Greg McLaren



Static crackles, the dial greasy with fingerprints,
curling between stations. The black empty road,
dark hills in shade, pale moon, the smell of invisible
livestock. You think of the white bones of cows
emerging from dark soil thatched with long grass,
or the curve of a skinny river. The radio picks up
a field of conversations from a town across
the horizon. The paddocks open out beneath the sun,
or the cicadas’ white noise crackles half in tune
with your bad reception and breaks up like a barcode.
The sun is always embedded in the chrome strip
between window and door, or the moon is.


Yellow Billy’s Cave

Each time the Abermain or Kurri Cubs and Scouts
headed out toward Broke Road for a picnic, hike
and a skinny-dip, someone’s father’d lead us

by memory off from the parked cars, through
the flat gully, to the entrance of Yellow Billy’s Cave:
that most poorly-remembered of bushrangers,

stalking the Watagans’ shade.
The cave’s fat lip, its mouth part closed- over,
thinner each couple of years, all grey dirt,

brown fern-fronds and lids of twist tops,
Orchy bottles, with holes cut in them. Jawbones
of cows surface, or are sinking, chewing soil

like a gritty cud. Yours is one winking cave
in a knotted string of them. I’ve forgotten
the name of your accomplice, the name

older boys seemed to know so well. On Google
I track you down as a "half-caste" hanger-on
of Frederick "Thunderbolt" Ward. Your story,

as we received it, is mixed up with the footsteps
and howls of yowies, haunted campsites, paper barks
peeling off sheets full of spiders, and with older kids

running around between the trees, flashing
their torchlights on and off late into the night.
Through the zip of a tent, I thought I once saw a boy

touch another boy’s chest. Wollombi Road is lined
with empty paddocks and houses at the mouths of gullies.
The take away shop by the roadside at Millfield

is dusted with sun and eucalypt haze. I would ring my father
to ask if the cave was still there. The entrance
there is soft and dank, footing unsure and muffled.



Greg McLaren lives in Sydney, where he works and writes. His two collections are the chapbooks Everything falls in (Vagabond, 2000) and Darkness disguised (SideWalk, 2002). Of ‘Yellow Billy’s Cave’, McLaren writes: “Yellow Billy was a bushranger in the 1860s who, depending on the sources, worked the territory between Wiseman’s Ferry northwest of Sydney, and as far north as past Tamworth. The yellow in his name refers to his mixed aboriginal and European (and perhaps Chinese) ancestry. He was a prominent figure in the oral history of the area around Cessnock when I was growing up there in the 1970s.”