BILLY THE PUNTMAN
There's some weathered timber decking on a stone
Worn by wind and water, scoured by shifting sand,
Slabs of hand sawn redgum , adzed and stripped of
Children romp around it as they play in Apex
Dusk blurred the old punt's outline, I wandered
Attracted by that relic and the life it must have
Lost in thoughts of pioneers I turned at last to
'Hey - come back here, yer scoundrel, yer thievin'
so and so!'
I stopped abruptly, startled - he sneered at my
As I sought to prise cold fingers from their
cruel grip on my arm,
'Yer was gonna scarper without payin' - not on your
No-one gyps the Puntman, no-one cons old Billy!'
Stuttering my innocence - - what was going on?
There seemed to be more trees here and the streets
and lights were gone,
I could hear the nearby river, the water's muffled
The stranger limped about me, tugging his moustache.
'Now, yer owe me for them bullocks, loadin' those
blokes was no joke,
Yer brindle is a balker an' one poler's wild,
Plus the wagon an' the gig horse, - an' she's a
nasty natured mare - - - '
I looked guiltily behind me but there was nothing
'Take no notice of them prices, that board is
Didn't think to cross the Ovens for nothin' did
A derisive laugh from nowhere, he'd vanished in
Just traffic out on Parfitt Road and a wide
eyed Yogi Bear.
I hugged my parka closer but could not suppress
As I sank down in bewilderment, staring at the
Billy! The Punt Man! ..... I knew my history,
He'd lived in Wangaratta some time last century.
Quite a reputation for fleecing folk he'd
Pocketing the profits, glib retort if queried,
He'd lost his source of income when the Ovens
Bridge was built,
The big punt left neglected settled deep in
layers of silt.
He fancied easy pickings, took to the open road,
Robbed the local mailman of his horses and his
When arrested up in Albury gave his real name as
Vowed not to serve his sentence when brought to
court and tried.
Bill kept his final promise, he died at Craigie-
Never reached the Melbourne jail ... does his
spirit, freed, return
To walk along the river? ... if you don't
There's still a muddied handprint upon my jacket