Mallacoota Bar

Henry Lawson, 1910

      Curve of beaches like a horse-shoe, with a glimpse of grazing stock,
      To the left the Gabo Lighthouse, to the right the Bastion Rock;
      Upper Lake where no one dwelleth — scenery like Italy,
      Lower Lake of seven islets and six houses near the sea;
      'Twixt the lake and sea a sandbank, where the shifting channels are,
      And a break where white-capped rollers bow to Mallacoota Bar.

      Gabo, of the reddist granite, cut off from the mainland now —
      "Gabo", nearest that the black tongue ever could get round "Cape Howe";
      Gabo Island, name suggestive of a wild cape far away,
      And a morning gale by sunlight, or a sea and sky of grey;
      Gabo, where cold chiselled letters on the obelisk record
      How the Monumental City sank with forty souls on board.

      To the west the lonely forests, on the levels dense and dark
      Native apple tree and bloodwood, wattle, box, and stringybark;
      Land of tree-marked tracks and hunters — to their glory or their shame —
      For a law makes Mallacoota sanctuary for native game;
      To the east the rugged Howe Range, running down without a scar
      To the mighty moving sandhills — close to Mallacoota Bar.

      And the folk are like their fathers — bushmen-sailors, fishermen —
      And they live on fish and tan-bark, with a tourist now and then;
      And of hunting? Well, I know not. And what matter if we know
      That they did a bit o' smugglin' or o' wreckin' years ago?
      For I love these kindly people, and 'twill give my heart a jar
      When I see the figures fading on the sandbank by the bar.

      There's the old grey house of hardwood that seems built for mighty floods,
      With the broad thick slabs laid lengthwise 'twixt the great round tree-trunk studs
      That are slotted to receive them - and with shingles six foot long!
      There's the house of hand-dressed timber that is nearly half as strong,
      There's the rather modern cottage — but, as far as one can see
      Everything in Mallacoota is as clean as it can be.

      There are pictures in the parlour for three generations back:
      There are Grandfather and Granny, there are Syd, and Dave, and Jack;
      There is father, that is mother, one each side the mantel hung,
      And the girls, and bridal parties - mother, too, when she was young;
      That is all. Is that sufficient? 'Tis for yourself to decide —
      And the girls ride after cattle, and they always ride astride.

      All is blue and gold this morning — green and gold and "Bar all right",
      And three blurred sticks under Gabo to the sunlight show the white,
      Bringing groceries from Eden, bringing all that we require —
      Bringing flour and tea and sugar, roofing iron, and barbed wire,
      Copper nails, and small inventions in machinery from afar,
      And the little fleet of cutters run for Mallacoota Bar.

      And we see the green, transparent light show through the heaving brine —
      Waiting with two oars stuck upright on the sand "to give 'em line".
      Comes the S.E.A. and, rising, pauses, swan-like, half in doubt,
      While her skipper from the ratlines spies the bar and goes about;
      "Now she comes," and "now she's coming," and, ere we know where we are,
      She is snug beside the sandbank inside Mallacoota Bar.

      Warren brings the water with him on the cutter Clara next
      (When he doesn't, then his language speaks a sinful spirit vext);
      Next the little lugger Lightning darts and misses, grounds and floats,
      Finds the channel with a flutter of her draggled petticoats,
      Snuggles up beside the Clara, clattering down her little spar,
      Like a naughty drab that scrambles over Mallacoota Bar.

      But the days are not all sunny — there are anxious times on decks,
      When the cutters run for shelter to the graves of ancient wrecks,
      Round "the Cape," or under Gabo, Tamboon, or Disaster Bay,
      For they won't insure the hulls that cross the 'Coota Bar to-day.

      But the elders of the people sadly think in days like these
      Of the days when strange things happened to Ike Warren's enemies;
      In the days of border duties there was glory to his name,
      Who is well liked — and mistrusted — from Green Cape to Cunninghame,
      Twenty years by stormy "shelters", where the festive porpoise frisks,
      Sailin' out of Mallacoota, buildin' trade, an' takin' risks.

      Risks from Acts of God — and monarchs — risks that were (and maybe are)
      Altogether unconnected with the weather or the bar;
      Wrecks were left where it was lonely; things would float, and things would strand —
      Out of sight of Custom Houses, out of sight of sea or land —
      To be found — or drift convenient under light of moon and star —
      For the most erratic currents ran by Mallacoota Bar.

      No, the Bar's not always playful, nor the weather always clear,
      And the little Orme with six men has been overdue a year;
      Oh the Gippsland Lakes are kindly, and the Gippsland people good,
      And the widows and the orphans never shall want clothes nor food;
      But the Government are fossils, slow to mend and sure to mar,
      And the widows and the orphans blame the Mallacoota Bar.

      Half a mile, or rather more, from Captain's Point and Brady's Camp,
      Backed by rotten "native apple trees" and coast scrub, dark and damp,
      With a garden filled with thistles — haunted on the brightest day —
      Stands a little match-board cottage, empty, going to decay
      (Like they build in western places — towns that end in 'gar and 'dar),
      With its two black, sightless windows turned to Mallacoota Bar.

      There's a little cliff before it, with a level verge and straight,
      Topped by sunny grass and shady, and a rustic fence and gate,
      Framed by trees that frame "the Entrance", where the white-capped rollers pour
      'Tis a picture for an artist from the closed-up cottage door;
      From a sandbank by the "landing", looking back, the poet sees
      How one broken window's hidden by a handkerchief of trees.

      It may be a bit o' wreckin' or of smugglin' you'd prefer,
      But I write of young Lin Lawson and of Captain Mortimer;
      There the Captain built his cottage, fitting it with everything
      In the days when roofing iron was a costly thing to bring.
      The brick chimney came as ballast, and he laid the hearth with pride,
      And, when all was finished neatly, there the Captain brought his bride.

      Trading out of Mallacoota — there he bore an honoured name —
      Taking wattle bark to Eden, taking fish to Cunninghame,
      He would venture out in weather when the others dared not go,
      Bring flour and tea and sugar when the Lakes' supply was low;
      When the back country was flooded, and the tracks were worse than bad,
      Captain Mortimer and Warren were the only hopes they had.

      Mortimer was two years married, though he didn't think it two,
      When he sailed for Eden taking young Lin Lawson for a crew;
      Young Lin Lawson — sailor-bushman, bushman-sailor like the rest
      On the Lakes. They would be new to my own bushmen of the west.
      Ah, those careless sailor-bushmen seem endowed with pluck sublime,
      For they can't imagine danger - when it comes they haven't time.

      One I know who trusts the devil, one I know who trusts the Lord,
      With the hatches on and battened, and the dinghy hauled on board;
      Both have sailed long years in safety where the Green Cape boomers break
      In such boxes as you'd scarcely trust your wife in on a lake.
      It would set you dumbly praying, if a passenger you be,
      Just to hear Ike Warren cursing out of Gabo in a sea.

      Captain Mortimer (the Em'ly) whistling some old Scottish tune,
      Sailed again for Mallacoota on an autumn afternoon,
      Rather later than was usual. He had been a deep-sea tar,
      And the skippers take their chances down by Mallacoota Bar.
      He was warned about the weather, but he always stood alone,
      So the Captain sailed from Eden to an Eden of his own.

      And the dread nor'-easter struck him, somewhere off Cape Howe, they say,
      And he ran for under Gabo, but let that be as it may;
      'Twas a wild dark night for autumn, and it blew as it can blow;
      There's a rock above the Entrance, and the Bastion Rock below,
      And they found the Em'ly's dinghy, and some decking and a spar
      Some days later, on the sandbank, outside the Mallacoota Bar.

      He had brought a little brother from a southern town to stay,
      As a comfort to his young wife when the Em'ly was away;
      All that day they watched and waited, all that day they watched in vain,
      For a small white sail off Gabo that would never gleam again;
      All night long, white-faced and staring, she who was the sailor's star
      Watched the hellish phosphorescence leap on Mallacoota Bar.

      And next day a strange thing happened. Strange! It cannot be denied:
      For they saw a black speck tossing through the Entrance on the tide,
      Drifting in between the sandbanks, and it drifted sure as fate,
      Till it stranded on the shingle just below the rustic gate;
      And the wife ran down and seized it — it was Hope's death sign to her —
      'Twas her husband's cap — a cloth cap worn by Captain Mortimer.

      She is dead maybe, or married, there seemed nothing then on earth,
      So they bought her goods and chattels for much more than they were worth,
      And they drove her round to Eden, to go home to Castlemaine.
      And the driver says he wouldn't like to have that job again.
      And the sight for days thereafter that brought pain to all and each
      Was, each tide, Lin Lawson's father riding up and down the beach.

      There's the Howe Range, steep and rugged, running down to granite red,
      There's sunny slopes and shady, where the fishing nets are spread;
      There are channel posts and net poles by the sea-weed thick and strong,
      Where the silly shags sit watching, watching nothing all day long;
      There's the story of a cottage, growing ever faint and far,
      With its two black windows watching, watching Mallacoota Bar.

      Sydney Mail