Australia First [poem by E. J. Brady]

[Editor: This poem by E. J. Brady was published in Bush-land Ballads (1910).]

Australia First

She holds no urnéd dust in fee. She claims no classic age;
Her Past is volumed not in stone, nor scribed on parchment page;
No feudal fortress fronts her peace; nor, through her written years
Hath flag of friend or foeman waved along her blue frontiers.

From Neolithic sleep she woke. The dove of Better Things
Behind the bars of Tyranny already beat its wings;
The youngest Daughter of the Earth, red tides of Time had swept
Her sister continents with War and Conquest while she slept.

The sum of Human Thought was hers; the harvest of the Past
Was ready garnered to her hand and left her free, at last,
To mill the golden grain of Good and cast the husks away —
Rich dowered by the centuries, so fell her natal day.

She knows no High Achievement yet; but in a Vision grand
The True Australian sometimes dreams his future Motherland:
Untrammelled by ancestral gyves; from ancient usage free,
Her sword of patriotic steel, her shield — Democracy;

He sees her proud, reliant head uplifted to the skies,
With Freedom’s star-flash on her hair; and, burning in her eyes,
The fire that great Mazzini fed, the fire that Lincoln nursed,
And in his secret heart is writ, all times — “Australia First.”

What claims on us have older lands? Beyond our sunlit seas
They hide their rags ’neath royal silk — tired hags with histories.
Their ancient courtyards reek with filth, their walls are splashed with crime;
They wait, in arméd dread, the Sword of All-Avenging Time.

The high lord, in his motor car, along their ways goes by;
Where serfs and peasants from the fields look up with sullen eye;
The yoke is fastened to the neck, the shackles to the shin,
Nor shall these helots e’er escape the slough they travail in.

They hunger ’mid the granaries; they thirst beside the streams.
Content and Plenty sound to them as echo words in dreams;
And they must tread Rebellion’s road, to gain their high desire,
Through bloody streets and scaffolds lit by Revolution’s fire.

But here a kinder Custom holds; from Broome to Tasman snow
She opes her gates of bounty wide, the great, Free Land we know;
Nor in her trodden ways of Man shall children crave or thirst,
Nor women hunger while we keep Australia best — and first.

She shines among the lands of Earth with glories of her own;
Her robes are rich with radiant gems; with pearls her neck is strown;
Rare fabrics drape her throne-room high; and native wealth untold
She holdeth in her treasuries, of wine, and wheat and gold.

The planter of a tropic North from deep palm shadow views
A carpet Oriental spread in vivid greens and blues;
A sun of gold upon a field of azure velvet laid —
When Morning walks, in robes of rose, the Capricornian glade.

The Miner from his hut of bark looks out on hills of snow
That billow to the border-line away from Omeo;
Dark gullies walled by mountains steep, and Gippsland gorges grim,
Where forest shadows lie at noon, the Picture make for him.

The Rider on the great grey plains that answer to the quest
Of restless hearts that roving seek their fortunes further west;
The stockman and the teamster tall; the hunter and the tramp,
The farmer, shearer, tradesman, clerk; the men of town and camp.

One kind Australian mother fills the measure of their needs;
She clothes them as her climates call, and well the hunger feeds,
And shall they not, in gratitude, predict the years to be;
Their Nation of the South proclaim, and her high destiny?

And have I not an equal right to sing this Land of Mine
With him who rolls in trumpet tones his mighty “Watch on Rhine”?
With him who hymns in any tongue his country’s pride and praise —
“God Save the Kaiser,” Czar, or King, or Gallic “Marseillaise”?

Green, Irish fields my people trod, and thine the English leas;
Our comrades sprang from Teuton stock, or Greek, or Genoese —
I care not whence our people came; but this all times I care:
The land that gives us birth and bread is ours — Australia fair.

Her destiny is ours to shape, her lands are ours to hold;
The plastic clay of nationhood is here to shape and mould;
And ’spite of toadies, Tory-bred, or foreigners, or fools,
I’d write “Australia” on the walls, and teach it in the schools!

The upward beams shall not be carved, nor shall one stone be set,
In that great Edifice-to-Be, the House-That-Is-Not-Yet,
Till in the circle of her shores, throughout the land is sown,
The greater hope that bids us dare to stand or fall, alone;

Serene, secure, and self-contained, a nation in her pride,
Indiff’rent to the quarrels old that shake the world outside;
For this Ideal should we strive, for this our souls should thirst —
That forty million freemen yet may hold Australia first!



Source:
E. J. Brady, Bush-land Ballads, Melbourne: Thomas C. Lothian, 1910, pp. 60-76

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