Colin F. Jones

SELF PORTRAIT IN BRIEF

I don’t know what a soldier is though I guess I was one,
No different than any other bloke when all is said and done,
Born and bred a county bloke with his soul sown in the land,
I staggered behind the horse and plough till I could hardly stand,
We broke our backs pickin’ peas and diggin’ up the spuds,
And grew our carrots twice as big as Iraqis build their scuds,
I never grew up to be tall and ‘stilts’ was my nickname,
‘Cause I was only five feet six but as tough as a horses mane.

There’s lots of blokes around you know who think that war is fun,
Who don’t really see in my old eyes the damage it has done,
They cannot see the pain I feel the sorrow and the woe,
And though they say they understand they do not really know.
I don’t complain ‘cause after all it was my chosen lot,
To join the forces knowing that someday I might get shot.
Well I survived though I got sick but found my way back home,
But then I spent a thousand years living all alone.

I had no friends and wanted none as round the pubs I crawled,
Seeking out some company with ‘grogs’ courage there installed.
But no one cared a shit for me; that “bloke from Vietnam”,
And in the end I guess I said, “Well I don’t give a damn.”
I took to the bush the wondrous home of my long wasted youth,
Where the living creatures accepted me without demanding proof.
I hiked and climbed and fished the streams and watched the ‘roos at play,
But loneliness took hold of me each and every day.

I wrote my thoughts, my only valve, in verse and poetry,
But did not share it with a soul ‘cause there was only me,
Time went on and quite by chance when I was forty two,
I met a lady standing out from the outstanding few.
We hit it off I guess you’d say ‘cause ‘twas soon that we were wed,
And all the bitter loneliness on that day in me was shed,
So now we live with all these pains and woes we share together,
And naught but death can break this knot by which our hearts are tethered.

My house is old and battered but strong and firmly set,
Built from good Aussie hardwood still standing sturdy yet,
Hewn from the Glenreagh forest where the axemen are the best,
Where some trees still are standing that would an axe man test.
The weather-board long since covered by a modern sort of clad
Still bends a six inch nail to drive a builder feller mad.
The roof is ‘rippled’ iron to make the rain run off,
And all around the gutters run the rain into a trough.

There’s several rooms and kitchen space enough to move about,
And a lawn too big for me to mow when I do venture out.
The old shed is still quite sturdy but the gutters painted now with rust,
Are full of holes and persimmons, leaves and lots of dust.
The Golden Rain tree stands in bloom; my Mothers gift to me,
And like her it has struggled through harsh winters to be free.
The land around is fairly green up to our boundary fence,
And horses rest beneath the trees which makes a lot of sense.

Cattle graze and Kangaroos hop by in early morn,
And often in the eastern sky dark clouds define a storm.
It’s quiet enough, a distant train a car fast past our door,
But mostly it’s a crow or two or perhaps a whole lot more,
A yapping dog somewhere far off the sounds of kids at play,
The flapping of the doves next door, the turkeys’ smart display
Still in the hills that lovely sound of the woodsman’s swinging axe,
Where mostly now the chain saw cuts the requisition of a fax.

Steep sandstone cliffs of the Conglomerate Range rise up in the north,
Where far below the Orara steam carves its inland course.
And I alone sit here inside while my good wife takes a rest,
Typing on this plastic board; well at least I do my best,
While miles away the sounds of war still reach my tender ears,
And all the pain and hurt returns to consequence in tears.
I know it’s all for good and right, for freedom and for peace,
Thus I do suffer quietly for with my age that ills increase.

When we lived upon Mcords at the western end of town,
You could stand upon a rock and see all the land around,
You could see the Jetty pier there struggling out to sea,
Among the Indian Ocean waves and seagulls winging free.
Where the Able Tasman moored to load the massive cedar beams,
Cut from the forests of the north and floated down the streams.
Banana stools climbed the hills green silver in the sun,
Where we lugged the bunches on the slopes until the day was done.

We hooked ‘em onto pulley wires and you could hear ‘em sing
As down the mountain side they swept the wires all a-ring.
We stacked ‘em in the packing sheds where they were packed of course,
In boxes that we nailed up and dipped ‘em in a sauce
That killed the bugs and kept ‘em free from pests and gross disease,
Then loaded them onto the trucks for folks from over-seas.

Our home was just a packing shed with a Corrugated iron roof,
Full of holes from years of rust so wasn’t weather proof.
There were no panes, the windows there were frames of empty space,
Where through the dust blew from the road in clouds about the place.
From the dust the fleas leapt up into our clothes and beds,
That every night we writhed and cursed and scratched our skin to shreds.
Ten of us our family was and we slept upon the floor,
‘Cause we were only immigrants so we were pretty poor.

Our Mother picked the fleas from sheets red spotted with our blood,
And drowned them in some water in a concrete washing tub.
She swept away the dust and muck and spiders from the walls,
With a broken handled witch’s broom that had no brush at all.
She stoked the stove that filled the shed with clouds of stinking smoke,
And cooked her “wots it’s” in a pan as black as Satan’s cloak.
She washed the blankets and the sheets hung in the sun to dry,
And always though she was so tired she hugged us when we cried.

Dad… he tromped for miles around but couldn’t get a job,
‘Cause he was just a “pom” you see trying to earn a bob,
Trained in the Army fixing trucks and tanks to make ‘em go,
He was a fine mechanic but he spoke “so nice”, you know.
He got a job just greasing cars and swallowing his pride,
He took their crap and did the work on which they all relied
But soon they saw what he could do they knew he was the best,
But even then they treated him as one would treat a pest.

He left that place and went to work in a garage out of town,
Where seldom was he paid a wage not even half a crown.
He went around the pubs and clubs to see if his boss was still about,
‘Cause he had a wife and family and the food had long run out.
Each day he walked a mile and six to get to where he worked,
Then several miles to where his boss and all his cronies lurked.
He’d get tossed a quid like some lost kid who begged upon the street,
Then back up that old mountain road with tired and aching feet.

Jobs were many around the town but none were there for him,
‘Cause first of all he was a “Pom”, and that was just a sin,
Even then he stood in line behind the Catholic folk,
‘Cause in this town the church you served meant that a Catholic bloke,
Was first preferred before a “Pom” and any other creed,
And dad was of the English Church, just a tolerated breed.
But he stuck it out and kept his cool til finally he scored,
And for a time our happy hopes were temporarily restored.

By gee I loved those times you know on the Congarini farm,
Where we rode across the ridges when the weather it was calm
Sometimes I rode on Billy and once on the flashy Bay,
And the old pig-rootin’ black, fence jumpin’ neighbour’s crazy stray.
Sometimes I rode old Dolly she was always half asleep,
Or Prince who’d tow a ship if the ocean weren’t so deep
Behind ‘em both with dropper me clinging to the reins,
We sowed in endless furrows the seeds of many grains.

But when the rains of summer destroyed our glowing crops,
The parrots and the crows swooped down in many flocks,
To finish off the plants and seeds so that everything was gone,
But that was life; ‘twas two steps back for every forward one.
We had cleared fifteen acres with axe and cross cut saw,
Stacked the trees in piles as much as Prince and Doll could draw,
And later in the winter with a match we lit the fire,
And watched the red bull racing through that timber like a flyer.

But I guess our work was wasted ‘cause we made no money there,
And you have to have an income for food and for repair
We had of course a Jersey herd and now that the grass was green,
Were giving us a lot of milk from which we took the cream.
The cream truck came by daily and was a way to get to town;
It picked up all the cream cans and set the empties down.
In the wet through mud and water it struggled passed our gate,
And often we were shovin’ it though the helpful chains were great.

Submitted for the April 2003 IWVPA Club Theme Project, “Portrait of a Soldier