Brigalow: an extinct pastoral

B. R. Dionysius

 

Acacia harpophylla

 

It was shaving a giant’s hairy body to reduce friction

& speed things up. Each fracture of a Brigalow trunk,

the taut string of a Jarowair songline snapping; ancient

wires curled into a foetal position as the D9s chewed

through acacias like witchetty grubs weakening a tree’s

hardwood core. Local councils paid up bounties to clear

‘scrub’ into the 80s. They strung a necklace of iron pearls

between two dozers; manacled violence, like nineteenth

century convicts kept under guard. The machines clawed

through six million acres, rubbing against bark, leaving

a scent trail of oil & diesel, as though they were some

type of ancient megafauna revisited; extinct, buttery-

furred thylacoleo, carnivorous in their vast appetite.

 

Then their kitchen knife shiny blades scratched out

the jagged stumps that leaked blood-amber & later

hardened into ruby stalactites & froze to the broken

lip of the forest’s open mouth. The rich, alluvial soil

ruptured like a freshly dug mass grave, as the tree-

pushers tossed black wattle bodies into loose piles

& burnt them. Genocide’s sleight of hand perfected

on nature first. Trees as numbers. Dozer drivers

saw straight through their bee-yellow badges, their

earmuffs silenced the forest’s death rattle, made

the weary farmers bomber-pilot resilient to raining

down destruction. The ovens were crude fire pits

that melted down acacia sap like looted gold, so that

it pooled tawny in this open furnace’s charcoal bed.

 

These chains of being breaking coffee-stained teeth

of white ant hills that housed avian clay diamonds.

The Paradise Parrot, a smashed green, red, & blue

panel in the Darling Downs stained glass window.

The termite mounds rose like a child’s best castle

or miniature gothic cathedrals built of sand & grass,

masticated & stored in the climate-controlled fridge

interior. These insects stowing carbon before there

was a price put on the planet’s bushranger head.

The shotgun entry-wound sized nest holes blasted

into mounds by the birds, as though evolution had

manufactured the perfect cavity for humans to

dynamite these architectural  wonders of the insect

world. The cool pyramids sawn off at their bases;

cut down like pseudo-trees or scooped up in the rough

hands of front end loaders & rolled into tennis courts.

 

The ignorant paddocks of youth where natural beauty

was witnessed in the solitary survivors of cultivation.

Coolabah trees surrounded by seas of grass, trunks

twisted like the wrenched skin of a ‘Chinese burn’ or

New Holland nymphs caught in a transformative act;

god-frozen as punishment for their greenest pride.

Half of them ringbarked by pink-flared galahs, their

stringy layers hanging off their limbs like a child’s

Band-Aid half picked off an arm or leg, undecided

about its ability to help heal the body’s dying flesh.

The understory broken by iron & fire like a rebellion.

Exotic grasses chewed down to their stubs by sheep

& cattle until even these conquerors were themselves

usurped by cereal crops & water-boarded cotton.

 

Hoofed animals who sacked the land’s fragile temple,

magnifying a historic benefit to the monocultural god.

Agriculture’s sublime gerrymander; the fascist knowhow

of combines & seed strains & harrows that clear-felled

the Brigalow belt. Soldier settlers of the 40s carrying on

the good fight to the Qld frontier, carving order out

of the dual forces of chaos; heat & drought. Trobuk

tanned, or Kokoda lithe, digging into their prickle farms

like a cattle tick into its host, head down, immovable.

Not the weather, not the banks, not the rising water

table that pulled salt skyward like a crystalline sunrise,

or the earthen heave of an underground atomic test.

Humans pushed the envelope of entropy: remnant

vegetation ensconced on Oakey Creek’s banks,

where wind & animal erosion dusted off eons

of silt from the fossilised skulls of diprotodons.

Fist-sized eye sockets stoppered with black mud.

 

Brigalow, now quarantined to rocky slopes like

the survivors of a flood catastrophe, or reduced

from its diverse wealth to begging beside highways.

North to Townsville, south to Narrabri, west to Bourke

& Blackall, the silvery-leafed acacias retreated meekly

into history’s hothouse. Their decline & fall predictable

as any overstretched empire’s, barbarians shutting

the gates on revegetation; reserves & hillsides

the last refuge of the disappeared.  Ninety-five

percent of the black-trunked forest anchor-chained;

a billion victims of Bjelke-Petersen’s Frankenstein

invention, his iron umbilical bolt that connected

ex-war surplus gun carriers & enfiladed the land.

 

The Mallee’s murdered twin brother buried west

of the Great Dividing range & never seen again.

The countless bodies gone missing in the gidgee;

Darling Downs Hopping-mouse, White-footed

Rabbit-rat, Brush-tailed Bettong, Long-nosed

Bandicoot, Greater Bilby, Bridled Nailtail Wallaby,

Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat & Eastern Quoll.

These protein gradients dropping away without

a sound, as though they were regrowth suckers

poisoned by 24D. An extinct pastoral still being

energised as a red hot column whence fly the sparks.

Black wattle burning on a six million acre farm.

 

B. R. Dionysius was founding Director of the Queensland Poetry Festival. His poetry has been widely published in literary journals, anthologies, newspapers and online. His eighth poetry collection, Weranga was released in 2013. He lives in Ipswich, Queensland, where he runs, watches birds, teaches English and writes contemporary sonnets.

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