“The burdens of the people.” During the recent election campaign, the one and only candidate who, for some strange reason, deemed it might profit him to raise his voice in this remote corner of the bush, revived the outworn phrase that was a whiskered bromide in the days of Demosthenes.
“The burdens of the people,” he declared, “were becoming intolerable; and the attentive populace – comprising fourteen serious bushmen in their irksome Sunday clothes -– dutifully lent him their ears – but subsequently fail to give him a vote of any consequence!
But, although the candidate’s arguments failed to impress the rugged pioneers of our timbered hills, the hackneyed and archaic phrase he emphasised seemed, for some unaccountable reason, to stick.
Something in the sound of it appeared to stir vague associations in the leisurely minds of our leading citizens.
As a result, our district has suddenly become, so to speak, burden-conscious; and, arising from this, all manner of discussions and arguments are to be heard on tree-lined roadsides or over fires in wooden huts while the billy boils.
One day this week I had taken my work into a remote corner of the garden where a light hedge screens the lawn from the main road. Here, oneself unseen, one may sit and dream and be entertained between whiles by the infrequent life that moves upon our principal thoroughfare.
The mail car had just arrived and down the road toward me came Pete Paraday, the old-age pensioner, bearing on his left shoulder a seventy-pound bag of sugar.
“One of the younger men,” I remember thinking, “might have helped old Pete with that load.” Though, for that matter, seventy pounds seemed little inconvenience to the seventy years that Pete acknowledges.
Behind, and overtaking him, strode old George Jones with a tin of kerosene perched on his right shoulder.
Just at my corner, where old Pete usually turns off to reach his garden-bordered hut half-way up the hillside, George Jones overtook him and, in the usual friendly country fashion, they paused for amiable converse.
In the beginning I paid little heed to their remarks –- for at the moment I imagined I had conceived what seemed to be an entirely new angle on the spring poem industry.
Then – just as I realised that Browning or Keats or someone had exploited the idea long ago – the recently revived bromide smote my ear familiarly, and I was aware that old Pete Paraday and old George Jones were, for once and most amazingly, in complete accord regarding the subject under discussion, which concerned the intolerable quality of the burdens of the people.
While I listened, they discussed the land tax (which concerned neither of them), the income tax which neither of them paid, and then drifted off into the devious incidence of customs duties and Government bonuses.
And, all the while they drawled profound platitudes, there stood beside old Pete Paraday a convenient tree stump that might conceivably and very easily have borne the burden of seventy pounds of sugar while they talked and close to old George Jones, the corner post of my fence loomed invitingly as a temporary resting place for a tin of kerosene!
But neither notice these things: for, in the manner of the Australian bushman the whole land over, they ignored and scorned such temporary and effete expedients, since they were always on the point of departure, yet always had one last, illuminating remark to deliver before they went their several ways.
Timing them roughly, it must have been fully an hour before the burdens of the people, looming vaster and vaster as talk proceeded, finally became too intolerable for words.
And I remember thinking that in this very scene lay hidden a great lesson in sociology, or political economy or psychology or something, had one only the wit to capture it.
And I imagine that old George Jones expressed in part, much of what I was groping for, as, giving his kerosene tin another hitch, he wound up the argument.
“Well, you can say what you like, Pete,” said Old George Jones, with his clear old blue eye a-twinkle; “but seems to me before you can get people fightin’ over these here burdens, you got to persuade ‘em the burdens is there. Looks to me like that’s what politics is for.”
“Ah,” said old Pete Paraday, easing the sugar bag on to a less tortured muscle. “Now you’re talkin’, George. Now you’re talkin’. Well, be good.”
And old Pete Paraday faced the stiff up-grade with his seventy pounds resting on his seventy years far less heavily than many a lighter burden that has brought red revolution shrieking through a clamorously saner yet far less happy and contented scene.
|Copyright © Perry Middlemiss 2004|