Recently I had an inquiry on this website about an article I’d written some time ago, about the O’Reilly family of Green Mountains, an hour from where I live. Terence Egan wanted to know more about Norbert O’Reilly’s poem Cainbabel Creek.
The poem appears in Bernard O’Reilly’s Over the Hills; in Bernard’s own words: “The lines below were sent by my brother Norbert to the Kerry* girl he had hoped to marry. They were written in France and arrived in Australia weeks after the news of Norb’s death had come by cable”.
Like his brother Bernard, Norbert was a fine bushman and a man accustomed to tough challenges yet he possessed a poetic soul. How terrible it must have been to find himself amidst the mud and blood and pointless misery of trench warfare, so far from the green hills and valleys of Home. How poignant that he knew, as he wrote the following lines in August 1917, that he would never see that home again.
Today I often wander the banks of Cainbabel Creek and I never fail to think of Norbert.
(*The Kerry valley, between Beaudesert and the mountains where Cainbabel Creek rises)
Thoughts come to me as I wander
With a loose and dropping rein,
Thoughts of days gone by and ended
Flash into my mind again
When I rode in blissful silence
With a heart to full to speak
There was one who rode beside me,
By your banks, Cainbabel Creek.
Crooning streamlet full of beauty,
Banks of darkest emerald treen,
Tiny waterfalls that ripple
Over rocks with silken sheen
Fig-tree branches softly clustering,
Blending green of every shade
With a harmony more perfect
Than e’er human heart has made
And there rushes swiftly o’er me
Memory that is almost pain,
As there comes the fresh, damp perfume
Of those fig-tree boughs again.
Cainbabel, you’re watching dearest
Haunts me daily like a spell,
Calls me back again in spirit
To the spot I love so well.
Brings me back when I am weary
The peace of soul I vainly seek,
Though I never more shall see you
Peaceful, cool Cainbabel Creek.