THE STOCKMAN’S CHOICE


© Kay Gorring

As the first settlers arrived in Australia, they also brought livestock. Among them were various breeds of horse. They were bred on vast and mostly unfenced tracts of land and became known as a Walers (short for New South Wales). They were strong, sure-footed and could go great distances with poor quality feed and little water. As a result, they were greatly valued as horses for the Cob and Co coaches, stock-horses and military mounts. With the outbreak of WW1, the military’s demand for stock became insatiable. The horses that had successfully eluded capture and ran with the brumby mobs in the high country were now desperately needed to fill the gap. This poem imagines the live of one:

I was born a horse on a mountain ridge
with a savage storm in sight
when the thunder roared and the lightning flashed
and the day turned into night.
And I heard the call of the wild horse mob
as my mother pawed the ground
and she urged me up on my shaking legs
as the brumbies gathered round.

Then we turned and ran for the snowy tops
high above old Jindabyne
through the deep ravines and the fallen logs
as we scaled its steep incline.
And the valleys rang with a thousand hooves
and their thunder matched the skies
as the sparks threw light from the flinted stones
like the fire in our eyes.

With the blood of Walers and station studs
running strong within our veins
we knew every inch of those alpine slopes
and the fragile frost-swept plains.
And I grew up proud and I grew up strong
where the snow gums brush the sky
and I learnt to thrive on the brittle grass
and the dew when times were dry.

But the mountain riders were toughened men
and they knew that country well
as they chose the best from among us all
with an eye to buy and sell.
So, when old enough, that’s the way it was,
I was captured in a pen
and I met the likes of the breakers there
and I learned the ways of men.

Then a stockman bought and he trained me well
with a firm and gentle voice
and a bond was forged in a rugged land
for I was the stockman’s choice.
Then a war broke out on a foreign shore
and the Anzac spirit rose
and the stockman rode as a soldier now
and I was the horse he chose.

And the rifles roared like the thunder storm
and their muzzles flashed with light
while the thick black smoke and the choking dust
quickly turned the day to night.
But we fought with pride for our southern sky,
for the country of our birth,
though the guns spat pain and an early death
and a life held little worth.

And we rode the length of those arid lands
as we viewed the gates to hell,
‘til we felt the sting of the bullets bite
and on foreign sands we fell.
And I heard the calls of the wounded men
and I heard the stockman’s voice
as he urged me up on my shaking legs
for I was the stockman’s choice.

And I went to him on those blood drenched sands
and I got him to the line,
but the price I paid made the stockman curse –
his life for the cost of mine.
And he leaned in close with his whispered words
when he knew what must be done
and his eyes grew moist as he stroked my side
and he sadly aimed his gun.
So, I died a horse on those desert sands
while the soldier stayed to fight
when his rifle roared and the muzzle flashed
and the day turned into night.
Now my spirit roams on my mountain home
and I listen for his voice.
Then I’ll go to him and I’ll bring him back
for I was the stockman’s choice.