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