My poem, ‘The Ghost of Megalong’ is a tribute to the Aboriginal spirit of magic Megalong Valley, nestled in under Blackheath and Medlow Bath in Australia’s glorious Blue Mountains. I lived with my wife and brought up two sons there the last 27 years. Inspired partly by poet Denis Kevans, partly by my contact with Darwin Aborigines in 1973, I wrote the poem.
Werriberi was the last tribal chief of the Gundangurra Aborigines. We have had a Werriberri horse ride and still have a Werriberri Lodge in the Valley, but I did not have the faintest clue as to who Werriberri was except that he was the last tribal chief who lived in Megalong Valley.
I still wrote my poem, or it wrote itself on a Tuesday morning in 1996 after I’d heard Denis Kevans, Australia’s ‘poet lorikeet’, recite his poem: ‘Ah, White Man, Have You Any Sacred Sites?’ I was keen to write a poem about Megalong Valley because I had lived there for six years by then and I was into performance poetry under Kevans’ influence, but words kept failing me; I tore up everything I wrote. Then something magical happened. I was deeply moved by Kevans’ poem and I wanted to put my hand up and shout out: ‘Yes, Dennis, I do have a sacred site! It is Megalong Valley!’
I went to bed inspired that night. Next morning I woke up and the poem was ready. All I had to do was to put it to paper. When I finished, I cried with joy. I kept reading it and cried every time I read it. At last, the poem about the spirit of this Valley was ready.
In turn it has taken me on a magical journey. It started with my ringing Denis Kevans as soon as I finished writing the poem and reading it out to him. I told him, “Denis this is a poem you and the Aborigines inspired me to write, let me read it to you please”. Dennis, with a reluctant voice replied, “If you must”. He sounded grumpy, as if I’d woken him, and the last thing he was interested in was listening to something ‘deep and meaningful’.
With my enthusiasm and great excitement somewhat dampened I nevertheless read out the poem to Denis Kevans on the phone. When I finished, there was total silence at the other end.
“Denis, are you there?” I ventured.
After more silence I heard his croaky voice, “Ye”.
“Well, what do you think?” I asked, hoping for something positive.
“It’s okay,” Denis Kevans said. “It could do with some further polish.” Then the line went dead…
I have recited the poem many times to others and to myself. I made sure I recited it to every single Aboriginal peson I met and every time, they were moved to tears and thanked me. It was most heart warming to be accepted by them. I performed the poem with pitch black Goomblar at Echo point to tourists and at the Scenic Railway in Katoomba. We were even filmed by a Hungarian National television crew and it was shown in Hungary. Now I share my poem with you…
Your air of wattle and eucalypt perfumes my mind with mirth,
Just soaking you in through day and night softens the driest earth!
When I squat in the rainforest and purse my lips for a ‘coo’ee’,
I close my eyes and hear echoes of a distant corroboree!
Black shadows slide silent amid the white ghost gums,
Their chants pierce silence sharper than the settlers’ guns!
Blacks lean over me, white man, with their yellow, wistful eyes,
Each asks me without words: ‘Gaba*, you see me in the skies?!’
I scrape the soil with my nails; there is blood on the trail:
Come back now, old Werriberri^, let me hear your tale!
Tell me of your tribe that lived here, who worshipped this sacred place,
Of the ashes, caves and the koalas that vanished with your race!
Take me around this magic land; teach me track wallabies!
Find me water in the rivers, platypus and yabbies!
Come back to me, just once more, oh, you black soul of this valley!
Let me hug you and say: ‘Sorry’, for ripping out your belly!’
‘Sorry,’ for felling your ancient ash’s arms,
‘Sorry’ for robbing you of your precious charms!
Show me this land Werriberri without tourist buses,
Bush tracks, without tarred roads and the wild carcasses!
But you can’t, of course, Werriberri, for you were chased off the trail,
By the same smart settler who’s still chasing his very own tail!
Yet your air of wattle and eucalypt still perfumes my mind with mirth,
And soaking you in through day and night still softens the driest earth.
Black shadows still slide silent amid the white ghost gums
And their chants still pierce silence sharper than the settlers’ guns!
Yes! You can still see Werriberri’s ghosts — if you try!
Look! They still corroboree across the valley’s sky!
*‘Gaba’ means white man
^Werriberri was the last tribal chief of the Gundungurra Aborigines of the Blue Mountains