My father Robert Irvine wrote this poem while in Sydney hospital last week recovering from heart surgery (a far cry from the old dairy farm which inspired this poem). Bullock bells were the tools that allowed the early Australian settlers and drovers to manage and tame their livestock on the unfenced open plains and bush farmlands. Dad is the little boy with the toy (above).

Slim Dusty tells the story
of Johnny and his team
he tells of bullock bells
which bring back memories

thinking back through all the years
I have memories of my own
things that I will not forget
things from long ago

like when I think of Bowler Gaddes
of Bowler and his team
inside my old memories
that are still so clear to me

those logs the bullocks pulled
a sight I’ll not forget
then with his whip and ‘CRACK’
it was home into sunset

through the night those bells would ring
and sound a lovely tune
it really was a joyful sound
beneath a brilliant moon

and my dad, he loved those bullocks
and those bells he loved to hear
their jingle through the night
was music to his ears

and the days when mum said “Bobby
take here this bullock bell
swing it loud and long
make the sound your dad loves well”

and I’d take that bullock bell
make it echo far and wide
I’d make the ranges ring
all down through the mountain sides

and then I see my dad
who takes me by the hand
yes I still have those memories
they are so clear and grand

then it was home to eat the dinner
to my mother’s lovely spread
with all family ’round the table
dad gave thanks for the daily bread

as I drift back through the ages
most things are very clear
things I love to talk about
and hope you love to hear

but when I think back through the forties
and of the stories I could tell
the one that really chokes me up
are the ringing bullock bells

© 2017 Robert A. Irvine (edited by Melinda J. Irvine)

A cedar log on the old family farm, no doubt carted by bullocks from the top of the rainforest.
Dad writing the poem “Bullock Bells” recovering in hospital in Sydney. I’m really proud of dad for writing this poem as dad never went to high school. And I didn’t need to do much editing either, just a few words here and there to help the rhythm flow a little smoother. Let’s hope he writes some more.
Dad and his father coming in from the dairy. Dad never went to high school, working instead on the family farm until (aged 30) he married mum in 1966.
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5 responses to “The Bullock Bells”

  1. Kay Peterkin Avatar
    Kay Peterkin

    Hi again Melinda
    I’ve also just read that poem, & I don’t think it was in your Dads poem book when I read it. but then I’m suffering a degree of memory loss these days.
    This has all been about your Dad, but having just read your Dad married your mother in 1966.
    I had to have an operation a couple of weeks after David was born on 1st October 1966, so can you imagine our surprise when we moved to Palmer Street in 1968 to find your Dad our postman & your mother ending up in the same street. I don’t remember if they were here just then, it’s a long time ago. But how small life is.
    Love now Kay

    1. Melinda J. Irvine Avatar
      Melinda J. Irvine

      Hi Kay, Dad and mum bought the house in late 1965 when they got engaged. Mum lived in the house and dad lived with his parents on their dairy farm until they got married in May 1966. I was born in 1968 and I remember David being a few years older than me. Mel xx

  2. […] Growing up listening to my father playing Slim Dusty I never fully appreciated his music until later in life. Slim grew up in a little town not half an hour from where I was born, and his childhood upbringing on a dairy farm in the war years is very similar to my father’s own story. […]

    1. Melinda J. Irvine Avatar
      Melinda J. Irvine

      Thanks Susan, dad was thrilled when I told him you’d read his poem.