The First Elective Ministry [poem by C.J. Dennis]

[Editor: This poem by C.J. Dennis was published in Backblock Ballads and Other Verses (1913). Most of the poetry of C.J. Dennis is written in the style of the Australian vernacular. See the Glossary for explanations of words and phrases.]

The First Elective Ministry.

In the neolithic age of our Australia, long ago,
There dwelt a wise old chieftain, as you probably don’t know;
His royal tastes and habits I won’t venture to describe,
But his plain horse-sense was noted and applauded by his tribe.

Now, this chief was not a despot, as you will, perhaps, conclude;
For, though debate was noisy and procedure somewhat crude,
There did exist a Parliament, elected in due form,
With a Premier and Ministry — which made things pretty warm.

For the style of Party Government, in vogue about that time,
Was inclined to lead to discord — not to mention down-right crime.
For boomerangs and waddies were used freely in debate;
And, as a rule, ex-Ministers were spoken of as “late.”

For the salaries of Ministers were not to be despised;
And “emoluments of office” were, indeed, most highly prized.
The Premier got five ’possums and ten fat grubs a day,
While a snake and three gohannas were his colleagues’ daily pay.

Then other perks and privileges happened such as these;
The Minister controlling Rain and State Corroborees
Got all his ochre on the nod — in other words, his clothes.
So portfolios were coveted, as you may well suppose.

In consequence, the whole procedure of the House was “fight.”
No Ministry created in the morning saw the night.
And all the posts were sinecures the shorthand writers filled;
For the press-reports read briefly: “Sixteen wounded; seven killed.”

Now, the practical King Billy could not fail to recognise
That this bad old Party system was not either right or wise.
Public works were at a standstill, and the tribe was losing wealth.
Not to mention that the House’s sittings menaced public health.

The Department of Smoke-Signalling was in a shocking state;
And Defence had been forgotten in the noise of the debate.
The Flint and Sandstone Bonus Bill was shelved time and again;
And the tribe was getting very short of able-bodied men.

The common-sensed old chief sat down and pondered hard and long;
And thought him out a simple scheme to right this crying wrong.
Then he dissolved the Parliament and called his tribe around,
And told his plan; and all agreed his arguments were sound.

“But then,” they said, “it’s most unconstitutional, you know.
Besides, we have no precedent; therefore you have no show.”
But Bill dispensed with precedent and substituted sense —
Whereat the anger of the tribal Tories was immense.

“The nation’s welfare,” said the chief, “is what I have in mind;
And this bad old Party Government must all be left behind.
Henceforth I set my Parliament a task it may not shirk,
And members will, please, understand that fighting isn’t work.

“We’ll have Elective Ministries, and they shall rule unharmed
For forty moons; and members must attend the House unarmed.
Next election you may club them, should their actions prove unwise;
And for the second term the victors may enjoy the prize.”

They called it “socialistic”; but King Billy had his way.
For forty moons each Minister enjoyed his place and pay.
Since only once within that time the chance of office came,
The members took to making laws, and ceased to “play the game.”

Peace and prosperity henceforth smiled on the chieftain’s reign;
And, ere he died, he said, “Behold, I have not ruled in vain.
Down through the future ages shall my Great Reform descend.
Australia shall bless my Simple Notion till the end.”

But, if you study recent history, you’ll note King Bill
Was most forlornly out of it; for they are at it still.
The daily fight for fatted grubs excites the same old gang;
And debate is mainly waddy, and division boomerang.

C.J. Dennis. Backblock Ballads and Other Verses, E. W. Cole, Melbourne, [1913], pages 141-144

Speak Your Mind