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The Old Rusted Cross

All over the outback, old timers wander the tracks, looking for the end of their magical rainbow, with no care except their own privacy and seclusion. Here's the story of one of those Sundowners who found his rainbow's end-and how it happened.That's the outback stockman I met one dusty night. The night was oppressively hot in Tibooburra, and the people flocked to the film night, just to forget the awful heat, the dust, the flies, and the agony of it all.

Les Nixon's Gospel concert was the way out...

And the time came to end. Almost eleven. Suddenly, at the entrance to the CWA Hall entered-a bush stockman...in his 60's at least, bush hat, dungarees, and riding boots. Sweat made muddy rivers on his rugged
face. Oblivious of everyone else, he wandered to the front row, and took the only empty seat. Mine.

He fixed his eyes on my accordion and said: "Padre: Play my favourite Hymn"! It was a command.

Dutifully, I agreed, and asked him, "What is your favourite Hymn, old timer?" Every one else was as curious as I. Who was this stranger? "What's your favourite Hymn, and if I know it, I'll play it; and if I don't—you'll sing it, eh?!"

He smiled wryly. Only then he realised he was not alone in the place. "Is it, 'Onward Christian Soldiers'? 'The Church's One Foundation'? Is it 'Wonderful Words of Life'? ' When we all get to heaven'? What is it?"

"Well, to tell you the truth, I forget'" he replied dryly. He'd truly forgotten, but, the memory of it lingered on. He truly wanted to hear his favourite hymn.

Sleepy children came awake. Restless adults sat on the edge of their chairs? Who was this stranger with a rare request from the bush? "There's many a good tune played on an old fiddle."

In a rare moment of musical brilliance, I felt for a tune on the keys of the accordion I still had strung over my shoulders: It went like this: MMM MMM MMM -MMM MMM MMM MMm-Mm MMMM.

He smiled in recognition and sang: "... till my trophies at last I lay down." He tried to join in: "I will cling to the old rusted Cross, la da da dda ddaaa ddaaaaddasss...."

Les with his accordian

"I think I know it", he said: "That's the One. It's called, 'THE OLD RUSTED CROSS'."

"Well, the one I know is different. Don't think I know the Old Rusted Cross-but the song I think you mean-the one we all know is called, 'THE OLD RUGGED CROSS'."

That was it, and it was his favourite. Overlooked for years, but never really forgotten. An hour later, after he sung it right through, and remembered what it truly said, he prayed a simple prayer of repentance.

A year later he died.

Two years later I stood at his grave in Tibooburra and heard Mrs. Kelly declare that he was the best man in the west after that night in the CWA when he called out for the 'OLD RUSTED CROSS'. That's the bush stockman who realised that...

"The great enemy of faith in God is the one who says God is alive and then acts as if He were dead".

Erected above his crude grave in an outback cemetery stands this graphic symbol of the song that brought this man to Jesus Christ.

The old rusted cross

During a flying patrol outback in July, 2003, I was able to retell this story to a group of outback men around a camp fire on a bitterly cold night near the town of Goodooga, NSW. Men had driven for 40klm around to be there. It's a men's prayer meeting, and it's on every second Saturday night.

Someone asked if anyone knew how to sing "The Old Rugged Cross," so Phil Mitchell dragged out his weathered old accordion, and if you can imagine it, a bunch of old timer bush men tried to grind their way through a couple of verses of the song. It may have lacked musical dexterity and choral polish, but it sounded heavenly to me. Then, we all sat and stared into the burning flames of the fire while we considered the words we'd just been singing.

After five minutes of that kind of respectful silence, I asked if I could tell them my story of "The Old Rusted Cross." It sparked interest, and they agreed. I repeated the story just as it's told in the text in this account, including the bit about the old rusted cross erected on the gravesite at Tibooburra in the far west of New South Wales. Several men expressed deep interest in the event and showed a keener display of their faith in Jesus Christ. Seemed The Old Rusted Cross did it's special work again.

Next morning one of the men at last night's BBQ fire confronted me in town. It was 7am, and I was reading yesterday's newspaper at the shop. He commented, "That was me in that story last night, too. I left my family but that Rusted Cross would not let me go too. I moved a thousand miles, but the Rusted Cross followed me all the way. I drowned my memories in Opal mining, and when I hit a seam, I thought I'd eventually escaped. But last night, it all returned. The song, my family, the memories, the church. "So I settled it in my hut. I got on my knees and cried my way back to The Old Rugged Cross, and started all over again. Thank God for the old stockmen at Tibooburra who could not forget. He saved my life. I'm on my way to the 8am service at Church, and I can't wait to get it right with them, too.

A week later, after we'd flown to a dozen other outback towns for schools and meetings, and at dusk on Friday August 1st, 2003, as we banked over the township of Tibooburra, heading toward the airstrip, passenger Peter in the right front seat of the Cessna looked down, and remarked loudly for all to hear, "There's the town's cemetery. I think I can still see The Old Rusted Cross."

So, The Old Rusted Cross continues to live on and on....

Les Nixon

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