The Paroo [poem by Henry Lawson]

[Editor: This poem by Henry Lawson was published in Verses Popular and Humorous, 1900.]

The Paroo

It was a week from Christmas-time,
As near as I remember,
And half a year since in the rear
We’d left the Darling Timber.
The track was hot and more than drear;
The long day seemed forever;
Put now we knew that we were near
Our camp — the Paroo River.

With blighted eyes and blistered feet,
With stomachs out of order,
Half mad with flies and dust and heat
We’d crossed the Queensland Border.
I longed to hear a stream go by
And see the circles quiver;
I longed to lay me down and die
That night on Paroo River.

’Tis said the land out West is grand —
I do not care who says it —
It isn’t even decent scrub,
Nor yet an honest desert;
It’s plagued with flies, and broiling hot,
A curse is on it ever;
I really think that God forgot
The country round that river.

My mate — a native of the land —
In fiery speech and vulgar,
Condemned the flies and cursed the sand,
And doubly damned the mulga.
He peered ahead, he peered about —
A bushman he, and clever —
‘Now mind you keep a sharp look-out;
‘We must be near the river.’

The ‘nose-bags’ heavy on each chest
(God bless one kindly squatter!)
With grateful weight our hearts they pressed —
We only wanted water.
The sun was setting (in the west)
In colour like a liver —
We’d fondly hoped to camp and rest
That night on Paroo River.

A cloud was on my mate’s broad brow,
And once I heard him mutter:
‘I’d like to see the Darling now,
‘God bless the Grand Old Gutter!’
And now and then he stopped and said
In tones that made me shiver —
‘It cannot well be on ahead,
‘I think we’ve crossed the river.’

But soon we saw a strip of ground
That crossed the track we followed —
No barer than the surface round,
But just a little hollowed.
His brows assumed a thoughtful frown —
This speech he did deliver:
‘I wonder if we’d best go down
‘Or up the blessed river?’

‘But where,’ said I, ‘’s the blooming stream?’
And he replied, ‘We’re at it!’
I stood awhile, as in a dream,
‘Great Scott!’ I cried, ‘is that it?
‘Why, that is some old bridle-track!’
He chuckled, ‘Well, I never!
‘It’s nearly time you came out-back —
‘This is the Paroo River!’

No place to camp — no spot of damp —
No moisture to be seen there;
If e’er there was it left no sign
That it had ever been there.
But ere the morn, with heart and soul
We’d cause to thank the Giver —
We found a muddy water-hole
Some ten miles down the river.

Henry Lawson. Verses Popular and Humorous, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1900, pages 142-145

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