In early, prehistoric days, before the reign of Man,
When neolithic Nature fashioned things upon a plan
That was large as it was rugged, and, in truth, a trifle crude,
There arose a dusky human who was positively rude.
Now, this was in the days when lived the monster kangaroo;
When the mammoth bunyip gambolled in the hills of Beetaloo;
They’d owned the land for centuries, and reckoned it their own;
For might was right, and such a thing as “law” was quite unknown.
But this dusky old reformer in the ages long ago,
One morning in the Eocene discovered how to “throw”;
He studied well and practised hard until he learned the art;
Then, having planned his Great Campaign, went forth to make a start.
“See here,” he said — and hurled a piece of tertiary rock,
That struck a Tory bunyip with a most unpleasant shock —
“See here, my name is Progress, and your methods are too slow,
This land that you are fooling with must be cut up. Now go!”
They gazed at him in wonder, then they slowly backed away;
For “throwing” things was novel in that neolithic day;
’Twas the prehistoric “argument,” the first faint gleam of “art.”
Yet those mammoths seemed to take it in exceedingly bad part.
Then a hoary, agéd bunyip rose, and spluttered loud and long;
He said the black man’s arguments were very, very wrong;
“You forget,” he said, indignantly “the land is ours by right,
And to seek to wrest it from us would be — well, most impolite.”
But the savage shook his woolly head and smiled a savage smile,
And went on hurling prehistoric missiles all the while,
Till the bunyip and the others couldn’t bear the argument,
And they said, “Why, this is robbery!” But, all the same — they went.
Some centuries — or, maybe, it was aeons — later on,
When the bunyip and the mammoth kangaroo had passed and gone;
While the black man slowly profited by what his fathers saw,
While he learned to fashion weapons and establish tribal law.
There came a band of pale-faced men in ships, from oversea,
Who viewed the land, then shook their heads and sadly said, “Dear me!”
Then they landed with rum and school books and a trusty gun or two,
And started out to “civilize,” as whites are apt to do.
They interviewed the black man and remarked, “It’s very sad,
But the use you make of this great land is positively bad;
Why, you haven’t got a sheep or cow about the blessed place!
Considering the price of wool, it’s simply a disgrace!”
Then they started with the school books and the rum — likewise the guns;
And some began to look for gold and others “took up runs.”
For, they said, “This land must be cut up; it’s simply useless so;
Our name is Progress, and you’re out of date, so you must go!”
But the black was most indignant, and he said it was a shame;
For he’d been full and satisfied before the white man came,
And he used a word unpublishable in his argument, —
Which is native for “A blanky Buccaneer.” And yet — he went.
It’s the same old “march unceasing.” We are getting down the list,
And yesterday’s “Reformer” is tomorrow’s “Monopolist,”
For Hist’ry will repeat itself in this annoying way:
Who stood for “Progress” yesterday is “Retrograde” to-day.
C. J. Dennis, Backblock Ballads and Later Verses, Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1918, pages 124-126
Previously published in:
C. J. Dennis, Backblock Ballads and Other Verses, Melbourne: E. W. Cole, , pages 152-155