Australia has always been a place where writers were valued, and where writers were often also quite adventurous. I’ve introduced you to Adam Lindsay Gordon, who preferred to be known as a daring horseman than as a poet (and he is indeed remembered for both) and A.B. “Banjo” Paterson, who celebrated life in the bush. Another of the important early writers in Australia was Henry Lawson.
Unlike Paterson and Gordon, Lawson was as famous for his short stories as for his poems. The son of Norwegian immigrants who came to Australia in 1855 during the gold rush, Lawson was born in 1867. His family might most generously be described as dysfunctional and generally in financial straits, his education was uneven and frequently interrupted, and a serious illness when he was 10 left him partially deaf. He was brilliant but usually lonely. Both because of the hardships he experienced as he grew up, and because of his experiences as an adult during a particularly horrific drought, Lawson’s works and his view of the outback tend not to be as upbeat as those of Paterson in particular.
Lawson was immensely popular in his day and is still considered one of Australia’s greatest writers. Reading poems and short stories aloud was a common entertainment in the mining camps, cattle camps, and small towns of the late 1800s, and Lawson’s works were among the most commonly read. The humorous short story “The Loaded Dog” was among the most popular then and today is considered an Australian classic.
While they disagreed in their estimation of the bush, and occasionally sparred in verse on the topic, Lawson shared with Paterson an admiration for the hard-working, give-it-a-go Australians who people their world. That admiration is reflected in the following poem, which also reminds us that Lawson was living during an era when Australia was still being opened up and settled.
An Australian Advertisement
WE WANT the man who will lead the van,
The man who will pioneer.
We have no use for the gentleman,
Or the cheating Cheap-Jack here;
We have no room for the men who shirk
The sweat of the brow. Condemn
The men who are frightened to look for work
And funk when it looks for them.
We’ll honour the man who can’t afford
To wait for a job that suits,
But sticks a swag on his shoulders broad
And his feet in blucher boots,
And tramps away o’er the ridges far
And over the burning sand
To look for work where the stations are
In the lonely Western land.
He’ll brave the drouth and he’ll brave the rain,
And fight his sorrows down,
And help to garden the inland plain
And build the inland town;
And he’ll be found in the coming years
With a heart as firm and stout,
An honoured man with the pioneers
Who lead the people out.