A Red Dirt Road to Nowhere

Winner - 2017 West Wyalong "Pals of the Pen" Written Bush Poetry Competition

This traditional bush poem pays tribute to two very different cultures. Although it is fictitious, it is inspired by a family story dating from the early 1900s, when a life was saved by a nurse using this treatment to bring down a fever brought on by measles.

A Red Dirt Road to Nowhere
(c) Shelley Hansen 2016

"A red dirt road to Nowhere!" said the people of the town.
She'd headed there on horseback, for they'd radioed her down
to see the youngest baby, struck with measles, very ill
at Warrabirra Station out beyond Gold Digger's Hill.
He met her at the ridge - the old black tracker, grave and wise.
She knew the case was desperate, for worry framed his eyes.
He said, "The Missus waiting for you, Missy - ride this way -
there's crying at the Station. Baby - she no good today."

She rode along in silence, safe within his guiding wake.
He led her with conviction, knowing just which path to take.
He said, "My people, Missy, they use healing magic stones
when someone sick or wounded gets the fever in the bones.
It comes from ancient wisdom and the message of the land,
but this no good for Baby. White men - they don't understand.
You young to be a healer." She could tell this was a test,
but said, "Don't worry, Billy - for I'm here to do my best."

They reached the Station Homestead as the sun sank in the hills,
surrendering its heat before the dusk's advancing chills.
The mood was dark and sober, from the workers to the Boss,
who scarcely dared to hope they would be spared this tragic loss.
No doctor to advise her what experience might teach.
The nearest country hospital was too far out of reach
to save a child for whom it seemed that death would be the fate.
She knew that she could only do the best she could - then wait.

She tried to show a confidence she didn't really feel.
The troubled mother's eyes met hers in eloquent appeal
yet tinged with sad despair, as if she couldn't bear to cope ...
until the nurse's quiet skill encouraged precious hope -
for she disclosed a treatment (controversial in its day)
to bring the fever down. She said she'd heard there was a way
by sponging cooling water on the little girl's hot skin.
The mother whispered, "Yes, let's try to ease the state she's in."

They passed the long night sleepless, by the light of kero lamp.
The baby fought the fever, though her burning brow was damp.
The morning sun brought light at last, and finally, relief -
for nursing care had saved the child, and joy sprang out of grief.
She stood on the verandah as the first rays touched the sky.
She wept - until she heard a voice say, "Missy, don't you cry.
You good young healer, Missy - you got healing in the hands."
She smiled, "Dear Billy, thank you." And she thought - he understands!

They rode back down the red dirt road, the tracker and the nurse.
He treated her with new respect. For better or for worse
she felt the bond between them, though their lives lay far apart -
but culture and tradition are transcended by the heart.
When duty calls her she'll obey and ride the lonely trail
to ease the pain of suffering - and sometimes, she will fail.
But she'll remember Nowhere till her days approach their end -
for Nowhere's close to Somewhere when you've found a lasting friend.

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