The March Of The Flood

There’s a whisper away on the Queensland side
Of the Barwon a banker, the Warrego wide
Spread from range to red range; of the siege of a town.
Of farms that are wasted and cattle that drown,
Of a trackless road and a bridgeless sea,
And grey miles measured from tree to tree-
And the people gather at gate and rail
For the latest news by the Darling mail.

Through all the merry daylight
Long leagues behind her fall
Till golden turns to grey light
And wedding-robe to pall;
Above her rolling thunder
The shrieking parrots fly,
And the bush-world waits to wonder
When the Darling mail goes by!

Through all the night she spurns the ground,
Her headlights shame the stars,
The rolling dust-cloud wraps her round
From ledge to leading bars;
And like some half-roused sleeper
Stands each gaunt-armed gum aghast,
And the shadows gather deeper
When the Darling mail goes past.

She takes the fearsome message down
By reach and point and bend,
And camp and farm and river town
Will hail her as a friend;
For comes she not as horsemen ride
Who ride a race to win?
What wonder if they crowd beside
When the Darling mail comes in!

And close behind is the fierce Flood King:
In the pride of his strength he comes
Where the tangled masses of drift-weed swing
Like dead men up in the gums;
He sings the paean of curbless might,
The song of a broken chain,
And he rides himself in the foremost fight
With the scourge of a loose-held rein.

He throws an arm to the Southward now,
Now an arm to the golden West,
And the circled lives to the bidding bow
And are lost on his tawny breast;
And day by day as he thunders by
There is ground to be captive led,
And night by night where the lowlands lie
Are the wings of his army spread.

There’s never the stem of a bank-fed tree
For the touch of his hand too tall,
And he leaves his brand for the world to see
On the hut and the homestead wall;
There’s never a star in the midnight sky
Or a sunbeam crossing the morn
But has heard the boast of his battle-cry
And the threat of his bugle-horn.

And down where the Queen of the river lies
Girt with her garland of green
The toilers have heard it and tremble,
Whose wealth is the life of the Queen;
In the hush of the evening they hear
His low beat on the shield of the shore,
And stand to the dam and the earthwork;
They know it his challenge of yore!

And the stockmen ride out in the dawnlight by billabong, runner and creek
To gather the sheep and the cattle wherever his war-notes speak;
And the blood will be red on the rower, the sun will be low in the west,
Before they have left them in safety to camp on the red hill’s crest.

And so shall we live and suffer so long as the big rains come
With their ruin and wreck for many, their danger and death for some,
Till we go from the Culgoa and Darling to camp on a drier shore
Where the Warrego out in his war-paint shall harry our homes no more!

Will Ogilvie