This poem traces the thoughts of a soldier caught up in war as he ponders his childhood experiences, his current circumstances and how all of that has combined or conflicted to shape his future outlook on life.
Growing up prior to the 1960s was in stark contrast to what young people experience today. Back then, even in suburbia, most children (and adults for that matter) spent the majority of their free daylight hours outdoors. Such an existence, I would suggest, provided a broad-based healthier platform for physical, psychological and social development.
War is never a glorious thing and so obstinate indulgence in the maintenance of ‘sacred cows’ can only perpetuate those follies of past mistakes. The ‘warts and all’ associated with the events and personalities involved in any war, should be faced and discussed if lessons are to be learned and if complete healing is ever to be achieved, or at least approached. The follies of Hamilton, Haig, Gough, Churchill, Blamey, MacArthur and countless other military leaders, politicians and high public servants throughout the conduct of early 20th century wars are now well documented. The real follies of Vietnam are coming slowly to light.
♪♪ Get a little dirt ... on your hands ... boy!
Get a little dirt ... on your hands! …
If ya gonna grow up ... to be a big, big man,
You gotta ... get a little dirt on your hands! ♪♪
- from the song Get a Little Dirt On Your Hands by The Delltones, 1963.
In my young mind,
I was nearly all the time,
Drivin’ trucks or pretend steam trains;
In a local park,
Out till almost dark,
I was always there playing games.
Flying home-made kites,
Repairing rusty old bikes,
Or building castles on shifting sands;
Having constant fun,
Rain, hail or sun,
Seemed I often had dirt on my hands.
During boyhood days,
A sometimes foggy haze,
Cricket ’twas played out in the street;
Clumsy attempts to score,
With some girl next door,
Caught yabbies in a nearby creek.
Rarely stayed indoors,
Pocket-money for chores,
Bottles scrounged from garbage cans;
Smokey ‘Cracker Nights’
And school yard fights,
A bloody nose and some dirt on my hands.
Slippery-dips and swings,
And insect stings,
Sailing ‘boats’ down stormwater drains;
With waxed lino floors,
Odd corner-shop stores,
Roads too narrow for double lanes.
Teachers’ regimented rules,
Sometimes wagging schools,
‘Double deckers’ and Bondi trams;
The ‘Bottle-0’s’ horse ‘n’ cart,
Dad’s car’s crank-up start,
So drivers had dirt on their hands.
Hunting bird-nest eggs,
Scratches down our legs,
Chooks and ducks in a backyard pen;
Various fruit trees grew,
And choko vines too,
And ‘black-outs’ quite common then.
Grease, oil and grime,
No neighbourhood crime,
Whittled catapults with rubber bands;
Some things we just ‘nicked’,
Got our rear-ends kicked,
Kids often got dirt on their hands.
Meccano and crystal sets,
A scrubbing board, a ‘copper’, clothes’ props;
Trix and Sunlight soap,
Mum survived on hope,
And odd visit from Nanna and Pops.
Each Christmas time,
Our tree painted with lime,
Melting wax to seal bottles of jams;
Bloody chopping block scene,
Headless fowls to clean,
All reasons for the dirt on our hands.
Bottle tops and ‘cig’ cards,
Games out in schoolyards,
Warm sour milk we were forced to drink;
Pen-nibs and ink-wells,
Cranky classroom yells,
Mainly by rote we were taught to think.
Avoiding short-term pain,
When you’d get the cane,
(Before corporal punishment bans!)
Hair oil rubbed in,
To grease your fingers’ skin,
A frequent cause for our dirty hands.
On any rainy days,
There were always ways,
Preventing most kids getting bored;
Fiddle-sticks was one,
French knitting for some,
Whilst hop-scotch all the boys ignored.
Mulberry stains once again,
Riding the country train,
A fun time on the farm at Nan’s;
Maybe up on a horse,
Swim in dams of course,
Where we’d wash all the dirt off our hands.
Marbles and yo-yo’s,
Drive-in movie shows,
An old ice chest kept some things cool;
With gloves and a hat,
All the girls wore that,
Bible stories told at Sunday School.
Families pulled their weight,
No Nursing Home fate,
In those days before metres and grams;
Now we weigh such cost,
Measure values long lost,
And can’t wash the dirt from our hands.
Held all of the keys,
To whatever I wanted to be;
Read in some book,
Of a hero or crook,
Or a pirate on a ship out at sea.
‘Jolly Roger’ and sword,
Odd flogging on board,
Treasures plundered from faraway lands;
Even in dreams,
It would appear, so it seems,
’Tis hard to not get dirt on your hands.
Church bells would ring,
And the baker would bring,
Fresh bread every day to our door;
The milkman came too,
Postman’s whistle blew,
Life was simple ’cause most were poor.
With no backyard pool,
Just southerlies to cool,
Or garden hoses and electric fans;
Lots of lawn to mow,
Various ‘vegies’ to grow,
Seemed you always had dirt on your hands.
And cubby-house hides,
Fireside stories that we each made up;
A report card poor,
We’d promise much more,
On the wireless was the Davis Cup.
Forbidden sneaky sips,
Nicotined finger tips,
Checked out all the latest brands;
Ran risky orchard raids,
You often had some dirt on your hands.
Tarzan and Jane,
Mickey Mouse, John Wayne,
Saturday ‘arvo’ at the local ‘flicks’;
Lots of wild noise,
Screaming girls and boys,
Pretence in war games to get our kicks.
Climbed Jacaranda trees,
Learned about ‘birds and the bees’,
Yelled out from the football stands;
All through my teens,
Frequent filthy grubby scenes,
’Twas hard to keep dirt off your hands.
The Easter Show,
Saved for months to go,
To Luna Park in a train there and back;
Or Taronga Zoo,
Milkbars and pin-balls too,
Juke-box songs played for just a ‘zac’.
Six o’clock swill,
Dad often came home ill,
So then Mum would go and stay at Gran’s;
He’d say: “Ya know what son?
She’s Number One!”
Yet, sometimes men get dirt on their hands!
Stubble on my chin,
‘Zits’ even then weren’t ‘in’,
Unlike Brylcream and net T-shirts;
Knew each rock ‘n’ roll band,
Idols on Bandstand,
And all the girls wore mini-skirts.
Royal and Right,
Favourite colour ‘White’,
Didn’t know about Bob’s secret plans;
Young men started dying,
With old men lying,
Who got a lot of dirt on their hands.
I turned twenty you see,
With no vote for me,
I ended up there, overseas;
They’d said: “We need you boy,
To show Hanoi,
Go and fight for the Vietnamese!”
And in that filthy war,
There was blood and ‘mud’ galore,
Yet, there’s something no veteran understands;
’Cause when back home we came,
We copped the blame,
For having a lot of dirt on our hands.
And there’ll come a day,
When I’m old and grey,
Looking back upon all those years;
The good times we all had,
How they soon went bad,
And my eyes will well-up with tears.
I’ll remember when,
Many fine young men,
Were killed ‘for what?’, in foreign lands;
Yet, I now know why,
All those who still deny,
Will never wash that dirt off their hands.