of interest

This poem first appeared in Quadrant 1983.

 

 

1815

© R. G. Hay

A road over the range, perhaps -
but a road west over the range -
that's Scotch logic and Scotch
stubbornness.
The coast is north-south, the road
goes inland, hence perpendicular, so
west it goes.
But man, the country lies against it.
South to north the Nepean flows, and,
if you must go inland -
and your convicts will go there too,
run away to maybes not starve
a week in the bush and come crawling back -
go the way of the river, the way
the land lies,
south-west by south.
But no:
Caesar conquered Gaul, and here's
this Scotch Caesar, no battles to fight, must
force his way on the land.
Draws a line on the map and says
here will be a road:
Hannibal crossed the Alps.
So there'll be a road and
convicts cattle and the Lord knows what
can run to hell.
A foolish home government to think
Lachlan Macquarie and his oat-eating men
would sit tame warders in
some harbour-locked prison.
Caesar and his legions building
a new Gaul:
Lord, the man's drunk on his learning.
But his road will be built like Hadrian's wall
not to be dismantled except
stone by patient stone.
Not like the wall, though, to keep
Caledonian cattle-thieves out, but
a road to loose his prison scum
on the whole continent.
The man believes in reformations:
fresh air and hard work to teach virtue.
He'll go back to sit by his peat fire,
sip whisky in the mists and dream
of men and herds streaming west
in the harsh sunlight -
space to work out their own destinies.
The hills sit there, implacable.
Nemo me impune lacessit:
he draws a line on a map.
Fancy giving a man charge of a prison
who hates walls, who loathes barriers.