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,
And 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.
“I can’t feed my wife and kids, not like dad and those before,
“Crikeys, 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.
Then he’d shower, watch the news, they’d all sit down for tea,
Read his kids a bedtime story and 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 that he’d kept from cattle sales.
He sensed the nature of its contents, felt the 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 the nasty thoughts away
“See, you’ll always have your family at the back end of the day
“You have to talk to someone and, yeah mate, 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 phoned for quite a while,
“And 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 by 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 and 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 mates 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, 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.
[This was first published in 2007. You can visit www.murrayhartin.com for more poems by Murray Hartin.
ABC Fact Check has noted: “A 2010 Queensland study found that agricultural workers were more than twice as likely to die by suicide than members of the general employed population. It also found construction workers and transport workers at a higher risk.
“Studies by the Australian Institute for Suicide Research and Prevention have shown the suicide rate among Queensland's agricultural workers - a group which includes farmers, farm managers, farm hands, and shearers - was over twice the rate of the general employed population.”]