Works in the Bulletin 1912
On one fine but fatal morning in the early Eocene,
   Lo, a brawny Bloke set out to dig a hole:
First of men to put a puncture in the tertiary green
   Was this early, neolithic, human mole.
Gladsomely the toiler hefted his ungainly wooden spade,
   As he scarified the bosom of old earth;
And our Progress forthwith started when his first spade-thrust was made,
   While the cult of Work, or Graft, was given birth.

Oh, he flung the clods about him with a gay and prideful jerk, Did this bright and early anthropoidal Bloke. With the crowd that gathered, goggle-eyed, to watch him at his work He would crack a pleasant, prehistoric joke. And they gazed at him in wonder; for the custom of the mob, When not occupied in inter-tribal strife, Hitherto had been to eat, and sleep, and hunt, and cheat, and rob - Quite a simple and uncomplicated life.
Wherefore being new and novel, he was treated with respect, This inventor of the job of shifting sand: And with fresh-killed meat and fruit and furs his cave the tribesmen decked. While his praises sounded high on ev'ry hand. And the chieftain bade his artists in crude pictures to inscribe On the shin-bone of a Dinosauromyth: "Lo, the gods have sent a thing called Graft to bless this happy tribe, And a scheme of Public Works will start forthwith."
Ev'ry day, from early dawn till dark, the delver labored on Till the tribesmen grew accustomed to the sight; And the hunters, on their way to slay the mud-fat mastodon, Would delay to say he wasn't doing right. And the loafers from the Lower Caves, who lived by stealing meat, All the day around the contract used to lurk; And, when'er he paused to wipe his brow or took time off to eat, They would yell at him in chorus: "Aw, git work!"
Fat and lazy fur-skin-traders - wealthy men of such a size That it took five hides to make them each a vest - On their way to cheat their neighbors, paused awhile to criticise; Calling, "Loafer!" ev'ry time he stopped to rest. They no longer stocked his larder with the trophies of the chase, Or the neolithic substitute for beer: For the chief said: "He's a worker; we must keep him in his place!" And the bloated fur-skin-traders cried, "Hear, hear!"
And he soon became the scapegoat and the butt of all the tribe, And he dwelt within the smallest, meanest cave, While the rich and idle troglodytes were readiest to gibe, Till they worried him into an early grave. Then the minstrel (And I wot he was a wise prophetic bard, And an anthropoid philosopher of note), Took another mammoth shin-bone and scatched it with his shard In his picture-script; and this is what he wrote:-
"Here lies the simple silly coot who first discovered Toil. Him who started progress onward on her way; Though he didn't get much fun from it, he moved some tons of soil; But, 'tis said, he never fairly eanred his pay. Lo, this thing called Work is blessed, for it shifts a lot of sand! And this progress eases him who lives by tricks. But the Bloke who lumps the Bundle, down through ev'ry age and land, Shall be paid for harder work with harder kicks."
Now that Paleolithic prophet on some sandstone stratum lies, With his shin-bones of the Dinosauromyth, But the Bloke who shoves the shovel still his thankless calling plies, And his name is Michael Burke or Peter Smith. In the highway doth he labor, in the searching public gaze, And he dare not pause, his aching back to rest, Lest he cause a howl of protest from the trader of these days With the large gold chain across his convex chest.
Lest he cause a howl of protest from "Pro Bono Publico." And lest "Constant Reader" cry his shame aloud, He must keep his shovel moving - and he moves it all too slow For the critics in the great White-handed crowd. Till they get a patent navvy with a dynamo for head, Or a petrol-tank for stomach, take my word, He'll be ever up against it who shifts sand to earn his bread, And the howling of the traders will be heard.

The Bulletin, 21 November 1912, p9

Copyright © Perry Middlemiss 2002