Michael Darby

Observations on politics and poetry by Australian bush poet, Michael Darby.

Michael was born in Sydney in 1945 and is a former Australian Army Officer who has been writing and broadcasting on politics and economics since 1972.

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Friday, April 23, 2004
ANZAC DAY 25 April 2004

The 25th of April is Australia's de facto national day -- celebrating Australia's young men who died first at Gallipoli in the First World War and in many wars since. Here is a selection of poems worth reading on a special day when we honour the heroism and sacrifice of those who served.


P.J. Hartigan (John O'Brien)

Among the many poems of Great War tragedy, "Ownerless" holds a special place.

He comes when the gullies are wrapped in the gloaming
And limelights are trained on the tops of the gums,
To stand at the sliprails, awaiting the homing
Of one who marched off to the beat of the drums.
So handsome he looked in the puttees and khaki,
Light-hearted he went like a youngster to play;
But why comes he never to speak to his Darkie,
Around at the rails at the close of the day?
And why have the neighbours foregathered so gently,
Their horses a-doze at the fence in a row?
And what are they talking of, softly, intently?
And why are the women-folk lingering so?
One hand, soft and small, that so often caressed him,
Was trembling just now as it fondled his head;
But what was that trickling warm drop that distressed him?
And what were those heart-broken words that she said?
Ne'er brighter the paddocks that bushmen remember
The green and the gold and the pink have displayed,
When Spring weaves a wreath for the brows of September,
Enrobed like a queen, and a-blush like a maid.
The gums are a-shoob and the wattles a-cluster,
The cattle are roaming the ranges astray;
But why are they late with the hunt and the muster?
And why is the black horse unsaddled to-day?
Hard by at the station the training commences,
In circles they're schooling the hacks for the shows;
The high-mettled hunters are sent at the fences,
And satins and dapples the brushes disclose.
Sound-winded and fit and quite ready is Darkie,
Impatient to strip for the sprint and the flight;
But what can be keeping the rider in khaki?
And why does the silence hang heavy tonight?
Ah, surely he'll come, when the waiting is ended,
To fly the stiff fences and take him in hand,
Blue-ribboned once more, and three-quarters extended,
Hard-held for the cheers from the fence and the stand.
Still there on the cross-beam the saddle hangs idle,
The cobweb around the loose stirrup is spun;
The rust's on the spurs, and the dust on the bridle,
And gathering mould on the badges he won.
We'll take the old horse to the paddocks tomorrow,
Where grasses are waving breast-high on the plain;
And there with the clean-skins we'll turn him in sorrow
And muster him never, ah, never, again.
The bush bird will sing when the shadows are creeping
A sweet plaintive note, soft and clear as a bell's -
Oh, would it might ring where the bush boy is sleeping,
And colour his dreams by the far Dardanelles.

The Anzac

Will H Ogilvie

I am grateful to Queensland Poet Liz Ward (q.v.) for drawing this powerful poem to my notice. In the 1952 edition of the ANZAC Day Magazine, this poem was published "by special permission of the Proprietors of Punch" with the title "The Bravest Thing God Ever Made (A British Officer's Opinion)". The poem inspired the song "The Bravest Things God Ever Made" which appears on the CD "Tribute to the Anzacs", produced by Peter Kukura.

The skies that arched his land were blue,
His bush-born winds were warm and sweet,
And yet from earliest hours he knew
The tides of victory and defeat;
From fierce floods thundering at his birth,
From red droughts ravening while he played;
He learned to fear no foes on earth
-"The bravest thing God ever made!"
The bugles of the Motherland
Rang ceaselessly across the sea,
To call him and his lean brown band
To shape Imperial destiny;
He went, by youth's grave purpose willed,
The goal unknown, the cost unweighed,
The promise of his blood fulfilled-
"The bravest thing God ever made!"
We know - it is our deathless pride! --
The splendour of his first fierce blow;
How, reckless, glorious, undenied,
He stormed those steel-lined cliffs we know!
And none who saw him scale the height
Behind his reeking bayonet blade
Would rob him of his title right --
"The bravest thing God ever made!"
Bravest, where half a world of men
Are brave beyond all earth's rewards,
So stoutly none shall charge again
Till the last breaking of the swords;
Wounded or hale, won home from war,
Or yonder by the Lone Pine laid,
Give him his due for evermore -
"The bravest thing God ever made!"


Will H Ogilvie, 1915

For horse-lovers, this is an emotional poem, which adds to the knowledge of those who knew that thousands of Australian horses ("Walers") served the Empire in the Great War, but were unaware of the Canadian equine contribution.

With arrows on their quarters and with numbers on their hoofs,
With the trampling sound of twenty that re-echoes in the roofs,
Low of crest and dull of coat, wan and wild of eye,
Through our English village the Canadians go by.
Shying at a passing cart, swerving from a car,
Tossing up an anxious head to flaunt a snowy star,
Racking at a Yankee gait, reaching at the rein,
Twenty raw Canadians are tasting life again!
Hollow-necked and hollow-flanked, lean of rib and hip,
Strained and sick and weary with the wallow of the ship,
Glad to smell the turf again, hear the robin's call,
Tread again the country road they lost at Montreal!
Fate may bring the dule and woe; better steeds than they
Sleep beside the English guns a hundred leagues away;
But till war hath need of them, lightly lie their reins,
Softly fall the feet of them along the English lanes.

Anthem for Doomed Youth

Wilfrid Owen

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries for them; no prayers nor bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,-
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

The Farmer Remembers The Somme

Vance Palmer

Will they never fade or pass!
The mud, and the misty figures endlessly coming
In file through the foul morass,
And the grey flood-water ripping the reeds and grass,
And the steel wings drumming.
The hills are bright in the sun:
There's nothing changed or marred in the well-known places;
When work for the day is done
There's talk, and quiet laughter, and gleams of fun
On the old folks' faces.
I have returned to these:
The farm, and the kindly Bush, and the young calves lowing;
But all that my mind sees
Is a quaking bog in a mist - stark, snapped trees,
And the dark Somme flowing.