[Editor: This poem by Henry Lawson was published in In the Days When the World Was Wide and Other Verses, 1896.]
It is stuffy in the steerage where the second-classers sleep,
For there’s near a hundred for’ard, and they’re stowed away like sheep, —
They are trav’lers for the most part in a straight ’n’ honest path;
But their linen’s rather scanty, an’ there isn’t any bath —
Stowed away like ewes and wethers that is shore ’n’ marked ’n’ draft.
But the shearers of the shearers always seem to travel aft;
In the cushioned cabins, aft,
With saloons ’n’ smoke-rooms, aft —
There is sheets ’n’ best of tucker for the first-salooners, aft.
Our beef is just like scrapin’s from the inside of a hide,
And the spuds were pulled too early, for they’re mostly green inside;
But from somewhere back amidships there’s a smell o’ cookin’ waft,
An’ I’d give my earthly prospects for a real good tuck-out aft —
Ham an’ eggs ’n’ coffee, aft,
Say, cold fowl for luncheon, aft,
Juicy grills an’ toast ’n’ cutlets — tucker a-lor-frongsy, aft.
They feed our women sep’rate, an’ they make a blessed fuss,
Just as if they couldn’t trust ’em for to eat along with us!
Just because our hands are horny an’ our hearts are rough with graft —
But the gentlemen and ladies always dine together, aft —
With their ferns an’ mirrors, aft,
With their flow’rs an’ napkins, aft —
‘I’ll assist you to an orange’ — ‘Kindly pass the sugar’, aft.
We are shabby, rough, ’n’ dirty, an’ our feelin’s out of tune,
An’ it’s hard on fellers for’ard that was used to go saloon;
There’s a broken swell among us — he is barracked, he is chaffed,
An’ I wish at times, poor devil, for his own sake he was aft;
For they’d understand him, aft,
(He will miss the bath-rooms aft),
Spite of all there’s no denyin’ that there’s finer feelin’s aft.
Last night we watched the moonlight as it spread across the sea —
‘It is hard to make a livin’,’ said the broken swell to me.
‘There is ups an’ downs,’ I answered, an’ a bitter laugh he laughed —
There were brighter days an’ better when he always travelled aft —
With his rug an’ gladstone, aft,
With his cap an’ spyglass, aft —
A careless, rovin’, gay young spark as always travelled aft.
There’s a notice by the gangway, an’ it seems to come amiss,
For it says that second-classers ‘ain’t allowed abaft o’ this’;
An’ there ought to be a notice for the fellows from abaft —
But the smell an’ dirt’s a warnin’ to the first-salooners, aft;
With their tooth and nail-brush, aft,
With their cuffs ’n’ collars, aft —
Their cigars an’ books an’ papers, an’ their cap-peaks fore-’n’-aft.
I want to breathe the mornin’ breeze that blows against the boat,
For there’s a swellin’ in my heart — a tightness in my throat —
We are for’ard when there’s trouble! We are for’ard when there’s graft!
But the men who never battle always seem to travel aft;
With their dressin’-cases, aft,
With their swell pyjamas, aft —
Yes! the idle and the careless, they have ease an’ comfort, aft.
I feel so low an’ wretched, as I mooch about the deck,
That I’m ripe for jumpin’ over — an’ I wish there was a wreck!
We are driven to New Zealand to be shot out over there —
Scarce a shillin’ in our pockets, nor a decent rag to wear,
With the everlastin’ worry lest we don’t get into graft —
There is little left to land for if you cannot travel aft;
No anxiety abaft,
They have stuff to land with, aft —
Oh, there’s little left to land for if you cannot travel aft;
But it’s grand at sea this mornin’, an’ Creation almost speaks,
Sailin’ past the Bay of Islands with its pinnacles an’ peaks,
With the sunny haze all round us an’ the white-caps on the blue,
An’ the orphan rocks an’ breakers — Oh, it’s glorious sailin’ through!
To the south a distant steamer, to the west a coastin’ craft,
An’ we see the beauty for’ard, better than if we were aft;
Spite of op’ra-glasses, aft;
But, ah well, they’re brothers aft —
Nature seems to draw us closer — bring us nearer fore-’n’-aft.
What’s the use of bein’ bitter? What’s the use of gettin’ mad?
What’s the use of bein’ narrer just because yer luck is bad?
What’s the blessed use of frettin’ like a child that wants the moon?
There is broken hearts an’ trouble in the gilded first saloon!
We are used to bein’ shabby — we have got no overdraft —
We can laugh at troubles for’ard that they couldn’t laugh at aft;
Spite o’ pride an’ tone abaft
(Keepin’ up appearance, aft)
There’s anxiety an’ worry in the breezy cabins aft.
But the curse o’ class distinctions from our shoulders shall be hurled,
An’ the influence of woman revolutionize the world;
There’ll be higher education for the toilin’ starvin’ clown,
An’ the rich an’ educated shall be educated down;
An’ we all will meet amidships on this stout old earthly craft,
An’ there won’t be any friction ‘twixt the classes fore-’n’-aft.
We’ll be brothers, fore-’n’-aft!
Yes, an’ sisters, fore-’n’-aft!
When the people work together, and there ain’t no fore-’n’-aft.
Henry Lawson. In the Days When the World Was Wide and Other Verses, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1903 [first published 1896], pages 37-43