Laying on the Screw [poem by E. J. Brady]

[Editor: This poem by E. J. Brady was published in The Ways of Many Waters (1899).]


Laying on the Screw.

You can dunnage casks o’ tallow; you can handle hides an’ horn;
You can carry frozen mutton; you can lumber sacks o’ corn;
But the queerest kind o’ cargo that you’ve got to haul an’ pull
Is Australia’s “staple product” — is her God-abandoned wool.
For it’s greasy an’ it’s stinkin’, an’ them awkward, ugly bales
Must be jammed as close as herrings in a ship afore she sails.

So you yakker, yakker, yakker,
For the drop o’ beer an’ bacca,
For to earn your bloomin’ clobber an’ the bit o’ tuck you eat.
When you’re layin’ on the screw,
With the boss a-cursin’ you,
An’ the sweat runs like a river, an’ you’re chokin’ with the heat.

See “there’s someone got to do it,” as I’ve often heard ’em say,
But it means a lot o’ graftin’ for a very little pay,
An’ I ain’t a bit “contented with my bloomin’ earthly lot.”
An’ I’d take an easy billet — oh, I’d jump it on the spot.
For it’s greasy an’ it’s stinkin’, an’ I’m getting pretty full
Of this everlastin’ sweatin’ over blarsted bales o’ wool.

An’ they stow ’em close together,
An’ they never ask you whether
There is room enough to stand in, or a blessed breath o’ air
When you’re layin’ on the screw,
When you’re haulin’ on the screw,
And the skipper starts performin’ and the boss begins to swear.

With the trollies all unloadin’, an’ the press upon the go,
You can bet they keep us at it like the devil down below.
You can take your affidavy that the foreman at the hatch,
When the tally clerk is busy, makes the talent toe the scratch.
When the double dumps are comin’, an’ the winch begins to grind,
They will raise a chanty forrard of the stevedorin’ kind:

“I’m goin’ down to Tennessee,
Oh, take my love and come with me;”
Or, it’s “Cheer up, Mrs. Riley,” or “Blow, my Bully Boys, Blow” —
When you’re layin’ on the screw,
When you’re haulin’ on the screw,
In the fluffy, dirty darkness of them anchored hells below.

Oh! they say that Labour’s noble; but I’d rather be a toff,
An’ I’d wear a double-breaster, an’ I’d never take it off.
I can do me pint o’ tangle, an’ a pipe afore the bar,
But I would n’t sniff at sherry an’ a bloomin’ fine cigar.
Costs me just a sprat for dinner — meat an’ tea an’ spuds for that;
I’d prefer a taste o’ turkey, nicely browned, O Lord! an’ fat!

For it’s twist the screw and turn it,
And the bit you get you earn it;
You can take the tip from me, sir, that it’s anything but play
When you’re layin’ on the screw,
When you’re draggin’ on the screw,
In the summer, under hatches, in the middle o’ the day.

If Australia’s “staple product” is her glory, an’ her pride,
An’ “the makin’ of her future,” an’ a lot o’ things beside,
Then I reckon I’m assistin’ for to build the nation up,
When I’m graftin’ on the product for me bloomin’ bite and sup.
An’ I’d strike for ’igher wages if I thought I ’ad a show;
I would down me hook this minnit, an’ I’d up the hatch an’ go.

But there’s plenty of ’em prayin’
For a chance to graft, an’ sayin’
That the times is somethin’ dreadful; an’ they stand a-lookin’ on
When you’re layin’ on the screw,
When you’re toilin’ on the screw,
An’ they’d jump the job an’ keep it soon as ever you was gone.

So it’s “re-a-ri-a-rally,” an’ another tier o’ bales
For the glory of the empire, an’ the good of New South Wales;
But they’re stinkin’ an’ they’re heavy, an’ they’re awkward for to lift,
An’ the place you’ve got to stow ’em — w’y, there is n’t room to shift.
But you’re “broadenin’ out the channels of our great an’ growin’ trade,”
An’ you’re “helpin’ make our progress” — though it is n’t yours when made.

So it’s yakker, yakker, yakker,
For the drop o’ beer an’ bacca,
For the little bit o’ silver that you spend in meat and bread,
When you’re layin’ on the screw,
When you’re haulin’ on the screw,
Till yer blessed ’eart is broken an’ yer faith an’ ’ope is dead.

E. J. Brady, The Ways of Many Waters, Melbourne: Thomas C. Lothian, 1909 [first published 1899], pages 40-44

Editor’s notes:
bacca = tobacco

clobber = clothes; accessories, equipment, personal belongings, or supplies (can also mean to strike someone severely; beat, criticize, defeat, or treat harshly)

dunnage = padding and packaging material used to protect cargo during shipping

graft = work

sup = supper

tuck = tucker, i.e. food (it can also mean to eat, e.g. to “tuck in” to one’s food)

yakker = (also spelt “yakka”) work

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