Savants of Borroloola – Poem by Dick Turner

The swamps of Borroloola were dripping wet and dark,
And the noise of splash and grunting told of crocodile and shark.
The men slapped at mosquitoes as they cooked their lizard stew,
Just to sit and puff their ‘baccy’ was all they had to do.

For the Hatters and Hard Cases had nothing then to read,
Though you didn’t hear them whinging – they were a hardy breed.
But when there came a ringer or a drover down the track,
The first things that they wanted were the papers from his pack.

They’d read those year old papers to catch up with the news,
And on long forgotten incidents would argue different views.
They’d search the ancient magazines from back to front again
To find the smallest articles to exercise the brain.

Till one day an ancient hatter gave out a sudden shout,
And said, “Youse blokes all listen”, and he read the story out.
It was all about a millionaire in a land across the sea,
Who’d set up a foundation, whatever that could be.

But when they’d read they all agreed on what it meant to say;
This bloke was really paying to give libraries away,
To any town or city, the farther off the better.
And all you were required to do was simply write a letter.

One hard case said “That can’t be true. He must be off his head”.
A drover stuck his oar in with, “More likely he’s long dead”.
“Well, let’s sit down and write to him”, piped up the oldest hatter,
“And even if he’s mad or dead, it doesn’t really matter”.

So they got them a new writing pad from the
old Ghan’s scanty stock,
And wrote it on a tree stump, whilst sitting on a rock.
You may think it fantastic, but the tale they told was true,
And they wrote, and then re-wrote it. (They had nothing else to do.)

“This place is now the only port on this unfriendly shore,
You will not find another for a thousand miles or more.”
Of course in their joint letter they dressed it up a bit,
With “No school for five hundred miles” and other things that hit.

They also sent an area map (to scale) where one could see
They really had some solid facts to back their anxious plea.
“Amongst all our population there is nothing here to read.
Please send us then a stock of books, and with your greatest speed.”

And so some two years later (for all these things take time)
They got a complete library that didn’t cost a dime.
For the men of that foundation swallowed bait, and line and hooks.
All indexed, packed and crated, they sent ten thousand books.

Ancient and Modern history, from Homer to today,
With books on building houses, and how ball games to play.
Encyclopaedias complete, classics and fiction too.
The whole of human knowledge was in that mighty brew.

The Hatters and Hard Cases, drovers, ringers and the Ghan
All grabbed and read those volumes, educated to a man.
Throughout Australia’s whole wide north they gained a reputation,
The men of Borroloola were the best read in the nation.

The North is getting civilised, and now you’ll find outback
Researchers and geologists camped out along the track.
There are men from Yale or Harvard, Cambridge or Oxford Don,
And doctors of philosophy who to the North have gone.

But when in their discussions their learning is all spent
A man from Borroloola decides the argument.
But now from Borroloola the library has gone
For roads and vandals have moved in, it’s now a copper zone.

But still you sometimes meet them, for they travel back and forth
Those old men from Borroloola –

By Dick Turner ©