[Editor: This poem by John O’Brien was published in The Parish of St Mel’s and Other Verses, 1954.]
The Bush P.P.*
With a wave of respect to the worthy three,
Archbishop, Archpriest, Archdeacon,
I give you the toast of the Bush P.P.
A leader of men, and a dignitary,
That is, in a manner of speakin’;
And it’s no offence to His Reverence,
(Such is far from this scribe’s intention)
To state here and now that in codicet†
The honourable rank of the Bush P.P.
Gets never the barest mention.
Still, he’s been in the Church for a century
Since he came in the days long over,
A lad from an Irish seminary
In a crazy ship on a tumbling sea
On the tracks of the lag and the rover.
And he took the stress of the loneliness,
And ne’er a complaint was spoken,
With the rough hard fare — salt junk and tea,
And often a bed ’neath a coolabahs-tree,
But he came through it all unbroken.
Now the city church is a joy to see
With the well-groomed crowds attending,
With the faithful packed in to capacity,
For the parish is as big as big can be —
Up above at the tram-stop ending.
But take a look at his census-book
And you’ll find that with Sabbath-breakers
And the Mission rake-in and the poor weak-knee
The scattered flock of the Bush P.P.
Is one to ten thousand acres.
Still he rounds them up with consistency
In his antediluvian flivver,
With a spade and an axe on the old T.T.
And St Christopher up, so the Bush P.P.
Sets out for the Darling River.
There away outback where the bushman’s track
Is a guess or a calculation
They reckon him one of the powers that be,
And it’s “Tom” and “Jack” to the Bush P.P.
No matter their creed or station.
Let them argue ad lib, and the tongues wag free,
Whenever the clergy gather,
But the super-guns of the Deanery
Are silenced all when the Bush P.P.
Shuts down on the banal blather;
With a wholesome awe for the Canon Law
And contempt for the wordy ranter,
When they high-falute with Theology
Or split the hairs, then the Bush P.P.
Is into his stride instanter
The cathedral’s filled, and the sanctuary
Is a blaze of aesthetic glory,
And the Bishop presides ’neath the canopy,
With his priests all there for the ceremony —
His Vicars and Monsignori.
Down the crowded aisles the cortege files
With a balanced and slow progression,
But no one asks for the absentee,
He’d be out of place would the Bush P.P.
In the ranks of the fine procession.
For it’s just such a day he has picked, d’you see?
With a thought-out miscalculation,
To roam around his constituency
On a matter of visitation
To his devotees, where he’s more at ease,
For he has learned to respect and love them.
The only link with their souls is he,
And he gathers the bush kids round his knee,
Where they learn there’s a God above them.
Through a hundred miles of immensity
Where the shadowy shapes bedizen
The grey mirage, and each twisted tree
Is a phantom ship on a mystic sea,
Hull down on a pale horizon;
In the lonely but from the big world shut
Where the angel of death is stealing,
A soul goes forth to its judge sin-free,
Oh, the blessing of God on the Bush P.P.
By the bunk on the earth floor kneeling.
* P.P.: Parish Priest.
† In the official Code of Canon Law.
John O’Brien. The Parish of St Mel’s and Other Verses, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1954
ad lib = ad libitum, Latin for “at one’s pleasure”; to speak without notes or without restraint, to improvise
antediluvian = before the Flood, from the Latin words “ante” (before) and “diluvium” (flood); something belonging to the Biblical pre-flood period
bedizen = to dress, decorate, or adorn in gaudy or showy manner
flivver = a dilapidated automobile; a cheap or battered car, usually an old one
instanter = immediately, without delay, urgently, at once, instantly (from the Latin “instans”)
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