The Ballad of the Rouseabout [poem by Henry Lawson]

[Editor: This poem by Henry Lawson was published in Verses Popular and Humorous, 1900.]

The Ballad of the Rouseabout

A rouseabout of rouseabouts, from any land — or none —
I bear a nick-name of the bush, and I’m — a woman’s son ;
I came from where I camp’d last night, and, at the day-dawn glow,
I rub the darkness from my eyes, roll up my swag, and go.

Some take the track for bitter pride, some for no pride at all —
(But — to us all the world is wide when driven to the wall)
Some take the track for gain in life, some take the track for loss —
And some of us take up the swag as Christ took up the Cross.

Some take the track for faith in men — some take the track for doubt —
Some flee a squalid home to work their own salvation out.
Some dared not see a mother’s tears nor meet a father’s face —
Born of good Christian families some leap, head-long, from Grace.

Oh we are men who fought and rose, or fell from many grades ;
Some born to lie, and some to pray, we’re men of many trades ;
We’re men whose fathers were and are of high and low degree —
The sea was open to us and we sailed across the sea.

And — were our quarrels wrong or just ? — has no place in my song —
We seared our souls in puzzling as to what was right or wrong ;
We judge not and we are not judged — ’tis our philosophy —
There’s something wrong with every ship that sails upon the sea.

From shearing shed to shearing shed we tramp to make a cheque—
Jack Cornstalk and the ne’er-do-weel — the tar-boy and the wreck.
We learn the worth of man to man — and this we learn too well —
The shanty and the shearing shed are warmer spots in hell !

I’ve humped my swag to Bawley Plain, and further out and on ;
I’ve boiled my billy by the Gulf, and boiled it by the Swan —
I’ve thirsted in dry lignum swamps, and thirsted on the sand,
And eked the fire with camel dung in Never- Never Land.

I know the track from Spencer’s Gulf and north of Cooper’s Creek —
Where falls the half-caste to the strong, ‘black velvet’ to the weak —
(From gold-top Flossie in the Strand to half-caste and the gin —
If they had brains, poor animals ! we’d teach them how to sin.)

I’ve tramped, and camped, and ‘shore’ and drunk with many mates Out Back —
And every one to me is Jack because the first was Jack—
A ‘lifer’ sneaked from jail at home — the ‘straightest’ mate I met —
A ‘ratty’ Russian Nihilist — a British Baronet !

I know the tucker tracks that feed — or leave one in the lurch —
The ‘Burgoo’ (Presbyterian) track — the ‘Murphy’ (Roman Church) —
But more the man, and not the track, so much as it appears,
For ‘battling’ is a trade to learn, and I’ve served seven years.

We’re haunted by the past at times — and this is very bad,
And so we drink till horrors come, lest, sober, we go mad —
So much is lost Out Back, so much of hell is realized —
A man might skin himself alive and no one be surprised.

A rouseabout of rouseabouts, above — beneath regard,
I know how soft is this old world, and I have learnt how hard —
A rouseabout of rouseabouts — I know what men can feel,
I’ve seen the tears from hard eyes slip as drops from polished steel.

I learned what college had to teach, and in the school of men
By camp-fires I have learned, or, say, unlearned it all again ;
But this I’ve learned, that truth is strong, and if a man go straight
He’ll live to see his enemy struck down by time and fate !

We hold him true who’s true to one however false he be
(There’s something wrong with every ship that lies beside the quay) ;
We lend and borrow, laugh and joke, and when the past is drowned,
We sit upon our swags and smoke and watch the world go round.



Source:
Henry Lawson. Verses Popular and Humorous, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1900, pages 55-59

Editor’s notes:
ne’er-do-weel = (usually spelt “ne’er-do-well”) someone who is irresponsible, improvident, lazy or worthless; a contraction of “never do well”

rouseabout = an unskilled worker, especially used regarding someone working in a shearing shed

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