[Editor: This poem by Henry Lawson was published in In the Days When the World Was Wide and Other Verses, 1896.]
The Star of Australasia
We boast no more of our bloodless flag, that rose from a nation’s slime;
Better a shred of a deep-dyed rag from the storms of the olden time.
From grander clouds in our ‘peaceful skies’ than ever were there before
I tell you the Star of the South shall rise — in the lurid clouds of war.
It ever must be while blood is warm and the sons of men increase;
For ever the nations rose in storm, to rot in a deadly peace.
There comes a point that we will not yield, no matter if right or wrong,
And man will fight on the battle-field while passion and pride are strong —
So long as he will not kiss the rod, and his stubborn spirit sours,
And the scorn of Nature and curse of God are heavy on peace like ours.
* * * * * *
There are boys out there by the western creeks, who hurry away from school
To climb the sides of the breezy peaks or dive in the shaded pool,
Who’ll stick to their guns when the mountains quake to the tread of a mighty war,
And fight for Right or a Grand Mistake as men never fought before;
When the peaks are scarred and the sea-walls crack till the furthest hills vibrate,
And the world for a while goes rolling back in a storm of love and hate.
* * * * * *
There are boys to-day in the city slum and the home of wealth and pride
Who’ll have one home when the storm is come, and fight for it side by side,
Who’ll hold the cliffs ’gainst the armoured hells that batter a coastal town,
Or grimly die in a hail of shells when the walls come crashing down.
And many a pink-white baby girl, the queen of her home to-day,
Shall see the wings of the tempest whirl the mist of our dawn away —
Shall live to shudder and stop her ears to the thud of the distant gun,
And know the sorrow that has no tears when a battle is lost and won, —
As a mother or wife in the years to come, will kneel, wild-eyed and white,
And pray to God in her darkened home for the ‘men in the fort to-night’.
* * * * * *
But, oh! if the cavalry charge again as they did when the world was wide,
’Twill be grand in the ranks of a thousand men in that glorious race to ride
And strike for all that is true and strong, for all that is grand and brave,
And all that ever shall be, so long as man has a soul to save.
He must lift the saddle, and close his ‘wings’, and shut his angels out,
And steel his heart for the end of things, who’d ride with a stockman scout,
When the race they ride on the battle track, and the waning distance hums,
And the shelled sky shrieks or the rifles crack like stockwhip amongst the gums —
And the ‘straight’ is reached and the field is ‘gapped’ and the hoof-torn sward grows red
With the blood of those who are handicapped with iron and steel and lead;
And the gaps are filled, though unseen by eyes, with the spirit and with the shades
Of the world-wide rebel dead who’ll rise and rush with the Bush Brigades.
* * * * * *
All creeds and trades will have soldiers there — give every class its due —
And there’ll be many a clerk to spare for the pride of the jackeroo.
They’ll fight for honour and fight for love, and a few will fight for gold,
For the devil below and for God above, as our fathers fought of old;
And some half-blind with exultant tears, and some stiff-lipped, stern-eyed,
For the pride of a thousand after-years and the old eternal pride;
The soul of the world they will feel and see in the chase and the grim retreat —
They’ll know the glory of victory — and the grandeur of defeat.
The South will wake to a mighty change ere a hundred years are done
With arsenals west of the mountain range and every spur its gun.
And many a rickety son of a gun, on the tides of the future tossed,
Will tell how battles were really won that History says were lost,
Will trace the field with his pipe, and shirk the facts that are hard to explain,
As grey old mates of the diggings work the old ground over again —
How ‘this was our centre, and this a redoubt, and that was a scrub in the rear,
‘And this was the point where the guards held out, and the enemy’s lines were here.’
* * * * * *
They’ll tell the tales of the nights before and the tales of the ship and fort
Till the sons of Australia take to war as their fathers took to sport,
Their breath come deep and their eyes grow bright at the tales of our chivalry,
And every boy will want to fight, no matter what cause it be —
When the children run to the doors and cry: ‘Oh, mother, the troops are come!’
And every heart in the town leaps high at the first loud thud of the drum.
They’ll know, apart from its mystic charm, what music is at last,
When, proud as a boy with a broken arm, the regiment marches past.
And the veriest wreck in the drink-fiend’s clutch, no matter how low or mean,
Will feel, when he hears the march, a touch of the man that he might have been.
And fools, when the fiends of war are out and the city skies aflame,
Will have something better to talk about than an absent woman’s shame,
Will have something nobler to do by far than jest at a friend’s expense,
Or blacken a name in a public bar or over a backyard fence.
And this you learn from the libelled past, though its methods were somewhat rude —
A nation’s born where the shells fall fast, or its lease of life renewed.
We in part atone for the ghoulish strife, and the crimes of the peace we boast,
And the better part of a people’s life in the storm comes uppermost.
The self-same spirit that drives the man to the depths of drink and crime
Will do the deeds in the heroes’ van that live till the end of time.
The living death in the lonely bush, the greed of the selfish town,
And even the creed of the outlawed push is chivalry — upside down.
’Twill be while ever our blood is hot, while ever the world goes wrong,
The nations rise in a war, to rot in a peace that lasts too long.
And southern nation and southern state, aroused from their dream of ease,
Must sign in the Book of Eternal Fate their stormy histories.
Henry Lawson. In the Days When the World Was Wide and Other Verses, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1903 [first published 1896], pages 116-123