When I was King and Other Verses

The Shearers

Henry Lawson

NO church-bell rings them from the Track,
    No pulpit lights their blindness—
’Tis hardship, drought and homelessness
    That teach those Bushmen kindness:
The mateship born of barren lands,
    Of toil and thirst and danger—
The camp-fare for the stranger set,
    The first place to the stranger.

They do the best they can to-day—
    Take no thought of the morrow;
Their way is not the old-world way—
    They live to lend and borrow.
When shearing’s done and cheques gone wrong,
    They call it ‘time to slither’—
They saddle up and say ‘So-long!’
    And ride—the Lord knows whither.

And though he may be brown or black,
    Or wrong man there or right man,
The mate that’s honest to his mates
    They call that man a ‘white man’!
They tramp in mateship side by side—
    The Protestant and ‘Roman’—
They call no biped lord or ‘sir,’
    And touch their hats to no man!

They carry in their swags, perhaps,
    A portrait and a letter—
And, maybe, deep down in their hearts,
    The hope of ‘something better.’
Where lonely miles are long to ride,
    And all days seem recurrent,
There’s lots of time to think of men
    They might have been—but weren’t.

They turn their faces to the west
    And leave the world behind them—
(Their drought-dried graves are seldom green
    Where even mates can find them).
They know too little of the world
    To rise to wealth or greatness:
But in this book of mine I pay
    My tribute to their straightness.

When I was King and Other Verses - Contents

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