In Defence of the Bush

I’ve mentioned both Banjo Paterson and Henry Lawson, and shared some of their poetry. The two poets were friends and both contributed to the Sydney Bulletin. However, they took different stances on the outback–at least partly in fun, to stir up discussion on the topic. Lawson traveled in some of the same areas Paterson did, but wrote rather scathingly about it, in contrast to Paterson’s generally adoring outlook. Paterson penned the following to let Lawson know that he disagreed. In response to this “argument” between Paterson and Lawson, other poets of the day jumped into the versified “discussion.”

As a note to those who aren’t acquainted with some items of British or Australian slang: lemon-squash would be lemonade, a selector would be roughly the equivalent of a homesteader, and “push” was slang for “gang,” the Sydney Push being a notorious gang of the time. And for Americans, “defence” is the British spelling of “defense.”

In Defence of the Bush
by A.B. “Banjo” Paterson

So you’re back from up the country, Mister Lawson, where you went,
And you’re cursing all the business in a bitter discontent;
Well, we grieve to disappoint you, and it makes us sad to hear
That it wasn’t cool and shady — and there wasn’t whips of beer,
And the looney bullock snorted when you first came into view —
Well, you know it’s not so often that he sees a swell like you;
And the roads were hot and dusty, and the plains were burnt and brown,
And no doubt you’re better suited drinking lemon-squash in town.
Yet, perchance, if you should journey down the very track you went
In a month or two at furthest, you would wonder what it meant;
Where the sunbaked earth was gasping like a creature in itts pain
You would find the grasses waving like a field of summer grain,
And the miles of thirsty gutters, blocked with sand and choked with mud,
You would find them mighty rivers with a turbid, sweeping flood.
For the rain and drought and sunshine make no changes in the street,
In the sullen line of buildings and the ceaseless tramp of feet;
But the bush has moods and changes, as the seasons rise and fall,
And the men who know the bush-land — they are loyal through it all.

But you found the bush was dismal and a land of no delight —
Did you chance to hear a chorus in the shearers’ huts at night?
Did they “rise up William Riley” by the camp-fire’s cheery blaze?
Did they rise him as we rose him in the good old droving days?
And the women of the homesteads and the men you chanced to meet —
Were their faces sour and saddened like the “faces in the street”?
And the “shy selector children” — were they better now or worse
Than the little city urchins who would greet you with a curse?
Is not such a life much better than the squalid street and square
Where the fallen women flaunt it in the fierce electric glare,
Wher the sempstress plies her needle till her eyes are sore and red
In a filthy, dirty attic toiling on for daily bread?
Did you hear no sweeter voices in the music of the bush
Than the roar of trams and buses, and the war-whoop of “the push”?
Did the magpies rouse your slumbers with their carol sweet and strange?
Did you hear the silver chiming of the bell-birds on the range?
But, perchance, the wild birds’ music by your senses was despised,
For you say you’ll stay in townships till the bush is civilized.
Would you make it a tea-garden, and on Sundays have a band
Where the “blokes” might take their “donahs”, with a “public” close at hand?
You had better stick to Sydney and make merry with the “push”,
For the bush will never suit you, and you’ll never suit the bush.

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under Australia, History, Literature, Poetry, Travel

2 responses to “In Defence of the Bush

  1. As someone who travels regularly to the Australian Outback, I’ve been interested to discover your blog, and in particular this post about the “Poetry Wars” between Paterson and Lawson. I think there was a sense in which both were right, just as today there are those who find it hard to enjoy accommodation less than four-star, and others who revel in exploring the quirkiness of two- and three-star.

    I write both a newsletter and a blog about the Outback. See more about the poems at https://www.dropbox.com/s/k3b9sxfeo8c13wa/BDN%2353.pdf .

    • Thanks for the link, Bobby. I enjoyed the article on the “Poetry Wars.” I did realize, and noted, that the poets were friends and the “war” was largely in fun. However, I suspect it had the great benefit of creating a little extra interest among their readership. I do agree that they represent two sides of the same story–and I would add to your comment that not only are there those who like four-star vs. those who prefer fewer stars, there are also those (myself included) who, at different times and in different place, like them all– four-star, two-star, and rolling a sleeping bag out on the warm ground under the gum trees — and are glad that all are available. Your comment about “Clancy of the Overflow” resonated, too — as I, too, often find the words running through my head, “And I somehow rather fancy that I’d like to change with Clancy, Like to take a turn at droving where the seasons come and go,…”

      I also read with interest the article about Oodnadatta. While I didn’t know Adam Plate, I do remember stopping at the Pink Roadhouse when I was passing through Oodnadatta a few years ago. Always sorry to see any of the wonderful Outback identities pass on, especially relatively young.

      Thanks for dropping by. I look forward to checking out future posts on your blog, as you wonder about the Outback. Happy New Year.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s