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Bedtime Stories #6

Haunted by History

So I drive to the town, pick up a few groceries, check the mail, chat a while … a bit of goss … a bit of this an’ that and then hit the road to home again … and that is where the haunting starts.

You’ve seen them, as you drive along the main roads and the back roads … sunlight slanting off white sepulchre … you catch fleeting glimpses of them through the trees … deep in the scrub, sometimes almost complete, sometimes but a shadow of their former glory … you can sometimes drive past them for years before you suddenly realise they are there and then you get a shock at their ‘sudden appearance’: ruins of old cottages and huts … scattered, crumbling ruins … sad testament to optimistic aspirations.

The Son’s Heritage

Bleached, white bones all awry,

Road-kill bared to the open sky.

The windmill there clunks and sighs,

The windmill beside where it lies.

Golden wheat on the paddock rise,

Golden heat in summer skies,

Dust upon dust blinds the eyes,

And pummels the cloth of countryside.

The whitened bones.

The mill that groans.

The crop all golden, all golden shon’

That leads the eye on and on,

And on under an aching, searing sun,

From an empty soul all forlorn,

With regret of the place to which he is born.

Mostly we drive on … just giving an acknowledged glance to these pieces of jaded history … someone else’s tribulations, another’s history. I have stopped at several of these sites … joined in a pagan-like offering to another’s story … tossed a pebble or two into the underground tank out the back. I’ve stood for a moment in the remains of a back door opening, silent, wondering on the view they must have seen from that same place, another time … a time which may move inexorably on, yet the human condition remains.

Who were these intrepid builders? What singular ambition drove them to sculpture out of rough earth and stone, from memory and trial and error these testaments to a hopeful dream? They haunt me, these vacant souls … shuffling through sad ruins, backing onto abandoned fields that once must have swayed wave-like with fronds of wheat or oats. Now, scavenging crows pick nastily at an obscure morsel and a cruel sun rakes it’s talons over old wounds.


You can stand, transfixed,

For as long as you can bear.

Staring at the thistle flower,

A spot of yellow bliss in an ocean of dust.

The sun beating down on your back,

A thunderous beat as heavy

As the lumbering speech of a stupid man.

The only bright bristle,

In a field so barren,

Is that one yellow flower of the courageous thistle,

Pleading for it’s life to the open sky,

And I wonder and wonder … for the life of I.

There are stories out there, hovering around these ghosts of the past. An entire population of early settlers with their children and animals, gone now, the only memory in some cases being a headstone or two marking a seriously foreshortened life and now only a sighing wind through a perimeter of sheoaks to serenade their sleep into eternity … and along with such disaster the presumed tragedy for the rest of the family, having to absorb the sadness into their hearts. When one scans the landscape of those long-ago years, the inevitable hardship and difficulties faced, one gets the feeling their lives were dominated by the practical demands of weights and measures, time and distance. The burden of necessity, always the prime consideration of their immediate attention.

Strangely, the history of these ruins seem to be shrouded in mystery … few if any people living now have knowledge of the folk who built and lived in many of these ruins. Their short moments of occupation at odds to the effort it must have taken to erect such structures. It is as if strangers to us all had swept fleetingly through the land, leaving no word or lasting deed of their presence save these crumbling hovels. One wonders what the indigenous peoples would have made of these pioneers, struggling with stone and beast, fire and plough to make a meal for their family when food was in abundance all around! … madness, surely!

This Island Earth

Lament, fair children, lament fair child,

Lament for what you have to abide.

Born to us a gift supreme, sight sublime,

Beauty’s hand to hand in mine,

But now I turn mine eyes askine,

Now in shame and guilt decline

To walk hand with hand in thine.

Whilst fair Beauty and her entourage

Lay dying in irreversible damage.

And ponder I, why ‘tis always encouraged,

That we pluck the prettiest flowers,

But leave the weeds to flourish …

But it is the history that haunts me, for it is there, fixed in stone as solid as any Roman effigy, though perhaps not as romantic … But then THAT would depend on the story and the rumour of salacious intrigues! It seems a pity we can stand where they once stood, feel the heat and wind which they once felt and imagine the sweat and toil they once gave to a land and ambition that both their ghosts and our living spirit still share, yet not know their name.

What is its name?

Who is it holds the candle,

Who will ignite the flame?

When we call to that God on high,

What will be its name?

When we strive for God’s glory,

What reason is to blame?

What went so far awry,

When we struck the home with flame?

Who will command cruel deed,

When God cries out their names?

What excuse will we allow ourselves,

When we lay them in their graves?

When all is done and dusted,

Who will kill the flame?

Who are these wonderful Gods,

Would have such things done in their name?

Quo vadis? … Whither goest thou, people …?

Well, this person must goest to sleep, and I suggest you do likewise … so it’s goodnight from me to goodnight to thee …


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  1. Joseph Carli

    The physical destruction wrought upon western societies by the dual capitalist catastrophies of the Great Depression and the following 2nd the very fabric of cultures and communities right down the middle…in what Alvin Tofler wrote of in his 1970’s book : “Future Shock”…the too sudden shock of industrial change broke the back and hearts of the working / trade classes throughout the western world…the sudden mechanisation of Hitler’s Blitzkrieg army overflowed via mechanical advancements in tractor technology onto farming practices that totally and suddenly destroyed the horse farming era, rendering the layout, cropping needs and shedding arangements of the family farms in disarray..many family industries and trades that made their living off the horse era died a sudden death and along with them went both community cohesion and town life..This has left a gaping abyss between valuable, hard-learned skills and purchased technology where high skills were replaced with a “how to use” instruction book.

    Our lives have by consequence moved from cultural complex community to individulist simple rote learning and we are so much the worse off for it.

    And this is where the damage was done…THIS is where the damage was the exchange of technology that didn’t demand intellectual application of a trade skill…a learned apprenticeship skill..but only demanded a labourers “unskilled” repetetive learning. So there was no “Master Farmer” any more…no animal husbandry skills that could determine the breeding quality of stock to became a mechanic’s determination…so the tactile touch between hand and earth was lost as was the “language” of earth farming.

  2. Phil

    ” Our lives have by consequence moved from cultural complex community to individulist simple rote learning and we are so much the worse off for it.”

    All true. Where I take the dog for a walk is breath taking in its beauty even more so just at the moment, the bushes are starting to put on their spring show the flowers and their accompanying aroma is the stuff that triggers poetry. As I walk I think, when I was a kid we would call these places our second home.

    Now it is just the wife me and the dog. Where are all the children? Has the earth opened up and swallowed them all?

    No, go to any shopping mall and that’s where they’ll be, with their faces so buried in their mobile phones they will if you are not careful walk over the top of you. The last few months I have had to visit the Doctors surgery more than usual, it’s just not the kids it’s now the adults as well. There they sit in a world of their own, with faces glued to their mobile phones.

    I would think chiropractors must be making a fortune putting people’s necks right. The world has gone mad.

  3. Joseph Carli

    “The passing of the amateur.

    If I consult this little pencilled in book of a shopping bill from a Mr. D. Lambert & Son, general store and victuals supplier of Towitta, for the fortnight in February 1936, I see that a packet of Yo-Yo biscuits was a mere 7 pence, and while the entire shopping for that bill was a total of 1/14/7 (one pound fourteen shillings and seven pence) there was deducted for 4 dozen eggs and 6 pounds of butter as barter for a total of 9 /6 pence taken off the bill….and then Mr. Lambert would continue on his way in his horse and sulky delivery wagon to the next family farm to repeat the procedure…a round trip he did once a fortnight to deliver the grocery list and pick up bartered exchanged produce. A congenial and fruitful arrangement of the times.”

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