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Short poem

Henry Lawson (1867-1922)

On the Wallaby

              1Now the tent poles are rotting, the camp fires are dead,
              2And the possums may gambol in trees overhead;
              3I am humping my bluey far out on the land,
              4And the prints of my bluchers sink deep in the sand:
              5I am out on the wallaby humping my drum,
              6And I came by the tracks where the sundowners come.

              7It is nor'-west and west o'er the ranges and far
              8To the plains where the cattle and sheep stations are,
              9With the sky for my roof and the grass for my bunk,
            10And a calico bag for my damper and junk;
            11And scarcely a comrade my memory reveals,
            12Save the spiritless dingo in tow of my heels.

            13But I think of the honest old light of my home
            14When the stars hang in clusters like lamps from the dome,
            15And I think of the hearth where the dark shadows fall,
            16When my camp fire is built on the widest of all;
            17But I'm following Fate, for I know she knows best,
            18I follow, she leads, and it's nor'-west by west.

            19When my tent is all torn and my blankets are damp,
            20And the rising flood waters flow fast by the camp,
            21When the cold water rises in jets from the floor,
            22I lie in my bunk and I list to the roar,
            23And I think how to-morrow my footsteps will lag
            24When I tramp 'neath the weight of a rain-sodden swag.

            25Though the way of the swagman is mostly up-hill,
            26There are joys to be found on the wallaby still.
            27When the day has gone by with its tramp or its toil,
            28And your camp-fire you light, and your billy you boil,
            29There is comfort and peace in the bowl of your clay
            30Or the yarn of a mate who is tramping that way.

            31But beware of the town -- there is poison for years
            32In the pleasure you find in the depths of long beers;
            33For the bushman gets bushed in the streets of a town,
            34Where he loses his friends when his cheque is knocked down;
            35He is right till his pockets are empty, and then --
            36He can hump his old bluey up country again.


1] On the Wallaby: tramping, vagrant.

3] humping my bluey: tramping, hitting the trail.

4] bluchers: half-boots.

5] humping my drum: shouldering a bundle, bag.

6] sundowners: vagrant who turns up at a station near sunset looking for a free meal but pretending to ask after work for the day.

10] calico: brightly coloured cotton cloth.
damper: bread baked from flour, water, and a little salt in campfire ashes; a staple diet of Australian bushmen (thanks to Emily Brayshaw).

12] dingo: wild (Australian) dog.

14] dome: the firmament (the sky's concave vault).

24] swag: big bag.

28] billy: pot with lid and wire handle for cooking over a fire.

33] bushman: man from the outback.

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, When I was King and Other Verses (Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1906): 249-50. x.908/578 British Library
First publication date: July 1891
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: RPO 2001.
Recent editing: 4:2002/2/23*1:2002/8/15

Form: couplets

Other poems by Henry Lawson