A Psalm of Counsel [poem by Joseph Furphy]

[Editor: This poem by Joseph Furphy was published in The Poems of Joseph Furphy (1916).]

A Psalm of Counsel.

Though some good folks may take it ill,
As trifling with parsonic frill,
Thus saith the Lord to Jim and Bill,
In admonition stern and straight:—
Ye hold from Me the brightest zones,
The fairest realm this planet owns,
Guarded on every side by Jones,
And standing yet inviolate.
So far, so good. And all the rest,
Amounting to a racial test,
May be compendiously express’d
In four short words — Be Up To Date.

Australia is the unit. There!
This Commonwealth denotes your share;
Ye have no loyalty to spare,
In spite of all your Empire prate.
For though the Motherland be good,
Yet may some oddities intrude,
Which it would be extremely rude
On your poor part to imitate.
For instance, if she should be lame,
It’s not included in the game
That you should limp behind the dame,
By way of keeping Up To Date.

AUSTRALIA IS THE UNIT, mind!

With bounds unchangeably defin’d;
A continent to you assign’d —
That is the primary postulate.
One “angry cloth” to call your own;
One scorn for every brand of drone;
One slant-eyed menace — yours alone! —
Involving each ingredient State.
The Commonwealth is paramount;
City or province merely count
As streamlets from that central fount —
Provided you are Up To Date.

If you should fail, with such a start,
To lead the world in Thought and Art,
You’re only fit to draw a cart,
Which probably would be your fate.
Now take the tip of Holy Writ —
You won’t survive unless you’re fit;
And something more than honest grit
Must go to make a people great.
An Asiatic boundary fence
Is little better than pretence
Unless you’re white in every sense —
Unless, in fact, you’re Up To Date.

Ye have an old-man job on hand,
One that will tax your sense and sand;
The building of a nation grand
Is not accomplish’d while you wait.
Put not your trust in men of girth,
Who should have left this waken’d earth
About the period of their birth,
And lived in times appropriate.
For well-a-day! their date is fled;
Unearned Prerogative is dead,
And Decency may reign instead —
But only if you’re Up To Date.

Touching your own forefathers’ case,
Ask History what has taken place
Since Dago legions made the pace —
Say, Anno Domini 78.
Thrice has the Motherland been lost —
Three separate times has she been boss’d
By enterprising foes who crossed
The German Sea or Dover Strait;
While Bulldog Boys, with clods and sticks,
Fail’d to frustrate their knavish tricks;
Hence Freedom’s show was simply nix —
Which came of not being Up To Date.

Till torn with feud, or sick with rot,
Or reconciled to Slavery’s lot,
And ripe for wiping off the slate.
A parcel of anointed skunks;
A crowd that views its work, and funks;
A push of despots, scabs, and drunks,
I will by no means tolerate.
Assyria therefore had to go,
The Roman, Greek, and Ikey Mo.
Gehenna gapes — and rightly so —
For nations drifting Out Of Date.

Look out for snakes among the grass —
The noisy parish-minded ass;
The paltry devotee of Class;
The preacher of sectarian hate.
To give such pests an honest deal,
With justice to the public weal,
You may respect their narrow zeal,
But count them foes within the gate.
Should they as candidates appear,
Dispose them in their proper sphere,
That is to say, upon their ear —
Your statesmen must be Up To Date.

Beware of Thrift’s insidious creed,
That gospel of the moral weed;
For when a race professes Greed,
True aspiration must stagnate.
But don’t denounce, with censure rash,
The helpful medium known as cash,
Nor swamp it in a futile splash,
Blind to what may eventuate.
Don’t underrate what gonce can do,
Yet always keep in easy view
The unpretentious six-by-two,
Which places Mammon Out Of Date.

You can’t do better than apply
The Reverend Hervey’s rousing cry,
Who bids you Set Your Standards High,
And never pause nor deviate.
This also you must realize —
However high those standards rise,
In ethic or artistic guise,
Your potencies are adequate.
By all-round worth success is won;
And though you have no soft thing on,
Be sure distinction waits upon
The nation that is Up To Date.

The point of honour is your crux;
Run always straight, and chance the ducks;
For in this world of constant flux,
The higher type must dominate.
All fetish forms you may neglect,
But vices that command respect,
And virtues that are least correct,
You will do well to cultivate.
Confront the proud, sustain the weak,
And not for you shall Freedom shriek
Till falls your Kosciusko peak —
Assuming you are Up To Date.



Source:
K. B. [Kate Baker] (editor), The Poems of Joseph Furphy, Melbourne: Lothian Book Publishing Co., 1916, pages 22-25

Editor’s notes:
Anno Domini = (Latin) “in the year of our Lord”; years designated “A.D.” are those years after the birth of Jesus Christ, whereas years designated “B.C.” (“Before Christ”) are those years before the birth of Jesus Christ (however, the traditional estimation of the year of Jesus Christ’s birth was later calculated to be a few years off target)

Asiatic boundary fence = Australia’s immigration policy, commonly known as the White Australia Policy, developed at the time of the federation of the Australian colonies in 1901, designed to keep Asians and other non-European peoples out of Australia

Bulldog Boys = British men (the “bulldog breed” was a common reference to British people, inferring qualities of bravery and tenacity)

Commonwealth = the Commonwealth of Australia; the Australian nation, federated on 1 January 1901

Dago = Italian; in a wider sense, it may refer to Italians, Portuguese, Spaniards, and other ethnicities from southern Europe (derived from the common Spanish name “Diego”, which translates as “James”)

Dover Strait = the strait located at the narrowest section of the English Channel

duck = to score nothing (in cricket terminology, to be “out for a duck” is to be dismissed with a score of zero); to achieve nothing

funk = a state of fear or panic (may also refer to a coward; may also refer to a state of depression, including the phrase “in a blue funk”)

Gehenna = a place or state of torment or suffering, hell; a Latin word, from the Greek Geenna, which came from the Hebrew Gē’ Hinnōm, a reference to the valley of Hinnom (a valley south of Jerusalem) which had gained a fearsome and evil reputation among Jews because of barbarous events that took place there (by the time of the New Testament, it had come to mean a reference to Hell, e.g. Matthew 5:22, 5:29; Mark 9:43)

gonce = (Australian slang) money (also spelt “gons”)

Holy Writ = the Bible, or a passage from the Bible; a book, or piece of writing, regarded as the “Word of God”, or fact; a document considered to be the most authoritative in its field; a writing or utterance originating from an unchallenged authority

Ikey Mo = (considered to be a derogatory name) a slang reference to a Jewish person; created from the shorted versions of the Jewish names Isaac (Ikey) and Moses (Mo), with the name being popularised by the recurring character “Ikey Mo”, who appeared in the Ally Sloper cartoon strip (which ran from 1867 to 1916)

Jim and Bill = a reference to Bill-Jims, Australians; a “Bill-Jim” (or “Billjim”), being a combination of the common first names “Bill” and “Jim”, was a term used to refer to an Australian male; an ordinary, everyday Australian

Jones = Davy Jones, a personification of the sea, or the evil spirit or devil of the sea (the phrase “Davy Jones’ locker” is a reference to the bottom of the ocean)

Kosciusko = Mount Kosciuszko (New South Wales), the highest mountain peak in Australia (2,228 metres, or 7,310 feet, above sea level); it was named by the Polish explorer Count Strzelecki in 1840 after General Tadeusz Kościuszko of Poland

Mammon = riches, money; greed for money; money or wealth as a false object of worship (as in the phrase “to worship at the feet of Mammon”, or similar); wealth as an evil influence; Mammon was also personified as a devil, or demon, of wealth and greed

men of girth = fat men; in a political context, refers to capitalists

Motherland = in an historical Australian context, Great Britain; may also refer to England specifically

nix = nothing, zero (from the German “nichts”, meaning nothing); no; a rejection; to disagree, prohibit, or reject

prate = to talk at length on trivial matters; idle or foolish talk; excessive and pointless talk; to chatter, waffle, witter, or prattle

push = a gang, commonly refers to a street gang; may also be used to refer to a group

Reverend Hervey = a not-so-serious reference to the author Grant Hervey

saith = (archaic) says (third person singular present of “say”)

slant-eyed menace = Asians, “the Yellow Peril”

slate = a written (or unwritten) record of money owed, or of items, deeds, etc. (especially a record of someone’s debit or credit in a pub or shop); used in phraseology regarding a new start, e.g. “wipe the slate clean”, “start with a clean slate”)

upon their ear = a reference to the phrase “throw them out on their ear”, or similar (meaning to eject, expel, throw out, force out; evict, dispossess; dismiss from a position or office)

white = a good person, someone who is honourable or generous; in the glossary for The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke, C.J. Dennis gives the following definition, “White (white man). — A true, sterling fellow”

[Editor: Corrected “apear” to “appear”.]

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