by Henry Lawson (1867-1922)
When the wars of the world seemed ended, and silent the distant drum,
Ten years ago in Australia, I wrote of a war to come:
And I pictured Australians fighting as their fathers fought of old
For the old things, pride or country, for God or the Devil or gold.
And they lounged on the rim of Australia in the peace that had come to last,
And they laughed at my “cavalry charges” for such things belonged to the past;
Then our wise men smiled with indulgence – ere the swift years proved me right
Saying: “What shall Australia fight for? And whom shall Australia fight?”
I wrote of the unlocked rivers in the days when my heart was full,
And I pleaded for irrigation where they sacrifice all for wool.
I pictured Australia fighting when the coast had been lost and won —
With arsenals west of the mountains and every spur its gun.
And what shall Australia fight for? The reason may yet be found,
When strange shells scatter the wickets and burst on the football ground.
And “Who shall invade Australia?” let the wisdom of ages say
“The friend of a further future — or the ally of yesterday!”
Aye! What must Australia fight for? In the strife that never shall cease,
She must fight for her work unfinished: she must fight for her life and peace,
For the sins of the older nations. She must fight for her own reward.
She has taken the sword in her blindness and shall live or die by the sword.
But the statesman, the churchman, the scholar still peer through their glasses dim
And they see no cloud on the future as they roost on Australia’s rim:
Where the farmer works with the lumpers and the drover drives a dray,
And the shearer on Garden Island is shifting a hill to-day.
Had we used the wealth we have squandered and the land that we kept from the plough,
A prosperous Federal City would be over the mountains now,
With farms that sweep to horizons and gardens where plains lay bare,
And the bulk of the population and the Heart of Australia there.
Had we used the time we have wasted and the gold we have thrown away,
The pick of the world’s mechanics would be over the range to-day —
In the Valley of Coal and Iron where the breeze from the bush comes down,
And where thousands of makers of all things should be happy in Factory Town.
They droned on the rim of Australia, the wise men who never could learn;
Our substance we sent to the nations, and their shoddy we bought in return.
In the end, shall our soldiers fight naked, no help for them under the sun —
And never a cartridge to stick in the breech of a Brummagem gun?
With the Wars of the World coming near us the wise men are waking to-day.
Hurry out ammunition from England! Mount guns on the cliffs while you may!
And God pardon our sins as a people if Invasion’s unmerciful hand
Should strike at the heart of Australia drought-cramped on the verge of the land.
About the Author
See our page on Henry Lawson Includes a linked list of all his writing available on our website.