Poems

Windy Gully

Lonely the wind sings
Lonely the bird wings
Through fold of hill
Then all is still
In Windy Gully

Deep in the mountainside
Ninety-six miners died
Loud were the cries
Smoke filled the skies
Of Windy Gully

Closed now, the old pit
Sealed up, the mouth of it
Paid for the coal
Exacted the toll
In Windy Gully

Only the rains weep
Only the hills keep
Watch where men die
Know where they lie

In Windy Gully, in Windy Gully

 

Wendy Richardson 1972

 

The Kembla Disaster

There’s wailing up at Kembla dark, the mountain of the mine’s
Awailing wild as night wind sighs amongst the mountain pines;
What ails those weeping women there on Kembla’s smutty brow?
Has labor fled and left instead this place to trouble now.
Nay, dire disaster struck the mine so quick and fierce a blow,
That labor from its awful clutch was left no chance to go,
And hence, two hundred men of toil lie buried below,
While thrice two hundred aching hearts above them voice their woe.
The pleasant face of Wollongong looked smilingly out to sea
At noontide of July’s last day, and, Oh, it seemed to be
A haven fair; where human care could never anchor find;
A place of peace and plenty plain and rest of troubled mind.
The healthy sound of labor came from workshop, field and mine,
The housewife’s cheerful voice was heard in cottage clasp’d with vine
The children scann’d their lesson o’er within the school-house neat,
And cheerful greetings all around made life and labor sweet;
But, hark! A crash more fearful far than thunder’s fiercest roar
Ere sun went down, broke o’er the town that smiled again no more.
A shock as of an earthquake three, rentless, sudden, strong,
As tiger shakes a timid kid, shakes peaceful Wollongong.
Then silence falls on workshop, on mine and field and school.
The blacksmith drops his hammer, and the carpenter his rule;
The mother’s lullaby is hushed by terror great and wild.
And fearing, Oh, she knows not what, more closely clasps her child.
The erstwhile smiling Wollongong now wears a clouded brow,
Where peace was reigning recently, dumb terror reigneth now;
But terror’s dumb phrase passeth soon, where human heart and brain,
First paralysed by sudden shock, their normal force regain,
And then a throng of hopes and fears, by love’s great leaver stirred,
Let loose the tension of the soul to hasty act and word.
‘Twas thus that day in Wollongong, love tortured by suspense,
Rushed to and fro distractedly to find the why and whence,
And seeing over Kembla’s brow dark clouds unwonted there.
Wild women scale it’s rugged face with sob and muttered prayer
The speed to Kembla’s mine mouth black and low before them there
Disaster’s debris, bones and blood destruction everywhere,
Imprisoned gas has burst its goal, and rent the solid rock
From mountain base to apex high, as if ‘twere doomsday shock,
And locked in stifling gas-vaults grim two hundred men are bound
While thrice two hundred loving hearts bewail them overground.
God help those weeping mothers there on Kembla’s shattered breast
Is no one by who’ll nobly try to their spirits’ rest?
God help the wives awailing the orphaned hearts that cry
For husband, father, brother, friend, in death’s vault prison nigh.
Oh, who will ease their bursting hearts, is none to stem such grief?
Can man stand by and fear to die to bring this woe relief.
No, no, for too full many go, all honor to our race.
Down Kembla’s mouth to brother’s aid, right in death’s awful face;
Adown they dive through gaseous drive, McCabe is at their head,
And never yet was nobler land by nobler leader lead.
God bless such brave heroic souls, the salt of mother Earth;
There’s nought to fear for Austral dear, while she can give them birth.
The mourner’s wailing stops a while, still by the pain intense,
Imparted by the awful grip of terrible suspense.
Then forth is borne a blood-stained form, one shriek a woman gives.
And wildly cries with streaming eyes: “My husband! Oh, he lives!”
Another form, a moment’s pause, and then a shriek of pain,
Tells those who cannot see death’s face, a mother’s hopes are slain.
And thus the woeful work went on that place of wailing round;
A cry of joy, a shriek of pain, then silence most profound,
Till nigh one hundred dead men lay their mourning friends among,
Till every heart on Kembla’s brow with anguish keen was wrung,
And where was Mac, the hero who led on the rescue band?
He Christ-like died for those he loved, who’d wish a death more grand.
He said of old: “I love them well and for their sakes I’d die.”
He died, and he who died for all won’t pass such lovers by.
All honor to the hero’s name; go, cherish it with pride,
And don’t forget McMurray brave, who died, McCabe beside;
Nor yet, the youth, Frank Purcell, who dared the gaseous grave,
When he might fly to safety, poor Egan’s life to save.
Hold up before your children o’er those deeds, Oh, Austral high,
And raise a statue to all men who for their fellows die.

 

D’Arcy O’Kelly July 31st 1902

 

 

 

Mickey Brennan's Ghost

Back in nineteen hundred and two after the Mt. Kembla mineshaft blew
And men went back under working in the panels
One body was never found and remains underground
Entombed forever in Mt. Kembla’s history annals.

Winning coal was their mission but there was always suspicion
Of any noise from a pit prop or post
Any timber creak or groan was interpreted as a moan
And attributed to Mickey Brennan’s ghost.

Mickey loved it down the mine and to while away the time
He wandered through the tunnels, his favourite haunt
He thought it was a lark that the pit was always dark
And there was always lots of men down there to taunt.

But around sixty nine production slowed down at the mine
And Mickey’s ghost could see the writing on the wall
When they closed the bugger down he’d be stuck there underground
All alone, with no one there to haunt at all.

Well he was not the type to roam so he had to find another home
A place where people gathered, a social hub
And he thought of just the place, there’d be people there to chase
So he left the pit and moved down to the pub.

He now lives happily in the cellar, a very contented fella
And comes out only sometimes, late at night
When it’s dark and bleak he might illuminate and speak
Just to give the publican a fright.

So if you’re ever in Mt. Kembla with a taste for liquid amber
And you’re greeted by an ashen faced mine host
If he’s still decidedly pale by the time you drink your ale
Chances are he’s just encountered Mickey’s ghost.

 

Alan Tubman 2002

Written for Mt Kembla Mine Disaster Centenary Commemoration 31st July 2002
Winner in Section of Poets’ Breakfast 2003

 

Mt Kembla

The judges are sitting in solemn array,
The parties are stern and unbending,
The issues that have to be fought out to-day
Must be fought to the bitterest ending.
The miners are seeking to better their lot,
And to ease the stern fight for existence:
While the masters assert that the coal trade will not
Justify any course but resistance.

“We delve in the earth,” cry the children of toil,
“We labour with vigour unceasing,
While you sit at ease, and grow fat on the spoil,
And your fatness is ever increasing.
While we spend our lives in the effort to live,
On the fruits of our labour you florish;
So we claim, as a right, that a portion you give,
That our bodies and souls we may nourish”

The masters declare that the men are well paid,
And to prove it bring yards of statistics;
That a fondness for rest, and a wish to kill trade,
Are the miner’s chief characteristics.
“They are slothful,” they say, “and are fond of disputes;
They are thiftless, depraved, and unsteady,
With the bodies of men, but the passions of brutes,
They are getting too well paid already.”

So they wrangle and argue, protest and declare,
The statistics come thicker and faster,
Till it seems that a miner is nought but a bear,
With a ravenous shark for a master.
The chasm between them’s so deep and so wide,
‘Twould appear there is naught that is human
Could ever induce them to stand side by side,
Or to share one small feeling in common.

* * *

But, hark! A sound comes rumbling through the town,
A sound that causes every nerve to thrill;
It shakes the mighty mountain to its crown!
Its deep vibrations roll from the hill to hill.
A few brief moments of suspense expire—
Suspense, now shared alike by man and master;
Then the dread words come trembling through the wire,
That tell of deadly terror and disaster.

Below—the sea is rippling in the breeze,
Each wavelet dancing at the zephyr’s breath,
Above—a wail is echoing through the trees,
Telling of homes made desolate by death.
Of loved ones stricken low, of broken hearts,
Of weeping children, and of wives forlorn;
Of all the horrors sudden death imparts,
It tells of orphan children yet unborn.

Then speaks a hero, “Miners of the south,
Men lie entombed, and some, perchance, yet live!
Within th’ inferno of that tunnel’s mouth
Men lack the succour we alone can give.
Let each man speak who has the pluck to dare;
Will any follow me? If so reply!”
But not a craven heart is beating there
Masters and men, with one accord, say, “Aye”

The rescue party formed, they enter then
To seek survivors from the dread disaster.
A trusty band of picked and faithful men,
Under the guidance of an expert master.
Through the black tunnels plunge the plucky band,
By the dull flicker of the safety lamp;
They note destruction’s work on every hand;
They find the dreaded afterdamp.

“Back!” cries the leader. “Boys, go back!” he calls,
“Back, for the lives, or it will be too late.”
He struggles manfully, then staggers—falls,
But bids them go, and leave him to his fate.
The afterdamp engulfs them; like a wave
It rushes on them with its fatal breath;
Like drowning men, they seek their lives to save,
Each, for the moment, face to face with death.

As one band, baffled by the poisonous air,
Is led or carried from that awful space,
Another band of heroes gathers there,
Eager and resolute, to take its place.
And who can paint the utter, helpless woe
Of that grief-stricken crowd who hear the tread,
On the rough mountain paths, of those who go
Bearing, with reverence, their comrades, dead?

Among the lifeless burdens there are two
For whom the melancholy crowd divide,
For they are those who to the rescue flew,
And, fighting for their fellow-creatures, died.
Master and man! could sympathetic tie
E’er bind such men in mutual interest?
Thank heaven, yes! At sorrow’s helpless cry
They rushed, and died, each on the others breast.

The morning saw them, full of vital power,
Masters and men, opposed in stern array;
No thought in common, yet the evening hour
Found, in a last embrace, their lifeless clay.
Their latest breath they shared; with struggling feet,
Dying, the same square yard of earth they trod.
Their souls, released, will at the judgement seat,
At the same moment, stand before their God.

And shall they die in vain? Has not their fate
Some heaven-born meaning, as a sign of peace?
That men should foster love, and conquer hate?
That strife and discord may forever cease?
God send the time, and grant that it be nigh,
When men no more with hatred shall be riven;
When they, like brethren, shall both live and die,
And thus make earth a stepping-stone to heaven.

 

Thos. E. Spencer

 

 

   

 

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