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The Gundagai Calamity (1852)
By James Riley
O, mourn, Australia, weep and mourn!
For yonder floats as sad a wail
As e'er on tempest-wing was borne,
Along the Murrumbidgee's vale.
Great God! what battlings now for breath!
What gurgling sounds of agony!
What contests with the monster, Death,
His loathed, abhorred, embrace to flee!
On, on, the waters madly rush
O'er highest bank at wildest will,
And many a cherished hope they crush,
And many a piercing cry they still.
The old, the young, the strong, the weak,
The bold, the timid, and the brave,
Their voices lend to that loud shriek,
Then struggling fill a watery grave.
Again, Australia's sable son,
With vigour ply their frail canoe;
Right well hast thou already done,
But much, O much, is still to do.
To yonder tree quick passage urge,
Whence cries for help ring shrill and wild--
Too late!--O, grief!--the boiling surge
Ingulphs the mother and the child!
Turn, turn, and aid yon drowning pair,
Whose outstretched hands would grasp at life--
Alas! they clutch but empty air--
Down sink the husband and the wife!
See how that noble saddled steed,
Who felt a master's kindest care,
Now with the current tries his speed--
But where's that master?--where?--O, where?
Vainly plunging, in yon tree
A horse is by the neck held fast;
The sinking stream will surely see
His carcase dangling in the blast.
Insatiate Death! what sights were bared
To those who stared with looks aghast,
When the receding flood declared
The secrets of thy dread repast!
While desolation far and wide,
The waters' raging course betrayed,
And fierce destruction's reckless stride
Disclosed the wreck his hands had made.
On that sad scene 'twere vain to dwell,
When gathered corpses strewed the ground,
And many a tear of anguish fell
In bitter memory of the drown'd.
O, Mighty One! whose lightest scan
Unnumbered worlds can comprehend,
To whose high will man's best laid plan,
Like reed before the wind, will bend!--
'Tis not for us--mere food for worms--
To ask why thine unerring hand
Sends forth those dreadful floods and storms
That scourge or desolate a land;
But let us trust (as mortals may)
That thou in mercy heardst the cry
Which, thrilling, winged its heavenward way
From doomed, ill-fated Gundagai.
11th August, 1852.
From the NSW Newspaper the Goulburn Herald and County of Argyle Advertiser Saturday 28 August 1852 p. 6.The monument above was a 1990 recognition of the rescue efforts of "Australia's Sable Son" mentioned in the fifth verse. The monument reads:
IN MEMORY OF
HERO OF GUNDAGAI, AN ABORIGINAL MAN WHO RESCUED
49 PEOPLE ON THE NIGHT OF 24TH JUNE, 1852 FROM THE FLOODED
MURRUMBIDGEE RIVER IN GUNDAGAI.
THIS MONUMENT WAS ERECTED ON
7TH SEPTEMBER, 1990 BY THE
ABORIGINAL LAND COUNCIL
IN RECOGNITION OF YARRI'S HEROISM.
australian traditional songs . . . a selection by mark gregory