[Editor: This poem by Henry Lawson was published in In the Days When the World Was Wide and Other Verses, 1896.]
The Cambaroora Star
So you’re writing for a paper? Well, it’s nothing very new
To be writing yards of drivel for a tidy little screw;
You are young and educated, and a clever chap you are,
But you’ll never run a paper like the CAMBAROORA STAR.
Though in point of education I am nothing but a dunce,
I myself — you mayn’t believe it — helped to run a paper once
With a chap on Cambaroora, by the name of Charlie Brown,
And I’ll tell you all about it if you’ll take the story down.
On a golden day in summer, when the sunrays were aslant,
Brown arrived in Cambaroora with a little printing plant
And his worldly goods and chattels — rather damaged on the way —
And a weary-looking woman who was following the dray.
He had bought an empty humpy, and, instead of getting tight,
Why, the diggers heard him working like a lunatic all night:
And next day a sign of canvas, writ in characters of tar,
Claimed the humpy as the office of the CAMBAROORA STAR.
Well, I cannot read, that’s honest, but I had a digger friend
Who would read the paper to me from the title to the end;
And the STAR contained a leader running thieves and spielers down,
With a slap against claim-jumping, and a poem made by Brown.
Once I showed it to a critic, and he said ’twas very fine,
Though he wasn’t long in finding glaring faults in every line;
But it was a song of Freedom — all the clever critic said
Couldn’t stop that song from ringing, ringing, ringing in my head.
So I went where Brown was working in his little hut hard by:
‘My old mate has been a-reading of your writings, Brown,’ said I —
‘I have studied on your leader, I agree with what you say,
‘You have struck the bed-rock certain, and there ain’t no get-away;
‘Your paper’s just the thumper for a young and growing land,
‘And your principles is honest, Brown; I want to shake your hand,
‘And if there’s any lumping in connection with the STAR,
‘Well, I’ll find the time to do it, and I’ll help you — there you are!’
Brown was every inch a digger (bronzed and bearded in the South),
But there seemed a kind of weakness round the corners of his mouth
When he took the hand I gave him; and he gripped it like a vice,
While he tried his best to thank me, and he stuttered once or twice.
But there wasn’t need for talking — we’d the same old loves and hates,
And we understood each other — Charlie Brown and I were mates.
So we worked a little ‘paddock’ on a place they called the ‘Bar,’
And we sank a shaft together, and at night we worked the STAR.
Charlie thought and did his writing when his work was done at night,
And the missus used to ‘set’ it near as quick as he could write.
Well, I didn’t shirk my promise, and I helped the thing, I guess,
For at night I worked the lever of the crazy printing-press;
Brown himself would do the feeding, and the missus used to ‘fly’ —
She is flying with the angels, if there’s justice up on high,
For she died on Cambaroora when the STAR began to go,
And was buried like the diggers buried diggers long ago.
* * * * * *
Lord, that press! It was a jumper — we could seldom get it right,
And were lucky if we averaged a hundred in the night.
Many nights we’d sit together in the windy hut and fold,
And I helped the thing a little when I struck a patch of gold;
And we battled for the diggers as the papers seldom do,
Though when the diggers errored, why, we touched the diggers too.
Yet the paper took the fancy of that roaring mining town,
And the diggers sent a nugget with their sympathy to Brown.
Oft I sat and smoked beside him in the listening hours of night,
When the shadows from the corners seemed to gather round the light —
When his weary, aching fingers, closing stiffly round the pen,
Wrote defiant truth in language that could touch the hearts of men —
Wrote until his eyelids shuddered — wrote until the East was grey:
Wrote the stern and awful lessons that were taught him in his day;
And they knew that he was honest, and they read his smallest par,
For I think the diggers’ Bible was the CAMBAROORA STAR.
Diggers then had little mercy for the loafer and the scamp —
If there wasn’t law and order, there was justice in the camp;
And the manly independence that is found where diggers are
Had a sentinel to guard it in the CAMBAROORA STAR.
There was strife about the Chinamen, who came in days of old
Like a swarm of thieves and loafers when the diggers found the gold —
Like the sneaking fortune-hunters who are always found behind,
And who only shepherd diggers till they track them to the ‘find.’
Charlie wrote a slinging leader, calling on his digger mates,
And he said: ‘We think that Chinkies are as bad as syndicates.
What’s the good of holding meetings where you only talk and swear?
Get a move upon the Chinkies when you’ve got an hour to spare.’
It was nine o’clock next morning when the Chows began to swarm,
But they weren’t so long in going, for the diggers’ blood was warm.
Then the diggers held a meeting, and they shouted: ‘Hip hoorar!
Give three ringing cheers, my hearties, for the CAMBAROORA STAR.’
But the Cambaroora petered, and the diggers’ sun went down,
And another sort of people came and settled in the town;
The reefing was conducted by a syndicate or two,
And they changed the name to ‘Queensville,’ for their blood was very blue.
They wanted Brown to help them put the feathers in their nests,
But his leaders went like thunder for their vested interests,
And he fought for right and justice and he raved about the dawn
Of the reign of Man and Reason till his ads. were all withdrawn.
He was offered shares for nothing in the richest of the mines,
And he could have made a fortune had he run on other lines;
They abused him for his leaders, and they parodied his rhymes,
And they told him that his paper was a mile behind the times.
‘Let the times alone,’ said Charlie, ‘they’re all right, you needn’t fret;
‘For I started long before them, and they haven’t caught me yet.
‘But,’ says he to me, ‘they’re coming, and they’re not so very far —
‘Though I left the times behind me they are following the STAR.
‘Let them do their worst,’ said Charlie, ‘but I’ll never drop the reins
‘While a single scrap of paper or an ounce of ink remains:
‘I’ve another truth to tell them, though they tread me in the dirt,
‘And I’ll print another issue if I print it on my shirt.’
So we fought the battle bravely, and we did our very best
Just to make the final issue quite as lively as the rest.
And the swells in Cambaroora talked of feathers and of tar
When they read the final issue of the CAMBAROORA STAR.
Gold is stronger than the tongue is — gold is stronger than the pen:
They’d have squirmed in Cambaroora had I found a nugget then;
But in vain we scraped together every penny we could get,
For they fixed us with their boycott, and the plant was seized for debt.
’Twas a storekeeper who did it, and he sealed the paper’s doom,
Though we gave him ads. for nothing when the STAR began to boom:
’Twas a paltry bill for tucker, and the crawling, sneaking clown
Sold the debt for twice its value to the men who hated Brown.
I was digging up the river, and I swam the flooded bend
With a little cash and comfort for my literary friend.
Brown was sitting sad and lonely with his head bowed in despair,
While a single tallow candle threw a flicker on his hair,
And the gusty wind that whistled through the crannies of the door
Stirred the scattered files of paper that were lying on the floor.
Charlie took my hand in silence — and by-and-by he said:
‘Tom, old mate, we did our damnedest, but the brave old STAR is dead.’
* * * * * *
Then he stood up on a sudden, with a face as pale as death,
And he gripped my hand a moment, while he seemed to fight for breath:
‘Tom, old friend,’ he said, ‘I’m going, and I’m ready to — to start,
‘For I know that there is something — something crooked with my heart.
‘Tom, my first child died. I loved her even better than the pen —
‘Tom — and while the STAR was dying, why, I felt like I did then.
* * * * * *
‘Listen! Like the distant thunder of the rollers on the bar —
‘Listen, Tom! I hear the — diggers — shouting: ‘Bully for the STAR!’’
Henry Lawson. In the Days When the World Was Wide and Other Verses, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1903 [first published 1896], pages 205-215
par = in a literary context, an abbreviation of “paragraph”
screw = in a work context, a reference to wages or salary