The Future of Australia [poem by Mary Hannay Black (Mary Hannay Foott), 8 February 1873]

[Editor: This poem by Mary Hannay Black (who later became Mary Hannay Foott) was published in The Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW), 8 February 1873. It was written for the anniversary of the founding of the colony of New South Wales (now known as Australia Day).]

The Future of Australia.

Sing us the Land of the Southern Sea —
The land we have called our own;
Tell us what harvest there shall be
From the seed that we have sown.

We love the stories of stirring days,
The songs of the wind and wave,
The Border ballads and courtly lays,
And the poems Shakespeare gave.

We love the chant, like cathedral chimes,
Of him “made blind to sing.”
We list the Laureate’s languid rhymes;
His verse of the knightly ring.

For the tears they tell of our brethren wept;
Their praise is our fathers’ fame;
They sing of the Seas our navies swept —
Of the shrines that lent us flame.

But the Past is past for all its pride,
And its ways are not our ways;
We watch the flow of a fresher tide,
And the dawn of brighter days.

Sing us the Land of the Southern Sea —
The land we have called our own;
Tell us what harvest there shall be
From the seed that we have sown.

* * * * *

I see the child we are tending now,
To a queenly stature grown;
The crown of empire on her brow,
And the purple round her thrown.

She feeds her household plenteously,
From the granaries we have filled;
Her vintage is gathered in with glee,
From the fields our toil has tilled.

The Old World’s outcast starvelings feast
Ungrudged on her corn and wine,
The gleaners are welcome west and east
Where her autumn sickles shine.

She clothes her people in silk and wool,
Whose warp and whose woof we spun,
And sons and daughters are hers to rule;
And of slaves — she has not one.

There are herds of hers on a thousand hills;
There are fleecy flocks untold,
No foreign wealth her coffers fills, —
She has streams whose sands are gold!

She will not scramble for falling crowns;
No theft shall her ’scutcheon soil;
She shall fear no despot’s smiles or frowns —
Shall have no need of spoil.

But if wronged or menaced, she shall stand
Where the battle-surges swell, —
The sword of Heaven in her hand,
Like the sword of La Pucelle!

If there be ever so base a foe
As to speak of a time-cleansed stain, —
To say, “She was cradled, long ago,
’Mid clanks of the convict’s chain.”

Ask, — as the taunt in his teeth is hurled, —
“What lineage sprang she from
Who was Empress once of the Pagan world,
And the Queen of Christendom?”

When the toils of her early years are o’er,
And her children round her throng, —
They shall learn from her of the sage’s lore,
And her lips shall teach them song.

And then of those in the dust who dwell,
May there kindly mention be!
May the birds that build in the branches tell
Of the planting of the tree!

M. H. B.

Sydney, January 26, 1873.

The Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW), 8 February 1873, p. 178 (page 18 of that issue)

Editor’s notes:
Border ballad = a traditional ballad or song from the border region between England and Scotland, especially those ballads regarding battles, raids, feuds, and romance in the border areas during the 15th and 16th centuries

Christendom = the Christian world, all Christian people collectively; the countries and empires in which Christian people are the majority, or where Christianity is the predominant religion

dust = dry powdery dirt; fine particles of earth and waste; (in the context of death, or the dead) a reference to the earth in which the dead are buried; the human body, or human remains (similar to the usage of “clay” to refer to the same)

gleaner = someone who gathers grain left behind in a field after the harvest has been reaped; someone who gathers information or material gradually, especially bit by bit and with some difficulty

La Pucelle = (French) the girl, the maid, the virgin; often used as a reference to Joan of Arc (Joan la Pucelle; la Pucelle d’Orléans, i.e. the Maid of Orléans)

lay = song, tune; ballad (may also refer to ballads or narrative poems, as sung by medieval minstrels or bards)

’mid = an abbreviation of “amid” or “amidst”: of or in the middle of an area, group, position, etc.

o’er = (archaic) over (pronounced the same as “oar”, “or”, and “ore”)

Old World = Europe, Asia, and Africa, i.e. the known world before the discovery of the Americas, the latter being known as the New World (can also refer to something dating from or associated with olden times, especially something which is reminiscent of the past in a charming or pleasant fashion; old-fashioned; traditional)

purple = purple refers to someone of high position; traditionally, the colour purple was used by princes, monarchs, and emperors; purple clothing, material, or decorations indicative of, or regarding, the ruler of a land, kingdom, or empire (in other contexts “purple” may refer to something that is brilliant, ornate, or showy; a text that uses excessively ornate rhetoric or exaggerated literary devices; rude or shocking language)

’scutcheon = a contraction or aphetic form of “escutcheon”: a coat of arms; an area, especially a shield or a shield-shaped area, upon which are displayed armorial bearings or a coat of arms; a person’s character or reputation (can also refer to an escutcheon plate, being a plate or shield surrounding an item such as a door handle, keyhole, light switch, etc., used to protect the underlying surface or as an ornamental decoration)

Shakespeare = William Shakespeare (1564-1616), English playwright and poet

time-cleansed stain = the convict stain (the social stain or stigma of having been a convict, related to, or descended from a convict; the social stain or stigma of living in a land where convicts were sent, a stigma believed to have been cleansed by the passage of time and the rise of decent society)

warp = in the process of weaving fabric, threads that run passed lengthwise (vertically) down a loom (the frame upon which cloth is woven)

woof = (also known as “weft”) in the process of weaving fabric, threads that run passed crosswise (horizontally) across a loom (the frame upon which cloth is woven), and which are interweaved with the vertical threads (known as “warp”); can also refer to woven fabric, or to the texture of woven fabric

Speak Your Mind