Bill the Bullock Driver.
The leaders of millions — the lords of the lands
Who sway the wide world with their will,
And shake the great globe with the strength of their hands,
Flash past us — unnoticed by Bill.
The elders of Science who measure the spheres
And weigh the vast bulk of the sun —
Who see the grand lights beyond aeons of years,
Are less than a bullock to one.
The singers that sweeten all time with their song —
Pure voices that make us forget
Humanity’s drama of marvellous wrong,
To Bill are as mysteries yet.
By thunders of battle and nations uphurled,
Bill’s sympathies never were stirred:
The helmsmen who stand at the wheel of the world
By him are unknown and unheard.
What trouble has Bill for the ruin of lands,
Or the quarrels of temple and throne,
So long as the whip that he holds in his hands,
And the team that he drives, are his own?
As straight and as sound as a slab without crack,
Our Bill is a king in his way:
Though he camps by the side of a shingle track,
And sleeps on the bed of his dray.
A whiplash to him is as dear as a rose
Would be to a delicate maid:
He carries his darlings wherever he goes
In a pocket-book tattered and frayed.
The joy of a bard when he happens to write
A song like the song of his dream
Is nothing at all to our hero’s delight
In the pluck and the strength of his team.
For the kings of the earth — for the faces august
Of princes, the millions may shout:
To Bill as he lumbers along in the dust,
A bullock’s the grandest thing out.
His fourfooted friends are the friends of his choice —
No lover is Bill of your dames;
But the cattle that turn at the sound of his voice
Have the sweetest of features and names.
A father’s chief joy is a favourite son
When he reaches some eminent goal;
But the pride of Bill’s heart is the hairy-legged one
That pulls with a will at the pole.
His dray is no living, responsible thing,
But he gives it the gender of life;
And, seeing his fancy is free in the wing,
It suits him as well as a wife.
He thrives like an Arab. Between the two wheels
Is his bedroom, where, lying up-curled,
He thinks for himself like a sultan, and feels
That his home is the best in the world.
For, even though cattle like subjects will break
At times from the yoke and the band,
Bill knows how to act when his rule is at stake,
And is therefore a lord of the land.
Of course he must dream; but be sure that his dreams,
If happy, must compass — alas! —
Fat bullocks at feed by improbable streams,
Knee-deep in improbable grass.
No poet is Bill; for the visions of night
To him are as visions of day;
And the pipe that in sleep he endeavours to light
Is the pipe that he smokes on the dray.
To the mighty, magnificent temples of God
In the hearts of the dominant hills
Bill’s eyes are as blind as the fire-blackened clod
That burns far away from the rills.
Through beautiful, bountiful forests that screen
A marvel of blossoms from heat —
Whose lights are the mellow and golden, and green —
Bill walks with irreverent feet.
The manifold splendours of mountain and wood
By Bill like nonentities slip:
He loves the black myrtle because it is good
As a handle to lash to his whip.
And thus through the world, with a swing in his tread,
Our hero self-satisfied goes;
With his cabbage-tree hat on the back of his head,
And the string of it under his nose.
Poor bullocky Bill! In the circles select
Of the scholars he hasn’t a place;
But he walks like a man with his forehead erect,
And he looks at God’s day in the face.
For, rough as he seems, he would shudder to wrong
A dog with the loss of a hair;
And the angels of shine and superlative song
See his heart and the deity there.
Few know him indeed; but the beauty that glows
In the forest is loveliness still;
And Providence helping the life of the rose
Is a Friend and a Father to Bill.
Henry Kendall, Songs from the Mountains, Sydney: William Maddock, 1880, pages 58-63
aeon = (also spelt “eon”) an immeasurably long period of time; (in geology) a period of one thousand million years
Arab = a reference to nomadic Arabs, such as the Bedouin nomads
rill = a very small brook, creek, or stream (a rivulet)