Too Late to Leave


Everyone’s new favourite app
showed red flames across the map
bushfire closed in like a trap—
it was too late to leave.

Blackened paws and toasted fur
burnt poles where the gum leaves were
smoke-smudged skies an ashen blur . . .
it was too late to leave.

Blood-red skies on New Year’s Eve.
Politicians disbelieve.
Together people can achieve
a world with air that’s safe to breathe.

To keep our skies both clear and blue
you know what people have to do:
get rid of dirty fossil fuels
protect the trees like precious jewels
conserve our water, tend the land
at last the people understand

it is a choice we all must make
to save and nurture, give not take
to mend the damage, gain reprieve
there’s no plan B—we cannot leave.

Julie Thorndyke

Prayer of the Birds


Soot and ash line path and sill
hope is low, but Christmas will
bring us blessings large and small—
we long for rain, to hear drops fall.

Sweet things, soft strings, voices limber
wrapped-up books and stars a shimmer
tinselled trees and eyes that glow . . .
love expands as children grow.

For these things we give our thanks
as fires rage round empty tanks.
Hear the prayer the wild birds call—
and send sweet rain, best gift of all.

Julie Thorndyke

picture source


The Ghost Ponies of Coopernook


All along the Manning River where the timber-getters call
Where the whipbird sounds, the bellbirds chime and cedar trees grow tall
There’s another sound that echoes round and makes the lizards run
But you will not see these horses ‘til the setting of the sun.

You will hear the hooves a-pounding in the dusky gathering gloom
And the rhythmic, ghostly galloping will pull you from your room
As the moon above is shining with an eerie trembling light
So the ponies of old Coopernook go searching in the night.

From the farmland to the seashore where the waves are foaming high
They are searching for their loved ones, listening for each deathbed sigh
Long ago a fire stole them from the riders they held dear
Now their restless, hopeless galloping will echo in your ear.

They are seeking, they are crying, they are waiting for the sound
Of their masters’ dying exhaled breaths to free them from the ground
Of this mortal earth, whose grass they’ve trod, with ne’er a moment’s rest
Waiting for the sweet reunion with the riders they loved best.

It was Christmas: and the gathering of folk at Orchid Hill
Meant that no one saw the bushfire come, or smelt the smoke, until
Fire had engulfed the stables, every trapped horse shrieked with fear,
People ran to save the ponies, but still no one could get near.

Red the flames shot up and heavenward, the sparks flew round about
Children cried, the men cursed, women sobbed: “Oh, get the poor things out!”
But the smoke was thick, and heroes few, and nothing could be done
But escape towards the river, and mourn in the rising sun.

It was Bill who saw the first ghost, as he lay beneath the tree
That had fallen as he cut it, and had trapped him at the knee
The bay pony that had borne him o’er bushland and the dale
Had arrived to see him safely to the land behind the veil.

Listen carefully as you wander by the river and the sea
For one day a sweet grey dappled mare will come to carry me
Far away from earthly cares and woes to see my old mate Bill
And at last the fields of Coopernook will all be quiet and still.

© Julie Thorndyke

First published in Does a Lyrebird Fly?
FAW Shoalhaven Literary Competition anthology 2004
(Highly Commended)