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Poetry Pleases: The Pepper Tree

But still the pepper waved its green fronds gaily,
Though breezes stirring them were hot and dry...

Elaine Lawton tells a rhyming tale of a tree that became a shrubbery.

We had a pepper tree that grew and flourished
Close by the house I lived in as a child.
Perhaps the hens it sheltered kept it nourished,
For certainly its growth was lush and wild.

Umbrella from the burning sun in summer,
A splash of green when other plantings failed,
Exotic, it had been an early comer
To country where the mallee tree prevailed.

Adapted as it was to harsh conditions,
Its drought-resistant features understood,
It shaded townships, farms and inland missions
Far better than the frailer species could.

A drought had breathed its fire across the mallee,
The wheat crops shrivelled in the cruel glare,
The grass was bleached on hilltop, plain and valley,
Heat pressed on heat, the only crop despair.

But still the pepper waved its green fronds gaily,
Though breezes stirring them were hot and dry;
A welcome shade was spread beneath it daily
To mitigate the heat for passers-by.

And dust pervaded all the atmosphere
Whenever it was raised by passing breeze;
The sky was hazed with dust and seldom clear
And willy willies corkscrewed through the trees.

The dust storms came and went in quick succession,
A part of life the settlers learned to ride,
But one stood out in all that dark progression:
The "big blackout" was heard of far and wide.

The once-familiar skyline wont to greet us
Had been replaced by towering clouds, red-brown
And rolling, surging, spreading out to meet us,
Hiding the sun behind their soaring crown.

Until the first grains stung our legs and faces
We stayed to watch this awesome, novel sight
Then fled inside to take up vantage places
At windows, while our mother made a light.

The eerie silence gone, wind shrieked and hammered,
Sand spat, malicious, scratching at the pane,
Shadows ran, red and purple, thunder clamoured,
A sudden lull preceded drumming rain.

And through the rain a pungent fragrance drifted:
Our mother sniffed, "I smell crushed pepper leaves",
So, when the dust had settled, clouds had rifted,
We ventured to confirm what we believed.

The pepper tree lay where it had subsided,
Uprooted base a mass of parted strands.
In three main sections now it lay divided,
Surrounded by its crushed, bedraggled fronds.

We had a pepper tree that persevered
In three main sections, alcoves in between,
Its cool, green shade still offered, still revered,
A shrubbery where once a tree had been.


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