I’VE followed all my tracks and ways, from old bark school to Leicester Square,|
I’ve been right back to boyhood’s days, and found no light or pleasure there.
But every dream and every track—and there were many that I knew—
They all lead on, or they lead back, to Bourke in Ninety-one, and two.
No sign that green grass ever grew in scrubs that blazed beneath the sun;
The plains were dust in Ninety-two, that baked to bricks in Ninety-one.
On glaring iron-roofs of Bourke, the scorching, blinding sandstorms blew,
And there was nothing beautiful in Ninety-one and Ninety-two.
Save grit and generosity of hearts that broke and healed again—
The hottest drought that ever blazed could never parch the hearts of men;
And they were men in spite of all, and they were straight, and they were true,
The hat went round at trouble’s call, in Ninety-one and Ninety-two.
They drank, when all is said and done, they gambled, and their speech was rough—
You’d only need to say of one—‘He was my mate!’ that was enough.
To hint a bushman was not white, nor to his Union straight and true,
Would mean a long and bloody fight in Ninety-one and Ninety-two.
The yard behind the Shearers’ Arms was reckoned best of battle grounds,
And there in peace and quietness they fought their ten or fifteen rounds;
And then they washed the blood away, and then shook hands, as strong men do—
And washed away the bitterness—in Ninety-one and Ninety-two.
The Army on the grand old creek was mighty in those days gone by,
For they had sisters who could shriek, and brothers who could testify;
And by the muddy waterholes, they tackled sin till all was blue—
They took our bobs and damned our souls in Ninety-one and Ninety-two.
By shanty bars and shearing sheds, they took their toll and did their work—
But now and then they lost their heads, and raved of hotter hells than Bourke:
The only message from the dead that ever came distinctly through—
Was—‘Send my overcoat to hell’—it came to Bourke in Ninety-two.
I know they drank, and fought, and died—some fighting fiends on blazing tracks—
I don’t remember that they lied, or crawled behind each others’ backs;
I don’t remember that they loafed, or left a mate to battle through—
Ah! men knew how to stick to men in Ninety-one and Ninety-two.
They’re scattered wide and scattered far—by fan-like tracks, north, east, and west—
The cruel New Australian star drew off the bravest and the best.
The Cape and Klondyke claim their bones, the streets of London damned a few,
And jingo-cursed Australia mourns for Ninety-one and Ninety-two.
For ever westward in the land, Australians hear—and will not heed—
The murmur of the board-room, and the sure and stealthy steps of greed—
Bourke was a fortress on the track! and garrisons were grim and true
To hold the spoilers from Out Back, in Ninety-one and Ninety-two.
I hear it in the ridges lone, and in the dread drought-stricken wild—
I hear at times a woman’s moan—the whimper of a hungry child:
And—let the cynics say the word: ‘a godless gang, a drunken crew’—
But these were things I never heard in Ninety-one and Ninety-two.
. . . . .
They say that things have changed out there, and western towns have altered quite:
They don’t know how to drink and swear, they’ve half forgotten how to fight;
They’ve almost lost the strength to trust, the faith in mateship to be true—
The heart that grew in drought and dust in Ninety-one and Ninety-two.
We’ve learned to laugh the bitter laugh since then—we’ve travelled, you and I;
The sneaking little paragraph, the dirty trick, the whispered lie
Are known to us—the little men—whose souls are rotten through and through—
We called them scabs and crawlers then, in Ninety-one and Ninety-two.
And could I roll the summers back, or bring the dead time on again;
Or from the grave or world-wide track, call back to Bourke the vanished men,
With mind content I’d go to sleep, and leave those mates to judge me true,
And leave my name to Bourke to keep—the Bourke of Ninety-one and two.