Not everybody could live in town. By necessity, many settlers lived and worked far away from the townships. They were constantly confronted by the loneliness of their existence. Many of the jobs on the frontier were of a solitary nature too, such as boundary riding, fencing and shepherding. How one coped with the solitude faced in frontier regions is the subject of Harper’s poem Myall Grove.
The narrator has apparently cleared an area for pasture and built a ‘cosy little cottage’ in the bush, well away from the township. But the isolation and tedium of such an existence appears to overwhelm his thoughts and feelings. Despite the company of his old dog Roy, the narrator desires human companionship. This is especially so at night when “Myall Grove is laden with a loneliness complete”. To take his mind off such feelings of loneliness and depression, he “listen(s) to the night”. In so doing he gives proof to the maxim that “great gifts are bestowed in solitude”.1By passing the time in this way, he is able to endure another night “at lonely Myall Grove”.
A cosy little cottage lying lonely in the scrub,
Far from the noise and bustle of the township and the pub;
Where seldom there’s a happening to make the heart rejoice –
The same old story over in the Big Scrub’s mournful voice.
There sometimes comes a swagman, if he’s thirst or tucker pushed;
Few are the other callers and as a rule they all are bushed
The days are long and dreary, and when darkness takes her seat,
Then Myall Grove is laden with a loneliness complete.
The bush birds cease their singing in the branches over head,
They seek their nightly perches and the night birds come instead;
The moon is slowly rising, making all a ghostly white,
And I sit with spirits drooping and I listen to the night.
I hear the horse bells tinkling across the myall flats;
I hear the wagtail’s night song and the flitting of the bats;
I hear the night-owls’ hooting as they from their slumbers wake;
A sad old curlew crying, too, as if his heart would break.
I hear the old ewes bleating to their lambs out on the plain;
A flock of wood ducks winging on their way towards the drain;
I hear the night wind sobbing out its sorrows to the trees,
And sounds I can’t account for come drifting on the breeze.
And then old “Roy” starts barking loud at something he can hear,
For signs of someone coming then I strain an eager ear.
Another disappointment. “Blast the dog; clear out somewhere”,
And old “Roy” seems to wonder why I look at him and swear.
And so the horsebells tinkle and the night birds sound their G’s;
The night wind goes on sobbing out its sorrows in the trees;
The curlew wails his story till the heart cannot but move;
And so the night goes over out at lonely Myall Grove.
1 Robertson, W. Out West For Thirty Years, W.C. Penfold, Sydney, 1920 p122
Note: During his travels in Australia, the explorer Leichhardt “often lay awake listening to the noises of the night”. (Roderick, p 251) He demonstrates a remarkable sense of hearing and an ability to identify the many sounds of the night.
- Read the article Jim Harper of Mulga Land by Jim Low