Sweet Madeline

This true story was one day told to me by a mate, Clin Benson and I felt it reflected so dramatically the tragedies experienced by so many bush folk who have chosen to raise their children in an outback way of life. There are so many gravestones scattered through the bush, which if they could speak, could tell similar stories.

How the blistering heat of mid-summer beat down
turning sweet Mitchell grass in the paddocks near brown
while bush creatures sought shade, that’s if any be found,
‘mongst the foliage of trees or in holes underground.
And the galvanised roof of the homestead below
it just creaked and it groaned, oh so rhythmic’ly slow,
while the woman within carried on with her chores,
always checking her child should she wander outdoors.

There was so much to do ‘spite fine dust and parched heat,
with the muster now on she was run off her feet;
Though at times out of view, she could hear her child’s play,
for the echo of laughter revealed her okay.
It was but for a moment she left Madeline,
just to check on the bread which was rising and fine;
Then returned to her ironing, but sensed something wrong
and the feeling which gripped her was ever so strong.

Where there once had been laughter from Madeline’s play
there existed a silence, ’twas clear straight away,
and the poor frantic mother now cried out in fear,
“Oh where are you sweet Madeline? Answer me dear!”
Though her cries filled the air, as she looked everywhere,
her heart raced ‘neath her breasts as she screamed in despair;
till so utterly weak she collapsed to the ground,
for her sweet Madeline was nowhere to be found.

Her fatigued fem’nine frame barely heard the refrain
of the cattle’s loud bellows approaching the lane,
while behind them she knew was assistance at last
and her eyes through the dust t’wards her husband were cast.
As he saw her lay there with her face deathly white,
he had sensed straight away there was something not right,
so he cantered his mare to the spot where she lay,
but her small trembling lips found it hard what to say.

In his brown brawny arms she found solace from fear,
then she stammered the words, “It’s our Madeline dear!
she has vanished! Gone missing! Oh where can she be?
You must find her my love!” Came her desperate plea.
With the aid of the stockmen they searched high and low,
but no clue came to light, there was nothing to show
how the child could have vanished without any trace
and it puzzled them all; ’twas a mystery case.

With the sun going down they were near out of light
and locating the girl was just nowhere in sight;
Then her father declared they would send for old Ned;
a black tracker and ringer whose fame was wide spread.
The old man had a hut on the far side of town,
though a pensioner now, he knew Ned would come down,
as he’d worked on the place and he knew the girl well,
for the three year old child loved the stories he’d tell.

When the sun disappeared in the west with its light
the old bushman had Madeline’s tracks in his sight
and he followed the signs only his eye could see
till he came to a halt and bent down on his knee.
At the cattle yard rails her tracks ended for now
while Ned saw on the ground a fresh hide from a cow,
that the sweet young girl’s father had slaughtered for meat,
but to where the child was sure had Ned feeling beat.

On the hide lay a post, which was three meters long
and to Ned’s mindful eye he felt something was wrong,
so he lifted the post and then pulled back the hide,
which revealed a small body all curled up inside.
As Ned reached for the girl, a tear welled in his eye,
for it caught him off guard, he was not known to cry,
but the small lifeless form that he passed to her dad
made him weak in the gut and left shaking like mad.

At the inquest in town and old Ned by their side,
both would hear the sad story of how their child died.
It was Ned who’d establish her movements that day
from the last time her mum heard sweet Madeline play.
Seems she’d wandered outside and then out through the gate
to the place by the yard rails where she met her fate.
Then the innocent child saw the hide hanging there,
and in play she had tugged at the blanket of hair.

But the hide being green slithered down from the rail
and had trapped the young child in a gruesome, dark, jail,
then the three meter post, much to Madeline’s woe,
it had slid ‘long the top rail and caused the death blow.
Seems that time, the great healer, would fin’ly allow
to this couple a son, but they’d solemnly vow;
in their hearts they would cherish and firmly enshrine
all the mem’ries they’d shared with their sweet Madeline.

From the book Laughter & Tears from the Bush.

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8 replies on “Sweet Madeline”


You weave heart and soul into the story of Madeline.
What grand natural talent you have. I am so glad to
be reading the Bush Poet here at The Pub.



Waving hello to Chris. Hugs to both of you!!


Hi Merv

What a tragic tale told beautifully by your empathy and lyrical voice. I think when raising children in hardship areas, whether urban or desolate terrain, so many things can happen. How many times have children wandered out and become trapped in an impossible situation. Thank you for sharing this one, it moves the heart and definitely summons up those tears.

Thank you for sharing,
my best


Oh my. This one breaks the heart,
knowing it is a real.
The stories of life are filled with pages of
the good and the bad.
Moving and well told, Merv.

take care,


G’day Wendy. I remember writing this so well as I had tears in my eyes while doing it. An old softie I am. There are so many sad stories about little ones getting lost or coming to grief by accident and perishing in the outback.


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