Freedom on the Wallaby [poem by Henry Lawson, 16 May 1891]

[Editor: This is one of the most well-known poems written by Henry Lawson. It was quoted by conservative Queensland parliamentarians as an example of the radicalism of The Worker newspaper (see the “Editor’s notes” section below). Published in The Worker (Brisbane, Qld.), 16 May 1891.]

Freedom on the Wallaby.

(Written for the “Worker.”)

Australia’s a big country,
An’ Freedom’s humping bluey,
And Freedom’s on the wallaby;
Oh don’t you hear ’er cooey?
She’s just begun to boomerang.
She’ll knock the tyrants silly,
She’s going to light another fire
And boil another billy.

Our fathers toiled for bitter bread
While loafers thrived beside ’em,
But food to eat and clothes to wear,
Their native land denied ’em.
An’ so they left that native land,
In spite of their devotion,
An’ so they come, or if they stole,
Were sent across the ocean.

Then Freedom couldn’t stand the glare
Of Royalty’s regalia.
She left the loafers where they were
An’ come out to Australia.
But now across the mighty main
The chains have come ter bind her,
She little thought to see again
The wrongs she left behind her.

Our parents toiled to make a home,
Hard grubbin’ ’twas and clearin’,
They wasn’t crowded much with lords
When they was pioneerin’.
But now that we have made the land
A garden full of promise.
Old Greed must crook ’is dirty hand
An’ come ter take it from us.

So we must fly a rebel flag,
As others did before us,
And we must sing a rebel song
And join in rebel chorus.
We’ll make the tyrants feel the sting
O’ those that they would throttle;
They needn’t say the fault is ours,
If blood should stain the wattle.

Henry Lawson.
Brisbane, May, 1891.



Source:
The Worker (Brisbane, Qld.), Saturday 16 May 1891, page 8

Also published in:
The Worker (Sydney, NSW), 29 September 1894, p. 1
The Worker (Brisbane, Qld.), 7 September 1922, p. 4

Editor’s notes:
[Editor: Corrected title of poem “Freeeom on the Wallaby” to “Freedom on the Wallaby”.]

The Worker’s publication of the poem was later quoted against it by two Queensland parliamentarians, Frederick Thomas Brentnall (MLC) in 1891 and by John James Kingsbury (MLA) in 1896, as a proof of the paper’s radicalism.

The Brisbane Courier (15 July 1891) reported on Frederick Brentnall’s speech in the Queensland parliament:

Mr. Brentnall quoted extracts from the official organ of the Australian Labour Federation (The Worker) to show what kind of influences had been brought to bear upon the working classes, to make them rise in arms against their employers.

The Brisbane Courier (7 March 1896) reported on an election speech of John Kingsbury at the Centennial Hall in Brisbane:

Kingsbury, who was the first speaker, was well received. He said: . . . It may not be out of place to refer to the methods previously advocated by the “Worker” for settling wages disputes in Queensland. I will take one extract from a hundred. “Worker,” 16th May, 1891:

“So we must fly a rebel flag,
As others did before us,
And we must sing a rebel song,
And join in rebel chorus.

We’ll make the tyrants feel the sting
O’ those that they would throttle;
They needn’t say the fault is ours,
If blood should stain the wattle.”

(Hear, hear, and applause.)

Some years later, The Worker (27 February 1940) reported on Brentnall’s mention of Henry Lawson’s poem in the Queensland parliament:

The politician who objected to the stirring words in “Freedom on the Wallaby” was none other than Mr. F. T. Brentnall, a journalist and one time editor of the “Telegraph,” . . . Brentnall’s reference to “The Worker,” in which was published “Freedom on the Wallaby,” was during a debate on a motion brought before the Legislative Council on July 14, 1891 . . . Brentnall said: “I am not going to trouble the House much longer, and I will vary the entertainment slightly:

“Our parents toiled to make a home.
Hard grubbin’ ’twas and clearin’.
They wasn’t crowded much with lords
When they was pioneerin’.
But now that we have made the land
A garden full of promise.
Old Greed must crook ’is dirty hand
An’ come ter take it from us.

So we must fly a rebel flag.
As others did before us.
And we must sing a rebel song
And join in rebel chorus,
We’ll make the tyrants feel the sting
O’ those that they would throttle;
They needn’t say the fault is ours
If blood should stain the wattle.”
— Henry Lawson.

That was written in Brisbane. I had a little more poetry marked, quite as entertaining, perhaps even more so; but I have lost the run of it. They are rather fond of poetry in this periodical. I have brought this specially before your attention in order that you may see the agencies that have been at work to produce the result which has evoked from us this afternoon a vote of thanks which, there cannot be a shadow of a doubt, will be unanimously accorded to the Defence Force and the volunteers and police who have been called out and who have obeyed with alacrity the call of duty to put down this insurrection, the outbreak of which cannot give any one of us the least surprise after reading and reflecting upon the extracts I have read.

References:
Parliament. Tuesday, July 14”, The Brisbane Courier (Brisbane, Qld.), Wednesday 15 July 1891, page 6
North Brisbane. Messrs. Kingsbury and Byrnes. Speeches at the Centennial Hall”, The Brisbane Courier (Brisbane, Qld.), Saturday 7 March 1896, page 6, column 2 (part of a section of the newspaper on the “General Election”)
Henry Lawson — The Industrial Rebel”, The Worker (Brisbane, Qld.), Tuesday 27 February 1940, page 10
Former Members Register”, Queensland Parliament (accessed 12 November 2011)

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