The Road Gang

March 4, 2009 by  
Filed under Bush Poetry, The Road Gang


The earth moving industry in modern times is powered by huge machinery often with the luxury of air-conditioned cabs for operator comfort. Vast amounts of earth in a single day can be moved creating large water storage’s, “tanks”. Lengthy stretches of outback-corrugated road can now be graded in a day.

We both stand testament to this, having both worked as earth moving contractors throughout outback NSW.

Ron’s ancestors were earthmoving contractors also, but they used an entirely different type of plant. They used “Clydesdales” and “Bullock Teams” to haul scoops for tank sinking and road ploughs and grader blades for road making. They carved roads up the sides of mountains all over the Northern Rivers Region of NSW, in the days that it was called “The Big Scrub”, and its primary industry was the cedar industry.

Apart from mountains and cedar and rainforests, the area is known for its high rainfall, the highest in NSW by far. It was while driving on a road still in existence that was built by these tough bushies, in a torrential down pour and marveling at their feat when the inspiration to write about them came. This poem is dedicated to those early “earthmovers” who certainly had it tougher than us. 


By bark slab huts hidden in forests tall
And beside the bubbling creeks
Where ten inches of rain in a day can fall
And flood you in for weeks
Where men can’t walk they have to wade
Cause the ground all round is mud
Old roads are lost and new ones made
And the price is paid in blood

The bullocky snarls at the falling rain
With a dreary sodden curse
Then trudges on in weary pain
That is slowly getting worse
With a hand firm on his bullocks head
Round the mountain side they trudge
Trying to remember his last dry bed
And trying to ignore the sludge

A smoke is rolled under a battered brim
To shield from the pouring rain
Lit with stiffened hand cupped to hairy chin
But it gets wet just the same
It falls in half further down the track
So it is left there where it fell
He wonders why as he wanders back
There’s so much water in hell

Torrents down the mountain side
Fall down to a ferny glen
Where a team last week went a little wide
And that was the last of them
The bullock driver also lost his life
Because he tried to save his team
Then straws were drawn to tell his wife
Camped further down the stream

Road plows pulled with Clydesdale strength
Lay wider the treacherous trail
No gamer beast found in nature’s length
Their hearts refuse to fail
But if the plow pulls wide and starts to slip
And the driver reacts too slow
It will pull the horses out over the lip
And down to their deaths below

Winding slowly up through thick black clouds
The road is carved by flesh and bone
Leaving graves marked only by leafy shrouds
And at the head a mossy stone
The road gets built over the mountain side
Despite the constant flood
And those that remember the ones who died
Know the price was paid in blood