Green Merriman

A story from the early days of the O'Reillys, one of the pioneering families in the Kanimbla Valley in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney. The family later moved to Queensland, and the descendants now operate O'Reilly's Guesthouse by Lamington National Park. Shane O'Reilly gave his approval for this version of the story.

In south Kanimbla Valley some one hundred years ago
Was winter time, with sadness in the air;
The mountain peaks were covered in a fine and powdered snow,
But colder still, a pall of grief hung there.

Two weeks before there had been joy: O'Reilly twins were born
To Jane and Peter in their slab abode,
And neighbours came quite frequently on valley tracks well worn
Groups came by dray, and others singly, rode.

Bush mothers came and brought their gifts, as only such folk do,
And all took turns providing needed care.
And menfolk, old and young, turned up to see the new twins too,
Pretending they might also help somewhere.

Then Jane was getting stronger, Mrs Ryan had gone back:
She'd been a midwife, helper and a friend.
So she returned to home up Marsden Creek's old valley track,
Her pressing duties had come to their end.

But suddenly, as such things do, one little one fell ill
Was obvious that death was almost nigh,
And father, so distracted, rode to Lithgow through the chill
To find a doctor ere his child should die.

With flying flints and flecks of foam, as if his heart would burst,
The gallant horse ne'er slackened from full speed,
'Cross miles of rugged country, never stopped to slake his thirst,
As if he knew his master's desperate need.

'Twas all in vain, that tearful ride, for death had come to strike
And all too soon had closed life's envelope.
There, joy for one was joy for all, and sadness shared alike,
So neighbours came with comfort, but no hope.

And Tom, a lad of just sixteen, the family's older brother
Now rose to unexpected manly heights
And took responsibility, relieved his grieving mother
Administered Veronica's last rites.

There was no holy water there, and no baptismal oil,
But lack could not provide another sting,
For God himself provided, out of nature's virgin soil,
Cool water from the Long Swamp gully spring.

And so the mothers came again as they had come before;
With fresh killed chooks, fresh bread and little cakes.
The grief they shared was just as if it was their own they bore
For they all knew the hurting of heartaches.

And men came too; they silently hitched horses to the rail
And set about each necessary task.
For never in that valley was a neighbour known to fail,
They each knew what to do, no need to ask.

The cemetery at Lowther was a good eight miles away,
But mother still would have her baby near.
The little one was buried there by Merriman that day
That ridge past Walker's Flat was always clear.

The springs nearby kept that ridge green, and even through a drought
The rose that mother planted bloomed so fine;
And from the homestead window she would frequently look out
And see, in that red rose, a living sign.

The younger children showed no sadness there in after years:
Veronica to them was still a friend.
They brought her flowers from all their jaunts, and with their childish cheers,
They talked to her when they had time to spend.

Some say to lose an only child is worse than one of many
But Jane O'Reilly grieved as mothers can,
And right until her dying day she grieved as much as any
For one at rest there on green Merriman.

© Tom Chapman 2007