Old Bill’s Regret

Old Bill’s Regret

By Robyn Sykes

Published in the Bronze Swagman 2012  and Voices of the Fire


Handing on the family farm can be fraught with difficulty.

Handing on the family farm can be fraught with difficulty. Illustration by Yvette Gilroy.


Bill’s face was a diary dusty with drought,

his farm was in danger, his debt had blown out.

He’d bought out his brothers, paid such a high price,

the bank had extended his overdraft, twice.


Could Bill and his wife save their family farm?

If Jim took the debt he could save them from harm.

Their son, he was keen, he had wool in his blood,

he knew he could handle the cows in a flood.


He rolled up his sleeves, set to work the same day,

with fencing and shearing and raking up hay.

For ten years he laboured, sustained by the thought

of signing the deeds that his labour had bought.


He paid the last dollar and said to his Dad,

“I’ve paid off a million, I’m sure you’ll be glad

we worked in together, and now you’ll agree,

unburdened by debt the farm passes to me.”


“No that can’t be right, you can go ask your mum,

the farm’s not all yours, ‘cause your brother wants some.”

“We bought him a house and a business,” Jim said.

Don’t split up the farm, give him town things instead.”


“It’s my farm,” Bill thundered. “You go take a hike,

I’ll bloody well leave it however I like.

I don’t give a toss if Tom plays hard in town,

You’ve had your chance here, now it’s time to back down.


“Tom dreams about farming, he thinks it’s a snack,

he plans to get rich without breaking his back.”

In vain young Jim pleaded, “I love this brown land.

Don’t turf me off now with a wave of your hand.”


Should Jim go to court? He was sure he would win…

but what would it cost him… in dollars or sin?

Does ‘honour thy parents’ apply if they’re wrong?

Can promises really be sold for a song?


The farm was split up and it soon became clear

they’d all come out badly, had plenty to fear.

Tom cracked under pressure, hard work and no rain;

sold out to a neighbour, hit Sydney again.


Jim pined for his farm, nearly took his own life,

but guarding the trigger with love was his wife:

“We’ll make a fresh start; for the sake of our health

let’s pick ourselves up and forget our lost wealth.


“Pretend we feel fabulous – one day we will;

a bloke down the road”, Sue said, “wants your great skill.

we’ve still got our kids, and we’ve still got our love,

together we’ll manage, trust Jesus above.


“We’re honest and work hard, we’ll soon be all right,

and one day stop fretting and tossing all night.

We’ll hold our heads high, they may take back our land;

they can’t take our honour, we know where we stand.”


But Bill’s heart was broken, his dreams turned to dust.

With family shattered, a cyclonic gust

of discernment brought guilt and pure shame for the pride

that clouded his vision, let fear be his guide.


But Jim’s heart was big, couldn’t stand his Dad’s pain;

the old man lay dying, one wish in his brain.

Jim held out his arms and old Bill dropped a tear,

said “Son, I am sorry” and held his boy near.


Life’s greater than farming, it’s larger than land;

much more than mere livestock, such castles of sand;

it’s finer than silver, so easily sold;

Life’s all about love, far more precious than gold.