Whalin’ Up the Lachlan [poem by Louis Esson]

[Editor: This poem by Louis Esson was published in Bells and Bees: Verses (1910).]

Whalin’ Up the Lachlan

A Landowner’s Song

I’ve eaten bitter bread
In sweat wrung from my brow;
And earth-bent, hunger-gripped
Scarred hands on axe and plough.
Now, when the sun is shining,
With swag slung on my back,
I laugh at soured selectors
When I pass down the track.

Whalin’ up the Lachlan
By the waters grey,
Whalin’ up the Lachlan
All a summer’s day, —
We’ll drop a line to tickle
The black fish and the cod,
Whalin’ up the Lachlan
Beside a lazy rod.

Some choose to crack the greenhide,
And some to sow and reap,
And some to pink with B-bows
A-shearin’ greasy sheep.
But some there are, sundowners,
Who take the easy way,
Nor think of lean to-morrow
If they fare fat to-day.

Whalin’ up the Lachlan,
Done with axe and plough,
Whalin’ up the Lachlan,
The billy’s boilin’ now.
We’ll fill our pipes, an’ yarn there,
And watch the world roll by,
Whalin’ up the Lachlan
Under a starry sky.

Louis Esson, Bells and Bees: Verses, Melbourne: Thomas C. Lothian, 1910, [pages 19-20]

Editor’s notes:
B-bows = hand-shears, for shearing sheep

greenhide = untanned hide, also known as rawhide; in the context of stockman and cattle, “greenhide” may specifically refer to a greenhide whip

pink = to “pink” a sheep is to shear it so closely that the pink of the skin shows

selector = the purchaser of an area of land obtained by free-selection; land legislation in Australia in the1860s was passed by several colonies which enabled people to obtain land for farming, whereby they could nominate a limited area of land to rent or buy, being able to select land which had not yet been surveyed (hence the phrase “free selection before survey”) and even obtain land previously leased by squatters (although squatters were able to buy sections of their land, up to a designated limit; with many of them buying up further sections under the names of family members, friends, and employees)

sundowner = a swagman, or tramp, who walked from station to station, ostensibly to look for work, but with no intention of doing any, who would deliberately time his arrival at a farm or station late enough in the evening, or at sundown, so that they could ask for food and lodging, but with little to no risk of being asked to perform some work in exchange

whaling = the activity of a whaler: (also spelt “waler”) a swagman who survives without working; these swagmen would commonly travel up and down rivers, fishing to sustain themselves, as well as going from station to station for handouts, often timing their arrival at a homestead at sundown, so that they could ask for food and lodging, but with little to no risk of being asked to perform some work in exchange, which is why they were also known as “sundowners” (“whaler” may also refer to a whaling ship, or someone who works on a whaling ship)

yarn = chat, talk (may also refer to a long story, with adventurous and interesting components, particularly with parts that are not believable)

Vernacular spelling in the original text:
an’ (and)

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