Follow by Email

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Bourke, New South Wales

Poet Henry Lawson, the late Mother Teresa, Queen Elizabeth II, Prime Ministers, government ministers, including Leader of the Opposition Malcolm Turnbull, have all been to Bourke. The first Catholic Missionaries of Charity nuns arrived in the early 1970s, Mother Teresa herself walked past the Aboriginal reserve in 1969 and decided that something needed to be done. Loved by everyone, the sisters teach scripture, provide childcare for Aboriginal families, visit the sick and elderly around town and run a hostel/hospice for homeless Aboriginal men.

Bourke has a history of hard times but the drought of 2001 - 2007 was just too hard for many farmers to keep going. The shire lost 730 people, 20% of its population and was left with just 3200 hardy souls. In 2007 the Darling River, which runs through the town was brackish and low. Father Brian Roach from the Anglican Church’s Company of the Good Shepherd, visited many of the outback families.“There is a lot of depression. There have been a few suicides,” he said. “A quarter of the population of Bourke has gone. The farm hands have been laid off. There is an enormous amount of debt.”

Front Street

This moving poem by Murray Hartin is called Rain from Nowhere

His cattle didn’t get a bid; they were fairly bloody poor,
What was he going to do? He couldn’t feed them anymore
The dams were all but dry; hay was thirteen bucks a bale,
Last month’s talk of rain was just a fairytale.

His credit had run out, no chance to pay what’s owed,
Bad thoughts ran through his head as he drove down Gully Road,
‘Geez, great grandad bought the place back in 1898,
Now I’m such a useless bastard, I’ll have to shut the gate.

“Can’t support my wife and kids, not like dad and those before,
Crikey, Grandma kept it going while Pop fought in the war.”
With depression now his master, he abandoned what was right,
There’s no place in life for failures, He’d end it all tonight.

There were still some things to do; he’d have to shoot the cattle first,
Of all the jobs he’d ever done, that would be the worst.
He’d have a shower, watch the news, then they’d all sit down for tea
Read his kids a bedtime story, watch some more TV

Kiss his wife goodnight, say he was off to shoot some roos
Then in a paddock far away he’d blow away the blues.
But he drove in the gate and stopped – as he always had
To check the roadside mailbox– and found a letter from his dad.

Now his dad was not a writer, mum did all the cards and mail
But he knew the writing from the notebooks he used at cattle sales.
He sensed the nature of its contents, felt moisture in his eyes
Just the fact his dad had written was enough to make him cry.

“Son, I know it’s bloody tough; it’s a cruel and twisted game,
this life upon the land when you’re screaming out for rain,
there’s no candle in the darkness, not a single speck of light,
but don’t let the demon get you, you have to do what’s right

I don’t know what’s in your head but push bad thoughts away
See you’ll always have your family at the back end of the day
You have to talk to someone, and yes I know I rarely did
But you have to think about Fiona and think about the kids”

“I’m worried about you son, you haven’t rung for quite a while
I know the road you’re on ‘cause I’ve walked every bloody mile
The date? December 7 back in 1983
Behind the shed I had the shotgun rested in the brigalow tree”

“See I’d borrowed way too much to buy the Johnson place
Then it didn’t rain for years and we got bombed by interest rates
The bank was at the door; I didn’t think I had a choice
I began to squeeze the trigger, that’s when I heard your voice”

“You said, where are you daddy? It’s time to play our game
I’ve got Squatter all set up, we might get General Rain
It really was that close, you’re the one that stopped me son
And you’re the one that taught me there’s no answer in a gun”

“Just remember people love you, good friends won’t let you down
Look you might have to swallow pride and take that job in town
Just ‘til things come good, son, you’ve always got a choice
And when you get this letter ring me, ‘cause I’d love to hear your voice”

Well he cried and laughed and shook his head, then put the truck in gear
Shut his eyes and hugged his dad in a vision that was clear
Dropped the cattle at the yards, put the truck away
Filled the troughs the best he could and fed his last ten bales of hay

Then he strode towards the homestead, shoulders back and head held high
He still knew the road was tough, but there was purpose in his eye
He called his wife and children, who’d lived through all his pain
Hugs said more than words –he’d come back to them again

They talked of silver linings, how good times always follow bad
Then he walked towards the phone, picked it up and rang his dad
And while the kids set up the Squatter, he hugged his wife again
Then they heard the roll of thunder and they smelt the smell of rain.

Post Office

Professor Fred Hollows loved Bourke so much he wanted to be buried there. He hated social injustice with a passion and was shocked when he discovered that almost all Aboriginal people living in outback communities had eye diseases caused by dirty conditions and poor health. His goal was to provide the highest quality eye care at the lowest possible cost. His legacy was the gift of sight not only to Aboriginal people but other disadvantages people all around the world.

The famous Fitz's Hotel

He was very good at inspiring people to help and getting things done, he had no time for red tape and his flaming temper made him a few enemies. But doctors gave their time and many others volunteered and in three years the team travelled all over outback Australia and tested about 100,000 people. The book Beyond Sandy Blight tells of the frustration he must have felt when in the 1970's, Queensland Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen had Fred and his team expelled from the state because they were helping Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders to get on the electoral roll so they could vote.

Fred's Memorial at the grave site

He first visited Bourke in the early 1970s and loved it. His eye team held their first clinic at the showground, and later relocated to Bourke District Hospital. In 1985 he worked as a consultant to the World Health Organization (WHO) and visited Nepal, Burma, Sri Lanka, India and Bangladesh on short-term assignments.

Granite sculpture by Andreas Buisman

On the 10th February 1993 he died far too early from cancer, he was only 63. After a huge official state funeral at St Mary's Cathedral in Sydney and in accordance with his wishes, he was buried in the dusty Bourke Cemetery with his glasses, a bottle of whisky, letters from his children, sawdust from his workshop, his pipe and a tin of tobacco. His coffin was draped with a cloth lovingly hand painted by the people of Enngonia, who he loved dearly.

Phillip Sullivan, an Aboriginal Heritage Conservation Officer with the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service was chosen to represent the local Aboriginal people at the funeral. He said:

........"And I think that if we are to leave here with anything today it is that yes, he was an eye doctor but he was a very special eye doctor because he saw things with his spiritual eye, and that is why he went out and done his work. He did it, he didn’t sit back and write a paper about it, he went out and did it. And so today we honour him for that, we come from all over the place – us mob here, we come under an old coolabah tree – and that was his wish. Buried under the shade of a coolabah tree. So we come here today and we give him honour because he put us first. He put my old aunties first, he put us all first".

Fred Hollows - hero - legend - citizen of Bourke