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   "...he knew intimately the real Australia, and was its greatest minstrel"
                                            
Billy Hughes, Australian Prime Minister 1915-23

Henry Lawson, born 1867 in New South Wales, the son of a Norwegian fisherman and an early feminist writer.  He suffered from deafness and personal difficulties throughout his life. He worked in the bush and traveled throughout Australia and New Zealand. Lawson's poetry and short stories are beloved Australian classics.

Lawson was a frequent contributor to The Bulletin, a Sydney newspaper where he and A. B. "Banjo” Paterson ("The Man From Snowy River") often debated their views of bush life. Lawson accused Paterson of being too romantic, and Paterson in turn criticized Lawson’s gloomy outlook. Both wrote lively columns critical of each other’s work and the work of other writers and poets. Contemporary conservative literary critics questioned the value of literature about bush life,  but their writing was embraced throughout Australia, and inspired generations of writers. 

Lawson died in 1922.

In 1966, Henry Lawson's image appeared on Australia's first ten-dollar currency note.
 

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Poems

Ballad of the Drover
Across the stony ridges...

Ben Duggan
Jack Denver died on Talbragar when Christmas Eve began...

Out Back
The old year went, and the new returned... 

The Teams
A cloud of dust on the long white road...

The Roaring Days
The night too quickly passes..

The Fire at Ross's Farm
The squatter saw his pastures wide...

Past Carin'
Now up and down the siding brown...

Featured in "The Big Roundup," an anthology of the best of CowboyPoetry.com.

 

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Links 

Australian Commonwealth Government Culture and Recreation Portal 
This site has articles and references and links to the Lawson/Paterson columns that ran in The Bulletin

The National Library of Australia's Federation Gateway
This site includes a biography and biographical bibliography. 


Most of Henry Lawson's works are out of print in the US.  


 

Ballad of the Drover

Across the stony ridges,
Across the rolling plain,
Young Harry Dale, the drover,
Comes riding home again.
And well his stock-horse bears him,
And light of heart is he,
And stoutly his old packhorse
Is trotting by his knee.

Up Queensland way with cattle
He's traveled regions vast,
And many months have vanished
Since home-folks saw him last.
He hums a song of someone
He hopes to marry soon;
And hobble-chains and camp-ware
Keep jingling to the tune.

Beyond the hazy dado
Against the lower skies
And yon blue line of ranges
The station homestead lies.
And thitherward the drover
Jogs through the lazy noon,
While hobble-chains and camp-ware
Are jingling to a tune.

An hour has filled the heavens
With storm-clouds inky black;
At times the lightning trickles
Around the drover's track;
But Harry pushes onward,
His horses' strength he tries,
In hope to reach the river
Before the flood shall rise.

The thunder, pealing o'er him,
Goes rumbling down the plain;
And sweet on thirsty pastures
Beats fast the splashing rain;
Then every creek and gully
Sends forth its tribute flood
The river runs a banker,
All stained with yellow mud.

Now Harry speaks to Rover,
The best dog on the plains,
And to his hardy horses,
And strokes their shaggy manes:
"We've breasted bigger rivers
When Hoods were at their height,
Nor shall this gutter stop us
From getting home tonight!"

The thunder growls a warning,
The blue, forked lightning's gleam;
The drover turns his horses
To swim the fatal stream.
But, oh! the flood runs stronger
Than e'er it ran before;
The saddle-horse is failing,
And only half-way o'er!

When flashes next the lightning
The flood's grey breast is blank;
A cattle-dog and packhorse
Are struggling up the bank.
But in the lonely homestead
The girl shall wait in vain
He'll never pass the stations
In charge of stock again.

The faithful dog a moment
Lies panting on the bank,
Then plunges through the current
To where his master sank.
And round and round in circles
He fights with failing strength,
Till, gripped by wilder waters,
He fails and sinks at length.

Across the flooded lowlands
And slopes of sodden loam
The packhorse struggles bravely
To take dumb tidings home;
And mud-stained, wet, and weary,
He goes by rock and tree,
With clanging chains and tinware
All sounding eerily.

1889

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Ben Duggan

Jack Denver died on Talbragar when Christmas Eve began,
And there was sorrow round the place, for Denver was a man;
Jack Denver's wife bowed down her head—her daughter's grief was wild,
And big Ben Duggan by the bed stood sobbing like a child.
But big Ben Duggan saddled up, and galloped fast and far,
To raise the longest funeral ever seen on Talbragar.

By station home
And shearing shed
Ben Duggan cried, "Jack Denver's dead!
Roll up at Talbragar!"

He borrowed horses here and there, and rode all Christmas Eve,
And scarcely paused a moment's time the mournful news to leave;
He rode by lonely huts and farms, and when the day was done
He turned his panting horse's head and rode to Ross's Run.
No bushman in a single day had ridden half so far
Since Johnson brought the doctor to his wife at Talbragar.

By diggers' camps
Ben Duggan sped—
At each he cried, "Jack Denver's dead!—
Roll up at Talbragar!"

That night he passed the humpies of the splitters on the ridge,
And roused the bullock-drivers camped at Belinfante's Bridge;
And as he climbed the ridge again the moon shone on the rise;
The soft white moonbeams glistened in the tears that filled his eyes;
He dashed the rebel drops away—for blinding things they are—
But 'twas his best and truest friend who died on Talbragar.

At Blackman's Run
Before the dawn,
Ben Duggan cried, "Poor Denver's gone!
Roll up at Talbragar!"

At all the shanties round the place they'd heard his horse's tramp,
He took the track to Wilson's Luck, and told the diggers' camp;
But in the gorge by Deadman's Gap the mountain shades were black,
And there a newly-fallen tree was lying on the track—
He saw too late, and then he heard the swift hoof's sudden jar,
And big Ben Duggan ne'er again rode home to Talbragar.

"The wretch is drunk,
And Denver's dead—
A burning shame!" the people said
Next day at Talbragar.

For thirty miles round Talbragar the boys rolled up in strength,
And Denver had a funeral a good long mile in length;
Round Denver's grave that Christmas day rough bushmen's eyes were dim—
The western bushmen knew the way to bury dead like him;
But some returning homeward found, by light of moon and star,
Ben Duggan dying in the rocks, five miles from Talbragar.

They knelt around,
He raised his head
And faintly gasped, "Jack Denver's dead,
Roll up at Talbragar!"

But one short hour before he died he woke to understand,
They told him, when he asked them, that the funeral was "grand";
And then there came into his eyes a strange victorious light,
He smiled on them in triumph, and his great soul took its flight.
And still the careless bushmen tell by tent and shanty bar
How Duggan raised a funeral years back on Talbragar.

And far and wide
When Duggan died,
The bushmen of the western side
Rode in to Talbragar.

1891

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Out Back

The old year went, and the new returned, in the withering weeks of drought,
The cheque was spent that the shearer earned, and the sheds were all cut out;
The publican's words were short and few, and the publican's looks were black

And the time had come, as the shearer knew, to carry his swag Out Back.

For time means tucker, and tramp you must, where the scrubs and plains are wide,
With seldom a track that a man can trust, or a mountain peak to guide;
All day long in the dust and heat
when summer is on the track
With stinted stomachs and blistered feet, they carry their swags Out Back.

He tramped away from the shanty there, where the days were long and hot,
With never a soul to know or care if he died on the track or not.
The poor of the city have friends in woe, no matter how much they lack,
But only God and the swagmen know how a poor man fares Out Back.

He begged his way on the parched Paroo and the Warrego tracks once more,
And lived like a dog, as the swagmen do, till the Western stations shore;
But men were many, and sheds were full, for work in the town was slack

The traveller never got hands in wool, though he tramped for a year Out Back.

In stifling noons when his back was wrung by its load, and the air seemed dead,
And the water warmed in the bag that hung to his aching arm like lead,
Or in times of flood, when plains were seas, and the scrubs were cold and black,
He ploughed in mud to his trembling knees, and paid for his sins Out Back.

He blamed himself in the year "Too Late"
in the heaviest hours of life
'Twas little he dreamed that a shearing-mate had care of his home and wife;
There are times when wrongs from your kindred come, and treacherous tongues attack

When a man is better away from home, and dead to the world, Out Back.

And dirty and careless and old he wore, as his lamp of hope grew dim;
He tramped for years till the swag he bore seemed part of himself to him.
As a bullock drags in the sandy ruts, he followed the dreary track,
With never a thought but to reach the huts when the sun went down Out Back.

It chanced one day, when the north wind blew in his face like a furnace-breath,
He left the track for a tank he knew
'twas a short-cut to his death;
For the bed of the tank was hard and dry, and crossed with many a crack,
And, oh! it's a terrible thing to die of thirst in the scrub Out Back.

A drover came, but the fringe of law was eastward many a mile;
He never reported the thing he saw, for it was not worth his while.
The tanks are full and the grass is high in the mulga off the track,
Where the bleaching bones of a white man lie by his mouldering swag Out Back.

 
For time means tucker, and tramp they must, where the plains and scrubs are wide,
  With seldom a track that a man can trust, or a mountain peak to guide;
  All day long in the flies and heat the men of the outside track
  With stinted stomachs and blistered feet must carry their swags Out Back.

1893

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The Teams


A cloud of dust on the long white road,
   And the teams go creeping on
Inch by inch with the weary load;
And by the power of the greenhide goad
   The distant goal is won.

With eyes half-shut to the blinding dust,
   And necks to the yokes bent low,
The beasts are pulling as bullocks must;
And the shining tires might almost rust
   While the spokes are turning slow.

With face half-hid 'neath a broad-brimmed hat
   That shades from the heat's white waves,
And shouldered whip with its greenhide plait,
The driver plods with a gait like that
   Of his weary, patient slaves.

He wipes his brow, for the day is hot,
   And spits to the left with spite;
He shouts at "Bally," and flicks at "Scot,"
And raises dust from the back of "Spot,"
   And spits to the dusty right.

He'll sometimes pause as a thing of form
   In front of a settler's door,
And ask for a drink, and remark, "It's warm,"
Or say, "There's signs of a thunderstorm;"
   But he seldom utters more.

But the rains are heavy on roads like these;
   And, fronting his lonely home,
For weeks together the settler sees
The teams bogged down to the axletrees,
   Or ploughing the sodden loam.

And then when the roads are at their worst,
   The bushman's children hear
The cruel blows of the whips reversed
While bullocks pull as their hearts would burst,
   And bellow with pain and fear.

And thus with little joy or rest
   Are the long, long journeys done;
And thus
'tis a cruel war at best
Is distance fought in the mighty West,
  And the lonely battles won.

1889

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The Roaring Days

The night too quickly passes
And we are growing old,
So let us fill our glasses
And toast the Days of Gold;
When finds of wondrous treasure
Set all the South ablaze,
And you and I were faithful mates
All through the roaring days!

Then stately ships came sailing
From every harbour's mouth,
And sought the land of promise
That beaconed in the South;
Then southward streamed their streamers
And swelled their canvas full
To speed the wildest dreamers
E'er borne in vessel's hull.

Their shining Eldorado,
Beneath the southern skies,
Was day and night for ever
Before their eager eyes.
The brooding bush, awakened,
Was stirred in wild unrest,
And all the year a human stream
Went pouring to the West.

The rough bush roads re-echoed
The bar-room's noisy din,
When troops of stalwart horsemen
Dismounted at the inn.
And oft the hearty greetings
And hearty clasp of hands
Would tell of sudden meetings
Of friends from other lands;

And when the cheery camp-fire
Explored the bush with gleams,
The camping-grounds were crowded
With caravans of teams;
Then home the jests were driven,
And good old songs were sung,
And choruses were given
The strength of heart and lung.

Oft when the camps were dreaming,
And fires began to pale,
Through rugged ranges gleaming
Swept on the Royal Mail.
Behind six foaming horses,
And lit by flashing lamps,
Old Cobb and Co., in royal state,
Went dashing past the camps.

Oh, who would paint a goldfield,
And paint the picture right,
As we have often seen it
In early morning's light;
The yellow mounds of mullock
With spots of red and white,
The scattered quartz that glistened
Like diamonds in light;

The azure line of ridges,
The bush of darkest green,
The little homes of calico
That dotted all the scene.
The flat straw hats, with ribands,
That old engravings show
The dress that still reminds us
Of sailors long ago.

I hear the fall of timber
From distant flats and fells,
The pealing of the anvils
As clear as little bells,
The rattle of the cradle,
The clack of windlass-boles,
The flutter of the crimson flags
Above the golden holes. . . . . .

Ah, then their hearts were bolder,
And if Dame Fortune frowned
Their swags they'd lightly shoulder
And tramp to other ground.
Oh, they were lion-hearted
Who gave our country birth!
Stout sons, of stoutest fathers born,
From all the lands on earth!

Those golden days are vanished,
And altered is the scene;
The diggings are deserted,
The camping-grounds are green;
The flaunting flag of progress
Is in the West unfurled,
The mighty bush with iron rails
Is tethered to the world.

1889

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The Fire at Ross's Farm

The squatter saw his pastures wide
  Decrease, as one by one
The farmers moving to the west
  Selected on his run;
Selectors took the water up
  And all the black soil round;
The best grass-land the squatter had
  Was spoilt by Ross's Ground.
Now many schemes to shift old Ross
  Had racked the squatter's brains,
But Sandy had the stubborn blood
  Of Scotland in his veins;
He held the land and fenced it in,
  He cleared and ploughed the soil,
And year by year a richer crop
  Repaid him for his toil.

Between the homes for many years
  The devil left his tracks:
The squatter pounded Ross's stock,
  And Sandy pounded Black's.
A well upon the lower run
  Was filled with earth and logs,
And Black laid baits about the farm
  To poison Ross's dogs.

It was, indeed, a deadly feud
  Of class and creed and race;
But, yet, there was a Romeo
  And a Juliet in the case;
And more than once across the flats,
  Beneath the Southern Cross,
Young Robert Black was seen to ride
  With pretty Jenny Ross.

One Christmas time, when months of drought
  Had parched the western creeks,
The bush-fires started in the north
  And travelled south for weeks.
At night along the river-side
  The scene was grand and strange—
The hill-fires looked like lighted streets
  Of cities in the range.

The cattle-tracks between the trees
  Were like long dusky aisles,
And on a sudden breeze the fire
  Would sweep along for miles;
Like sounds of distant musketry
  It crackled through the brakes,
And o'er the flat of silver grass
  It hissed like angry snakes.

It leapt across the flowing streams
  And raced o'er pastures broad;
It climbed the trees and lit the boughs
  And through the scrubs it roared.
The bees fell stifled in the smoke
  Or perished in their hives,
And with the stock the kangaroos
  Went flying for their lives.

The sun had set on Christmas Eve,
  When, through the scrub-lands wide,
Young Robert Black came riding home
  As only natives ride.
He galloped to the homestead door
  And gave the first alarm:
"The fire is past the granite spur,
  And close to Ross's farm."

"Now, father, send the men at once,
  They won't be wanted here;
Poor Ross's wheat is all he has
  To pull him through the year."
"Then let it burn," the squatter said;
  "I'd like to see it done—
I'd bless the fire if it would clear
  Selectors from the run.

"Go if you will," the squatter said,
  "You shall not take the men—
Go out and join your precious friends,
  And don't come here again."
"I won't come back," young Robert cried,
  And, reckless in his ire,
He sharply turned his horse's head
  And galloped towards the fire.

And there, for three long weary hours,
  Half-blind with smoke and heat,
Old Ross and Robert fought the flames
  That neared the ripened wheat.
The farmer's hand was nerved by fears
  Of danger and of loss;
And Robert fought the stubborn foe
  For the love of Jenny Ross.

But serpent-like the curves and lines
  Slipped past them, and between,
Until they reached the bound'ry where
  The old coach-road had been.
"The track is now our only hope,
  There we must stand," cried Ross,
"For nought on earth can stop the fire
  If once it gets across."

Then came a cruel gust of wind,
  And, with a fiendish rush,
The flames leapt o'er the narrow path
  And lit the fence of brush.
"The crop must burn!" the farmer cried,
  "We cannot save it now,"
And down upon the blackened ground
  He dashed the ragged bough.

But wildly, in a rush of hope,
  His heart began to beat,
For o'er the crackling fire he heard
  The sound of horses' feet.
"Here's help at last," young Robert cried,
  And even as he spoke
The squatter with a dozen men
  Came racing through the smoke.

Down on the ground the stockmen jumped
  And bared each brawny arm,
They tore green branches from the trees
  And fought for Ross's farm;
And when before the gallant band
  The beaten flames gave way,
Two grimy hands in friendship joined—
  And it was Christmas Day.

1891

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Past Carin'

Now up and down the siding brown
 The great black crows are flyin',
And down below the spur, I know,
 Another `milker's' dyin';
The crops have withered from the ground,
 The tank's clay bed is glarin',
But from my heart no tear nor sound,
 For I have gone past carin'—
    Past worryin' or carin',
    Past feelin' aught or carin';
    But from my heart no tear nor sound,
    For I have gone past carin'.

Through Death and Trouble, turn about,
 Through hopeless desolation,
Through flood and fever, fire and drought,
 And slavery and starvation;
Through childbirth, sickness, hurt, and blight,
 And nervousness an' scarin',
Through bein' left alone at night,
 I've got to be past carin'.
    Past botherin' or carin',
    Past feelin' and past carin';
    Through city cheats and neighbours' spite,
    I've come to be past carin'.

Our first child took, in days like these,
 A cruel week in dyin',
All day upon her father's knees,
 Or on my poor breast lyin';
The tears we shed—the prayers we said
 Were awful, wild—despairin'!
I've pulled three through, and buried two
 Since then—and I'm past carin'.
    I've grown to be past carin',
    Past worryin' and wearin';
    I've pulled three through and buried two
    Since then, and I'm past carin'.

'Twas ten years first, then came the worst,
 All for a dusty clearin',
I thought, I thought my heart would burst
 When first my man went shearin';
He's drovin' in the great North-west,
 I don't know how he's farin';
For I, the one that loved him best,
 Have grown to be past carin'.
    I've grown to be past carin'
    Past lookin' for or carin';
    The girl that waited long ago,
    Has lived to be past carin'.

My eyes are dry, I cannot cry,
 I've got no heart for breakin',
But where it was in days gone by,
 A dull and empty achin'.
My last boy ran away from me,
 I know my temper's wearin',
But now I only wish to be
 Beyond all signs of carin'.
    Past wearyin' or carin',
    Past feelin' and despairin';
    And now I only wish to be
    Beyond all signs of carin'.

 

The 1899 poem is included in a second edition Lawson's book, In the Days When the World Was Wide, first published in 1896. The preface of a revised edition of the book comments, "Note on content: Banjo Paterson and Henry Lawson were writing for the Sydney Bulletin in 1892 when Lawson suggested a 'duel' of poetry to increase the number of poems they could sell to the paper. It was apparently entered into in all fun, though there are reports that Lawson was bitter about it later. 'Up the Country' and 'The City Bushman', included in this selection, were two of Lawson's contributions to the debate. Please note that this is the revised edition of 1900. Therefore, even though this book was originally published in 1896, it includes two poems not published until 1899 ('The Sliprails and the Spur' and 'Past Carin.')" You can find the complete 1900 edition here on the web.

 

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