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Issue #1642      June 11, 2014

Three Golden Giants

Detail from The Sydney Wharfies Mural.

What can I do to fence this brown stampede,
River in tumult, trampling my people’s dream?

Winter by winter has our river thundered,
Summer by summer has its bones burnt bare,
When the thirsty land bent down to drink its fill.
Even as boys we planned where we would dam it;
Fathers and sons joined in a mighty dream.

That dream shone clearer than the stars, and led me
Through books and midnights, through the sweat of labour,
Till of the valley people I was chosen
To mould this dream in concrete rock and steel.
But now the flood snarls at its young foundations,
And I am powerless to strike its teeth aside.
I read again but still dare not believe it;
“Abandon dam. Government does not intend to finish it.”

Dream of my people crumbles in the current;
We are the leaf and foam swept out to sea.
My hands are cupped but cannot hold her blood.

Have the three golden giants, shapers of the West,
Power to make her whole and green again?

I saw my father’s father, broad and bearded,
I heard him sing of the giant he had served.

“And one was gold, my hearty,
The first was gold my son.
And we could pave a city
With the gold that we had won.

“When we were young and eager
The gold ran in our veins.
Our picks rang in the ranges,
Our tracks cut through the plains.

“We traced him to his prison
By his gold blood in the sands,
And when we split the reefs apart
He lifted up his hands.

“Then Bailey broke the padlock
And Hannan saw him smile
Till he stood aloft, a giant,
When we freed the Golden Mile.

“Give me a road, a railway,
And make a port for me!”
And they flashed like spears of sunlight
The white rails from the sea.

“Bring me the coastal waters
That I can drink my fill.”
They heard his voice roll round the world
From Maritana Hill.

“And road and rail and water
Veins for the pounding mill
Flowed to the golden giant
On Maritana Hill.

“His wealth flowed in narrow streams,
Left the wide slope of people poor;
And the few rich who prisoned him
Drove him to yield them more and more.

“His mighty hands broke forests down,
Tore up the soil in rocks and dust.
His quartz teeth bit the miner’s lungs,
His salt breath clogged our lives with rust.

“The steel trains followed where he signed,
But deserts burned where he had trod;
And I coughed out my lungs, my son,
Laid my bleak bones before this god.”

How could that giant save our threatened dam,
Squanderer of soil and murderer of men?
The wounds he made have festered into deserts;
He cannot heal the trees and earth he trampled;
He cannot put a green arm around Kalgoorlie;
He cannot make my dream turn back the flood.

I can remember when the drover came,
Bowed, lean and quiet, with the kindly hands,
Telling a boy how a giant strode the lands.

“When I rode out with Gregory
Behind us lay the sailess sea,
Before, the nameless range.
Behind us were the hungry flocks,
Before us piled the prisoning rocks,
Even the trees were strange.

“And as we rode the grass grew thin,
For summer shaved the mountain’s chin,
And singed his head of hair.
Even the valleys hung their leaves,
And pools had slunk away like thieves;
Goats could not pasture there.

“But we remembered children’s eyes
Brimming with tears when cold winds rise;
Too little clothes to wear.
The humming of the looms would cease,
Unless they wove the golden fleece
For all the world to share.

“And so we climbed from ridge to ridge,
From range to range, the sky our bridge,
Clamped between rocks and sun.
But sudden pools would kiss our feet,
And green grass whisper ‘don’t retreat,’
And game fell to the gun.

“One afternoon the skyline broke,
And miles of grass rolled soft as smoke
To where the rivers run.
A million flocks came like the rains,
The golden giant reaped the plains;
His glory had begun.

“Yes, then it came our time to reap.
I crossed this river first with sheep
Much more than fifty years ago.
I’ve watched the feeding flocks increase,
The West put on its golden fleece
I’ve seen the giant grow.

“The green hills purred to the caressing sun,
Fat sheep and horses drowsed on timbered slopes,
And ports swelled out with bales on bales of gold.
Oh, was there ever such a fertile giant
As rode with us, rode out with Gregory?
Oh, was there ever such a mighty giant
Whose roads like veins flowed through the sleeping West,
Whose fingers dug for her a thousand wells,
Whose golden fleece warmed the shoulders of the world?”

“Why is your shirt so thin and worn?”
I asked him in surprise.
“Why is dust thick upon your horse,
And sorrow in your eyes?”

“Too many mouths cut down the sheltering grass,
Too many hooves scratched through the red dry soil,
Till the desert licked in dust towards the sea.

“And if I rode from Wyndham to the Leewin,
And if I bathed my eyes in greenest spring,
I still would see the sheep pile up in thousands
In the dead river bed, as if to dam the water,
Dam back the mockery of the heat mirage.”

Water that’s wasted, water that is to come
Cannot hold back the desert wind of death
Unless it’s dammed to spread the green past through tomorrow.

That golden giant cannot save our valley.
Must our dreams drown and die
For the great giant of the golden fleece,
Harried by squatters fanged with greed for wealth,
Muddies our dreams beneath his myriad feet?

Can the third giant make our land a garden,
Green to the walls of our people’s Western home,
Over the surge of flood I heard him calling,
Over the desert of forgotten years,
Voice of my father and the giant he had freed.

“His promise stirred us like the scent of wattle
We drank with dew on a September morn,
And where my axe rang in the virgin timber
The first green voice of the golden grain was born.

“And then he strode from creek-bed to the skyline,
He thrust the grey hood of the bush aside;
The earth smiled beneath his eager fingers,
The wind combed her new, her golden pride.

“And we were proud, guarding the ripening harvest,
Proud to grow bread for hungry lands to eat;
I paused a moment on my new verandah
To taste the first of the golden age of wheat.

“Spring rains and summer suns have swelled the harvest,
A million stems bend where the giant goes;
The thrusting comb lifts up the heads and holds them;
The golden stream gathers, then thrusts and flows.

“Flows through our roads, flows in our limbs, our dreaming,
Moulds trees to homes beneath his giant’s might.
His hands have ribbed the sleeping bush with railways,
His thousand hands have made the darkness bright.
Ten thousand farmers lead their horses homeward
To where his eyes are windows brimmed with light.

“When the Chicago wheat kings crashed the market
Little they cared as the ruins around them lay;
But a poison spread in the arteries of the cities
Where hollow ships rusted along the bay;
And young eyes darkened with the smut of hunger
Watching through fireless night to breadless day.

“They starved because a single monstrous spider
Spun webs of money at each granary door:
And the same web fell on our hands, our farmlands,
Poisoned our lives with the misery of the poor.

“Slow and corrosive as the salt from creekbeds,
It seared the green blades of my life’s desire;
And drought trod down my heart; the shrunken giant
Dragged his burned limbs out of the desert’s fire.
Now rains and earlier hopes have flowed in vain;
Their course is clogged with salt and hot with pain.

“When I lie down, all heavy-eared with sleep,
I still can hear the murmur of the wheat.
When I am dead, bury me on the slope
Where the roots of the golden giant can hold me close.”

We buried him where he could watch the farm,
Where the rich soil could mend his broken body,
The rolling wheat still lift up his heart with joy.

But now the sand, the hot eroded sand
Blows over him, dries up my heart with pain;
And where our homestead watched above the wheatfields
The broken door sways in the wind and rain.

Three golden giants are stumbling down the valley,
Blinded and black from furnaces of drought,
Silent before the snarling lash of hunger,
Bowed by the chains that ring their wrists and throats;
And our dam crumbles beneath their leaden hands.

I cannot stay with the hunger in my heart;
Why have the golden giants lost their power?
Must wings of drought circle above our valley?
Must cold and hunger walk with the children of the world?

Then in the wind droving the locks of leaves
I heard his voice;
In the brown ripples pushing the lazy sand
I felt his story,
Voice of my father, sky with one star alight,
The lit window in the bush-drowned night.

“I met my valley on a sunny morning,
Threading the hills the shortest way to town;
No work, and little food and scanty water,
And with no pillow when the sun went down.

“It gave me water, through white sand bubbling,
It gave me food from one wild orange tree:
My camp-fire dreams flowed from a thousand evenings
Into that valley time had made for me.

“I fought the challenge of the trees, the distance,
I found the water, its fertility.
All of my scattered years fused in one hearthstone,
I made the farm but then the farm made me.

“Mankind goes slowly; step, moves back and falters,
To learn a little, wait, and try again,
But with one farm, one dream and one endeavour
Mankind sows the future with miraculous grain.”

Then his voice faded, died with the ebb of evening,
Till the stars came out to ask did I forget.

I had forgotten, yes, I had forgotten
How the rich red hills around us ripple with life
Green and defiant.
I had forgotten how water and stone and leaf
Fought frost and drought and sun for a million years,
How the tempestuous rain stampedes the timber
That sways and bends, then shakes its head to the sun.

Man strides the hills, inches up every mountain,
And the ridged histories pass beneath our feet.

And I remember, yes, now I remember
A bridge to saddle a New Guinea river;
White plunging death, striking with hooves of stone
At rope and timber.
But sons of our country, sons of the golden giants,
Broke it to harness, rode it to victory.

The golden giants held out the bowl of plenty,
Unbridled fire broke it upon the wheel;
But now the scorched seeds rise as sons and daughters,
And go together till our dream is real.

The three golden giants
Go singing through the valley,
The green guards of Australia
Walk where the rocks were bare.

The deserts break and falter
From the arrows of the river;
Water and leaf take prisoner
The feverish tongues of air.

The anger of the summer
Dies on the grass-green mountain
For above it sways the banner
Our hands have planted there.

Next article – Russia’s Gazprom agreement abandons dollar

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