Spectres of the Past

© Jack Drake

A swagman sat in solitude beside his tiny fire
reliving dreams of yesterday before his youth expired.
Half closed eyes snapped open to reflect soft lunar light.
A mellow moon rose toward the stars to wash away the night.

A shiver ran through his old frame. He sat as still as stone
and perceived a sense of unity though achingly alone.
Then all at once he saw them there, a shadowy parade.
The spectres of the past filed by in ghostly cavalcade.

Led by a naked, bearded black with woomera and spears
as faintly the corroboree came drifting down the years.
Deep in thrall of ancient dance to pose and thrust and feint.
Sable skin made skeletal by lines of ochre paint.

Came an old time drover, stockwhip draped around his hand,
a cattleman, Buchanan school, who opened up this land.
Face beneath the cabbage hat deep lined by wind and drought.
His spirit mob of breeders for a new run further out.

Steady tread and shouldered tools of men who scratched for gold
drew the old man to his youth when he saw them as old
Zealots look. Crimea shirt, slouch hat of forty nine.
Lambing flat to Gympie scrub gold pulled them down the line.

Then faintly drifting on the wind, a whip rang soft and clear
with creak of harness muffled by the drum of running gear.
There came a spectral Cobb and Co across the moon’s pale face
with tramp of reefing leaders and a groaning thoroughbrace.

He sat in silent wonder as dead years passed him by,
His shearing and his swaggie mates against a moonlit sky.
The storekeeper. The Publican. The trooper and the rest.
Comrades of the huts and camps that dot the endless west.

He yearned towards the next, a face remembered and so dear.
His only love by fever struck half through her eighteenth year.
Small, shy smile and huge dark eyes, that face he loved the best.
He prayed “God let me follow her”, heart rising in his breast.

He slumped beside that dying fire all done with hurt and fear.
Soul left shell to heed the call that only he could hear.
He shrugged off his unwanted life, earth’s harsh existence cast
and joined that phantom retinue. The Spectres of the Past.