[Editor: This poem by Henry Lawson was published in Verses Popular and Humorous, 1900.]
Years After the War in Australia
The big rough boys from the runs out back
were first where the balls flew free,
And yelled in the slang of the Outside Track :
‘By God, it’s a Christmas spree !’
‘It’s not too rusty’ — and ‘Wool away ! —
stand clear of the blazing shoots !’
‘Sheep O ! Sheep O !’ — ‘We’ll cut out to-day’ —
‘Look out for the boss’s boots !’ —
‘What price the tally in camp to-night !’ —
‘What price the boys Out Back !’ —
‘Go it, you tigers, for Right or Might
and the pride of the Outside Track !’ —
‘Needle and thread !’ — ‘I have broke my comb !’ —
‘Now ride, you flour-bags, ride !’ —
‘Fight for your mates and the folk at home !’ —
‘Here’s for the Lachlan side !’
Those men of the West would sneer and scoff
at the gates of hell ajar,
And oft the sight of a head cut off
was hailed by a yell for ‘Tar !’
* * * * * *
I heard the push in the Red Redoubt,
irate at a luckless shot :
‘Look out for the blooming shell, look out ! —
‘Gor’ bli’ me, but that’s red-hot !’
‘It’s Bill the Slogger — poor bloke — he’s done.
A chunk of the shell was his ;
‘I wish the beggar that fired that gun
could get within reach of Liz.’
‘Those foreign gunners will give us rats,
but I wish it was Bill they missed.’
‘I’d like to get at their bleeding hats
with a rock in my (something) fist.’
‘Hold up, Billy ; I’ll stick to you ;
they’ve hit you under the belt ;
‘If we get the waddle I’ll swag you through,
if the blazing mountains melt ;
‘You remember the night when the traps got me
for stoushing a bleeding Chow,
‘And you went for ’em proper and laid out three,
and I won’t forget it now.’
And, groaning and swearing, the pug replied :
‘I’m done . . . they’ve knocked me out !
‘I’d fight them all for a pound a-side,
from the boss to the rouseabout.
‘My nut is cracked and my legs is broke,
and it gives me worse than hell ;
‘I trained for a scrap with a twelve-stone bloke,
and not with a bursting shell.
‘You needn’t mag, for I knowed, old chum,
I knowed, old pal, you’d stick ;
‘But you can’t hold out till the reg’lars come,
and you’d best be nowhere quick.
‘They’ve got a force and a gun ashore,
both of our wings is broke ;
‘They’ll storm the ridge in a minute more,
and the best you can do is smoke.’
And Jim exclaimed : ‘You can smoke, you chaps,
but me — Gor’ bli’ me, no !
‘The push that ran from the George-street traps
won’t run from a foreign foe.
‘I’ll stick to the gun while she makes them sick,
and I’ll stick to what’s left of Bill.’
And they hiss through their blackened teeth : ‘We’ll stick !
by the blazing flame, we will !’
And long years after the war was past,
they told in the town and bush
How the ridge of death to the bloody last
was held by a Sydney push ;
How they fought to the end in a sheet of flame,
how they fought with their rifle-stocks,
And earned, in a nobler sense, the name
of their ancient weapons — ‘rocks.’
* * * * *
In the western camps it was ever our boast,
when ’twas bad for the kangaroo :
‘If the enemy’s forces take the coast,
they must take the mountains, too ;
‘They may force their way by the
western line or round by a northern track,
‘But they won’t run short of a decent spree
with the men who are left out back !’
When we burst the enemy’s ironclads
and won by a run of luck,
We whooped as loudly as Nelson’s lads
when a French three-decker struck ;
And when the enemy’s troops prevailed
the truth was never heard —
We lied like heroes who never failed
explaining how that occurred.
You bushmen sneer in the old bush way
at the new-chum jackeroo,
But ‘cuffs-’n’-collers’ were out that day,
and they stuck to their posts like glue ;
I never believed that a dude could fight
till a Johnny led us then ;
We buried his bits in the rear that night
for the honour of George-street men.
And Jim the Ringer — he fought, he did.
The regiment nicknamed Jim,
‘Old Heads a Caser ‘ and ‘ Heads a Quid,’
but it never was ‘tails’ with him.
The way that he rode was a racing rhyme,
and the way that he finished grand ;
He backed the enemy every time,
and died in a hand-to-hand !
* * * * * *
I’ll never forget when the ringer and I
were first in the Bush Brigade,
With Warrego Bill, from the Live-till-you-Die,
in the last grand charge we made.
And Billy died — he was full of sand —
he said, as I raised his head :
‘I’m full of love for my native land,
but a lot too full of lead.
‘Tell ’em,’ said Billy, ‘and tell old dad,
to look after the cattle pup ;’
But his eyes grew bright, though his voice was sad,
and he said, as I held him up :
‘I have been happy on western farms.
And once, when I first went wrong,
‘Around my neck were the trembling arms
of the girl I’d loved so long.
‘Far out on the southern seas I’ve sailed,
and ridden where brumbies roam,
‘And oft, when all on the station failed,
I’ve driven the outlaw home.
‘I’ve spent a cheque in a day and night,
and I’ve made a cheque as quick ;
‘I struck a nugget when times were tight,
and the stores had stopped our tick.
‘I’ve led the field on the old bay mare,
and I hear the cheering still,
‘When mother and sister and she were there,
and the old man yelled for Bill ;
‘But, save for her, could I live my while
again in the old bush way,
‘I’d give it all for the last half-mile
in the race we rode to-day !’
And he passed away as the stars came out —
he died as old heroes die —
I heard the sound of the distant rout,
and the Southern Cross was high.
Henry Lawson. Verses Popular and Humorous, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1900, pages 60-66
Chow = a Chinese person (may also refer to something that is Chinese in origin or style, e.g. a “Chow restaurant”)
ironclad = a naval vessel whose sides were clad (covered) with metal plates, so as to provide armour for protection during warfare (such ships were especially used in the mid to late 1800s)
Liz = [it is unclear what “Liz” is a reference to in this poem] [unknown]
mag = to talk or chat; alternatively, to criticize harshly or vehemently
nut = head
Out Back = remote rural areas; sparsely-inhabited back country; often given as one word and capitalized, “Outback”
ringer = the fastest shearer in a shearing shed
rouseabout = an unskilled worker, especially used regarding someone working in a shearing shed
run = a property on which stock are grazed, such as a “cattle run” or a “sheep run”
tick = credit; often expressed as to buy something “on tick” (from the term “ticket”, used for a written acknowledgment of a debt) [see: E. Cobham Brewer, Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (new edition, vol. 2), Cassell, London, 1895, p.1228]
wing = a side or flank of a military force (usually expressed as the “left flank” or “right flank”)
[Editor: The lines of this poem have each been divided by a line break to enable easier reading of the poetic rhythm.]
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