The Ancient Swaggie.

 

It is an ancient wanderer

who stoppeth one of nine.

"I am a bloke most oft well-spoke,

"but get your paw off mine!"

 

The victim eyes his grinning friends,

he looks round for a copper.

"There's never one when thou needest one!"

His fingers form a stopper.

 

"Nay, hear my tale of woe, travail,

"and horror, deep and drear."

He sees his wail will not prevail;

he offers him a beer.

 

Three pots have cleared the listener's ear,

he waits the old bloke's story.

"To the sunny North we sallied forth -

Ah, them were the days of glory!

 

From Port Augusta set we forth,

the camels, men and flies.

When the sun was gone, light still shone,

the gold was in our eyes.

 

The sun came up upon the left,

out of the great Lake Eyre.

We watched the sunburst, then we cursed,

and sorely tore our hair!

 

Then turning round without a sound

beneath its warming light,

retraced our ways with its rising rays

correctly on our right."

 

The hijacked guest here beat his breast,

thinking it was his shout,

but the wanderer sere still bought the beer,

so still he heard him out.

 

"And now the clouds closed in like shrouds,

the wind howled on for days,

till through the blizzard stumped a lizard,

its yellow eyes ablaze.

 

We fed it jam and spoiled tinned clam,

and overhardened crust.

The clouds drew off and let us cough

once more in the flying dust.

 

 

The sun still shone as we trudged on,

the little lizard following.

He ate so well he almost fell,

in the bulldust wallowing."

 

"'Ere, have a drink yourself, old son,

you look sick in the gizzard.

Why look you so?" "With heel and toe,

I trod upon that lizard!

 

The sun, a torch of blazing bark,

still reddened all our skin.

My friends agreed with my fell deed,

and joined me in my sin.

 

A wagtail joined us in our camp;

he whistled merrily;

like Evil with a whistling toy,

whose sound was pure but lacking joy,

he blew his notes for me.

 

The air was hard as kiln-dried clay,

a still and burning ocean.

And in the sky still did fly

an eagle without motion.

 

At any tap the leaves would snap

that yesterday did droop.

With heavy grief we chewed tea-leaf

and ate our crumbled soup.

 

There passed a thirsty time. Each can

was drained, that we had by;

A thirsty time! A parched, parched throat!

Red veins graced every eye;

when looking westward I beheld

a big frog in the sky.

 

At first it seemed a little thing,

and then it seemed a house,

house and garage! Just a mirage,

we said, our fears to douse.

 

But then it grew and showed more true

its great amphibian form,

and a fearful shiver ran like a river

although it was so warm.

 

The shadow bird could then be heard.

"This meat is mine," it said.

"Mine was the mite they squashed for spite,

"but I will still be fed."

 

The wagtail's form began to quiver,

as if with fever, at the news.

As if some prize seduced its eyes,

they flamed like a shorted fuse.

 

"Fire and famine may be yours,"

replied the frog like thunder,

"but flood is mine, and at my time

"all of your world goes under.

 

"But I am not a jealous wraith,

"if one of my bulk may be so called.

"The lesser two can be for you.

"I'll have the third - unmauled!"

 

And now my friends foresaw their ends;

they scrambled as if crazed;

as in a spell they quickly fell,

their eyes already glazed.

And I was held, and stood unfelled,

disgusted and amazed.

 

They lay forsaken, no more to waken,

alone like fallen rags

on that bare place, which bore no trace

of humankind - barring some fags,

discarded packets, empty cans,

and a waste of plastic bags.

 

Now I heard afar a laugh bizarre

and the frog's mouth opened wide,

from which flowed forth a gushing flood

that passed us like a tide.

 

Above the swirl I saw unfurl

my friends' limbs like a flag,

as the giant bird soared up unheard

to some mysterious crag.

 

Along the torrent, 'gainst the current,

came a boat of bark.

In it there stood, as if of wood,

a native, blurred and dark.

In the bubbling swirl the boat was still.

The water made no mark.

 

Crouched astern, with eyes aburn,

like dead fires' last coals,

two faded shapes with folded capes -

they were my comrades' souls!

 

 

He stared at me and made no move,

waiting my entrant pace.

I turned my back, picked up my pack,

and found a higher place.

The waters swirled and round me curled;

it was a fearful race.

 

Beneath those skies only one rise

lifted above the plain;

God, when he made this lovely earth,

had put this padding on its girth

to save me from the rain.

 

The boat, with all its gloomy crew,

began to slowly fade.

I saw them 'neath a sky of blue

step from it to a ferny glade

where kangaroos, koalas

and opossums played.

 

And now the flood turned into mud

and sank beneath the ground.

The flowers of red where my friends had bled

grew like their blood around.

Then from the bole of a waterhole

I heard a fearful sound.

 

My features palled; a creature crawled

from the surging, muddy water.

An endless snake came from the lake

with a face like Dracula's daughter!

 

Limbs it had, in grey scales clad,

and talons glistening sharp.

I had a sudden premonition

I would have to learn the harp.

 

Shaking its mane it slowly came,

baring its dripping teeth.

It stood above my cowering form,

and I stood underneath.

 

Now, barman pale, get me an ale

from underneath the shelf.

I've talked so long I've got a strong

liking for one meself."

 

"But if the Bunyip on your trip

had trapped you like a rat,

how are you here, buying me beer?

I'm interested in that!"

 

"Well, Australia's off the beaten track,

as you already knew.

These awful creatures use their features

to terrorize the local crew,

but I found as I kicked it to the ground,

it didn't know kung-fu!"