Eternity – Don Walker

There isn’t, unfortunately, a clip of Don Walker’s epic song about trying, and failing, to hitch a lift out of Queensland mining town Mt Isa.

With an oblique nod to the Aldous Huxley’s mystical novel ‘Eyeless in Gaza’ (or perhaps to John Milton’s poem Samson Agonistes, in which that phrase first appeared) Walker’s song is called ‘Carless in Isa’.  Love it.

If anyone has done any hitching, he captures a sense of the waiting, the longueurs, drawling out the sense of an approaching car as it, and hope of a lift, arrives and then passes.. “I’ve been heeerrre………….fr’ever.”

This one, though, delves even deeper. It has been nearly 20 years since I have been hitch hiking: most of it was done at a time of inward as well as outward searching.

And ‘Eternity’ catches this feeling so accurately it hurts:

The withered skin on my hand was lined
 Like a map of the land I´d left behind alone  
A drifter and a pharisee 

On a highway straighter than the barrel of eternity.”

The song goes on to talk of being picked up by a driver of “a long black car” who calls his name…and the narrator recognises the driver, and his diseases, and how, “ you ate up the seed corn
All this side of the Sambatyon River,
How the cattle died
How the pain o’ your fever
Spread across the moon like a thunderhead
Like a lost will,
A hole in the law,

Split the stone o’ the cathedral floor.”

It is eerie and evocative – and for those who do not know, the Sambatyon is the legendary river over which 10 of the 12 tribes of Israel disappeared.

It then becomes hallucinatory, spinning out the images like a Biblical Yeats….

“I’m hookin my thumb
Round a well sucked bottle of Inner Circle rum
And I’m handin it over
He’s whackin it down
His old man’s Adam’s apple’s jumpin around
Kickin at a rope-burn under his chin
And I’m lookin at the sky like a sheeta hot tin
And I’m feeling so sick in the head
An’ I fall to one knee,Then another
An’ all that I can see
Is a highway straighter than the barrel of eternity…

Long ago, and far away
I opened my eyes and attempted to pray
I opened my eyes on a land as frozen
Cold as the hole where Jesus rose
And I layAnd wondered if he died for me

On a highway straighter than the barrel of eternity…”

I still often dream I am out on a road, somewhere, nothing happening: just the tarmac’s flat upward radiating heat and smell, the white noise of the approaching vehicles and the vast flatness of notorious hitchers traps like Sanson, Murchison or PioPio.

Walker is most famous as the guy who wrote most of Aussie band Cold Chisel’s songs: – ‘Flame Trees’, ‘Khe Sanh’ ‘Cheap Wine’, and a personal favourite (also about hitch hiking) ‘Houndog’ are all his.

A few years back he wrote a great, if idiosyncratic, memoir, ‘Shots’.  I’ll return to that another time: all I’ll say now is it takes a chapter or two to get the rhythm of the writing (Walker is very stream-of-conscious at times) but its worth the effort.

Don Walker appeared last night in Auckland and is appearing tomorrow night in Leigh. I can’t make it there, to my deep regret.

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