Henry Lawson was born in rural New South Wales in 1867, moved to Sydney and later travelled to both Britain and New Zealand. He lapsed into alcoholism in his later years, and was given a state funeral when he died in 1922, as befitted a man seen by many as Australia's national poet.
The poems selected here give a feel for the Australia that many Australians still believe in, though like America's Wild West, it has been gone for the best part of a hundred years.
Lawson’s poems are spread over three separate titles – this one, and also HENRY LAWSON POEMS -- PART I and HENRY LAWSON POEMS -- PART II.
The poems are in alphabetical order, with 10 poems in this PART III title. Clicking on any link below will take you directly to that poem.
PART I goes from Andy’s Gone With Cattle to Saint Peter.
PART II goes from The Ballard of the Drover to the Never-Never Land.
It was built of bark and poles, and the roof was full of holes
Where each leak in rainy weather made a pool;
And the walls were mostly cracks lined with calico and sacks-
There was little need for windows in the school.
Then we rode to school and back by the rugged gully-track,
On the old grey horse that carried three or four;
And he looked so very wise that he lit the Master's eyes
Every time he put his head in at the door.
(He had run with Cobb and Co. - "That grey leader, let him go!"
There were men "as knowed the brand upon his hide",
And "as knowed it on the course". - Funeral service: "Good old horse !"
When we burnt him in the gully where he died.)
Kevin was the Master's name. 'Twas from Ireland that he came,
Where the tanks are full all summer, and feed is simply grand;
And the joker then in vogue said his lessons wid a brogue-
'Twas unconscious imitation, let the reader understand.
And we learnt the world in scraps from some ancient dingy maps
Long discarded by the public-schools in town;
And as nearly every book dated back to Captain Cook
Our geography was somewhat upside-down.
It was "in the book" and so - well, at that we'd let it go,
For we never would believe that print could lie;
And we all learnt pretty soon that when school came out at noon
"The sun is in the south part of the sky."
And Ireland! that was known from the coast-line to Athlone,
But little of the land that gave us birth;
Save that Captain Cook was killed (and was very likely grilled)
And "our blacks are just the lowest race on earth".
And a woodcut, in its place, of the same degraded race,
Seemed a lot more like camels than the blackmen that we knew;
Jimmy Bullock, with the rest, scratched his head and gave it best;
But he couldn't stick a bobtailed kangaroo !
Now the old bark school is gone, and the spot it stood upon
Is a cattle-camp where curlews' cries are heard;
There's a brick school on the flat - an old schoolmate teaches that,
It was built when Mr. Kevin was "transferred".
But the old school comes again with exchanges 'cross the plain-
With the Out-Back Advertiser my fancy roams at large
When I read of passing stock, of a western mob or flock,
With James Bullock, Grey, or Henry Dale in charge.
And I think how Jimmy went from the old bark school content,
"Eddicated", with his packhorse after him;
Well . . . perhaps if I were back I would follow in his track,
And let Kevin "finish" me as he did Jim.
The world has had enough of bards who wish that they were dead,
Tis time, the people passed a law to knock 'em on the head,
For 'twould be lovely if their friends could grant the rest they crave -
Those bards Of "tears" and "vanished hopes," those poets of the grave.
They say that life's an awful thing and full of care and gloom,
They talk of peace and restfulness connected with the tomb.
They say that man is made of dirt, and die, of course, he must;
But, all the same, a man is made of pretty solid dust,
There is a thing that they forget, so let it here be writ,
That some are made of common mud, and some are made of grit;
Some try to help the world along while others fret and fume
And wish that they were slumbering is the silence of the tomb.
'Twixt mother's arms and coffin-gear a man has work to do!
And if he does his very best he mostly worries through,
And while there is a wrong to right, and while the world goes round,
An honest man alive is worth a million under ground,
And yet, as long as sheoaks sigh and wattle-blossoms bloom,
The world shall hear the drivel of the poets of the tomb.
And though the graveyard poets long to vanish from the scene,
I notice that they mostly wish their resting-place kept green.
Now, were I rotting underground, I do not think I'd care
If wombats rooted on the ground or if the cows camped there;
And should I have some feelings left when have gone before,
I think a ton of solid stone would hurt my feelings more.
Such wormy songs of mouldy joys can give me no delight;
I'll take my chances with the world, I'd rather live and fight.
Tho' "fortune" laughs along my track, or wears her blackest frown,
I'll try to do the world some good before I tumble down.
Let's fight for things that ought to be and try to make 'em boom;
We cannot help mankind when we are ashes in the tomb.
The night too quickly passes
And we are growing old,
So let us fill our glasses
And toast the Days of Gold;
When finds of wondrous treasure
Set all the South ablaze,
And you and I were faithful mates
All through the roaring days!
Then stately ships came sailing
From every harbour's mouth,
And sought the land of promise
That beaconed in the South;
Then southward streamed their streamers
And swelled their canvas full
To speed the wildest dreamers
E'er borne in vessel's hull.
Their shining Eldorado,
Beneath the southern skies,
Was day and night for ever
Before their eager eyes.
The brooding bush, awakened,
Was stirred in wild unrest,
And all the year a human stream
Went pouring to the West.
The rough bush roads re-echoed
The bar-room's noisy din,
When troops of stalwart horsemen
Dismounted at the inn.
And oft the hearty greetings
And hearty clasp of hands
Would tell of sudden meetings
Of friends from other lands.
And when the cheery camp-fire
Explored the bush with gleams,
The camping-grounds were crowded
With caravans of teams;
Then home the jests were driven,
And good old songs were sung,
And choruses were given
The strength of heart and lung.
Oft when the camps were dreaming,
And fires began to pale,
Through rugged ranges gleaming
Would come the Royal Mail.
Behind six foaming horses,
And lit by flashing lamps,
Old Cobb and Co., in royal state,
Went dashing past the camps.
Oh, who would paint a goldfield,
And paint the picture right,
As old Adventure saw it
In early morning's light?
The yellow mounds of mullock
With spots of red and white,
The scattered quartz that glistened
Like diamonds in light;
The azure line of ridges,
The bush of darkest green,
The little homes of calico
That dotted all the scene.
The flat straw hats with ribands
That old engravings show -
The dress that still reminds us
Of sailors, long ago.
I hear the fall of timber
From distant flats and fells,
The pealing of the anvils
As clear as little bells,
The rattle of the cradle,
The clack of windlass-boles,
The flutter of the crimson flags
Above the golden holes.
Ah, then their hearts were bolder,
And if Dame Fortune frowned
Our swags we'd lightly shoulder
And tramp to other ground.
Oh, they were lion-hearted
Who gave our country birth!
Stout sons, of stoutest fathers born,
From all the lands on earth!
Those golden days are vanished,
And altered is the scene;
The diggings are deserted,
The camping-grounds are green;
The flaunting flag of progress
Is in the West unfurled,
The mighty bush with iron rails
Is tethered to the world.
No church-bell rings them from the Track,
No pulpit lights their blindness -
'Tis hardship, drought and homelessness
That teach those Bushmen kindness:
The mateship born, in barren lands,
Of toil and thirst and danger -
The camp-fare for the wanderer set,
The first place to the stranger.
They do the best they can to-day -
Take no thought of the morrow;
Their way is not the old-world way -
They live to lend and borrow.
When shearing's done and cheque's gone wrong,
They call it "time to slither" -
They saddle up and say "So-long!"
And ride the Lord knows whither.
And though he may be brown or black,
Or wrong man there, or right man,
The mate that's steadfast to his mates
They call that man a "white man!"
They tramp in mateship side by side -
The Protestant and Roman -
They call no biped lord or sir,
And touch their hat to no man!
They carry in their swags, perhaps,
A portrait and a letter -
And, maybe, deep down in their hearts,
The hope of "something better".
Where lonely miles are long to ride,
And long, hot days recurrent,
There's lots of time to think of men
They might have been - but weren't,
They turn their faces to the west
And leave the world behind them -
(The drought-dried graves are seldom set
Where even mates can find them).
They know too little of the world
To rise to wealth or greatness:
But in these lines I gladly pay
My tribute to their straightness.
A cloud of dust on the long white road,
And the teams go creeping on
Inch by inch with the weary load;
And by the power of the green-hide goad
The distant goal is won.
With eyes half-shut to the blinding dust,
And necks to the yokes bent low,
The beasts are pulling as bullocks must;
And the shining tires might almost rust
While the spokes are turning slow.
With face half-hid 'neath a broad-brimmed hat
That shades from the heat's white waves,
And shouldered whip with its green-hide plait,
The driver plods with a gait like that
Of his weary, patient slaves.
He wipes his brow, for the day is hot,
And spits to the left with spite;
He shouts at Bally, and flicks at Scot,
And raises dust from the back of Spot,
And spits to the dusty right.
He'll sometimes pause as a thing of form
In front of a settler's door,
And ask for a drink, and remark "It's warm",
Or say "There's signs of a thunder-storm";
But he seldom utters more.
The rains are heavy on roads like these;
And, fronting his lonely home,
For days together the settler sees
The waggons bogged to the axletrees,
Or ploughing the sodden loam.
And then when the roads are at their worst,
The bushman's children hear
The cruel blows of the whips reversed
While bullocks pull as their hearts would burst,
And bellow with pain and fear.
And thus - with glimpses of home and rest -
Are the long, long journeys done;
And thus - 'tis a thankless life at the best! -
Is Distance fought in the mighty West,
And the lonely battle won.
I saw it in the days gone by,
When the dead girl lay at rest,
And the wattle and the native rose
We placed upon her breast.
I saw it in the long ago
(And I've seen strong men die),
And who, to wear the wattle,
Hath better right than I?
I've fought it through the world since then,
And seen the best and worst,
But always in the lands of men
I held Australia first.
I wrote for her, I fought for her,
And when at last I lie,
Then who, to wear the wattle, has
A better right than I?
I am back from up the country - very sorry that I went -
Seeking for the Southern poets' land whereon to pitch my tent;
I have lost a lot of idols, which were broken on the track,
Burnt a lot of fancy verses, and I'm glad that I am back.
Further out may be the pleasant scenes of which our poets boast,
But I think the country's rather more inviting round the coast.
Anyway, I'll stay at present at a boarding-house in town,
Drinking beer and lemon-squashes, taking baths and cooling down.
'Sunny plains'! Great Scott! - those burning
wastes of barren soil and sand
With their everlasting fences stretching out across the land!
Desolation where the crow is! Desert where the eagle flies,
Paddocks where the luny bullock starts and stares with reddened eyes;
Where, in clouds of dust enveloped, roasted bullock-drivers creep
Slowly past the sun-dried shepherd dragged behind his crawling sheep.
Stunted peak of granite gleaming, glaring like a molten mass
Turned from some infernal furnace on a plain devoid of grass.
Miles and miles of thirsty gutters - strings of muddy water-holes
In the place of 'shining rivers' - 'walled by cliffs and forest boles.'
Barren ridges, gullies, ridges! where the ever-madd'ning flies -
Fiercer than the plagues of Egypt - swarm about your blighted eyes!
Bush! where there is no horizon! where the buried bushman sees
Nothing - Nothing! but the sameness of the ragged, stunted trees!
Lonely hut where drought's eternal, suffocating atmosphere
Where the God-forgotten hatter dreams of city life and beer.
Treacherous tracks that trap the stranger,
endless roads that gleam and glare,
Dark and evil-looking gullies, hiding secrets here and there!
Dull dumb flats and stony rises, where the toiling bullocks bake,
And the sinister 'gohanna', and the lizard, and the snake.
Land of day and night - no morning freshness, and no afternoon,
When the great white sun in rising bringeth summer heat in June.
Dismal country for the exile, when the shades begin to fall
From the sad heart-breaking sunset, to the new-chum worst of all.
Dreary land in rainy weather, with the endless clouds that drift
O'er the bushman like a blanket that the Lord will never lift -
Dismal land when it is raining - growl of floods, and, oh! the woosh
Of the rain and wind together on the dark bed of the bush -
Ghastly fires in lonely humpies where the granite rocks are piled
In the rain-swept wildernesses that are wildest of the wild.
Land where gaunt and haggard women live alone and work like men,
Till their husbands, gone a-droving, will return to them again:
Homes of men! if home had ever such a God-forgotten place,
Where the wild selector's children fly before a stranger's face.
Home of tragedy applauded by the dingoes' dismal yell,
Heaven of the shanty-keeper - fitting fiend for such a hell -
And the wallaroos and wombats, and, of course, the curlew's call -
And the lone sundowner tramping ever onward through it all!
I am back from up the country, up the country where I went
Seeking for the Southern poets' land whereon to pitch my tent;
I have shattered many idols out along the dusty track,
Burnt a lot of fancy verses - and I'm glad that I am back.
I believe the Southern poets' dream will not be realised
Till the plains are irrigated and the land is humanised.
I intend to stay at present, as I said before, in town
Drinking beer and lemon-squashes, taking baths and cooling down.
published July 9, 1892
Though poor and in trouble I wander alone,
With a rebel cockade in my hat;
Though friends may desert me, and kindred disown,
My country will never do that!
You may sing of the Shamrock, the Thistle, and Rose,
Or the three in a bunch if you will;
But I know of a country that gathered all those,
And I love the great land where the Waratah grows,
And the Wattle-bough blooms on the hill.
Australia! Australia! so fair to behold
While the blue sky is arching above;
The stranger should never have need to be told,
That the Wattle-bloom means that her heart is of gold,
And the Waratah's red with her love.
Australia! Australia! most beautiful name,
Most kindly and bountiful land;
I would die every death that might save her from shame,
If a black cloud should rise on the strand;
But whatever the quarrel, whoever her foes,
Let them come! Let them come when they will!
Though the struggle be grim, 'tis Australia that knows,
That her children shall fight while the Waratah grows,
And the Wattle blooms out on the hill.
When you wear a cloudy collar and a shirt that isn't white,
And you cannot sleep for thinking how you'll reach tomorrow night,
You may be a man of sorrow, and on speaking terms with Care,
But as yet you're unacquainted with the Demon of Despair;
For I rather think that nothing heaps the trouble on your mind
Like the knowledge that your trousers badly need a patch behind.
I have noticed when misfortune strikes the hero of the play
That his clothes are torn and tattered in a most unlikely way;
And the gods applaud and cheer him while he whines and loafs around,
But they never seem to notice that his pants are mostly sound;
Yet, of course, he cannot help it, for our mirth would mock his care
If the ceiling of his trousers showed the patches of repair.
You are none the less a hero if you elevate your chin
When you feel the pavement wearing through the leather, sock and skin;
You are rather more heroic than are ordinary folk
If you scorn to fish for pity under cover of a joke;
You will face the doubtful glances of the people that you know;
But - of course you're bound to face them when your pants begin to go.
If, when flush you took your pleasure, failed to make a god of Pelf -
Some will say that for your troubles you can only thank yourself;
Some will swear you'll die a beggar, but you only laugh at that
While your garments hang together and you wear a decent hat;
You may laugh at their predictions while your soles are wearing through -
But a man's an awful coward when his pants are going too!
Though the present and the future may be anything but bright,
It is best to tell the fellows that you're getting on all right.
And a man prefers to say it - 'tis a manly lie to tell,
For the folks may be persuaded that you're doing very well;
But it's hard to be a hero, and it's hard to wear a grin,
When your most important garment is in places very thin.
Get some sympathy and comfort from the chum who knows you best,
Then your sorrows won't run over in the presence of the rest;
There's a chum that you can go to when you feel inclined to whine,
He'll declare your coat is tidy, and he'll say: "Just look at mine!"
Though you may be patched all over he will say it doesn't show,
And he'll swear it can't be noticed when your pants begin to go.
Brother mine, and of misfortune! times are hard but do not fret,
Keep your courage up and struggle, and we'll laugh at these things yet.
Though there is no corn in Egypt, surely Africa has some -
Keep your smile in working order for the better days to come!
We shall often laugh together at the hard times that we know,
And get measured by the tailor when our pants begin to go.
When my last long-beer has vanished and the truth is left unsaid;
When each sordid care is banished from my chair and from my bed,
And my common people sadly murmur: " 'Arry Lawson dead,"
When the man I was denounces all the things that I was not,
When the true souls stand like granite, while the souls of liars not -
When the quids I gave are counted, and the trays I cadged forgot;
Shall my spirit see the country that it wrote for once again?
Shall it see the old selections, and the common street and lane?
Shall it pass across the Black Soil and across the Red Soil Plain?
Shall it see the gaunt Bushwoman "slave until she's fit to drop",
For the distant trip to Sydney, all depending on the crop?
Or the twinkling legs of kiddies, running to the lollie-shop?
Shall my spirit see the failures battling west and fighting here?
Shall it see the darkened shanty, or the bar-room dull and drear?
Shall it whisper to the landlord to give Bummer Smith a beer?
Will they let me out of Heaven, or Valhalla, on my own -
Or the Social Halls of Hades (where I shall not be alone) -
Just to bring a breath of comfort to the hells that I have known?