Transcontinental Railways [poem by Grant Hervey]

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

Transcontinental Railways

He may be a simple moujik, quite inferior to Us,
He may be a hairy Cossack, with a beard to stuff a ’bus —
But, when carefully considered, there are points about the Russ,
And we haven’t any reason to expand our chests with pride ;
For he took the spade and hammer, and theodolite and drill,
And he punched the steppes of Asia — punched his Road along until
Vladivostock heard his engines rolling Gatewards, whistling shrill,
And Port Arthur saw his locos. — where the Bear went down and died !
Where the Irtish hastens seaward, where the Tobol nor’ward flows —
Where the ice lies white on Baikal, ’neath Siberia’s winter snows,
There the Builders pushed their Roadway, and the White Man fought his foes —
Are ye building as he builded ? Nay, your Gates are open wide !

Hear the songs the White Man chanted — battle hymns his soldiers sang,
As his armies hastened forward — hear the cannon roar and clang,
Lo, the blood of shattered heroes soaks the fields of Liao-Yang,
And the dead to-day are sleeping on the Road from Tsitsihar ;
There are bones that bleach and whiten where the Bear put up his fight —
There are Russian children crying for their fathers in the night,
There’s a Flag that’s torn and humbled — do ye understand it right ?
Are ye Building, are ye toiling, driving on with spade and bar ?
For the Russ, he did his darnedest in the few Preparing Years —
Yea, he bridged the foaming Shilka with his steel and engineers,
But to-day the Bear is Gate-less, and the Monkey grins and leers —
Have ye barred Australia’s Gateway ? See ! the portal stands ajar !

Far away the Bear is toiling — he is slowly “making good,”
He is grafting, he is marching as the White Man surely should —
He is tramping towards the ocean ’neath his distant engine-hood,
Making ready, sure and ready for the conflict yet to be ;
He’s a plodder, he’s a sticker — stuck until Port Arthur fell,
Beaten down with fists of iron, beaten down with shot and shell —
He is working, he is waiting, then he’ll ring his engine-bell —
Then he’ll roll his armies eastward to his Gate-way by the sea !
Eighty millions spent a-building — still the Russ is spending more.
“Shall the Monkey hold my portal ? I will win me back my Door” —
Says the Russian as he labours, as he plods by Dolo-Nor,
Are ye plodding also seaward ? Bah ! your Gate is wide and free !

Lo, the Bear was White and willing, but the foemen got him down —
’Twas St. Petersburg that beat him, not the Monkey legions brown,
’Twas the crowd . of slothful bosses far away in PETER’S Town —
Fighting PETER, he who laboured where the Deutscher’s shipyards are ;
He whose fist propelled the hammer and the axe and plane and saw —
He who left the pomps of Moscow, so that he with earnest paw
Might instruct his Russian people, building ships and framing law,
He whose days were days of vigour cheers for Russia’s Fighting Czar !
But the bones of PETE the Builder lie beside the Neva’s stream,
And the man who holds his billet wanders sadly in a dream —
So to-day the Monkey’s locos, lift their warning toot and scream,
On the Bear-constructed Railway up in old Manchuria !

There’s a Road that waits unfinished — well ye know the Road I mean,
’Tis the Road from Port Augusta — there’s a continent to glean,
Time that ye were pushing nor’ward towards the Gateway’s ocean-sheen —
Time that steel and steam were urging towards the Arafura side ;
There’s a Track that needs preparing — One that leads by Alice Springs.
Are ye bossed and chained and shackled that no hammer skyward swings ?
That the Track is but a pathway where the “wire” vibrates and sings —
Shall they write upon your tombstone : “Here a White Australia died ?”
Lest the plain and simple moujik prove superior to Us,
Let us Build our Road and yakker — let us push Australia’s bus.
For the question rises bluntly : Though we scorn the distant Russ,
Have we tuppence worth of reason to inflate our chests with pride !

Grant Hervey. Australians Yet and Other Verses, Thomas C. Lothian, Melbourne, 1913, pages 214-218

Editor’s notes:
Bear = Russia, as an attributed (considered by some to be derogatory) representative emblem of Russia is a bear

Dolo-Nor = Dolonor, located in Inner Mongolia, China

Liao-Yang = a city in China; the Battle of Liaoyang in 1904 was a victory for the Russians against the Japanese in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05)

locos. = locomotives, trains

Monkey = China (also used regarding Chinese people), being a derogatory reference to China as being the land of “monkey men” (Grant Hervey uses the term “monkey” in relation to China, and/or the Chinese, in his poems “I Hear Australia Singing”, “Shell!”, and “Transcontinental Railways”)

Moujik = Russian peasant

Shilka = the Shilka River in south-eastern Russia, near the Chinese border

theodolite = a surveying instrument with a rotating telescope, used for measuring horizontal and vertical angles

Tsitsihar = a city in China, now known as Qiqihar

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