Ode to Weary Dunlop

I used to amble, I used to ankle, I'd hopscotch along.
I'd bop, I'd diddly-bop, I'd pad, I'd percolate through the throng.
In the disco, in the bistro, I'd get on shanks' pony,
and traipse it all night long.
And now it's the hesitation waltz, the blind bat foxtrot,
the yearning saunter, the excuse me after dark.
The shamble shanks, the slow bandy legs,
the disconsolate gesture is no walk in the park.
I can no longer yomp across shifting sands
as a riptide tugs quick at my heels,
I'm on the wagon, I'm on the shelf,
I'm looking forward to meals on wheels.
But to tramp and never tire of it,
breathing in jungle's penumbra at dusk,
like that colossus of rutted roads,
that Australian in his slouch hat,
with his remnant of juggernaut army,
that life-saving surgeon in charge
with his wry grin and his sloping brim.
To walk and never tire of it,
as Weary Dunlop never did,
his guidance an airstrip
in the jungle of the mind.
And so I stagger after never-weary Weary,
who had sandals made of old tyres,
and carried that scorched earth smell of War,
drifting our way with the whirring
of propellers and flying boat drone.
There were the Japs, and the other chaps,
up on the screen, with bayonets waved around,
P.O.W. camp barbed wire, David Niven with his frown.
Those feature flicks we watched agog,
before we played it out again on the rifle range
abandoned at the back of the Air Force base,
the sky dead calm with that heat haze,
as men went past in jeeps and sun-baked khaki.
When black and white ran in reverse,
divers burst out of the water backward,
arcing through air onto the springboard
of an amazingly blue swimming pool.
So here's to us now, soft tyres around the waist,
afloat on the vast white sarcophagi of cruise ships,
backpedalling through Asia in the slack season,
looking for the old Burma Railway
and finding the well-paved boulevard.
Things have changed for the better,
gone the forced march, the flogged march,
the sack race march, the dead march,
across an acreage of broken pedestals,
tireless as the ghost of Weary Dunlop,
whose men once shuffled forward
with the sad wallow of tyres gone flat.

David Eggleton

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