I'll  Sleep  When  I'm  Dead

Joe  Devlin  (1945-1974)

Video clip courtesy of You-Tube

​        Joe Devlin, cousin of Australian champion golfer Bruce Devlin, was the quintessential ‘lay-back’, laconic Australian Digger. For Joe, life was to be lived to the full and even Conscription (‘National Service’) could not dampen this enthusiasm. He always saw the humour in things that others could not, even when he was ‘in trouble’, and that was quite often. Joe embodied fully the legendary philosophy of egalitarianism, so entrenched in the psyche of Australians generally, originating from those Gallipoli days and before. He had an unbending contempt for those who thought of themselves as ‘superior’. Consequently, he often fell foul of military protocol. He died in a road accident in 1974 whilst driving his semi-trailer on the Hume Highway, south of Sydney.
      It was on a lonely Gun picket one night, whilst looking into the ‘nothingness’, when Joe was in one of his many deep philosophical moods (just like a typical taxi-driver who has all the answers to society’s problems). He got me to promise (in whispers of course) that one day when we got home, I would put pen to paper and let all those ‘bastards back there’ know just what it was like ‘over here’ in the ‘weeds’ and expose some of the ‘crap’ with which we were all forced to endure. That conversation remained with me in the back of my mind for 30 odd years and became the nucleus, in part, to inspire me to write this collection of poems.

                                         ♪♪ Till I’m ... six feet under Baby ... I don’t need a bed! ...
                                           Gonna live while I’m alive! ... I’ll sleep when I’m dead!                                                                                      So roll me over ... I gotta clear my head! ...  
                                                                                                           Gonna live while I’m alive ... then sleep when I’m dead! ♪♪

                                                                                       -   Bon Jovi from the song Sleep When I’m Dead, 1986. 

                                             ♪♪ Hey Hey, My My ... It’s better to burn out, than it is to rust! ♪♪                                                                                                                                                                                                         -  Neil Young

I'll  Sleep  When  I'm  Dead

​With an M.60 gun,
My mate Joe, he was one,
Whom I recall and those words that he said:
“These little pills that I take,
Help me to stay wide awake,
And I can always sleep when I’m dead!” 

And whilst out on parade,
Little effort he made,
His clothes were always a mess;
Black boots scuffed and unclean,
Brass reflected no sheen,
It seemed that Joe just couldn’t care less! 

When on an ‘op’, he would swap,
Replace the whole damn lot,
Cans of food for ones full of beer;
And yet awake he’d not keep,
Always falling asleep,
Never completed a picket all year! 

So life for this bloke,
’Twas a bit of a joke,
To be lived to the full, his ambition;
Like when Joe was rewarded,
Since leave was awarded,
For voluntary circumcision. 

Five days in Vung Tau,
Still no girls anyhow,
No ‘excitement’ for Joe in this case;
He just said: “Xin loi!”
Being too sore to enjoy,
Any ‘special delights’ from that place. 

And it took quite awhile,
To regain his lost smile,
When he returned to us out on patrol;
Where, in arrowhead style,
Or in just single file,
Being alert ’twas every man’s role. 

Open ground up ahead,
Through ‘rubber’ I led,
All like phantoms, making barely a sound;
Mossies stealing our blood,
G.P.s sucking up mud,
Fresh footprints had been seen on the ground.

Moving slow, very quiet,
Keeping it tight,
Guerrilla bands just recently detected;
Possibly courting a fight,
Though preferring the night,
An attack on our base was expected. 

Clutching his M.60 gun,
Stepping up over a bund,
Joe found himself at the wrong time and place;
Blinded by the sun’s bright light?
Or lack of sleep in the night?
A few leaves on a branch brushed his face. 

Suddenly, he just ran,
Like a half-crazy man,
Buck-jumping and hopping all around;
For Joe, ’twas no fun,
Throwing his webbing and gun,
Down onto the plantation’s wet ground. 

A weaved nest hanging low,
As all infantrymen know,
Contains thousands of vicious red ants;
It instantly split,
On his head where it hit,
Contents crawling inside shirt and his pants. 

With bites Joe was covered,
Although he quickly recovered,
Even managed to survive through that war;
And when ’twas all done,
Back to his inter-state run,
A position he had held long before. 

Yet, the ‘helpers’ he’d take,
Led to a fatal mistake,
On a timetable too deadly to keep;
Having mixed them with rain,
Driven a loaded ‘road train’,
Plenty of time now to catch up lost sleep. 

Now I often recall,
Quite clearly them all,
Joe's words echo, in the back of my head:
“These little pills that I take,
Help me to stay wide awake,
And I can always sleep when I’m dead!”