In my book, I mention that, during a final venture into the Outback, as the rain began to make travel increasingly difficult, our driver put on a Slim Dusty tape and played “Send ‘er Down, Hughie” — a splendidly funny song about a truck driver trapped on a muddy road during a torrential downpour, who decides he’ll just have to lighten the load to get the truck out of the mud. The load just happens to be beer, so lightening the load is no hardship.
I’m certain that Slim Dusty’s popularity is strongly anchored in shared experience, because his songs capture so much of what Australia is like. For those of us on that bus, it was being trapped by a flood that made this more than just an amusing song — it was what we were living (well, except for the truck full of beer part).
I won’t bore you by repeating the tales I tell in my book of Adam Lindsay Gordon. Australians know them, and my readers have already met this famous Australian. However, I will share a bit more of the tragic poet’s work.
When we rescue an injured motorcyclist at one point, I quote a famous verse from the poem,”Ye Wearie Wayfarer.” That same poem contains an “allegorical interlude” that I have always quite liked, and which I have always viewed as a good response to those who think I should travel fewer places and do safer things. It is the section of the poem titled “Potter’s Clay.” (And for those unfamiliar with the allusion, it refers to the comment in the the book of Isaiah that we are the clay and God is the potter who forms us.)
Though the pitcher that goes to the sparkling rill
Too oft gets broken at last,
There are scores of others its place to fill
When its earth to the earth is cast ;
Keep that pitcher at home, let it never roam,
But lie like a useless clod,
Yet sooner or later the hour will come
When its chips are thrown to the sod.
Is it wise, then, say, in the waning day,
When the vessel is crack’d and old,
To cherish the battered potter’s clay,
As though it were virgin gold ?
Take care of yourself, dull, boorish elf,
Though prudent and safe you seem,
Your pitcher will break on the musty shelf,
And mine by the dazzling stream.
The horrors of World War I have been remembered in a variety of ways — in movies, books, songs, monuments — but more in Australia than in the U.S., partly because it was the first major war in which Australians participated after federation in 1901, but also partly because Australians and New Zealanders, whose militaries were grouped together at the time, suffered the most devastating casualties of any country participating. I’ve mentioned this in more detail in previous posts (just search for Gallipoli), and talk about it in my book, as well, but I thought a few more comments were reasonable. First, a movie recommendation: Gallipoli features a very young Mel Gibson as a soldier during one of the most horrifying conflicts of the war. Second, a song by Eric Bogle, a Scot who emigrated to Australia, captures the experience of a soldier wounded at Gallipoli. I can’t show you the movie, but I can share the song. (When I brought the album home from my first trip to Australia and played it for my parents, it made my dad — a World War II veteran — cry.)