more are working at their claims –
the Brownings, Carrs and Kellys, in a culture-pot of names;
that spectre with a shovel and his mate with swirling pan
may hail from Cork in Ireland, or be German, Swede or Ghan.
A bugler sounding reveille draws miners from their beds,
and commerce cranks through Mafeking in slabhut stores and sheds:
a city stitched from canvas twinkles brightly after tea
while valleys ring in chorus of the male-voice harmony.
‘No Orients. No Women’ – but the ruling shall relax;
they’ll save their spleen for governments that over-rule and tax:
a family is coming - one asleep on father’s neck;
her siblings 4 to 7 years are old enough to trek.
The winter rains and horses hooves make gluepots out of roads
and wagon wheels are sinking fast beneath their precious loads:
then opportunist bullockies see hauling business thrive
and suck their hapless owners out with teams of ‘four-wheel-drive’.
The children search for Australites that fell from outer space
and hone their skills of prospecting for colour in the trace:
they know the scrub’s surprises, and it spills their childish laughs,
while careful feet avoid the mouths of miners’ blackened shafts.
A chilling front of several weeks is disinclined to go;
it numbs the toes of students as they cross the fields of snow:
the food’s consumed – now hunger parks in every miner’s tent,
while goodwill and camaraderie are gathered up and spent.
But hark! From Mason’s Paddock there’s an echoed, cheery cry;
a wagonload of vegetables has come to boost supply:
then snatching up their polished picks, that mountain-tempered band
revisits hardship stoically, to rinse the gold from sand.
© Max Merckenschlager