The Last Muster

All day we had driven the starving sheep to the scrub where the axes ply
And the weakest had lagged upon weary feet and dropped from the ranks to die
And the crows flew up from the rotting heaps and the ewes too weak to stand
And the fences flaunted red skins like flags and the dour drought held the land

And at night as I lay a dreaming, I woke, and a silver moon
Shone fair on a dancing river and laughed to a broad lagoon
And the grass turned over the fences and rippled like ripening grain
And clouds hung low on the hilltops and earth smelt sweet with rain

And in at the open window the lowing of cattle came
A mob that had never a laggard and never a beast was lame
And wethers, a thousand thousand, and ewes with their lambs beside
Moved over the green flats feeding, spread river to ranges wide

And horses whinnied below me, and leaning I watched them pass
Lusty and strong and playful like horses on spring tide grass
When they whinny one to another, strong voiced and a gallop brings
Foam to the flank, be it only from paddock to stockyard wings

Slowly they moved in the moon mist, heads low in the cool night dew
Snatching the long bush grasses, breast high as they wandered through
Slowly they moved in the moon mist and never a horse on the plains
Was red with the gall of the collar or marked with a chafe of the chains

And behind them a hundred drovers rode slow on their horses white
All brave with their trappings of silver that flashed in the silver light
Buckle and stirrup and bridle, and spurs for their better speed
Singing behind the cattle like drovers on royal feed

And I cooeed and one came over that rode on the nearest wing
And I called to him, “Ho there drover, say whose is the mob you bring?”
Then he reined his horse by the window all silver bitted and shod
And spoke, and his words rang sadly, “These are the cattle for God!”

So I said to him, “Where are they bound for?” and he raised his hand to the West
“They are bound for the star fenced pastures on God’s own rivers to rest
And I asked him, “Where did you muster?” and he answered me sadly again
“From every gully and sandhill, from every valley and plain”

“From the swamps of the green kapunyah, from the reeds at the red creek side
From the thickets of twisted mulga, from the clay pans furrowed and dried
From the track of the Western goldfields, from the ruts of the Great Northern Road
Where the dingoes go and the crows fly low we have gathered the beasts of God”

And I said “Then has God repented because that He sent no rain?
And has God looked down in his pity on the poor dumb beasts he has slain?”
But the drover turned in his saddle and answered, his eyes in mine
“Not so for the beasts were slaughtered by man of his greed’s design”

“God gave them feed and water and pastures so wild and wide
They had fed him a thousand million here from here to the ocean’s side
But man in his greed came after and fenced them on hill and plain
And cursed the God in his heaven that would not send them his rain”

“And man’s be the blame of the bleaching bone and the shame of the rotting hide
And the pity of lorn lambs crying alone on the wind swept mountainside
Of the weak horse down in his harness, of the bullock dead by the dray
Of the moan of thirsty cattle for ever and ever and aye”

And he spoke to his steed and he left me – moved out of the mist it seemed
And I woke to the red burned acres and knew that I had but dreamed

William Ogilvie