Monthly Archives: May 2017

Wars of the 20th Century

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wars of the 20th century


An Aussie Prodigal


I’ve been shearin’ and drovin’ all me life. And I’ve seen some things in me time, and folks of all types.

But the time I spent on Donovan’s station after the war, well that was really somethin’.

Old man Donovan was the kind of boss every jackaroo or shearer just dreamed of. Fairest man this side of the Murray I say, well both sides, and don’t let any man naysay. But what he done that year of the big harvest, well they still talk about it to this day down at O’Malleys pub.

Like I said, it was 3 years after the war, and well, old mother nature had dished out one hum dinger of a year. The wool on the sheep was so fat you couldn’t see their legs, and the wheat, well it was so high in the paddocks they hired school kids to sit on the shoulders of the horses to steer the reapers. Yeah, that was a good year for old man Donovan. He was sittin’ pretty. And Casey the bank manager, he had a smile a mile wide too.

And then it happened, the day his heart was broke. Reckon it near broke every man jack of us too.

You see old widower Donovan had two boys. Loved them somethin’ fierce too. Mick, the eldest, well ‘e was big and strong, the silent type. And work? Never a man could out shear, out ride, or plough a straighter furrow in double quick time as Mick. Knew every paddock, every gully, every tree of Donovan’s lease like the back of his hand, and worked harder than any man I ever saw. Loved his dad, loved his land, loved his work, Mick did.

And then there was Toby, the larrikin. Don’t get me wrong, ‘e was a fair worker was Toby, but oh he liked a party Toby did, and a practical joke. He’d just as likely start a two up game in the middle of the crutching, or bet a tenner that he could shear the house cat without getting a scratch as do just about anything. And we all loved Toby. But that summer ‘e broke old Donovan’s heart.

Y’see he said to his dad, and I tell no lie, Murphy, the ringer heard it clear as day, ‘I’m off Pa, I’m going to Melbourne to make my way. And I want my share of the family dough. It’s been a good year and you’ve got cash to pay me out. You and Mick like this life, but I want more. I can make it big in Melbourne, but I need my stake, and I need it now.’

The old man tried to talk to him, but when Toby said what he said next, well it took the wind right out of him. ‘You might as well be dead livin’ ‘ere.’ Says Toby ‘It’s the life of the livin’ dead, it is.’

Yep, old man Donovan was broken hearted. Y’see, he loved his land, loved the bush and was proud of what he built. And he always dreamed of setting up the boys one day. Did it all for them. The light just plain went straight out of ‘is eyes that day.

But strike me ‘e did just like Toby asks. So before the summer was out ‘e sold the South bend lease to raise the extra cash. Didn’t really have what Toby figured ‘e was due. And then Toby just gets all his gear together, and rides off. Eleven thousand guineas they reckon he give Toby that day, a princely sum even for a station owner the likes of Donovan. Casey, the banker and him had a blue over it too, but his mind was made up, and off Toby went, with horse and cart, and a banker’s cheque for eleven thousand guineas, heading for the big smoke, to make it big. I had a terrible fear for the lad, too right I did. Smart and quick, but a country boy ‘e was, an’ I’ve seen what those city coves are like. That’s why I ride boundary on Donovan’s station. City life’s too ugly, too cutthroat for any decent man.

From that day on, the old man just gave in. Mick picked up the slack, and took over runnin’ the station. Donovan just moped around the house, would stand for hours at the gate and look down the track, like ‘e was waitin’ for Toby to just walk back in.

Well, I heard from a mate later that year what happened to Toby. Got caught up with those Carlton spivs and pimps real quick. They can smell a tenner on you even if it’s tucked in your boot, they can. And Toby lasted about 3 months while they bled him dry. Yeah, make it big he said, make it big.

Seems he just couldn’t resist the booze and party girls, poor Toby. He always was a sucker for a pretty face and a bottle.

Well Charlie, me mate in Carlton, reckons Toby went to laboring at the Footscray cattle yards first. An’ then the next year the big drought set in. We was all right up on the Murray, but those poor sods down south, well it never rained for 10 months on the go. Farms was just dust from one end to the other, and even the gums died. Never seen the likes I tell you. The cattle yards closed, and men was out of work all over Melbourne as well as the bush. Grim times I tell you it was.

So as it turns Toby ends up working for a piggery in Bendigo. Strewth, how far down can you go? Mucking out stalls, washing down filthy sows to go to market, and sleeping rough in the pig sheds, all for what? Pride I guess. Toby had a lot of that, but then don’t we all?

That’s where I ran into him one day. Old Grumpy and me were down to Bendigo with a truck picking up supplies and seed, and Mick asked us to get a couple of sides of salted pork to supplement the station fare.

You coulda knocked me down with a feather. We was talking to the boss at the piggery, makin’ the deal, when he calls out “Toby, here lad, I need ya.”

And this stick of a figure, filthy as the any pig on the joint come sloping out from one of the sty’s. But I recognised him alright. Can’t mistake Toby, even if the gleam and swagger had gone from him.

What to do, tell him how his pa was missing him so? Nah, you gotta remember we are Aussie blokes. Most things are best left unsaid by our rules. Toby and another labourer loaded up the two sides of pork, and he just slunk off.

A month later, well what a turn up. I hadn’t dared tell the boss about Toby, might have made him worse, ‘cause he was still spending most of his time standing at that gate lookin’ down the track. Coulda sworn he was praying too. Maybe he was, pillar of the church as well as of the community he was, so I guess ‘e was a prayin’ man.

That’s just what he was doing this chilly Spring morning, cuppa in hand, standing and staring, when all of a sudden that tea just flies up in the air as ‘e lets off a shout, “Toby, it’s me boy Toby!” and the old man is off and running down that track lickety split. Never seen an old geezer with such zip in him in all me days.

‘E outran us, and when Charlie and I finally caught up with ‘im, there ‘e was, arms wrapped around this washed out, filthy rag of a lad on ‘is knees cryin’. Toby alright, no mistaking it.

“Pa,” ‘e was cryin’ “I been starving Pa, and I know I’m not your son no more, I gone and done so much wrong ‘agin you and God pa. But gimme a job in the shearin shed will you? I’ll do you right I will.”

The old man never answered; ‘e just turned to me, and in between his own tears says “Harry, quick, go up to the house. Find my best riding coat, the boys cold. And my best boots too, and woollen socks.”

As I turned, he calls out “Harry, go into my room too. In the dresser, top drawer, is my best watch, the gold one mama bought me for our anniversary, bring it with you, don’t forget.”

“Charlie” he called out to me mate. “Go find one of the new calves in the East paddock, get the boys to help you kill and dress it quick. Get it on the spit right away. We’re going to have a party tonight, nothing but the best. My boy was dead but now he’s alive. We’re celebrating big time.”

And we got busy, and how the whole station was abuzz with excitement, that is till Mick rode in from checking the mob in the river paddock. He just looked, station hands running round excited, spit fired up, an ‘e asks me “What’s goin’ on Harry?”

So I tell him, “Toby’s come back Mick, ‘e looks a sight but it’s ‘im for sure, and your pa’s got a spit goin’ and us organisin’ a party. ‘E said to watch out for you, to let you know so you can go and see the boy straight away.”

“See Toby?” he roared at me, “See that filthy rag that wasted most half the value of this station on booze and hookers? I’d rather choke on a dust storm than see that toerag.” Furious ‘e was!

Just then his dad comes out and seein’ Mick there comes runnin’ over to get him. Tries to get him to go and see Toby, whose resting up in his old room.

What a raging row that was, all Mick mind you. ‘is dad was in tears tryin’ to get ‘im to go in and see ‘is brother.

But Mick riled up even fiercer, “Pa, not once, not once do you hear, did you ever make this kind of palaver over me. I’ve worked my butt off my whole life, run this place while you pine away lookin’ down the road for that mangy rat you call your son. Why, you never even put a stringy goat on the spit so me and my mates could have a barbie. Now nothin’ but the best for that worthless toerag soon as ‘e turns up after nearly ruining us so ‘e could waste it all on ‘is spiv mates and scrubbers. No way pa, I ain’t comin’ in!”

Well, old Donovan just looks deep in Mick’s eyes, like ‘e could feel the boys pain. ’E goes kind of quiet, ‘an ‘e reached out and took Mick by the shoulders and looked ‘im in the eye, an’ ‘e says –

“Mick, you’re my number 1, always have been. This whole spread is yours, and you know it. Toby’s done ‘is dash on that score. But your brother, yes Mick, not just my son, your brother, ‘e’s back from the dead, and yes, we’re gonna celebrate.”

Well, time’s a wastin’ and the fires near out.

Yeah, I know you’re itching to know what Mick did next, and how it all turned out. It’s late boys, time to hit the sack. Reckon I’ll have to save that story for another day.

But to wrap up, we all learned somethin’ deep that day from old man Donovan. Before that I reckon not a man jack of us on the station would have given Toby time of day.

Forgiveness! That’s what Donovan taught us that day. Reckon every one of us went to bed thinkin’ on the grudges and resentments we were all carryin’ round ourselves. Carryin’ round like back packs full of rocks if you get my drift.

Never gonna forget it m’self, the day Toby came home, and how old man Donovan welcomed ‘im and forgave ‘im.

The woman caught in adultery

woman-caught-in-adulteryJohn 8:1-10. A dramatisation by R Robertson (this is my own imagining of the ‘story behind the story.’ I wrote this out of times of meditating on the real personal struggles of the many people Jesus encountered, ministered to, and brought eternal hope to.)


“Whore!” “Adulterer!” “Stone Her! Stone Her!”

The cries and shouts rang in Leah’s ears as she stumbled up the dusty path, the small crowd swelling behind her like a thirsting herd of cattle rushing toward the smell of water.

Oh, if only they would rush over her now, crush her to death, save her from further shame.

The Priests had already torn her tunic when their ruffians had taken her before them last night, as custom dictated. Leah recalled now her face had burned with humiliation as they had stood around her shouting their pious condemnations. Then they had thrown her into a dark room where she shivered in fear, listening to the muffled voices as men came and went outside.

Why they hadn’t taken her out and stoned her then, before the Roman guards made their rounds? They still did it occasionally, when it suited them, even though the Romans forbade it. That is, unless it suited their own purposes. Years ago she saw a stoning. The invisible hand of fear gripped around her heart as she recalled the contorted face of the writhing victim.

And now, before dawn, they had dragged her out of her temporary prison. Amongst the shouting and cursing she had overheard something about a plan, a use for her. At the temple, they said, and something to do with one of those itinerant preachers they hated so much. And laughter, some kind of joke about someone losing no matter his choice. And more laughter.

‘Oh please God, let them kill me now. I know I sinned against you, but not this humiliation too.’ Leah stumbled, falling to the hard ground. Someone grabbed her by the arms, jerking her upright and pushed her roughly in the back, recommencing the bizarre procession past the markets just filling with people in the early morning, and up towards the temple.

“Harlot! Harlot! Harlot! …..” The cries now formed into a rhythmic chant around her. ‘No!’ her mind cried out. ‘I’m not a harlot; we loved each other.’ But it was no use now.

Where was he? When those men rushed in and tore them apart she had cried out for him. Had they already stoned him? Surely not, after all he was one of them, at least his father was. He would be too one day, he said. And she did love him so. And he said he loved her too. She had felt so good, so loved, laying there in his arms. So good after everything else that had been happening these past years. The images flashed through her mind as she stumbled, hardly hearing the baying crowd any more, the taunts from women standing on the roadside now echoing distantly as the events of the past year rushed through her mind.

Images of the divorce came flooding into her mind, when Jathniel had thrown her out, accusing her of flirting with her cousin. Her own cousin? The man she had grown up with? Her friend? How could Jathniel have thought such things of them? No, it was an excuse she as she had realised soon after. So he could marry that woman; but no, it didn’t matter now.

She remembered the shame she felt when she was cast out of the house with nothing. She wanted to die that day, but not now. And the days of disgrace and humiliation as she tried to survive on her own, not able to see her beautiful sons. Leah’s family had refused to take her in, believing those awful things Jathniel told them. And trying to bake bread and sell it in the market to provide a small income to survive. But no-one would go near her, let alone buy from her.

Her mind skipped to that day when Nathan stopped in the back alley and spoke to her. That was her salvation. Oh yes, kind words he used. ‘Did she need a room to stay in, a little money for a new tunic?’ His gentle touch that first night he visited her in her rented room. She almost felt like a prostitute, told him so. But he was so reassuring, said he loved her, would look after her, it would be their secret. Life seemed to be better, at least a little, even though his visits were always at night, and she couldn’t tell anyone about him.

And then last night, when the ruffians burst in, it was all over, and Nathan was gone. ‘Oh Nathan, where are you. If only we had run away together.’ But she knew that would never have been. He was training to be a lawyer, one of them. Was he dead, or had they let him go back to his ordinary life. She had heard that they protected each other, the lawyers. Surely not Nathan though, he said he loved her.

The small crowd was now hustling her up the wide stairway that led through those huge wall and into the Court of the Gentiles. She saw the Roman guards watching intently. But no, there was no hope there. ‘Oh Lord, hide me from this shame!’ her heart cried out.

Lahad was enjoying the prospect of the moment. When those fools, Caiaphas and Annas had been wringing their hands at the last council meeting over this stupid prophet, only Lahad had the courage to offer to come up with a plan. Already the crowds were saying that this Jesus had the approval of the Council. ‘That’s what comes from inaction.’ He thought, smugly to himself. ‘Well, now was the time for action, and the man who could eliminate this heretic would certainly earn credit in both Herod’s eyes and even Pilate’s. Yes, both were useful allies even if they were abominations.’

Trapping this stupid preacher on a point of the law would be simple, he mused, as his lackeys shoved and prodded the pathetic figure along towards the temple. After all, he was an uneducated Galilean. Lahad had encountered them before; boorish and loud, but they crumbled when challenged and tested by a skilled lawyer every time. Hadn’t spent any time studying the Torah or Halakah, the fools. Not like himself, an expert in all the law. Why, he was the only man he knew amongst the scribes, or any of the Pharisees, that was able to recite so many entire scrolls by heart. And he had just finished memorising the book of Job. The entire book. That would impress his followers, and show up Caiaphas for the ignorant pretender he was.

Simple, he thought; but his plan was beautiful too. Just showing up this Galilean on some simple point was not enough. No, everyone would soon forget that. It was time to totally discredit him, with something dramatic, right in front of his mob of filthy followers. Lahad sneered at the thought of the last time he saw them, all clamouring around that Jesus, the fools. Tax collectors, fishermen, women. How flagrant, he thought, women sitting at the feet of a preacher. Never would he waste his time like that. Better uses for them, like this pathetic creature, stumbling and whining and loping along like a whipped dog.

He grinned to himself as he approached the steps leading up to the court of the Gentiles. His spies had already told him that Jesus had gone to the temple earlier, before dawn. If only he knew, the poor fool, what lay in front of him; the terrible choice that he was to be confronted with. ‘Well, let him choose.’ thought Lahad, smiling grimly.

Jesus could play safe and choose to defer to the Romans. But he would not do that. No, not in front of this idealistic rabble, always dreaming of freedom and their precious new kingdom. He’d lose all his followers that way. That’s why the mob hated the Pharisees. The fools didn’t understand the need to work with the Romans, get their stamp of approval in matters such as this.

He could choose to let her go. That would be good too, Lahad thought. If he chose this response it would just take a little longer to corner him. But siding with such flagrant sin would open up a huge hole in this preachers armour. Before long Lahad would be making this fool defend even murderers. Yes he could round one of them up easily too.

No, he would have to choose the law to save face with the crowds. The law was clear in these matters. No room for interpretation. That’s what the common Jew longed for, a return to the old ways, when Israel was a real nation. Ha, with the agitators he had planted in Jesus own crowd egging him on he would be seen as instigating an insurrection; and then; and then his men would alert Pilate’s guards and have this Jesus arrested on the spot.

Pilate didn’t take kindly to the Jews taking the law into their own hands, especially capital offences. He had already and often demonstrated his eagerness to enforce his will. Lahad shuddered as he recalled the torture and crucifixions he had already seen. That’s why it pays to work with them. Yes, his spies had already alerted the Centurion on guard in the temple of his plan. No point taking chances on some misunderstanding with the Roman guards.

They reached the outer porch. “Thomas,” he barked to his assistant, “get them to settle down. We must look dignified. Remember what I said. Get your ruffian friends to go now and sit amongst his disciples, ready to start their whispering if this Galilean chooses to free her, and to stir up a protest if he chooses otherwise. They know what to do don’t they?

“Oh, yes, master. They know well what to do.” Thomas turned to his men. “Go now, sit amongst his followers and be quiet until you see my signal.”

Sixteen men, the hirelings Thomas had enlisted, skulked off, disappearing into the crowds. That left the twenty of them, all Pharisees and masters of the law. Thomas looked up at Lahad. He was old now, tall, lean and leathery of skin; the wisest and most learned of the Pharisee sect by Thomas’s judgement. And wily too, like a fox. Yes, a good choice for a mentor for Thomas if he wanted to get ahead.

They checked their robes and phylacteries carefully. The woman whimpered, cringing against the wall of the hallway they had stopped in. “Shut up you whore. You’ll get what you deserve soon enough.” Lahad spat the words at her.

“Come on. We’ll see what this preacher is made of. And let’s solve Caiaphas’ little problem for him.” Lahad led the entourage out into the sunlit court of the Gentiles, already filled with people, most of them grouped around various teachers, listening and learning. Lahad’s demeanour soured as he saw that there was one crowd that was far bigger than any other. ‘Yes, this would be Jesus, making a name for himself certainly.’ He thought grimly. ‘Well, no more.

“Come on men, get her out in front. Now my dear is your time of usefulness.”

Jesus’ followers were already mostly seated. But those in the way parted swiftly as the procession approached. Twenty Pharisees, ornately dressed, heads high; and one lone woman, clothes torn and filthy from dust and many tears, desperately but vainly trying to hide her shame. The crowd murmured and then hushed as the Pharisees stopped in front of the teacher, who was already sitting down, ready for his lesson to them. They knew what she was purely by the circumstance, an adulterer, probably a whore. But why were the Pharisees bringing her here, to the master?

Thomas pushed her forward till she was standing right in front of Jesus. In her utter shame she cried, sobbed again, her tears plopping on the ground in front of this man, this teacher, who, despite the sudden commotion, did not even look up, seemed yet not to have noticed either her or the Pharisees.

Suddenly his head moved back. He looked up, straight into her eyes.

Her heart leaped.

She couldn’t identify the feeling at first, but,  –   hope, yes at last she felt hope. These eyes were kind and gentle, but his gaze was strong and steady, as though he were peering deep inside her. A glimmer of hope flashed through her. Perhaps he could save her. He arose slowly and looking away from her now surveyed the group of Pharisees, pausing at each to scrutinise, again seeming as though he could see deep inside each of them.

“Teacher,” Thomas called out, breaking the short silence. He was proud that Lahad had entrusted him to speak first, to issue the challenge. It was good planning to let the senior scribe wait, come in at the appropriate time and settle matters. Anyway, this was Thomas’s chance to show Lahad his worth.

“Teacher,” he was purposefully solicitous, but measured, ensuring that everyone present could hear, (‘get him off guard if you can,’ Lahad said) “this woman was caught in the very act of adultery.” He paused, the onlookers already knew that from her appearance of course but it didn’t hurt to let them look her over again, allow the disdain and revulsion to grow.

“In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women.” He paused again for effect, pleased at the steadiness in his voice. Yes, Lahad had trained him well.

“Now, what do you say?”

The preacher looked at the woman briefly then down at the ground, then slowly bent down as if to resume his lesson. Thomas was shocked at first, confused if only for a moment. The insolent fool was going back to his lesson to the crowd, ignoring the challenge totally.

Jesus began to write in the dirt, a habit of many preachers, writing the first verse of their scripture down and then commencing their discourse from there on. Thomas’s momentary panic was quickly replaced with glee though as he looked over at Lahad and saw his grin. ‘Yes we’ve got him all right. He is trying to worm his way out without a word.’

Lahad motioned with his eyes to several of the other Pharisees.

“Yes what do you say?” one added

“Will you speak against Moses?” “Interpret the law for us, teacher!” A small chorus rose from the Pharisees.

Still he remained seated, continuing to write out his scripture for the now murmuring crowd.

Lahad had waited long enough. “Tell us teacher, is Moses to be obeyed, or the Romans?” he called out in his stentorian voice, silencing all murmurs. All eyes were now on Lahad. ‘Yes,’ he thought ‘now he’s lost control. I’ve got him where I want him.’

The teacher looked up, directly at him. Lahad shuddered, as though a chill had suddenly descended. The man looked at him not with malice as he expected, nor fear as he hoped. No, the expression reminded him of the way his father would look at him so many years ago, when he was a boy. A look of knowing, knowing that he had done wrong today, but of loving him all the same. ‘What right does he have to look at me like… No.’ he curtly told himself, refocussing on the task at hand.

Jesus rose, his eyes steadily fixed on Lahad. “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” And then, incredibly, he bent down, continuing to write his passage.

Leah let out a sharp cry. Only the words ‘stone her’ sank in at first. Now she was dead, she knew; her heart sinking in an instant.

All hope was gone. ‘Oh let it be quick, Lord. I’m so sorry, just let it be quick.’

Through her tears though, she looked up as she realised that all was still silent. Why weren’t they carting her away? She had been condemned. What was wrong with them?

Every eye was looking at Lahad. Except for the teacher, writing in the dirt. But the crowd, the Pharisees, all looking at the venerable scribe. The Pharisees glancing furtively at each other in between their pleading looks to their leader for direction as moment by moment passed silently.

Lahad’s face revealed only the slightest tremor as he weighed the significance of the statement still ringing in his ears. His mind screamed out, ‘No, you’re not supposed to debate like that. She’s the issue we’re arguing. Not ME you fool…. No, he was no fool, this Galilean. We’ve miscalculated.’

‘What now?’ His mind raced; he could feel his pulse throbbing in his head, feel the eyes of the crowd. He quickly scanned left and right, seeing his compatriots looking to him, pleading for direction. Uncertain they were of what was transpiring in this silent exchange but willing to cart her off and cast a stone if only he would lead.

‘Idiots,’ his mind screamed at them, ‘can’t you see we’ve miscalculated, bringing this wretch here. He’s turned our own argument on us.’

He lowered his eyes. ‘Must think, fast.’ But all he could see were the stones laying on the ground, challenging him to stoop down and pick one of them up. ‘Without sin. Without sin.’ The Scriptures raced through his mind. All that memorising, all that training, brought them rushing to his minds eye. David’s cry in the Proverbs ‘Who can say, “I have kept my heart pure; I am clean and without sin”?’ He knew, an adulterer. And Job’s futile cry to God “I am pure and without sin;” He could see too God’s fury with Job as his mind rushed through the scroll and his voice answering like a mighty wind. “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.”

‘I will question you. I will question you. What to do? What to do?’ His mind swirled.

He looked up. The woman had stopped her crying now and was staring at him too. And this damnable teacher was now stooped down, scribbling in the dirt again, leaving him to answer, to choose.

The silence of the crowd echoed in his ears against the challenge of God to Job, ‘I will question you. I will question you.’

Lowering his eyes at last, he turned without a word, and in silence walked slowly away from the paralysing scene. “I will question you.’ The words rang in his ears. ‘Could he really be? Might he be the one …’

He did not see as Thomas, eyes now full of fear and confusion, hesitated, and then, pulling his cloak around him tightly, scurried after him.

One by one they retreated. The most senior first, departing each in turn down to the most junior, in strict accord with their rank in their private pecking order, as each in turn realised that he could not take on the mantle declined by his superior.

Leah stood silently, alone with her confusion except for this preacher now standing before her. His followers remained seated and silent throughout the exchange, still not understanding what had just taken place.

Jesus turned towards her and looked into her eyes with that same gentle, enigmatic expression.

“Woman,” his words were clear and firm, but soft on her ears, “where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

She looked around her, not comprehending what had just transpired. But there was not one of her accusers left. “No one, sir,” she said. Tears flowed freely now, but tears of hope and relief.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” he raised his voice now so all could hear clearly. “Go now, and leave your life of sin.” In an instant she knew that somehow it was possible; possible to at last be free of this terrible condemnation she had been living with.

Pulling her torn tunic up over her shoulders she walked haltingly towards the rear of the crowd, and finding a bare patch of pavement, sat, waiting for her saviour to start his lesson.