Rod Williams, Bush Poetry

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HARRY'S HEAVEN

During the sixties, Burnsie and I were fishing mates — I was a shearer and he was a wool–presser. We worked together in the first half of the year in far south–west Queensland, around Quilpie, Eromanga, Windorah. At sheds like Mt Margaret, Retreat, Thylungra, and Bulgroo. Wherever there was a yellow–belly and catfish hole to check out, we were there.
The Barcoo at Retreat was one very special spot.

One year, while shearing at Mt Margaret, a stockman told us of a fish hole just a couple of miles from Nockatunga homestead. This cattle station was beyond the dog–fence boundary and in the channel country. We gained permission for entry to the station and on the Saturday morning at 4 a.m., myself, Burnsie and Terry Mulverhill (the classer) jumped in my Zephyr and headed on down.
The last item to go in the boot before our departure was some (on the nose) meat and bones given to us by Vince, our cook. We'd been ripening it for our shrimp nets.

About an hour and a half saw us through the dog fence boundary, and fifty minutes later we pulled up in a cloud of dust at Nockatunga homestead. Harry, the head stockman, astride his chestnut gelding Sam, was waiting to greet us.
“It's only about two and a half miles as the crow flies, but there's a couple of pretty bad red sand ridges to cross. So we'll go south and circle around back up to the hole. It's a bit of a way further and there's a few channels to cross, but I think you'll be right.”
“She'll be right,” I replied, “I'm driving a Mark II Zephyr!”
“Just follow me,” called Harry.

We were almost clipping Sam's heels as he and Harry cantered along. But then we started hitting channels that got deeper with steeper banks.
You'd have to enter slowly, at an angle and when near the bottom hit the accelerator for the power to lift you out again. We got stuck fast in one channel, with both bumper–bars jammed into opposite banks, you could spin the four wheels – but we had an axe and a shovel and dug ourselves out in under an hour. Then we were back on Harry's obstacle course.

Just when I'd given up all hope of having a yellow–belly for lunch, Harry reined in beside the car.
“Only about a mile and a half to go now, a few more channels to cross, just take it steady. I'll ride ahead a bit — somethin' I want to show ya.”
The only thing we wanted him to show us was the bloody fish hole!!!

My beautiful faithful Zephyr journeyed on, then suddenly, we surfaced from a channel and came to rest beside the statue–like form of Harry and Sam. I turned off the motor in stunned amazement!
We got out, climbed up and sat on the hood and looked over the most beautiful patch of wild flowers I have ever seen, anywhere in the world. Precious gems. Almost transparent short stemmed pastel poppies, in yellows, blues, mauves, pinks, tangerine, white, creams, oranges, reds, sitting and smiling so daintily on this large red–brown canvas, surrounded by the bright blue mid–morning western sky.

I don't know how long we sat in silence, but Harry was the first to speak.
“I came to this country when I was fifteen. I'd heard about this and there's been the odd sighting, but it's taken me fifty years to see it. Just the right amount of rain and correct temperature caused them to germinate.
We've all seen wild flowers, but I bet no one's seen anything like this before.”
We just sat there in silent awe.

“I've been coming out here each morning and sitting for a couple of hours... they'll be gone in a day or so... but I've finally seen it!”
He pointed and said, “Race ya to the hole,” and took off on Sam.

Terry, Burnsie and I all agreed when we talked about it the next day, that Harry could have happily died there and then — right at ‘heaven's door’. We reverently skirted that sacred scene and took off after Harry across a wide claypan towards a line of trees, half a mile away.

We opted for the short cut on our return journey. Harry said he'd come back about four–thirty or five o'clock in case we needed help.

By one–thirty we'd caught a nice yellow–belly each and a good sized catfish. We grilled them over the coals and were able to dine in luxury under a mosquito net we'd cunningly brought with us hung from a tree branch — away from the teeming millions of little bush flies.
We washed that delicious tucker down with a longneck of Four–X each, which we'd tied to string droppers from an overhanging branch — and had buried them deep below the waterline, into the cool muddy bank of the hole. Our fridge!
We also caught a fish each for the night meal and a lovely yellow–belly for Vince, our cook.

We left the hole at about 4.30 p.m. and were building wheel tracks, using bark, small shrubs and branches, over the sandy dunes when Harry and Sam turned up. We were soon back at the homestead and waving goodbye to our friends.

It wasn't until we were back at the shed that night, that Burnsie remarked, “Pity you didn't take a photo mate!”
The box brownie had been in a bag in the boot of the car, but it was not a consideration, nor even thought of at the time, to take a photograph of ‘Harry's Heaven’. The sight was too special and beautiful.
But the gentle pastel poppies and delicate coloured native flowers are painted on my eyes and will grow in my heart forever.

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