Silk Cracker Days [poem by Grant Hervey]

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

Silk Cracker Days

I dreamt last night they were back again — those silk-lashed days of yore,
Ere the rush and clang of the steaming train had drowned the ox-whips’ roar.
I dreamt that the year was ’79, and I heard the silk-tailed goads
Make the necks bend low and the great wheels whine as they drove the old bush roads !
Aye, I heard the curses ringing loud, and the gleaming days were back —
Ere the olden teamsmen’s heads had bowed or the whips had ceased to crack !

“Whoa- way-back, Star !” I heard afar ring out with a red refrain,
And I yelled with joy, for I was a boy,
And the days were back again !

The teams were back on the roads once more, and the hours were gay and glad —
When the days were warm and splashed with gore, and the nights were bright and bad !
For the teams were camped in a ’paulined row, and the red gin cases showed
“J.D.K.Z.” in the fire’s warm glow by the side of the oath-worn road |
For the loads were on, but the yokes laid by, while the oxen chewed their cud.
Ho the world was high and the world was dry, if its speech was starred with blood !

Blink-blank ! Blank ! Blank !
How the swears did clank ! How the curses sounded shrill,
As they soared from the lips, ’twixt the cracks of whips, of the frenzied James and Bill !

And at early dawn by the ringing track, lo ! the bows and pole-pins clanged,
When up from bed of rug and sack rose the old man and slang-whanged !
They are yoking up ! a score of teams, and of men with shirt-backs torn,
That blow like pennons in my dreams wherein the past’s re-born !
Red-shirted men, with hairy throats, and their lungs of tempered steel,
Oh, their blazing, fierce, blaspheming notes made the “polers” reach and reel !

Damn ! Damn ! ! Damn ! ! ! Damn ! ! ! !
Oh, I saw them ram the leaders’ quiv’ring necks,
In the silk-bound days when bullock drays bore the world upon their decks !

From Portland Town, ho, I saw them steer, ere a railway line was built,
When men sinned sins with a wanton cheer and the wayside rum was spilt !
Oh, for the days when to North and West the waggon-ships sailed free,
And tacked and veered at the shrill behest of the whip-lash musketry !
Sing hey for the “wire” by the thousand coil, as they bore it out to fence,
The sea-like plains and mark the soil with a proud, new insolence !

Silk Cracker Days ! — through the steaming haze do I see them drive the teams —
The men whose lips and roaring whips make thunder in my dreams !
Silk Cracker Days ? — they are dead and gone ! — long crumbled into dust
Are waggon-wheels and hearts that won the present breed its crust !

Silk Cracker Days ! ! — the roaring whips are silent now, and dumb
The scarlet, stinging, goading strips and cattle have become !
The Days are Gone ! — the coaly train has seized on all the land,
Whereon the teams in cracking days went cursing through the sand !
Yet still afar: “Whoa-way-back, Star!” I hear ring out a-main ;
And, like a boy, I jump with joy — The Days are Back Again !

Grant Hervey. Australians Yet and Other Verses, Thomas C. Lothian, Melbourne, 1913, pages 231-234

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