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Overcrowded Quarters
Invalid Barracks, New Norfolk, 1848

All capable men to be moved
to Impression Bay Probation Station.
Be ready to leave at first light.
Refuse, and you fend for yourselves
beyond locked gates.

Thirteen years I bin sharin
wiv convicts and duffers.
I will not leave.

Impression Bay.
Hellhole I calls it:
men sick wiv fevers,
maimed or graveyard old,
all forced to work.

I served the fourteen year
and earnt me freedom
at nearby Saltwater River,
minin and cartin coal.

Impression Bay:
the name chills me blood,
triggers the throbbin of scars
from them brutish leg-irons,
drives me near to madness.

I hears me name: John Cardwell.
Send me back? I be eighty-seven,
lame. And blind.

Yet capable, say the officer,
able to reason.
Only the lunatics will stay.

A cruel word, lunatic.
I know each one by is voice and touch.
Me helpers, me eyes. Good duffers –
they sun me days.
I will not leave.

But reason say: Old man,
ye cannot rail agin the order.
How could ye survive
eyeless, beyond the gates?

Be ready wiv bowl and blanket.
Go where they send thee.

Liz McQuilkin lives in Hobart. Her first collection is The Nonchalant Garden (Walleah Press, 2014). She has been published in various Australian journals and anthologies. Currently she’s working on a manuscript of poems about the former asylum at New Norfolk, Tasmania, in collaboration with poet Karen Knight.