South Of My Days

South of my days' circle, part of my blood's country,rises that tableland, high delicate outlineof bony slopes wincing under the winter,low trees, blue-leaved and olive, outcropping granite-clean, lean,  hungry country.

The creek's leaf-silenced,willow choked, the slope a tangle of medlar and crabapplebranching over and under, blotched with a green lichen;and the old cottage lurches in for shelter.

O cold the black-frost night.

The walls draw in to the warmthand the old roof cracks its joints; the slung kettlehisses a leak on the fire.

Hardly to be believed that summer will turn up again some day in a wave of rambler-roses,thrust it's hot face in here to tell another yarn-a story old Dan can spin into a blanket against the winter.

Seventy years of stories he clutches round his bones.

Seventy years are hived in him like old honey.

Droving that year,

Charleville to the Hunter,nineteen-one it was, and the drought beginning;sixty head left at the

Intyre, the mud round themhardened like iron; and the yellow boy diedin the sulky ahead with the gear, but the horse went on,stopped at Sandy Camp and waited in the evening.

It was the flies we seen first, swarming like bees.

Came to the Hunter, three hundred head of a thousand-cruel to keep them alive - and the river was dust.

Or mustering up in the Bogongs in the autumnwhen the blizzards came early.

Brought them down; webrought them down, what aren't there yet.

Or driving for Cobb's on the runup from Tamworth-Thunderbolt at the top of Hungry Hill,and I give him a wink.

I wouldn't wait long,

Fred,not if I was you.

The troopers are just behind,coming for that job at the Hillgrove.

He went like a luny, him on his big black horse.

Oh, they slide and they vanishas he shuffles the years like a pack of conjuror's cards.

True or not, it's all the same; and the frost on the roofcracks like a whip, and the back-log break into ash.

Wake, old man.

This is winter, and the yarns are over.

No-one is

South of my days' circleI know it dark against the stars, the high lean countryfull of old stories that still go walking in my sleep.

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