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Old River Days by Will Lawson

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On Murrumbidgee the sunrise flashes,
   The moonlight glitters on Darling-side;
Where parrots scream and the wild duck dashes,
   Old Murray's reaches are long and wide.
From the Snowy Ranges, far-off and lonely,
   From Queensland borders the waters come
Three thousand miles; yet each mile is only
   Another step that will lead us home.
Back to the winding watercourses,
   Back to the steamer-roads again
Where the whistles startled the station horses
   And the women waved to the steamer men.

Through the mists of years you can see them going,
   With paddles beating and funnels loud,
With steam that bursts from the furnace glowing
   On the river mist's grey, ghostly shroud.
The Princess Royal, the fast Freetrader,
   The Rothbury, the Eliza Jane,
The Telegraph and the old Crusader,
   The 're steaming out on the floods again.
They blow for the wood-piles down the river,
   Racing to get to Mannum first,
Though the wood in their planks may creak and quiver,
   Though sandbars threaten and boilers burst.

There is something grand in the river stories,
   There was something brave in the steamer days,
When the morning gleam and the sunset glories
   Shone on the changing waterways.
To thrashing of paddles and lights and laughter,
   Love and dancing and voices strong;
Heedless of fate and of what came after,
   They lived men's lives as they stormed along.
Bound for the narrow Murrumbidgee,
   Daring the Darling's fickle tide,
They travelled out where the sand and gidya
   Baffled the boats when the flood-streams died.

What were the miles, when they laughed at distance?
   The river was home enough for them.
Oh! the lazy push of their powerful pistons,
   Driving out to the desert's hem.
Men of the rivers! Men of the steamers!
   From the long West Coast of New South Wales,
To Goolwa bar, in the land of dreamers.
   We see you pass and we hear your hails,
And your whistles calling on Darling and Murray.
   Where do you steer and where do you hide?
In the engine's scream and the smooth wheel's hurry
   We hear the dirge of a world that died.

First published in The Bulletin, 6 May 1936;
and later in
Australian Bush Songs and Ballads by Will Lawson, 1944;
Bush Verses by Will Lawson, 1945; and
Paddle-Wheels Away by Will Lawson, 1947.

Author: William Lawson (1876-1957) was born in Durham in England and migrated to New Zealand with his family in 1880.  He then moved to Brisbane in 1884, and then back to Wellington, New Zealand in 1890, where he stayed for the next 20 years.  He worked as a clerk for an insurance company there, contributing verses to various Australian periodicals. In 1912 he took up a post as a journalist on the Sydney Evening News.  He published 6 collections of his poetry during his lifetime, as well as writing 14 novels.  He died in Randwick, New South Wales in 1957.

Author reference sites: Austlit, Australian Dictionary of Biography

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