In Defence of the Bush
So you’re back from up the country, Mister Townsman, where you went,
And you’re cursing all the business in a bitter discontent;
Well, we grieve to disappoint you, and it makes us sad to hear
That it wasn’t cool and shady — and there wasn’t plenty beer,
And the loony bullock snorted when you first came into view —
Well, you know it’s not so often that he sees a swell like you;
And the roads were hot and dusty, and the plains were burnt and brown,
And no doubt you’re better suited drinking lemon-squash in town.
Yet, perchance, if you should journey down the very track you went
In a month or two at furthest, you would wonder what it meant,
Where the sunbaked earth was gasping like a creature in its pain
You would find the grasses waving like a field of summer grain,
And the miles of thirsty gutters, blocked with sand and choked with mud,
You would find them mighty rivers with a turbid, sweeping flood.
For the rain and drought and sunshine make no changes in the street,
In the sullen line of buildings and the ceaseless tramp of feet;
But the bush has moods and changes, as the seasons rise and fall,
And the men who know the bush-land — they are loyal through it all.
* * * * * *
But you found the bush was dismal and a land of no delight,
Did you chance to hear a chorus in the shearers’ huts at night?
Did they ‘rise up William Riley’ by the camp-fire’s cheery blaze?
Did they rise him as we rose him in the good old droving days?
And the women of the homesteads and the men you chanced to meet —
Were their faces sour and saddened like the ‘faces in the street,’
And the ‘shy selector children’ — were they better now or worse
Than the little city urchins who would greet you with a curse?
Is not such a life much better than the squalid street and square
Where the fallen women flaunt it in the fierce electric glare,
Where the sempstress plies her sewing till her eyes are sore and red
In a filthy, dirty attic toiling on for daily bread?
Did you hear no sweeter voices in the music of the bush
Than the roar of trams and ’buses, and the war-whoop of ‘the push?’
Did the magpies rouse your slumbers with their carol sweet and strange?
Did you hear the silver chiming of the bell-birds on the range?
But, perchance, the wild birds’ music by your senses was despised,
For you say you’ll stay in townships till the bush is civilised.
Would you make it a tea-garden, and on Sundays have a band
Where the ‘blokes’ might take their ‘donahs’, with a ‘public’ close at hand?
You had better stick to Sydney and make merry with the ‘push,’
For the bush will never suit you, and you’ll never suit the bush.
Andrew Barton Paterson. The Man from Snowy River and Other Verses, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1896 [January 1896 reprinting of the October 1895 edition], pages 156-159
Previously published in: The Bulletin, 23 July 1892
This poem was part of what came to be known as the “Bulletin Debate”, in which writers argued over the nature of the bush (i.e. life in country areas); it was a debate mainly conducted via the poetry of Banjo Paterson and Henry Lawson in the pages of The Bulletin magazine, although some other writers weighed in as well.
Paterson wrote “In Defence of the Bush” in answer to Lawson’s poem “Up the Country” (originally entitled “Borderland”), in which Lawson had criticised those city-dwellers who tended to romanticise life in the bush; Paterson contended that Lawson’s outlook was too full of doom and gloom.
In the original version of “In Defence of the Bush”, published in The Bulletin, “Mister Lawson” was used in the first line; however, this was replaced by “Mister Townsman” when it was published in The Man from Snowy River and Other Verses.
’buses = omnibuses; long enclosed vehicles, used for public transport; unlike modern buses, these were horse-drawn contraptions
faces in the street = a reference to Henry Lawson’s poem “Faces in the Street”
push = street gang
sempstress = an alternative spelling of seamstress (a woman who sews and mends clothes, especially as her occupation)