Camooweal Billabong – a verse

Camooweal Billabong –   by Ray Jackson:-

A hot dry wind came from the south so constant and so strong I
had to stop so looked and found a shaded billabong
I knew at once this special place had a story it would tell
so there I camped to sit a while and give myself a spell

It had a peaceful calming feel which gave me time to think
of a man with a swag so long ago who stopped to have a drink
His was a life with little needs just a feed and a quiet road
or maybe a smoke and a cup of tea and shade to ease his load

I started then to speculate as night began to fall that in our ways
both he and I are not unalike at all
To roam and camp just where we want is one of life’s delights
but nowadays rules and petty laws are stealing all our rights

As shadows grew across the land and birds began their song,
cockatoos and brolgas sang around the billabong
Ducks and cranes of pure white performed a graceful flight
as fading sunlight and faint stars turned daytime into night

A mob of roos came from the scrub and quietly drank their fill
and then were gone and in the dark the sounds of birds were still
I watched a campfire come to life and in its smoky haze
I saw the face that bore the trace of hard and weary days

Of years of being on the road and not enough to eat,
on bony legs with tattered boots on tired aching feet
But when I looked into the eyes reflected in the light
I knew this was a happy man regardless of his plight

Sitting there we never spoke for what seemed quite a while
and then I saw upon his face a beaming toothy smile
I found that I was smiling too and knew the reason why,
we both were looking up into the everlasting sky

He didn’t speak and nor did I as words could not describe
the beauty of the Southern Cross and Milky Way so wide
I couldn’t bring myself to break the peaceful quiet spell
so waited till he chose the time his story he would tell

Been on the road for long he asked and whereabouts is home,
I used to have a nice place once before I chose to roam
The bush is where my heart belongs but my body’s not so grand
and it wont be long before these bones are drying in the sand

A least a hundred times or more I’ve crossed from east to west
and up and down from north to south and don’t know where is best
But if my time to leave this life should come while I am here
don’t send my earthly frame away just leave me lying near

It seemed he wanted me to know he would not last the night
and trusted me to do for him the thing I knew was right
With swag unrolled he eased his back and soon was fast asleep,
so then began the longest night of waiting I would keep

With aching heart all night I heard a curlews’ mournful cry
and knew this marvellous man had chose  this precious place to die
The sun arose from in the east upon a peaceful scene,
the swaggie in his tattered swag in death looked so serene

That day I toiled to keep the faith he had trusted to my hand
and left him lying in the soil of his beloved wide brown land
Wrapped in his swag, with hat on head and billy by his side,
facing east towards the sun on that billabong so wide

I did not mark his place of rest nor leave a single trace
of the smiling kindly gentle man I left there in that place
Now all these years later on when the road is hot and long
I think of that old swaggie in his grave by the billabong

While travellers resting closely by don’t know that he lies near
I like to think their voices are something that he can hear
So he will know his final bed will always hidden be
by the trust he placed upon the man who happened to be me

Now the screeching raucous clamour of countless birds in flight
keep his old bones company through searing day and night
And I hope he found the peaceful rest that he was looking for
amongst the birds at the billabong asleep for evermore

                                                                                                   Ray Jackson. June 2017.


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My name is Moya Sharp, I live in Kalgoorlie Western Australia and have worked most of my adult life in the history/museum industry. I have been passionate about history for as long as I can remember and in particular the history of my adopted home the Eastern Goldfields of Western Australia. Through my website I am committed to providing as many records and photographs free to any one who is interested in the family and local history of the region.

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  1. I did enjoy reading your poem Ray, I felt as if I was back there in time. A billabong is an oasis out Camooweal way and the sounds of birds and stars at night in the outback amazing.

    • Ray Jackson says:

      Yes Linda, we camp out there on the Geogina River Billabongs when we are travelling the Barclay Highway. The turnoff is off to the right before the bridge as you get to Camooweal.

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