A man was Peter Myloh, strong-browed and black of face,
Australian Aboriginal, son of a dark doomed race.
And even I, an urchin then, read grief in his soft eye
Deep grief, that came with knowledge for a people who must die,
For he was ‘educated.’ But he came of no meek race
Whining, ‘Gibbit tickpen’, mister,’ with a shamed averted face.
And he was proud, quick with a blow for some fool’s sneering slight,
And how I grinned and hugged myself. For, lordy! Could he fight!
Old Connors took him as a boy from some wild Murray tribe
And thought to educate him as a scholar and a scribe,
First at school, and then at college. ‘Twas a venture ill begun,
For Connors soon grew tired of it; and left him on the run,
A sort of favoured hanger-on, whom every breed forsook,
To be the butt of shearers there, less than the Chinese cook.
And after he’d half-killed a man, and seemed hell-bound for doom,
‘Twas my father gave him sanctu’ry as handyman and groom.
Black Myloh loved my father; but the service of a slave
Was nought beside the hero-worship I, a stripling, gave
This lithe, dark-skinned Ulysses with the low, soft school-bred voice
And proudly then I would have changed my colour, had I choice.
For we were mates as men were mates on some forgotten day
Ere ‘progress’ came with all its care, and life was mostly play.
He taught me then the wise bush-lore learned centuries ago
By a simple, carefree people versed in arts no ‘white’ may know.
I learned how souls ‘go walkabout’, of dreams that are no dreams;
We ranged the plains, the scrub-clad hills, we fished the gum-lined streams,
And much I gained that served me well when from that home I ran,
And chose to act the prodigal, and learned to be a man…
And then, the white-scourge took him. Well do I mind my grief –
Fierce, childish grief, the questionings, the shaking of belief…
But that was very long ago; yet, even now, much truth
I winnow from Black Myloh’s lore, the real friend of my youth.