To Australia [poem by Douglas B. W. Sladen]

[Editor: A poem by Douglas B. W. Sladen. Published in Australian Ballads and Rhymes: Poems Inspired by Life and Scenery in Australia and New Zealand, 1888.]

To Australia.

O last of the Earth’s children! O latest born to Time!
Long hidden by the ocean in solitude sublime,
Your future and your greatness are still within the womb,
While, awed in expectation of high imperial doom,
The worn old Earth is waiting with anxious eyes to see
Cast in what mould the fortune of you, her last, shall be.

Yes! you were born to greatness, with your immense estates
In one compact block severed, with oceans for its straits,
From every race and country of puissance to compete,
And rich with every climate from equatorial heat
To mildness as delicious as breathes on Devon’s sands,
And dow’red by grace of heaven with health above all lands.

Upon the sunny pastures of your unpeopled west,
The fleet, majestic chargers of Araby the blest,
Famed for their lightning courses and hardihood, at length
Are rivalled in their fleetness, outrivalled in their strength,
While to the virgin grasses of your far-stretching north
The short-horned steers of Durham have thriving wandered forth.

Look southwards o’er the paddocks of wealthy New South Wales,
And over young Victoria’s world-famous western dales,
To where the pure merino, of royal Saxon birth,
French-noble and hidalgo, crops close the fertile earth,
In lustrous coat, long-stapled, and close as wild swan’s down,
Fleeced to below the fetlock from sun and storm-wind’s frown.

From Gippsland’s hop-lined gardens to Carpentaria’s bay,
The rocks and river channels disgorge the yellow clay,
That gladdens men or maddens, now turned to clothes and food,
Now melted in strong liquor, and oft with blood imbrued,
While every range of mountains is rich with coal or tin,
Or beds of solid copper, or crystals opaline.

Look once again far northwards, and see the sugared cane
Spread out in vast plantations along the Queensland main;
Look once again far southwards, and see the leagues of corn
From Adelaide’s broad bosom to honest labour born,
And eastwards to the orchards, where myriad orange-trees
With show’rs of snow-white blossom bewitch the harbour breeze.

Beside the stately Murray, the sunburned dwellers crush
Each autumn gold or purple grape-bunches sweet and lush,
That rival hothouse clusters in their luxuriance,
And press into a vintage as pure as that of France:
While further north, banana and pomegranate and pine
Their tropic richness mingle with orange and with vine.

Nor is’t alone in gardens with hop or orange stored,
And wealth of sheep or vineyards, or sugar-bearing sward;
Nor is it in swift horses, or mammoth fields of wheat,
Or sands or quartz-reefs golden, or range of cold and heat,
That you are counted happy, for you have children fair,
Whom you with proudest mother’s may fearlessly compare.

For yours are bright-haired daughters, frank-eyed and fair of face,
Endowed with lissom bodies and gallant native grace;
And they are not mere beauties in lace and silk arrayed,
Called, as they have been often, in battle unafraid,
To meet the venomed serpent, or wage a mortal strife
With flames and with starvation, in back-block station life.

Your sons might not pass muster in Bond Street or Pall-Mall,
But when bush fires are raging, they go to face the hell
With courage as undaunted as those who led the van
Right up to mouths of cannon, at San Sebastian;
Nor fisher of the Cinque Ports, with more unblenching cheek,
To save — even beasts — could venture to stem a winter creek.

The spirit of the Norman shone brightly in his breast,
Who with a single shepherd rode out into the west,
Regardless of the perils of undiscovered lands
(Of being bushed, or stricken by serpents, or the hands
Of swarming swarthy natives, who moved with ghostly stealth),
To lay the first foundations of all our fleecy wealth.

And something of the Norman must mingle in their blood,
Who emulate old England by fence and field and flood —
Who take their four-rail fences to hunt the kangaroo,
As well as would the Pytchley for all their view-halloo,
And, standing at the wickets, the cricket-bat can wield
With any that broad Yorkshire can send into the field.

The worn old Earth is waiting with anxious eyes to see
Cast in what mould the fortune of you, her last, shall be,
When grown into a nation, at length Australia’s best
Have to meet doughty Europe, in face to face contest
Sterner than playing cricket and taking flying leaps,
Or beating both worlds’ oarsmen upon smooth river-sweeps.

When you are a great nation, with free rule of your own,
Will you give ear to duty, as oft in every zone
Your elder sisters yearned to, though reared from youth in strife,
Though with no past to teach them a royal rule for life,
Though fostered in the ages, when Earth was young and rude
And could not school her children to paths of rectitude?

But you are heir and scholar to all the lore of Time,
Born of the Earth in flower, born in a golden clime;
You must profit by the errors of all your sisterhood;
You must purge away the evil and cleave unto the good;
Your reign must be the first-fruits of better years to come,
An earnest of the dawn of the true millennium.

The worn old Earth is waiting with anxious eyes to see
How steady the demeanour of you, her last, would be,
If the red foot of warfare were planted on your soil
And sword-blade put for ploughshare before the hand of toil,
Or the gulf-stream of commerce diverted to your ports,
And fleets of all the nations at anchor ’neath your forts.

Will Wellingtons and Nelsons come forward in your hour,
Or Washingtons discover a heaven-born leading-power?
Will you rule vast possessions with honest wish to do
Their right to all, as England so long has striven to?
And will you free the good gifts of Earth from land to land,
That everywhere the hungry may know her bounteous hand?

Go forth, young Queen, and prosper! may millions yet unborn
Cry blessings on Australia! teem you with gold and corn,
And sheep and kine and horses, and canes and hops and fruit!
May England’s ancient greatness strike everlasting root
In our great Southern isle, and new continents obey
The greater Britain reared in the cradle of the day!

Douglas B. W. Sladen.

Douglas B. W. Sladen (editor), Australian Ballads and Rhymes: Poems Inspired by Life and Scenery in Australia and New Zealand London: Walter Scott, 1888, pages 205-210

Editor’s notes:
Bond Street = Bond Street, a well-known street in London, England

Devon = a county in the south-west of England, located to the east of the county of Cornwall

hidalgo = a member of the Spanish and Portuguese nobility; in popular usage, the term has come to mean the non-titled nobility

kine = cattle

lissom = (also spelt “lissome”) easily bent, flexible, limber, supple; able to bend or move with ease; agile, nimble

main = mainland (may also refer to the open ocean or high sea)

Pall-Mall = Pall-Mall, a well-known street in London, England (pall mall was also the name of a game played where a wooden ball was hit with a mallet down an alleyway and through a raised iron ring; the name was also used to refer to alleyways in which the game was played)

sward = a lawn or meadow; land covered with grass

Old spelling in the original text:
is’t (is it)
o’er (over)

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