Stokin’ [poem by Quilp N]

[Editor: This poem by Quilp N (Will Lawson) was published in The Bulletin Reciter, 1901.]


Stowed deep below the load-line —
Ten feet to twenty-five —
We face the glarin’ dazzle
And make good steam to drive.
Keepin’ the gauges steady
At near two hundred pound,
With scorching heat before us
And scorching steel all round.

And when an air-shoot ’s loafin’
Instead of suckin’ air,
We sneak on deck to fix it,
Then sling in coal an’ swear,

To the scrape, scrape, scrape of the shovels,
An’ the snarlin’ rolling rattle of the coal.
God has made some men to starve ashore in hovels,
And us to sweat our lives out in this hole.

You praise your gallant skipper
And skilful engineers ;
The A.B. is a hero
Who squints one eye and steers ;
The ladies like the moonlight
And officers to chaff ;
They have n’t got no tickets
On us, the stoke’ole staff,
Who keep the boilers hummin’
And funnel-flues a-roar.
With blisterin’ steel above us
And on a blisterin’ floor.
They ’re laughin’ on the main-deck,
But I would like to know
If they are ever thinkin’
Of men who toil below.

To the clank, clank, clank and the bangin’,
And the rattlin’ of the heavy furnace doors.
Which is best: to loaf and starve or die by hangin’,
Or waste your lives a-toilin’ on these floors ?

The steamers from La Plata
Take sufferin’ cattle ’Ome ;
The liner leaves ’em standin’
With splutterin’ screws afoam ;
The wool-tanks from Port Jackson,
Melbourne and Moreton Bay,
The meat-carts from New Zealand
Are smashin’ clouds of spray ;
And down below their load-lines —
Ten feet to twenty-five —
We curse their graspin’ owners
And give ’em steam to drive.
It ’s double whacks of win’s’ls
When cattle feels it hot,
But who cares two dead Chinkies
If we are grilled or not ?

We must stoke, stoke, stoke to the pourin’
Of the gleamin’ glist’nin’ rollin’, snarlin’ coal ;
Up aloft it may be calm or gales a-roarin’
But it ’s always heat and stillness in this hole.

There ’s men of every natur’
And every sort of breed
Sent down to make the vapour —
The steam that makes the speed ;
A canny Tyne-side Dogger
Is workin’ right of me,
And, may my eyes be jiggered !
My left ’s a Portugee !
With blunderin’ swing she ’s rollin’,
There ’s ugly swells abeam ;
The draught is singin’ noisy
And makin’ tons of steam ;
Our forehead-veins are bulgin’
And veins on arms as well.
I wonder what they ’re burnin’
If it ’s hotter down in hell ?

They must graft, graft, graft as we are graftin’ —
Ten times as hard and twice as hard again ;
But they ’ll miss the kick and rumble of the shaftin’,
Which tells us that we labour not in vain.

There ’s flirtin’ on the spar-deck,
Both sittin’ on one spar ;
There ’s drinkin’ in the smoke-room
And in the steamer’s bar ;
They ’re playin’ a pianner,
I s’pose, in the saloon,
Some patriotic, rowdy,
And fashionable tune.
But better girls are waitin’
For us when we ’re ashore,
Who ’ll give us all the huggin’
We ever want — and more.
And all the shallow drinkin’
In smoke-room, bar, and such,
Compared to what we founder,
It don’t amount to much.

For it ’s thirst, thirst, thirst so dry and burning :
We want no grub, we only long for drink ;
Until we see the pub-lights fade, returning,
We never want to pause or pause to think.

God makes some men’s lives easy,
And some he makes as slaves ;
The first gets rich by thinkin’,
The last on what they saves.
And berthed above her Plimsoll —
Ten feet and mostly more —
The men who live by thinkin’
Are dreamin’ of the shore,
Or laughin’ in their deck-chairs ;—
They’re all so blessed proud
They can’t abear to look at
The dirty stoke-’ole crowd
Who feed the hungry boilers,
That drive the piston-heads,
Settin’ the screw a-tearin’
The ocean into shreds,

To the scrape, scrape, scrape and the bangin’
Of the swelterin’, heazy, rattlin’ furnace-doors ;
Which IS best: to loaf and starve or die by hangin’,
Or sweat and swear a-toilin’ on these floors ?

Quilp N.

A.G. Stephens (editor). The Bulletin Reciter: A Collection of Verses for Recitation from “The Bulletin” [1880-1901], The Bulletin Newspaper Company, Sydney, 1902 [first published 1901], pages 72-76

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