In Tom Price I wasn’t the town drunk;

I was one of dozens fighting for that title.

Not all in the same division:

call me a contender in the welterweights.

And sometimes after a hard bout in the Animal Bar,

When the VB cans had been getting through my defences,

I’d throw in the towel and wander home

beneath the velvet desert sky and stars like shards of ice.

And the park bench by the big aviary, or maybe

the old gum tree by the library, would look at me

and say “Alec, mate, you just got hammered.

What you need is a bit of a sit down and a rest.”

And I’d take the advice and sit down for a while

to let the world stop spinning.  And next thing I knew

(if it wasn’t the dawn corellas going apeshit in the trees)

there’d be a flashlight in my eyes.

“Jesus, Alec, you again.  Come on, on your feet, son.

Let’s get you home.  SCU 23 isn’t it?”

And they’d prop me up and get me to the police Landcruiser

and drive me the 400 metres to the single men’s quarters.

“Don’t you spew in here Alec, you spew in here

And so help me you’ll clean it up with your tongue!”

And I’d fumble the key into my door; they’d say “See ya mate.”

And that’d be it.  Good blokes, on the whole.

                        *          *          *

You didn’t often see Aborigines in Tom Price;

something about it being Sickness Country, so people said.

But anyway, a family drove in, in an elderly Holden;

red dust holding the red rust together.

And people didn’t quite stare; more flicked their eyes

and then away – you’d hardly notice if you weren’t looking for it.

The big lady in the faded floral dress noticed alright.  She stood up proud,

gathered the kids, and marched them into the Farmers store.

Got the trolley, put the fat grinning bub in the seat,

wiped his nose, and set off shopping.  But the old bloke (check shirt, stubbies,

RM Williams boots gone out at the sides, thin as a rake and twice as hard)

he headed for the pub to wash 300 Kay’s of bulldust from his throat.

And a couple of hours later I saw him under the big gum tree by the library.

Akubra over his face, a can of VB beside him.  Snoring quietly.

“Hello brother, you and me both, eh?” I thought, as I raked up leaves around him,

and I figured his missus would come and get him, and give him hell for drinking the cheque.

                        *          *          *

The Police ute pulled up and they got out.

The good blokes who helped me home.

No words spoken; a quiet nod.  Picked the old feller up

and threw him in the back of the ute, like a cockie with a dead sheep.

I heard him slam against the steel.

I heard his boots rattle against the weld-mesh cage.

I heard him groan, and call out something I couldn’t catch.

And I did nothing.

I watched the ute head north.

Not south to the lockup.

North to the road out of town.

And I did nothing.

I’ve never found out what they did with him.

You don’t go asking awkward questions of small-town country coppers.

Do you?  I didn’t.

I said nothing.

Oh God, I hope they only dropped him 20 Kays from town, “to teach him a lesson”.

They would have left him, wouldn’t they?  Oh God, I hope they left him.

I hope at least they left him in one piece.

Because I did nothing.

I never saw the rusty Holden leave town – it was shift-end,

and time for the Animal Bar, and another 15 round stoush with the VB.

And a bloke said “Did you see the coppers sort that boong out?”

And I said nothing.

Sometimes I wonder if I could have done anything; anything, just something.

But I did nothing, and when next the coppers helped me home I was suitably grateful.

And one of them said “You know, Alec, you’ve been giving the grog a bit of a nudge lately,

Don’t you think you should do something?” And I just grinned and I said nothing.

Nothing at all.