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The Seeker by C.J. Dennis

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A seventy-year old mining prospector, an early pioneer of Westralian gold fields, last week-end "dropped in" on his family, in New South Wales, after sixteen years absence in New Zealand.  He is on his way to try his luck once more in the West.

There's country I ain't work yet (said he),
   An' supposin' me health went wrong,
Why, I'd hate to be missin' a bet (said he)
   So I got to be pushin' along.
For seventy year ain't old (said he)
   When you're just on the edge of a find;
An' there's like to be lashin's o' gold (said he)
   At a spot that I got in mind.
 
From Southern Cross to the Marble Bar,
   From the Bar to the Golden Mile,
I tramped in the old days, hard an' far,
   For a glimmer of fortune's smile,
But the lass weren't free with her smiles them days,
   So I knocks 'round Maoriland
This sixteen year, an' I've trod strange ways,
   But I ain't struck payin' sand.
 
Still, a man can't break with his own home folk;
   So I best look in as I pass,
For a bit of a yarn an' a bit of a smoke,
   An' maybe a friendly glass.
Then off again for the game's own sake,
   While I still feels hale an' strong;
For a man can't tell when his luck will break;
   So I got to be pushin' along.
 
To be lingerin' here ain't right (said he),
   For they'll bury me deep some day;
An' I'd not be astonished a sight (said he)
   If the color showed up in the clay
When they're givin' me grave a pat (said he)
   An' I'm singin' me glory song.
Me?  missin' a strike like that! (said he)
   No; I'd best be pushin' along.

First published in The Herald, 20 June 1935

Struck It at Last by Edward Dyson

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He was almost blind, and wasted
   With the wear of many years;
He had laboured and had tasted
   Bitter troubles, many cares;
But his laugh was loud and ringing,
   And his flag was on the mast --
Every day they heard him singing:
   "Bound to strike it rich at last."

Here he brandished axe and maul ere
   Buninyong, and, after that,
Fought and bled with Peter Lalor
   And the boys at Ballarat.
East and west and northward, striving,
   As the tides set fresh and fast --
Ever trying, rarely thriving --
   Yes, he'd strike it rich at last.

Now and then she'd pan out snugly,
   Mostly all the other way,
But he never cut up ugly
   When he bottomed on the clay;
Never cursed or got disgusted,
   Mourned the days and chances past --
Geordie always hoped, and trusted
   He would strike it rich at last.

If the days were very dull, or
   When the store~men cut up rough
And he couldn't raise a colour
   From a cart-load of the stuff,
No man found him chicken-hearted,
   He'd no time to bang and blast;
Pegged her out again and started ---
   Bound to strike it rich at last.

Blinded by a shot in Eighty,
   Sinking for the Pegleg Reef,
If he sorrowed o'er his fate, he
   Let no mortal see his grief.
In the Home there in the city
   Geordie won their favour fast,
All the inmates learned his ditty ---
   "Bound to strike it rich at last."

When brought low, and bowed, and hoary,
   Still his eyes alone were blind,
Undimmed by fortune was the glory
   Of his happy, tranquil mind;
In his heart a flame was glowing
   That defied the roughest blast,
And he sang: "There is no knowing,
   Mates, I'll strike ii rich at last."

As the end approached he prattled
   Of old days at Ballarat,
And again the windlass rattled
   At Jim Crow and Blanket Flat,
And the nurses heard him mutter
   As his conquering spirit passed:
"Streak of luck, boys! On the gutter!"
   Geordie's struck it rich at last.

First published in The Bulletin, 23 April 1892;
and later in
Rhymes from the Mines and Other Lines by Edward Dyson, 1896;
Freedom on the Wallaby: Poems of the Australian People edited by Marjorie Pizer, 1953; and
The Poet's Discovery: Nineteenth Century Australia in Verse edited by Richard Douglas Jordan and Peter Pierce, 1990.

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

See also.

A Few Rhymes in Praise of Gold by Henry Halloran

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Thou beautiful metal! tho' some may abuse,
Who heed not thy mission, -- who mark not thy use,--
To me thou appearest with purposes great:
Thou friend of the friendless! thou softener of hate!
Thou queller of pride! thou subduer of scorn!
Thou robe to life's desolate children forlorn!
To the hearts of exclusives thou magical key!  
Though others decry, I have blessings for thee.   
"Thou root of all evil!" thou agent of good!   
For many a day the pale artist had stood,
With a picture, whose tints e'en a Guido might own,
Whose lines, e'en an Etty, with pride might have shewn,
But Academies found that the Artist was poor,  
And drove the scorn'd youth from each pitiless door;
But an uncle through some breathless ventures in trade,  
The beautiful gold for his nephew had made;
The gold made the bars of Academies fly,
And Royalty smiled as the Artist drew nigh;
Oh! Gold! mighty gold! altho' Virtue may fade,
What envy or scorn can keep thee in the shade?

Thou type of our youth -- thou bright type of our love!
The sweet golden age -- the bless'd dream from above;
Tho' found in the earth in some wandering seam,
Thou wert sent from above with the Sun-god's first beam;  
Thou wert sent the rapt poet to save and defend,
Thou wert sent the starved orphan to feed and befriend,
Thou wert sent the brave heart in its honour to save --
To stand, like a god, 'twixt the tyrant and slave,
Thou wert sent the great powers of man to call forth,
To link the sweel south with the chivalrous North,--
The Orient to bring to the West, and to bind
The powers of Time and of Space, tho' combined     
Tho' others may rail, I have blessings for thee,
Flashing up thro' the quartz with a cry to be free!   

The Palaces of Crystal rose up at thy nod,
And sculpture displayed there the form of its God;
The loom sent its fabrics, the easel its pride,
And the engine with man seem'd the palm to divide:
All that Art could accomplish, or mind could devise,
The dream of the heart and the spoil of the eyes,     
All that labour minute, or skill half divine,
Could catch at the instant, or slowly combine,
Evoked by thy power in beauty arose;  
And nation with nation,-once bitterest foes,--
Came together, to bend in deep reverence the knee,
To the Glory of Intellect, quickened by thee!
All, save the poor savage, who knew not thy power,   
And shared not the glory, and joy of the hour.

And by thee, even here, shall the labourer now,
Find to clothe his wan limbs, and to shade his hot brow,
To build his own cot on his own rood of land;
To place his brave son where a freeman may stand,
With eyes that to pride give an instant reproof,
With hands that dare guard his inviolate roof.  

First published in The Empire, 16 March 1854

Author reference sites: Austlit, Australian Dictionary of Biography

See also.

The Rescue by Edward Dyson

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There's a sudden, fierce clang of the knocker, then the sound of a voice in the shaft,
Shrieking words that drum hard on the centres, and the braceman goes suddenly daft:
"Set the whistle a-blowin' like blazes! Billy, run, give old Mackie a call --
Run, you fool! Number Two's gone to pieces, and Fred Banker is caught in the fall!
Say, hello! there below -- any hope, boys, any chances of savin' his life?
'Heave away!' sez the knocker. They've started. God be praised, he's no younguns nor wife!"'      

Screams the whistle in fearful entreaty, and the wild echo raves on the spur,
And the night that was still as a sleeper in a soft charm├ęd sleep is astir
With the fluttering of wings in the wattles, and the vague frightened murmur of birds,
With far cooeys that carry the warning, running feet, inarticulate words
From the black belt of bush come the miners, and they gather by Mack on the brace,
Out of breath, barely clad, and half wakened, with a question in every face.

"Who's b'low?" "Where's the fall?" "Didn't I tell you? -- Didn't I say that them sets wasn't sound?"
"Is it Fred? He was reckless, was Baker, now he's seen his last shift underground."
"And his mate? Where is Sandy M'Fadyn?" "Sandy's snorin' at home on his bunk."  
"Not at work! Name o' God! a forebod'n'?" "A forebodin' be hanged! He is drunk!"
'Take it steady there lads!" the boss orders. He is white to the roots of his hair.
"We may get him, alive before daybreak if he's close to the face and has air."  

Down below in the dim drive like demons the facenmen are pegging away.
Long and Coots in the lowermost level heard her thunder, nor lingered to say
What it meant; but they rushed for the ladders, and they went up the shaft with a run,
For they knew the weak spot in the workings, and they guessed there was graft to be done.
Number Two was pitch dark, and they scrambled to the plat and they made for the face,
But the roof had come down fifty yards in, and the reef was all over the place.

Now they give way to men from the surface, and they're hauled up on top for a blow,
When a life and death job is in doing there's room only for workers below.
Bare-armed, and bare-chested, and browny, with a grim, meaning set of the jaw,
The relay hurry in to the rescue, caring not for the danger a straw;
'Tis not toil, but a battle, they're called to, and like heroes the miners respond,
For a dead man lies crushed 'neath the timbers, or a live man is choking beyond.

By the faint, yellow glow of the candles, where the dank drive is hot with their breath,
On the verge of the Land of the Shadow, waging war breast to bosom with Death,
How they struggle, these giants, and slowly, as the trucks rattle into the gloom,
Inch by inch they advanco to the conquest of a prison -- or is it a tomb?
And the workings re-echo a volley as the timbers are driven in place,
But a whisper is borne to the toilers: "Boys, his mother is there on the brace!"    

Like veterans late put into action, fierce with longing to hew and to hack,   
Riordan's shift rushes in to relieve them, and the toil-stricken men stagger back.
"Stow the stuff, mates, wherever there's stowage! Run the man on the brace till he drops!
There's no time even to think on this billet. Bark the heels of the trucker who stops!
Keep the props well in front and he careful. He's in there and alive, never fret."
But the grey dawn is softening the ridges, and the word has not come to us yet.

At the mouth of the shaft men are waiting, all intent, as if held by a charm;
And their thews feel the craving for action, but they look with a sorrowful calm
Where a woman sits crouched by the capstan. In her eyes is not hope nor despair,
But a yearning that glowers like frenzy, and bids those who'd speak pity forbear.
Like a figure in stone she is seated till the labour of rescue be done,
For the father was killed in the Phoenix, and the son -- Lord of pity! the son?  

Still the knocker rings out and the engine shrieks and strains like a creature in pain
As the cage surges up to the surface or drops back to the darkness again.  
Now the morn is aglow on the ranges where the magpies are rivals in song   
And the musk scent steals up from the gully, but the battle is bitten and long.
"Hello! there on top!" they are calling. "They are through! He is seen in the drive!
They have got him -- thank Heaven! they've got him, and oh, blessed be God, he's alive! "  

"Man on! heave away!" "Step aside, lads, let his mother be first when he lands."
She was silent and strong in her anguish; now she babbles and weeps where she stands,
And the stern men, grown gentle, support her at the mouth of the shaft, till at last
With a rush the cage springs to the landing, and her son's arms encircle her fast.
She has cursed the old mine for its murders, for the victims its drives have ensnared,
Now she cries a great blessing upon it for the one precious life it has spared.

First published in The Argus, 10 February 1894;
and later in
The Launceston Examiner, 24 February 1884;
Rhymes from the Mines and Other Lines by Edward Dyson, 1896;
The Coo-ee Reciter: Humorous, Pathetic, Dramatic, Dialect, Recitations and Readings edited by William T. Pyke, 1904;
Old Ballads from the Bush edited by Bill Scott, 1987;
A Collection of Australian Bush Verse, 1989; and
Two Centuries of Australian Poetry edited by Kathrine Bell, 2007.

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

See also.

The Digger's Song by Barcroft Boake

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Scrape the bottom of the hole: gather up the stuff!
   Fossick in the crannies, lest you leave a grain behind!
Just another shovelful and that'll be enough-
   Now we'll take it to the bank and see what we can find...
      Give the dish a twirl around!
      Let the water swirl around!
Gently let it circulate -- there's music in the swish
      And the tinkle of the gravel,
      As the pebbles quickly travel
Around in merry circles on the bottom of the dish.

Ah, if man could wash his life -- if he only could!
   Panning off the evil deeds, keeping but the good:
What a mighty lot of diggers' dishes would be sold!
   Though I fear the heap of tailings would be greater than the gold ...
      Give the dish a twirl around!
      Let the water swirl around!
Man's the sport of circumstance however he may wish.
      Fortune! are you there now?
      Answer to my prayer now-
Drop a half-ounce nugget in the bottom of the dish.

Gently let the water lap!  Keep the corners dry!
   That's about the place the gold will generally stay.
What was the bright particle that just then caught my eye?
   I fear me by the look of things 'twas only yellow clay...
      Just another twirl around!
      Let the water swirl around!
That's the way we rob the river of its golden fish...
      What's that? ... Can't we snare a one?
      Don't say that there's ne'er a one!...
Bah! there's not a colour in the bottom of the dish.

First published in The Bulletin, 31 October, 1891
and later in
Where the Dead Men Lie and Other Poems by Barcroft Boake, 1897;
Silence into Song: An Anthology of Australian Verse compiled by Clifford O'Brien, 1968;
The New Oxford Book of Australian Verse edited by Les Murray, 1986;
Classic Australian Verse edited by Maggie Pinkney, 2001;
An Australian Treasury of Australian Verse edited by Jim Haynes, 2002;
Barcroft Boake: Collected Works, Edited, with a Life edited by W. F. Refshauge, 2007; and
Two Centuries of Australian Poetry edited by Kathrine Bell, 2007.

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

See also.

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.

The Old Whim Horse by Edward Dyson

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He's an old grey horse, with his head bowed sadly,
And with dim old eyes and a queer roll aft,
With the off-fore sprung and the hind screwed badly,
And he bears all over the brands of graft;
And he lifts his head from the grass to wonder
Why by night and day the whim is still,
Why the silence is, and the stampers' thunder
Sounds forth no more from the shattered mill.

In that whim he worked when the night winds bellowed
On the riven summit of Giant's Hand,
And by day when prodigal Spring had yellowed
All the wide, long sweep of enchanted land;
And he knew his shift, and the whistle's warning,
And he knew the calls of the boys below;
Through the years, unbidden, at night or morning,
He had taken his stand by the old whim bow.

But the whim stands still, and the wheeling swallow
In the silent shaft hangs her home of clay,
And the lizards flirt and the swift snakes follow
O'er the grass-grown brace in the summer day;
And the corn springs high in the cracks and corners
Of the forge, and down where the timber lies;
And the crows are perched like a band of mourners
On the broken hut on the Hermit's Rise.

All the hands have gone, for the rich reef paid out,
And the company waits till the calls come in;
But the old grey horse, like the claim, is played out,
And no market's near for his bones and skin.
So they let him live, and they left him grazing
By the creek, and oft in the evening dim
I have seen him stand on the rises, gazing
At the ruined brace and the rotting whim.

The floods rush high in the gully under,
And the lightnings lash at the shrinking trees,
Or the cattle down from the ranges blunder
As the fires drive by on the summer breeze.
Still the feeble horse at the right hour wanders
To the lonely ring, though the whistle's dumb,
And with hanging head by the bow he ponders
Where the whim boy's gone - why the shifts don't come.

But there comes a night when he sees lights glowing
In the roofless huts and the ravaged mill,
When he hears again all the stampers going -  
Though the huts are dark and the stampers still:
When he sees the steam to the black roof clinging
As its shadows roll on the silver sands,
And he knows the voice of his driver singing,
And the knocker's clang where the braceman stands.

See the old horse take, like a creature dreaming,
On the ring once more his accustomed place;
But the moonbeams full on the ruins streaming
Show the scattered timbers and grass-grown brace.
Yet he hears the sled in the smithy falling,
And the empty truck as it rattles back,
And the boy who stands by the anvil, calling;
And he turns and backs, and he "takes up slack".

While the old drum creaks, and the shadows shiver
As the wind sweeps by, and the hut doors close,
And the bats dip down in the shaft or quiver
In the ghostly light, round the grey horse goes;
And he feels the strain on his untouched shoulder,
Hears again the voice that was dear to him,
Sees the form he knew - and his heart grows bolder
As he works his shift by the broken whim.

He hears in the sluices the water rushing
As the buckets drain and the doors fall back;
When the early dawn in the east is blushing,
He is limping still round the old, old track.
Now he pricks his ears, with a neigh replying
To a call unspoken, with eyes aglow,
And he sways and sinks in the circle, dying;
From the ring no more will the grey horse go.

In a gully green, where a dam lies gleaming,
And the bush creeps back on a worked-out claim,
And the sleepy crows in the sun sit dreaming
On the timbers grey and a charred hut frame,
Where the legs slant down, and the hare is squatting
In the high rank grass by the dried-up course,
Nigh a shattered drum and a king-post rotting
Are the bleaching bones of the old grey horse.

First published in The Bulletin, 30 July 1892;
and later in
Rhymes From the Mines and Other Lines by Edward Dyson, 1896;
An Anthology of Australian Verse edited by Bertram Stevens, 1907;
The Golden Treasury of Australian Verse edited by Bertram Stevens, 1909;
Favourite Australian Poems edited by Ian Mudie, 1963;
This Land: An Anthology of Australian Poetry for Young People edited by M. M. Flynn and J. Groom, 1968;
The Collins Book of Australian Poetry compiled by Rodney Hall, 1981;
The Illustrated Treasury of Australian Verse edited by Beatrice Davis, 1984;
New Dimension, June 1987;
A Collection of Australian Bush Verse, 1989;
Classic Australian Verse edited by Maggie Pinkney, 2001;
Two Centuries of Australian Verse edited by Kathrine Bell, 2007; and
100 Australian Poems You Need to Know edited by Jamie Grant, 2008.

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

See also.

Look Out Below by Charles R. Thatcher

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A young man left his native shores,
   For trade was bad at home;
And to seek his fortune in this land
   He crossed the briny foam.
And when he went to Ballarat
   His face was in a glow,
To hear the sound of the windlasses
   And the cry "Look out below!"

Where'er he turned his wandering eye
   Great wealth he did behold;
There were peace and plenty hand in hand
   By the magic power of gold.
Says he then, "I am young and strong,
   Gold digging I will go;
For I like the sound of the windlasses
   And the cry 'Look out below!'"

So amongst the rest he took his place,
   At first his luck was vile,
But by dint of perseverance
   At length he made his pile.
Says he, "I will a passage take,
   And back to England go,
And I'll bid adieu to the windlasses
   And the cry 'Look out below!'"

He arrived safe in England;
   His money he quickly spent,
And into every gaiety
   And dissipation went.
At length he reasoned with himself --
   "Oh! why did I return?
For the diggings and independent life
   I now commence to yearn;
For here the rich the poor oppress;
   Out there it is not so:
You can hear the sound of the windlasses
   And the cry "Look out below!"

Says he, "I will go back again,
   With a charming little wife,
For there's nothing that you can compare
   With a jolly digger's life."
Ask him if he'll return again,
   He'll quickly answer, "No;
For I'd miss the sound of the windlasses
   And the cry, "Look out below!"

First published in Australian Town and Country Journal, 22 May 1897;
and later in
Colonial Ballads edited by Hugh Anderson, 1962;
From the Ballads to Brennan edited by T. Inglis Moore, 1964;
The Penguin Australian Song Book edited by J. S. Manifold, 1964;
Old Australian Ballads: An Anthology edited by W. N. Walker, 1967;
Old Bush Songs and Rhymes of Colonial Times edited by Douglas Stewart, 1976;
Complete Book of Australian Folklore edited by Bill Scott;
A Collection of Australian Bush Verse, 1989; and
The Penguin Book of Australian Ballads edited by Elizabeth Webby and Philip Butterss, 1993.

Author: Charles Robert Thatcher (1831-78) was born in Bristol, England, and arrived in Australia in 1852 following the goldrush.  He soon joined the orchestra of the Royal Victoria Theatre in Bendigo and spent most of the rest of his stay in Australia traveling around the goldfields of Victoria and touring New Zealand. He left Australia in 1870 and returned to England with his family. He later died of cholera in Shanghai, China, while traveling in that country buying Asian curios for his business.

Author reference sites:
Austlit, Australian Dictionary of Biography

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