Shelley Hansen - Lady of Lines

Poem of the Month

July 2019

Since childhood I have been fascinated with the story of early explorer Ludwig Leichhardt, whose intrepid expeditions opened up vast tracts of land across central and northern Australia. This poem pays tribute to a quiet achiever who made an indelible mark on our history.

The Legend of Leichhardt
© Shelley Hansen 2016

I found a book of lessons from my school days as a child,
its pictures stark in glossy black and white;
and there I saw a face
that gazed in silence to a place
that seemed so far away, beyond my sight.

His name was Ludwig Leichhardt, and his story was compiled
to study with the history we learned.
The facts were plain to see,
but underneath, it seemed to me,
were untold human tales, for which I yearned.

While growing up in Prussia, was his boyhood free and wild?
Two parents and eight children graced his home,
but who became the one
to share with brother, or with son,
the endless thirst for truth, the will to roam?

His quest for knowledge led him far. His senses were beguiled
by siren voices from a distant land.
He sailed in '41 -
his exploration had begun!
What lay in store? How could he understand?

His early expeditions fuelled impatience as he whiled
away the waiting time for State to fund
a journey to the north.
So with a party he set forth
to blaze a trail that left the experts stunned.

Two years went by. Some thought an application should be filed
for registration of his death - but then
survivors of the trip
returned to Sydney on a ship -
exhausted, but alive - just seven men.

They hailed him as a hero and the accolades were piled
upon him - but this unassuming man
just took it in his stride
and shared discoveries, not pride.
Within a year there came another plan.

The summer heat in '46 was anything but mild,
and so attempts to cross from east to west
were shelved and put on hold,
for even Leichhardt, brave and bold,
acknowledged they could never meet this test.

The months went by - until in '48 the weather smiled,
and so once more he led with guiding hand.
They walked to meet the sun
that set beyond the western run ...
and disappeared amid the desert sand.

What kind of man was this? A man both feted and reviled,
a scientist, explorer - highly trained.
His sight was poor and blurred
yet he recorded every word
with accuracy, detailed and restrained.

The dream became a legend. Were they killed, each corpse defiled,
or did they simply die of thirst and heat?
I look into those eyes
still reaching out to claim the prize ...
Rest easy, friend - your journey is complete.

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