[Editor: This poem by A. E. Grace was published in The Worker (Brisbane, Qld.), 25 February 1893.]
The Swagmen of the Darling!
Does a thought ever come to the men of the city,
Who know nought of bush life — its troubles and trials —
Of their brothers who merit a share of their pity
As they trudge with the “bluey” o’er desolate miles.
O’er sand-covered plains, ’neath a sun-scorching sky,
’Mid brake, bush, and torrent, and winter’s cold blast,
When work’s out of the question, no odds where they try;
And the stages are long, and the evening’s repast
Will depend on the pannikin served at sundown —
But poor satisfaction for such hardships as these!
Does the thought ever strike you, ye men of the town,
And ye squatters, who do with our land as ye please?
For hundreds of miles runs the tortuous river,
Now shallow and sandy, now sombre and deep,
Where far down lie the cod, plump and hungry as ever;
While o’er head giant gums seem a vigil to keep.
Naught is heard save the harsh grating call of the crow,
Or the laugh of a jackass, perched saucily near;
The skim of a wild duck, the rush to and fro
Of a rabbit caught napping fast speeding with fear.
Deep, deep runs the bend, far away from the track,
And the “lignum” and “bingie” lie mingled between.
Hither may wander a travelling “black;”
Here and there may the fire of a “swaggie” be seen.
In such bends many swagmen now sleep evermore,
Done with tramping and battling and braving the worst!
And of deaths on the track there are many a score
To be placed on the roll of a traffic accurst!
Of the drink that is “doctored” and shanties that thrive
On the “chequeman” who ventures their portals to cross;
He slaves for the rum-sellers while he’s alive,
And his death means to most but a financial loss.
Happy the patriot whose stern sense of right
Shall lead him to open a mighty crusade
Australia’s true sons to a man to unite
To wipe out for ever a damnable trade!
A. E. Grace.
The Worker (Brisbane, Qld.), 25 February 1893, p. 4
This poem is concerned with the effect of alcohol upon swagmen and workers; it was written at a time when support for the temperance cause was widespread.
accurst = (archaic) accursed
black = in the context of Australia, an Australian Aborigine
bluey = a blanket; also may refer to a swagman’s bundle (a “swag”, being a number of items rolled up in a blanket)
brake = an area which is thickly overgrown, primarily with one type of plant; a thicket, especially a thicket of fern; Pteris (brake), a genus of about 300 species of ferns; also, an archaic term for bracken
chequeman = (also spelt “cheque-man”) a rural worker, especially a shearer, who was paid with a cheque at the end of his work with a farmer (chequemen were well-known for taking their cheque to the nearest town to celebrate the end of their work by having a few drinks; however, stories abound of publicans getting chequemen so drunk that they would end up spending the bulk of their cheque on alcohol)
Darling = the Darling River (New South Wales)
jackass = “laughing jackass” (kookaburra)
lignum = Latin for wood, or woody; may also refer to the woody tissue of a plant, or to firewood in general; in Australia, it also refers to the Muehlenbeckia Florulenta shrub (known commonly as “Tangled Lignum”, or just “Lignum”), which is a perennial shrub native to inland Australia, which grows up to 2.5 metres in height; may also refer to Vitex lignum-vitae (also known as Lignum-vitae, or more commonly as Yellow Hollywood), which is a rainforest tree native to Queensland and northern New South Wales, which grows up to 30 metres in height (also, there are other types of Lignum which grow in various other countries)
’mid = an abbreviation of “amid” or “amidst”: of or in the middle of an area, group, position, etc.
naught = nothing; zero; failure, without result; lost, ruined (older meanings are: ruined, useless, worthless; morally bad, wicked)
’neath = (vernacular) beneath
nought = (an alternative spelling of “naught”) nothing; zero; failure, without result; lost, ruined (older meanings are: ruined, useless, worthless; morally bad, wicked)
o’er = (archaic) over (pronounced the same as “oar”, “or”, and “ore”)
pannikin = a small metal pan, or a small metal cup
score = twenty (sometimes used in conjunction with a cardinal number, e.g. “threescore”, “fourscore”) (may also refer to an undefined large number)
shanties = plural of “shanty”: a pub, especially an unlicensed pub; may also refer to a small roughly-built cabin or hut
swaggie = swagman (also spelt “swaggy”)
swagmen = plural of swagman: a roaming labourer who carries his personal belongings in a swag, or bundle, whilst traveling about in search of casual work; especially used to refer to itinerant labourers travelling around the country areas of Australia in the late 1800s to early 1900s (also known as a “swaggie”)
ye = (archaic) you