Old Ben, the pensioner, is going down to die. Huddled in the mail-car, he turns a wistful eye On this familiar forest scene, the wooded mountain wall; And nought could lure him from it save the last stern call. He has loved it with a fierce love no reason comprehends; The great gums, the green ways, the rough bush friends. But doctor says his tough old heart at last has let him down; So he's off to be "patched up a bit" in hospital in town. "Patched up a bit"... He'd heard that talk when they took Badger Jack, And Charlie Clem, and Lame Mick. But none of these came back. Was it Mick went first? Or Charlie? (Lordy, Lord! How men forget.) And now they're taking Ben away; and Ben not eighty yet. The youngest, he, of six old hulks; and three have gone away; Till now there's only George Jones left, and old Pete Parraday -- His oldest friend, Pete Parraday, who has his dog to mind. The cruellest break of all, that was -- leaving his dog behind. Old Ben, the pensioner, sits huddled in the car; And his filmed eyes seek the skyline where the timbered ranges are -- This kind, green place of singing bards, of tree and scrubland dense. He hears their words of forced good cheer and jovial pretence: Says old George Jones, "In hospital you'll get real proper care." "An' mind," says Pete, "no sparkin' with them pretty nurses there. Why, man, you'll be a two-year-old when you come back agen." "You keep your eye on my ole dawg, an' feed 'im good," pipes Ben. Then, "All aboard!" the mailman shouts "Now, Ben, mind them old bones!" A hand-clasp from Pete Parraday, a pat from old George Jones, And Ben, the pensioner, goes off on his last pilgrimage ... "Broke up reel fast," growls old George Jones, "considerin' his age. Hey! Don't let that dawg foller him! Here, Rover, you behave." They watch the sick man turn about, and feebly try to wave. Swiftly the car speeds round the bend; the echoes die away ... "Me next? Or maybe you, George," says old Pete Parraday.
Herald 29 July 1935
This poem was also published in the collection:
|Copyright © Perry Middlemiss 2002|