The Old Colonial Days [poem by Grant Hervey]

[Editor: This poem by Grant Hervey was published in Australians Yet and Other Verses, 1913.]

The Old Colonial Days

The greatest change which Federation is bringing about in the character of Australian politics is that, while in the old colonial days the people of each State lived almost wholly in the present, and rarely looked beyond their borders except to negotiate a loan, representatives and voters alike are now becoming conscious of the fact that the country is responsible for its actions before the world. London TIMES, on “Australian Ideals,” November 20, 1908.

They are dead, those days of drifting —
Proud this Nation’s eyes are lifting,
They are fixed upon the future, on a goal that shines afar.
Gone the days of spendthrift madness,
Dead the days of sloth and badness —
We have hitched Australia’s wagon to a new, bright-blazing star !
With an everlasting tether
Lo ! we’ve tied these States together
We have turned our backs on Cohen and the old, loan-cadging ways ;
For a People white and leal
We have found a New Ideal —
Hear Australia’s great heart singing : “Damn the Old Colonial Days !”

Days for us of bitter sorrow —
Days when “Statesman” meant “I borrow” —
But we’ve raised a New Religion on this land’s loan-blasted shore ;
From Cape York unto the Leeuwin
We have shed the creed of ruin —
We have sworn to save Australia, and our days of doubt are o’er ;
We, the Younger Generation,
Fling our curse and execration
At the breed that pawned our birthright — ’tis a breed that fast decays ;
We, the Younger Set, are grafting,
Hear the roar of forge and shafting —
’Tis the requiem of dead Folly — of the Old Colonial Days!

Gracious land, wax strong and stronger !
See ! thy children slouch no longer,
Hear their anvils, how they clamour — hammering hymns of destiny ;
Hearts of gold, all done with shirking —
For this land’s dear sake all working —
Soon our ships in line of battle shall patrol the southern sea !
Conscious now, we toil all eager —
Thus the Ape shall lift his leaguer
When Australia’s roaring cannon thunder past our capes and bays ;
As the Greeks rolled back Hydarnes,
Lo, this breed in fighting harness
Shall blot out at last the badness of the Old Colonial Days!

We, the scribes who cursed the shirkers,
Long have called for strong Berserkers —
Lo, at last ye stir, O workers, and our hearts beat high with glee ;
Long the years of fierce beseeching —
Harsh our voices, battle-preaching —
But at last Australia hearkens, mills a-chant with industry !
Blot them out, the old State borders —
Fast they die, the fool-disorders —
Aye, the old tradition passes ; hopelessly each
WADE now brays ;
We, One People, stand together —
We, who tied these States a-tether,
Rattle clods upon the coffin of the Old Colonial Days !

They have passed — their Credo scorning,
Lo, we face towards the morning —
Face the work that lies before us, slogging on with giant wills ;
We have slain the gods of shoddy —
Pledging soul and pledging body.
Now we graft to shift the wreckage of their I O U’s and bills !
Living only in the present,
Life for them was very pleasant —
We, their offspring, load our dollars in King Cohen’s shekel drays ;
But the task is worth the trouble —
Up ! Australians, at the double :
Let us settle all the loan-bills of the Old Colonial Days !

For they’re dead, those Days of Drifting,
But their old P.N.’s need shifting —
Let us toil then for the future, for the goal that shines afar.
Past the days of sweat and sadness
Lie the years of lasting gladness —
Let us haul Australia’s wagon towards the new bright-blazing star ;
With a will that knows no breaking,
We have started Nation-making —
We have turned our backs on folly and the bad old drunken ways ;
For a people white and leal
We have raised a new ideal —
And we sing a newer chorus : “Hail the New Australian Days !”

Grant Hervey. Australians Yet and Other Verses, Thomas C. Lothian, Melbourne, 1913, pages 162-165

Editor’s notes:
Cape York = Cape York Peninsula, Queensland, the northern-most point of the Australian mainland

Cohen = a common Jewish surname; “Cohen and the old, loan-cadging ways” and “King Cohen’s shekel drays” would be references to the stereotype of past years regarding Jews and financial occupations; however, as a pro-Labor poet, Hervey is likely using the term as an anti-capitalist reference rather than as an anti-Jewish reference

Hydarnes = the commander of the “Ten Thousand Immortals”, which was the elite unit who fought for the Achaemenid (Persian) Empire; Hydarnes commanded the Immortals during the invasion of Greece by King Xerxes II

Leeuwin = Cape Leeuwin, Western Australia, the most south-westerly point of the Australian mainland

P.N.’s = promissory notes (presumably)

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