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  Field Notes From
Australia's Bard

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From Author

Roff Smith

Australia's Bard On Assignment

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From Photographer
David Alan Harvey

In most cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Photographs courtesy Roff Smith (top) and David Alan Harvey


Australia's Bard On Assignment Author Australia's Bard On Assignment Author
Australia's Bard

Field Notes From Author
Roff Smith
Best Worst Quirkiest
    One autumn day on a rural back road at home in South Australia, I came upon a lovely meadow studded with huge 300-year-old red gum trees and spent a delightful afternoon on a sunny hilltop reading Banjo Paterson's wonderfully descriptive bush poetry.
    As I was leaving I noticed a "Land for Sale" sign dangling on a bit of wire fence. Intrigued, I pedaled my bicycle the ten miles (sixteen kilometers) to the Realtor's office in the village of Mount Pleasant and went inside to ask how much the seller wanted for the land. I liked the price, loved the property, and pedaled away, the owner of 80 acres (30 hectares) of fine, gum-studded, pastoral land. I'm now in the process of building a house there. Funny enough, I'm the same age Banjo was when he finally made his move from the city to the bush. But where he went the whole way and adopted the life of a grazier (and nearly went broke in the process, sold off, and returned to the city), I plan to keep my illusions intact. I arranged to let the farmer—a fifth-generation local from whom I bought the land—continue to run his cows on it. I'll watch and admire.

    There are millions of kangaroos bounding through the outback, thanks to all the water bores and stock dams set up for the sheep and cattle. Driving on the outback highways at dusk or early in the morning can be a nerve-racking business—almost like running a slalom course—with 'roos constantly jumping out of the bush. Unfortunately I hit one near the town of Roma in central Queensland. In thousands of miles of driving through the bush over many years, it's only the second time that's happened to me. I felt pretty bad about it.  

    Easily the quirkiest moment on this assignment—in fact, one of the quirkiest things I've ever witnessed—was the church service one night in the outback Queensland town of Barcaldine, where the drought-stricken local graziers gathered at the showground to pray for rain. No sooner had we finished the first hymn, "How Great Thou Art" (with the final "amen" literally still hanging in the air), then the heavens opened and rain poured down. Torrential rain rattled so loudly on the corrugated metal roof that we could hardly hear the rest of the service. It poured all that night and through the weekend, with various homesteads reporting more than a foot of rain. Some of the people at the church service were waxing lyrical about the Lord rewarding them for their faith, but I liked the craggy old grazier who stood under the dripping eaves at the showground pavilion, gazing out on the boggy ground between him and his truck, and muttering, "Aw, can't you see He's just having a laugh?  Not a bloody one of us brought gum boots or an umbrella, and I'm in me best shoes!"


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