An Ex-Digger's Growl by Edward Dyson

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This life is gay enough at times,
   But still it has its heavy spells,
The weary curse of slinging rhymes
   When wages, not the will, impels -
The "horrid grind" at "pointed pars.,"
   The articles with headache crammed,
The column sketch, hot off the bars,
   That "must be funny" or be damned.

My flaccid muscles seem to tweak
   To feel the windlass pull and strain,
To shake the cradle by the creek,
  And puddle at the "tom" again.
Ah! pen for pick is no poor swap
   When o'er the slides the waters flow,
A pile of half-ounce stuff on top,
   And fifty feet on wash below.

'Twas lightly left, 'tis lately mourned,
   That life in Tanner's eight-by-ten,
When coats with yellow clay adorned
   Were good enough for gentlemen,
And Sunday's best was Monday's wear,
   When Bennet gave us verse and book -
Poor Phil! a crude philospher,
   But, bless his heart, a clever cook.

A high old time we had, we three -
   Our darkest clouds with sunshine laced -
The pipeclay soft and dray at knee,
   A foot of washdirt, easy "faced,"
And one to say us aye or nay
   Did we resolved to slave or smoke -
The pan was ready with the pay
   E'en though the toil was half a joke.

'Twas good, when "spell-oh" had been said,
   To watch the white smoke curl and cling
Against the gravel roof o'erhead,
   The candles dimly flickering
And circled with a pallid glow -
   To sprawl upon the broken reef,
And pensively to pull and blow
   The fragrant incense from the leaf.

And where the torpid Wondee's tide,
   Untainted by the Stafford's sloughs,
Pellucid in its pristine pride,
  Stole sleeplessly beneath the boughs,
It was delightful toil to lay
  The dish within the flood, I ween,
And puddle off the pug and clay,
  And pan the golden prospect clean.

In hours of indolence and dream
   I swirl the old tin dish again,
And Wondee's lambent waters seem
   To lave my brow and lap my brain:
And, from the ravished hillside, come
   Faint clamours on the fitful breeze
And mingle with the crooning hum
   Of insects in the drowsy trees.

The barrels rattle on their stand,
   And in the shafts the nail-kegs swing
The short, sharp strokes of practised hands
   Are making picks and anvil ring.
The slothful echoes dally so,
   They blend with splitter's measured chop,
The cheery cry, "Look up, below!"
   The muffled call of "Heave on top!"

No piles were made on Pinafore,
   Here Nature's hoards were hard to find,
And though we skimmed the golden store,
   We left the richest stuff behind -
Contentment, freedom, careless ease,
   And friendship which - a long-felt want -
We never meet in towns like these,
   'Twas not the kind that cities haunt.

The day is done, regrets are vain,
   I cannot eat my cake once more,
The crumbs of comfort that remain
   I won't despise for feastings o'er;
The life I loved best, boy and man,
   Was digging-days by flood and field,
The galdsome graft with pick and pan,
   The pay a problem till the yield.

First published in The Bulletin, 5 October 1889

Author reference sites: Austlit, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Australian Poetry Library

See also.

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on October 5, 2011 6:51 AM.

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