The First Emigrant Ship by Minette Roy

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'Twas evening --- and the sun had sunk beyond the ocean wave,
Whose azure rippling waters Australia's white sands lave;
But the light still lingered in the sky, as if it sorrowed to give place
To dark-robed night, that onward strode, with sad and solemn pace.

To the west the sky was overspread with a tint of roseate hue;
To the east the silver stars were bright in a vault of the deepest blue;
The foliage of the stately gum was swayed by the summer breeze,
And the mournful cry of the curlew came from the fragrant wattle trees.

Upon that lonely shore a single figure stands,
With the deadly boomerang and long spear in his hands.
His skin was black, and a scarlet band around his head was bound,
And from his shoulders an opossum rug hung trailing on the ground.

His form was tall, and his large dark eyes were fixed in a steady gaze
Upon the outline of a ship seen dimly through the haze;
While crouching down beside him on the seaweed were two hounds,
Who helped to chase the kangaroo with wide and agile bounds.

Oh! who can tell the strange wild thoughts that swelled within his breast,
As he watched that unknown shadowy shape upon the ocean's crest;   
While the sound of distant music come floating to the ear,
And faintly o'er the echoing waves was borne a British cheer.

Though sunk in the lowest depths of vice, and doubly dyed with sin,
Who, who, shall say no seeds of goodness were found within?
Perchance he loved his country; methinks none would be found
Who did not love the place where his feet first trod the ground.   

Did he see the mountain ranges where so long he'd idly roamed,
And the lordly sheeted Murray where the sparkling cascade formed?
Did he see them given to the white man -- his tribe grow few and small
As these strangers with still stranger arts lorded it over all?

Did he see the noble forests cut down in their strength and pride,   
And from their smoking ashes fair smiling homesteads rise?
Did he see the flocks and herds where the emu built her nest;
And waving golden grain upon the mountain's crest?

And did he see the vice that followed in their rear ---
The deadly sin of drunkenness upon his blood-stained bier,
That fiends in human form would give the cup to him to drain;
That would sink him deeper in the gulf, and prove his direst bane?       

And rising above all, did he see the heaven-born light
That would show the loathsome forms of sin, and pierce his nation's night.      
When the morning brightly broke the black had gone his way,   
And the stately ship with flowing sails stood in for Holdfast Bay.

And when the blue waves leaving, that brave pioneer band,
With hearts rejoiced and thankful, leaped on the whitened sand,         
They blessed and praised His guiding hand who brought them without failure
To the fruitful hills and valleys and broad plains of Australia.  
First published in The South Australian Advertiser, 14 January 1865

Note: nothing is known about the author of this poem.

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on January 14, 2011 8:08 AM.

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