Ballad of Old Sox

‘“Old Sox”, Gwynne Sutherland, 83, died on 30 December in his shack on the side of Mount Ainslie – the last of several squatters who had built shacks in the area after World War II. Some two weeks later his home was demolished and burnt.’ – The Canberra Times 1986

They’re burning Old Sox’s shack
Just two weeks since he died.
The tumbled timber, twisted iron
The line where singlets dried
They’ll bulldoze down, let bush grow back
Along Mount Ainslie side.

We should honour the pioneers
The lone hard roads they taught us.
He, in our ordered city-state
Of planners, builders, plotters,
Stood fast in older days and ways –
He was the last of the squatters.

Through forty years he watched
From bush a city growing,
Bridge, highway, suburb, office, tower,
A tide towards him flowing:
He fed his hens and dug his patch
And heard his rooster crowing.

Dog, cat, and cockatoo,
One sheep, a handy tree –
Time was his only title-deed,
Loneness his property:
Authority’s humaner eye
Looked past, and let him be.

Now with the curling wisps
Something that was is ended.
He’s gone. Let walls and fences fall
There’s nothing to be defended.
Where’s Sox? Working another patch
Where odds and ends are mended?

How does it look from there –
Look sad, or glad, or funny?
The smoke and ash of forty years
Through sombre days and sunny,
Roof, chimney, cupboard, box and bunk
And the creeper-covered dunny.

Richard’s choice