18 February, 2021
It’s been a long year – a year none of us saw coming! A pandemic, with two lockdowns in Melbourne!
For me, weeks and weeks of online teaching, of aching back, aching brain, and lots of zoom meetings – not just for school but also for the VFMC folk club and the Henry Lawson Society. In fact, the HL Society monthly zoom afternoons on Saturdays actually set me on a roll of setting some of Lawson’s lesser-known poems to music to the point where I now have enough for a full album… but more of that later.
I managed to crawl through to the end of Term Four, with staff and students packing up and relocating to a brand-new school down the road. I learned that one of my Year 12 students was the only Covid case at our school. I had missed her coming to school when infectious as I had broken my leg social distancing and needed an extra week off. However, on her very last day at school, she pulled out her camera to show me a photo of her plugged into tubes in hospital and explained that even now, months later, she still has trouble going upstairs. A beautiful, strong, healthy 18-year-old girl – how scary is this dreadful virus!
And then to have a more or less normal Christmas Day, as Daniel Andrews kept promising us, followed by a nearly normal New Years’ Eve, with no traditional city fireworks but with glorious, illegal, local fireworks near our house.
After that, the bliss of finally getting down to our holiday house in South Gippsland! Firstly, with my family, then just me and our aged dog, then – after a week at home to honour the 2nd anniversary of my son Julian’s death – with my mate Stephen and our yellow kayak.
Day one the weather looked a little weird so we simply drove up to Tarra Bulga mountains and revisited Jo-Jo the cocky who was still begging anyone near to stroke her with: “Scratch, scratch!” But this time I didn’t indulge her long enough for her to bite me like a couple of years ago. Some lovely light bushwalks followed in the forest, then an early night. Next day we decided to revisit another great haunt – the Stockyard Creek, to again launch our kayak from the Landing, just outside Foster. The previous year we had seen not a soul there: only the historical sign about how heavily peopled the Landing used to be in the 19th century goldrushes, plus mud crabs, water birds and two massive wedge-tailed eagles that swooped down super-low to check us out. We expected much the same this summer, but were in for a big surprise as we drove slowly around the bend down the dirt road to the Landing. My poem tells the story:
THE LANDING AT STOCKYARD CREEK
The Stockyard Creek was beckoning, its waters drew us near,
Our yellow kayak on the roof, our car would soon appear
At the Stockyard Landing, here we come, anticipation high;
We turned the corner, slowing down, and then – a gasp, a sigh.
For standing there in front of us the strangest trio grazed
As we oohed and aahed and oohed again, both startled and amazed.
We saw a horse – a chestnut dream, so stately, strong and tall,
It stared at us and moved aside, our car began to crawl
As we studied its companion, an alpaca – what a treat,
With its fine clipped coat and slender neck, expression o so sweet!
They made a handsome pair they did, the alpaca and horse,
Yet a trio means that there were three – of course, of course, of course.
But sadly the third party with this most unlikely pair
Was nothing like the duo – for it lacked both fur and hair,
And where they were sleek and cared for, this poor creature screamed neglect
With its dreadlocks and long, knotted wool we longed to disinfect.
For a shaggy sheep is what we saw, bedraggled with black face,
It clearly was no favoured pet, ‘twas just a waste of space.
O the contrast between it and them was truly hard to take,
We talked of RSPCA reporting for its sake
As we paddled off for hours on end, with eagle overhead,
We gawked at crabs in hundreds, on each mangrove bank they spread.
Some massive eels we frightened, with one leaping high and dry
Out of the muddy water near our boat as I let forth a cry.
And so we journeyed to the mouth as in the days of yore
When gold was near and boats were sailing in from every shore,
When men and women came to make their fortune if they could
And dreams were born and lives were lost and fate was bad or good.
At last we paddled back again, no humans had we seen,
So we shared our trip with water birds, we told them where we’d been.
We reached the landing, tide now low, in fact we went aground
And trudged through mud those last few yards and this is what we found:
Our loyal trio waiting there – alpaca, horse and sheep,
They seemed to even welcome us as we began to creep
Up from the murky, slimy water’s edge, our kayak caked in mud
And one of us now groaning and the other’s leg dripped blood.
I gave the horse an apple and it seemed to smile at us,
But the alpaca just stared, and the poor sheep made no fuss.
Yet Pete the Shearer later told us it would be okay:
“The alpaca and horse protect it – that is just their way.”
© Maggie Somerville, 2021
Note: We met Pete the Shearer a couple of days later outside an ice-cream shop in Yarram. I noticed the car we pulled up beside had the words ‘Pete the Shearer’ in big letters on the driver’s door, so I then had a chat with Pete himself as he got into his car. I told him about what had distressed us earlier that week and he reassured us to some extent.
The next day we kayaked at Port Albert – lots of banjo sharks, and the day after at Yanakie had not only banjo sharks but multiple stingrays all around us. Always something new!!!