Henry Lawson (1867-1922)
1The diggings were just in their glory when Alister Cameron came,
2With recommendations, he told me, from friends and a parson 'at hame;'
3He read me his recommendations -- he called them a part of his plant --
4The first one was signed by an Elder, the other by Cameron's aunt.
5The meenister called him `ungodly -- a stray frae the fauld o' the Lord,'
6And his aunt set him down as a spendthrift, `a rebel at hame and abroad.'
7He got drunk now and then and he gambled (such heroes are often the same);
8That's all they could say in connection with Alister Cameron's name.
9He was straight and he stuck to his country and spoke with respect of his kirk;
10He did his full share of the cooking, and more than his share of the work.
11And many a poor devil then, when his strength and his money were spent,
12Was sure of a lecture -- and tucker and a shakedown in Cameron's tent.
13He shunned all the girls in the camp, and they said he was proof to the dart --
14That nothing but whisky and gaming had ever a place in his heart;
15He carried a packet about him, well hid, but I saw it at last,
16And -- well, 'tis a very old story -- the story of Cameron's past:
17A ring and a sprig o' white heather, a letter or two and a curl,
18A bit of a worn silver chain, and the portrait of Cameron's girl.
19It chanced in the first of the Sixties that Ally and I and McKean
20Were sinking a shaft on Mundoorin, near Fosberry's puddle-machine.
21The bucket we used was a big one, and rather a weight when 'twas full,
22Though Alister wound it up easy, for he had the strength of a bull.
23He hinted at heart-disease often, but, setting his fancy apart,
24I always believed there was nothing the matter with Cameron's heart.
25One day I was working below -- I was filling the bucket with clay,
26When Alister cried, `Pack it on, mon! we ought to be bottomed to-day.'
27He wound, and the bucket rose steady and swift to the surface until
28It reached the first log on the top, where it suddenly stopped, and hung still.
29I knew what was up in a moment when Cameron shouted to me:
30`Climb up for your life by the footholes. I'll stick tae th' haun'le -- or dee!'
31And those were the last words he uttered. He groaned, for I heard him quite plain --
32There's nothing so awful as that when it's wrung from a workman in pain.
33The strength of despair was upon me; I started, and scarcely drew breath,
34But climbed to the top for my life in the fear of a terrible death.
35And there, with his waist on the handle, I saw the dead form of my mate,
36And over the shaft hung the bucket, suspended by Cameron's weight.
37I wonder did Alister think of the scenes in the distance so dim,
38When Death at the windlass that morning took cruel advantage of him?
39He knew if the bucket rushed down it would murder or cripple his mate --
40His hand on the iron was closed with a grip that was stronger than Fate;
41He thought of my danger, not his, when he felt in his bosom the smart,
42And stuck to the handle in spite of the Finger of Death on his heart.
12] tucker: food.
shakedown: makeshift bed of straw on the floor.
26] bottomed: reach the bottom of what's worth mining.
Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department
of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services,
University of Toronto Libraries.
Original text: Henry Lawson, In the Days when the World was Wide and Other Verses (Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1896): 172-75. x.908/13059 British Library. shel 0660 Fisher Rare Book Library
First publication date:
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: RPO 2001.
Recent editing: 4:2002/2/23
Other poems by Henry Lawson