My daughter Martina is now in her third year at primary school, and the amount and frequency of homework has increased enough to the stage where she needs a place to work on it in peace, away from TV etc.

So, we’ve cleaned out our back “junk-room / home-office” to create space for a table for her to work at. In the process, quite a few things have appeared that we hadn’t seen in years, including a box of all my old cassette tapes, old photos and many letters and old papers.

One of these is a scrap of paper with a poem on it that I wrote while traveling around Australia in 1988. It’s a one-page leaflet for a Back-packers hostel in Cairns (Northern Territories) that I remember - and I do remember writing the poem.

It’s called Billabong. One of the many things I learned in Australia is what a billabong is. It wasn’t such a well known brand of sports wear then, and I hadn’t heard of it.

The free on-line dictionary defines billabong as:

_n. Australian

  1. A dead-end channel extending from the main stream of a river.
  2. A streambed filled with water only in the rainy season.
  3. A stagnant pool or backwater._

i.e. it’s part of a river (or river bed) that in the drier part of the year get’s disconnected from other parts of the river and so forms a small pool or lake, which can be used for a place to swim by kids and picnickers. When it rains the river comes alive again and they all get connected back into a river as the water rages down, for a short spell at least. As long as it never completely dries up then it can support life all year round (fish, amphibians, etc).

Here is one image of one from the web. billabong image. Here are some better (but copyrighted) ones at Sun-up and Dusk.

I was traveling alone at that point, but before anyone asks: I didn’t feel particularly lonely, it’s just that the idea of a billabong, disconnected from the rest of its river, with no flowing water, seemed a nice metaphor to play on. It’s dated 18/10/88.

Outback where the dust is red
there lies a sleepy river bed
standing still as the rocks all around
haunting ghost gums surround
my sleepy billabong

raging torrent to flowing stream
adults smile, children scream
through wet, through dry
I hear them cry
down by the billabong

A haven for the living
a sanctuary of life
I'll support you through the trouble
and the strife
I'm a crystal clear pool
I'm a lonely fool
I'm a billabong

But the rains are coming soon
with the next new moon
I will rise up and burst my banks
to the sky I'll send my thanks
and no more will I be just a billabong
Written on October 19, 2008