Shell ! [poem by Grant Hervey]

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

Shell !

Broome, the centre of the Westralian pearling industry, is booming. Shell is higher than for years past, and the market is steady. Pearls are in good demand. . . . There are now over a couple of hundred whites in the business, either as full or part owners of vessels, and as many more are engaged as shell-openers. Japs and Malays still do the monotonous work of pumping air to the men on the ocean bed.

Nor’ward the pearlers are faring, white man and Monkey, Malay ;
Who in Australia is caring ? Shell’s quoted higher to-day !
Shell from the sea-depths for beauty, gems for the breast of a queen ;
Shell that shall call us to duty — gun-muzzles savage and lean !
Japs and Malays for the diving, doing monotony’s chores —
Who for the toiling and striving ? Bolting and barring of doors ?
Who for the Nation Australian ? Answer ye, Sydney and Broome ;
White man or patient-eyed alien ? — These are the questions of Doom !

Pearls at the opera flashing, shell that the diver hath won ;
Shell from the cannon’s mouth smashing — which shall ye value anon ?
Luggers that steer in the morning, seeking the treasures below ;
Ships that shall vomit their scorning — which shall ye sigh for in woe ?
Wyndham, Carnarvon and Hedland — they reek of the Chow and the Jap ;
Ye who shall mourn for a dead land, what of the treasures of “scrap” ?
Iron’s more precious than shell is, steel than the wonders of Broome ;
Sounded already your knell is — Hark to the presage of Doom !

White men nor’-westerly pearling, luggers a-rock on the swell ;
Missiles in battle-wrath hurling — hail to the Finders of Shell !
Gates of a Continent nor’ward, all of them free and unbarred ;
Powers veering rapidly war-ward — who shall be saviour and guard ?
Pearls for the mistress and siren, Delilahs that render us weak ;
Jewels of steel and of iron — these let us hastily seek !
Battleships, armies and rifles — answer ye, Melbourne and Broome,
Why are ye busied with trifles ? — Hark to the hammers of Doom !

Broome in the Nor’land is booming, shell they are raising in tons ;
Nor’ ward the cloud-wreaths are looming — what of the booming of guns ?
Pearls (and their price mounting higher) won by the Jap and Malay ;
Baubles of woman’s desire — ’ware lest ye heavily pay!
Shell that shall blindingly shatter, ships that shall fling from the seas
Gems of the arsenal’s matter — precious, how precious are these ?
Patient, how patient the Alien, toiling at Derby and Broome !
Hail to the jewels Australian ! — Jewels of Folly and Doom !

Grant Hervey. Australians Yet and Other Verses, Thomas C. Lothian, Melbourne, 1913, pages 172-174

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