― 53 ―

At Sandy Crossing.

There, below the river's elbow, where the faint and grass-grown track
Winds across the bloodwood level, stands the charred and lonely wrack.
Blackened uprights, 'mid the tall grass, like a gibbet grim and sere,
Loom above the verdure's tangle in the sunset's paling glare;
Yonder, by the white ants' clay-pile, where the sapling grove is dense,
Past the ruined stockyard's sliprail, by the crumbling dog-leg fence,
Shrouded by the wild vine-creepers, in the gum-trees' scented shade,
Levelled by the many rainfalls, many bushmen's beds are made.

Swift the filing years have flitted o'er the stage of hoary time
Since the house of “Sandy Crossing” flourished in its baleful prime;
Ere the fitful tide of traffic, with its changeful ebb and flow,
Left it bare and custom-stranded seven fleeting years ago.
Now the prowling fearsome dingo howls his monody of woe,
And the hooting mopehawk answers when the moon is very low—

  ― 54 ―
Like to sprites of evil omen o'er the forest harpy's lair,
For the blood of many victims ever cries for vengeance there.

Here, the half-demented shepherd perished in his maudlin craze;
Here, the blatant horsey shearer saw his final drinking days;
Here, the stalwart strong-lunged teamster passed his spirit-reeking breath;
Here, “Old Bill,” the hurdle-maker, died the “horrors' ” fiery death.
“Pat the Mailman's” whitened relics here have found a lasting bed—
Many a nameless wearied traveller resteth here his fevered head;
But amongst the shanty's victims, fell mortality may claim
One who died as dies a hero, though we never knew his name.

But two letters rudely carven on the gum-tree at his head
By the hand of silent friendship as we scooped his sandy bed!
From the eyes unused to weeping fell the big unbidden tear,
As we lowered him in his blanket from the rustic sapling bier.
Only known as “German Charlie,” stalwart, comely, in his prime;
Only known his native land was somewhere by the fruitful Rhine;
Only heard his Swabian accents wrestling with our English tongue,
As he shouted, “I vill go, boys!” and in the current sprung—
How with bated breath we watched him breast the rushing river's strength—
One short minute seeming drawn out to an hour's tedious length—

  ― 55 ―
Caught within the swirling eddies, struggling in the flood-wrecks' toils;
Dashed against the polished boulders where the racing water boils;
By the whirling muddied waters, like a bubble plaything flung
To the almost submerged ti-tree where the drowning woman clung.
How our ringing plaudits nerved him in his hampered backward flight
Ere the rapid rushing river took him downward in its might!

Yet 'twas only for a woman, she a pioneer of Shame—
Reft of all her sex's glories, nothing left her but the name—
Outcast of the Seaside City, tracking up the venturous band
Drawn by Fortune's tinselled glister to the golden Northern land;
But he only saw her clinging to the tea-tree's fragile limb,
Only heard her shrieks appealing; and it mattered not to him
Whether tawdry Vice's helot, vestal maid, or model wife—
'Twas to save a drowning woman, and he gave his gallant life.

Ah! the ruck of fortune-seekers, pressing onward day by day,
Think not of their fallen brothers' lonely graves beside the way.
Selfish progress, ever motive, as the season-marching year,
Rushes forward, little recking of its martyrs lying here.
Here is one for whom some maiden, sick with hope deferred, may pine
In some vine-surrounded cottage by the fruitful river Rhine.
Rest thee, nameless, gallant spirit, in thy quiet sandy grave;
Be thy memory held immortal with the great forgotten brave!

  ― 56 ―
Here we stood in silent sorrow, as we laid our comrade down—
Five were youthful, lusty fellows; one was bearded, tall, and brown,
Strong in hope—the digger's lode-star—heedless of the weary miles.
Fearless chasing Fortune's footsteps for her golden syren smiles.
One lies on a virgin sandridge, by the Mitchell's spacious flood;
Two have gone, their lives the payment for the slaughtered natives' blood;
Gone are two, by thirst and fever of the deathly tropic zone;
Here am I, the drifting remnant, standing by this grave—alone!