William Edward Harney

West Of Alice

We are travelling west of Alice Springs, and Sam is at the wheel;
Riding the diesel-grader I am watching its blade of steel
Roll back the dark-red sandy loam or grind the limestones grey,
And the wheels whirl in a red-dust swirl along the new highway.

We pass where Sturt-peas clothe the earth with a scarlet sweep of flowers,
And burst through green acacia-trees that send down golden showers;
The parakeelia's purple blooms are crushed in the dry, red sand
When the bright blade sweeps as the grader creeps over the stern, strange land.

The mulga, mallee, desert-oaks fall prostrate as we pass,
The lizards, pigeons, porcupines crouch low in stone and grass;
We brush the spinifex aside; tear down the bush-rat's shade,
And the desert mole in its sandhill hole digs faster from our blade.

The honey-ants are rooted out to roll upon the sand,
But ever the ramping, stamping field goes roaring through the land;
The tyres grind and the steel blade cuts the pads where camels trod
And claws at the ground of a stony mound where tribesmen praised their God.

We cross the desert rivers, formed when the world was new,
And churn to dust the fossil-bones of the giant kangaroo;
I wave to naked native kids upon Erldunda's plain,
And we fill our tank where the black men drank from rock-holes filled by rain.

We camp in Kulgera's weathered hills, scarred core of an ancient range,
Where the camp-fire flame throws out its light on a scene that is ever strange
As a dingo wails by the painted wall of a sacred cave near by
And the stars shine bright as we lie at night beneath a frosty sky.

We rise as mulga-parakeets go whirling through the dawn,
We see old star-man Manbuk rise from the depts of midnight drawn;
We hear the grader's engine roar with Sam behind the wheel,
And I sing my song as we plunge along to the clatter of wheel and steel.

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