Dark shadows disappear
Following eulogies from Gill, Vonne and Brother John, the community followed the Hearse to the picturesque cemetery with peaceful views of grazing paddocks and majestic gum trees. The family agreed this was a fitting place to lay Charlie to rest. Harvey was the last man standing, left contemplating an emotional day. As a parting gesture of respect, he placed Charlie’s glasses at the head of the grave, winked at his father and walked away. He drove off in the relentless heat of that late November day. The stiflingly hot weather made him feel confused. His thoughts became scrambled, unable to concentrate, so he manoeuvred his green Ford Fairmont sedan off the road and onto a sandy ridge. It came to a sudden stop as the wheels sank into the soft verge. Shunting hard up against the steering wheel, Harvey lifted his head, and with his knuckle wiped a tear from his eye in disbelief, as he noticed a dry wilting cereal paddock in the distance. The struggling plants caught his attention. What was wrong? He left his car, climbed over the fence with his journal and walked into the middle of the paddock, where tall healthy crops should have stood. Everywhere he looked, all he could see, was dry parched crop, Harvey sat down and began writing about his disturbing observations.
The grains are all pinched
As I wipe dust, from my heat weary eyes,
I lift up my head, to Sun-drenched skies.
Sadly, but surely, seems it has taken hold,
the story of drought, in 83 must be told.
It’s November, a time that personifies spring,
crops should be rich and beginning to sing.
Parked on a ridge, overlooking the sand,
everywhere I look, I cannot understand.
Months of harsh rays, and morns of black frost;
the crops’ end is so near, at such a terrible cost.
Drifting over the hill, is a wave of fine dust,
follows the footsteps, of dry sheep on the cusp.
I walk through the paddock, the best part I can see,
wheat heads leaning over, below the fold of my knee.
The dead plant I uprooted, has not taken hold,
no resistance at all, to last Tuesday morn’s cold.
Grains are all pinched, the whiskers are brown,
destined for hay, this crop must be cut down.
Rabbit burrows abandoned, no birds circling by,
I struggle to hold back, dusty tears from my eye.
Out of wind and the dust, I no longer have doubt,
I sat quietly confirming this Eighty-three drought.
As long shadows pass slowly, over cruel and dry land,
it appears farmers were dealt one final cruel hand.
Relief comes as darkness hides nature’s cruel sins,
alas, at harvest time, we shall see more empty bins.
Later that evening Harvey returned home. It was dark. He remembered that his mother had gone to visit friends following the funeral. With the stress and preoccupation of his father’s passing, he had left his house keys on his bed. Harvey had locked himself out of his family home! At twenty years old, he wished he had his own place. With no tree house left and no friendly neighbours like Rose to call on, Harvey sat quietly in his car. He was parked on the side of the street, his engine running providing cool air conditioning for a welcome relief. He began wondering what to do with his life. His mind was confused from the events of the last few days.
“Death, dust and finally destitute; now I know how the homeless feel. At least I have a vinyl roof over my head and cool air. Perhaps I should be more sympathetic to their difficult circumstances.”
His concern wandered towards those less fortunate than himself. Just like the homeless living in parks, sleeping on benches or in dump bins, Harvey began to listen carefully to the sounds of the city night; sounds that many homeless people would be listening to during the warm echoing nights.
Harvey reclined his car seat, then stared at the streetlights and pedestrian crossing signs near his car; he partly shut his eyes to concentrate on the noises, trying to forget the pain of the last few days. He began mumbling to himself,
Yellow sign displays caution
Eyes near closed, listen intently,
the purring of my idling engine.
Distant trucks, with air brakes rumbling,
conditioned air blows through my vents.
Eyes so heavy, streetlights sparkle,
distorted by lashes in flickering mode.
House lights shine in so many colours,
shimmer through thin curtains bright.
Headlights racing past my car door,
indicators flash orange in the night.
Brake light, crimson, reflects in mirror;
this street has turned a soft blood red.
Yellow sign displays some caution;
mum and boy may cross the street.
No key no entry; just keep waiting;
I may not sleep in my bed this eve.
Illuminated dashboard, bright red light,
the revolutions, counted at six hundred.
Open skylight shows stars above me,
sparkling night-lights as a city sleeps.
Head nods off for a single moment,
five hours later, my eyes try to peep.
Morning light reflects off my mirror,
the Magpies warble down the street.
Caution! Now is time for reflection.
Lady and boy, still on the side of street?
All night-lights disappeared for now,
Dashboard yellow, fuel pump flashes.
The engine sputters to a stand still.
Expensive thoughts, or a dream to keep?
“Wake up laddie,” yelled Mrs Stewart, as she knocked on Harvey’s car window, early the next morning.
“I was worried sick aboot ya, you peer wee boy, sleepin oot here!”
Harvey wiped his eyes and arched his back after an uncomfortable night in his car; slowly he pulled himself up by the doorframe and gave his mother a big hug. Then as they looked at each other, tears began rolling down their cheeks with the memory of yesterday.
“Come on boy; let’s have a chat over a big breakfast. It’s aboot time we had a heart to heart!”
Harvey stood by the kitchen window, staring out into the garden. Sleep-deprived and depressed, Harvey began babbling about his father’s death, their finance problems, drought and Rose leaving Illawonga. It was all weighing heavily on his mind.
“I don’t know if I can cope anymore, it’s all too much!”
“I know exactly what will cheer ye up my boy; it’s your favourite hot bushman’s breakfast. Just try and relax while I get it ready.”
“Thanks Mum, at least I still have you! Everything seems to be going pear shaped in my life. Sometimes I can’t see the point of being alive!”
“Don’t ever think like that Harvey!” A worried Mrs Stewart stopped cooking for a moment and turned around to see him slumped against the windowsill. She walked over to console him.
What comes around
“Life hangs in the balance. We make the most of what we have and try to give back more with what we’ve been blessed. Life is what it is! You change what you can, you do your very best and what comes around goes around.”
He nodded in agreement, as his Mother kissed him on the cheek before returning to the bacon, popping and spattering in the frypan.
Harvey again looked out the window, this time he noticed a Butterfly struggling to emerge from its chrysalis, and precariously hanging from a Geranium flower in the window box. Captivated by a new life evolving, Harvey looked even closer. For a moment, his troubles disappeared. Its beautiful wing appeared broken or deformed during the rebirth. Constant fluttering of its deformed wing attracted the attention of a Grey Noisy Minor, which flew in and sat on the window ledge un-phased by Harvey’s presence.
“Your right mum, life does hang in the balance.” Mrs Stewart just nodded and continued cooking.
Harvey watched on curiously, but concerned for the welfare of such a beautiful, yet helpless insect. How could it survive? Will the Noisy Minor have breakfast and end another life in the same instant? Harvey began writing on the kitchen whiteboard, while he watched a new and fragile life, hanging in the balance.
A life flickers in the balance
A cruel troubled world
I question the worth of living.
Then a Butterfly struggles
with a broken wing
precious life flickers in the balance.
from a broken home
new life, may be a poison chalice.
Assess my pity
best be thankful now
so grateful for another chance.
A fragile world
we need be aware
forget my selfish, lonely stance.
As the truth we seek
is found in the very meek
if we listen, to every subtle sound.
My smile returns
another lesson learned
Make the most, of what comes round.
“Gone forever! A new life, such potential disappeared in a flash.”
A worried Mrs Stewart handed Harvey a large plate of grilled bacon, with scrambled eggs, mushrooms and fried tomato, which instantly appeared to lift his spirits.
“Thanks mum, definitely worth hanging around for this!”
“Harvey my peer wee Laddie, chin up, our life’s nae so bad. Your father; God bless his soul, and I, left a difficult life in Scotland to give you and your dear brother and sisters a life of freedom in this country that offers an abundance of opportunities.”
“Maybe, if you happen to be a Noisy Minor bird it might!” Harvey said sarcastically, as Mrs Stewart began reading Harvey’s poem.
“My Little Robbie Burns, I love this poem, it’s very thought provoking; perhaps you should be exploring your creative side some more.” His surprised eyes lifted, just as Mrs Stewart handed him a Red Cross Christmas card with a letter and photo from a Cambodian refugee girl.
“This is why you should never give up laddie! We give one dollar a day to this Cambodian family. They only just survived an appalling genocide, with most of their village raped or murdered. This girl describes in her letter, the appalling conditions, ravaged by disease and starvation. The Khmer Rouge Guerrillas of Pol Pot, murdered many of her relatives. Why? Well it was just a senseless, horrendous attempt to cleanse hundreds of thousands of innocent people from their country. So please don’t think for one moment you’ve got it tough my dear boy. We are blessed and Charlie believed that one day you would be helping those less fortunate here in Australia. He believed you were made of just the right character to make instil a sense of wellbeing, in those less fortunate.” Harvey began reading the letter and card, as his mother continued,
“Your poetry is a blessed gift bestowed upon very few. But first you must find peace; until your heart is content, you will never have love in your own soul to share with others!”
Curiously confused, Harvey began eating his breakfast and reading more about the atrocities in Cambodia. He could not help thinking about what his father had said to his mother. He began reading out words to himself as he was imagining the little girl’s life. His mother cleaned the frying pan, ignoring his muttering.
“Communism, terrorism, rights, abuse, poverty, disease, racism, holocaust, rape, murder and starvation . . .
Thanks for breakfast Mum. I feel much better on a full stomach. You have given me lots to think about, but for now, I must write down these feelings before I forget this horrific story.
The injustices of class and wealth
Stop and think how fortunate you are, once you dare compare;
other souls oppressed with life, are filled with great despair!
But sadder still across the world, many cowering in a slum,
hungry lonely children, crying out for help from anyone.
Disease and poverty are forerunners, to slow and painful death,
the catalyst that began this sorry cycle, is no longer just a myth.
Democracy is broken down, with deathly plots to overthrow;
the Government was greedy; their lavish wealth did overflow.
The injustices of class and wealth, forced men onto their knees;
rich get richer and unaware of fellow man, coping with disease.
Under privileged workers, neglected by white-collar best,
try coping with starvation, no sense of freedom or unrest.
Banished to poorer soils, peasants plant on hands and knees,
poison in their waterways sickens crops and wilts most trees.
Amongst political arenas of corruption based countries,
a Dictator feeds on power, like a dog attracting fleas.
A Lieutenant no longer trusts the head, of this political rule,
alas his General prefers to see, the hungry die in a cesspool.
A vicious plot evolves, to overthrow the Government that night,
terrorism and assassination will see the end in a bloody fight.
Democracy of sorts that eve, made way for communistic power,
frail forgotten peasants; all hope of freedom soon turned sour!
The rebel leader had no compassion; genocide was on his mind;
cleanse his land of poverty, by removing minorities for all time!
His guerrillas swept the nation, burning villages to the ground,
raped and murdered women, blood stained babies with no sound.
No hope for those, who fought disease, drought and starvation?
Defenceless against human rights abuse, genocide or extinction.
Too weak to run, too frail to fight; a holocaust began that night;
their only hope now is prayer and faith, and courage over fright.
Defenceless against oppressors, as they plead for their salvation,
stop a senseless bloody slaughter that will cripple half the nation.
When smoke cleared much later, and guerrillas were far away,
only ash or bodies left where they were slaughtered on that day.
Deep in a cave of a mountain, two families wisely left that scene,
today begins a new era of hope, with freedom as their daydream.
Wise parents share loving words; revenge never pays for anyone,
live democratically, so a new generation can enjoy a setting sun.
Harvey spent weeks considering the future of the family business, the stress from his father’s passing, devastating frosts, low commodity prices and the worst drought that Illawonga had ever seen. It began to take a heavy toll on the Stewart family. There were plenty of fabrication jobs on their order books, but farmers had no money to pay. His late father had held on for many years, waiting for things to get better, all the time carrying tens of thousands of dollars in credit for battling farmers. Harvey remembered his father’s endless cash flow battle.
“Your father and I always regretted holding back your life’s potential; now, laddie, its time to make a life of your own!”
Mrs Stewart smiled and gave her son a big reassuring hug.
“Maybe the old man was right; perhaps it is time to move on to a more meaningful life, I have often felt a desire to see what opportunities exist in the City.” Harvey no longer had a desire to join the Air force; instead, he felt an urge help others; but how?
Eventually, the family agreed after many sleepless nights, to sell the business, including plant, stock and machinery. They knew the sale would cover creditors’ costs and purchase his mother a retirement house. The twenty seven thousand dollars owed by struggling farmers would probably end up being a costly bad debt and a waste of time chasing, as many of the properties were forced to foreclose by the banks. As farmer Andy often said ….. “You can’t get blood out of a stone, but you can get bloody stoned!” . .Harvey never really knew what he meant by that.
Early summer, that same year, Harvey, along with his family, held a clearing sale. It was a heart breaking time for them. Many of the workshop tools and equipment had been in the family for over twenty-five years. When Harvey was a little boy he had watched his father design and build many of the metalworking machines or fabricate much of the tooling himself. He did not expect to feel any emotions or sense of loss from the sale; but he certainly did. The sale process became increasingly emotional and draining. Not only did giveaway prices on stock and hardware items annoy Harvey, but it was the end of a personal bond that he shared with his father. That pain magnified every time the Auctioneer’s hammer fell on the sale of metal working equipment, or hand tools; tools that Harvey shared with his father for over two decades. The 600 lots of hardware and workshop equipment were to be auctioned on that day. The Auctioneer had little knowledge of tools or what the machines were used for, nor did he know their true values. Often the auctioneer yelled out for Harvey to explain an items purpose. Once more Harvey walked over, only this time he saw his father’s old custom made Profile cutter was about to be sold. Reluctantly he explained to the Auctioneer how it worked and what its purpose was. It brought back memories, Harvey wished he could keep it; but realising it had to go. He explained in a loud voice to the Auctioneer, how his father designed this steel-plate profile cutter, utilising components shipped out from Scotland. More importantly, Harvey explained the features and benefits.
“It incorporates an electro magnet with a central spindle that follows the overhead template. The magnet is driven by a 1962, 240 Volt Black & Decker drill. The drill uses a vary-speed module and the profile cutter utilises oxy-acetylene gas cutting equipment. At extremely high temperatures of 3,500°C, the heat creates a thermal cutting action, with the profile cutter able to cut through 38 mm of hardened steel plate. An electro magnet follows an overhead template, while a duplicate shape is produced from the steel plate below. It is ideal for multiple parts or mass production ok?” The bidders were bamboozled, and the Auctioneer looked at Harvey, shaking his head and then shouted at the top of his voice,
“OK . . . Who will start me away today, with Harvey’s electro magnetised chopper cutter? Will anyone give me $100 dollars for this automated fridge magnet? It also comes with free carving knives and a set of 38mm plates.”
The bidders laughed at the Auctioneer making fun of Harvey’s description. Farmers had no use for such fancy machines, and if they did, there was little money to pay a fair price. Harvey walked off embarrassed, as the Auctioneer continued.
“It’s just what every farmer wants; take it home for your wife, it would make a great garden ornament! Perhaps you could modify it to make coffee and stir the sugar using the old Black & Decker drill. There’s bound to be an attachment for everything!”
Everyone laughed again, except the Stewart family. Harvey walked away and out of the workshop, and then sat down on an old plastic milk crate. Finally, after many hours, and a long day of bargain selling, all of the stock and workshop equipment had gone.
“There’s nothing left,” Harvey thought to himself, as he started sweeping the floor for the last time. The task was easier than the hundreds of times before, but it seemed to take forever, he swept a pile of dirt and dust into the centre of the floor. He stopped, looked around, first one way and then the other. Suddenly he felt overcome with a feeling of emptiness. After 21 years of fabricating and repairing farm equipment, everything was gone! Nothing left, but a pile of rubbish and dirt heaped on the floor. He kicked the pile furiously with his boot. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw bouncing across the concrete, a small shiny metal object. Harvey walked over to pick it up, and as he did, he recognised it as a small pop rivet, a fastener used for joining sheet metal together. A forlorn Harvey trudged out of the workshop towards his 1970s green Fairmont sedan; he sat down in the front seat staring back at the shed floor. Thinking and then inspecting the small rivet, he reached for his journal from the glove box and started writing. .
‘A pop rivet was left on the floor that day; I picked it up as it had much more to say’….
Life can be riveting
Born of an era of tools & machines,
Is this the last remaining part?
A pop rivet represents my dreams,
an emotion, which tears me apart.
A chrome steel stem, an alloy cap,
a sign of this forgotten race;
a mere token or souvenir to recall,
as a tear rolls down my face.
Once shining with its silver coat,
just waiting patiently for a need;
now scratched, scored and useless,
seems such a lonely figure indeed.
Although the cold empty factory,
sent chills right down my spine;
decades of memories disappeared,
a significant part of it was mine.
This is appropriate to keep a rivet,
as a reminder of those days,
of manufacturing and fixing things,
so my memories will not haze.
But why this, I ask, with a wry smile;
not a spanner or halve rounded file?
Well it reminds me of a life once lived;
discarded and swept up in life’s pile.
Collecting life’s material items,
corrupts and sways our leaning;
dry those tears, release all fears,
my life has found new meaning.
God has a plan for each and every one,
that each of us should follow;
My time has come to cut these chains,
a past life, I must now swallow.