Henry Lawson

(17 June 1867 – 2 September 1922 / Grenfell, New South Wales)

Outback


The old year went, and the new returned, in the withering weeks of drought,
The cheque was spent that the shearer earned,
and the sheds were all cut out;
The publican's words were short and few,
and the publican's looks were black --
And the time had come, as the shearer knew, to carry his swag Out Back.

For time means tucker, and tramp you must,
where the scrubs and plains are wide,
With seldom a track that a man can trust, or a mountain peak to guide;
All day long in the dust and heat -- when summer is on the track --
With stinted stomachs and blistered feet,
they carry their swags Out Back.

He tramped away from the shanty there, when the days were long and hot,
With never a soul to know or care if he died on the track or not.
The poor of the city have friends in woe, no matter how much they lack,
But only God and the swagmen know how a poor man fares Out Back.

He begged his way on the parched Paroo and the Warrego tracks once more,
And lived like a dog, as the swagmen do, till the Western stations shore;
But men were many, and sheds were full, for work in the town was slack --
The traveller never got hands in wool,
though he tramped for a year Out Back.

In stifling noons when his back was wrung
by its load, and the air seemed dead,
And the water warmed in the bag that hung to his aching arm like lead,
Or in times of flood, when plains were seas,
and the scrubs were cold and black,
He ploughed in mud to his trembling knees, and paid for his sins Out Back.

He blamed himself in the year `Too Late' --
in the heaviest hours of life --
'Twas little he dreamed that a shearing-mate had care of his home and wife;
There are times when wrongs from your kindred come,
and treacherous tongues attack --
When a man is better away from home, and dead to the world, Out Back.

And dirty and careless and old he wore, as his lamp of hope grew dim;
He tramped for years till the swag he bore seemed part of himself to him.
As a bullock drags in the sandy ruts, he followed the dreary track,
With never a thought but to reach the huts when the sun went down Out Back.

It chanced one day, when the north wind blew
in his face like a furnace-breath,
He left the track for a tank he knew -- 'twas a short-cut to his death;
For the bed of the tank was hard and dry, and crossed with many a crack,
And, oh! it's a terrible thing to die of thirst in the scrub Out Back.

A drover came, but the fringe of law was eastward many a mile;
He never reported the thing he saw, for it was not worth his while.
The tanks are full and the grass is high in the mulga off the track,
Where the bleaching bones of a white man lie
by his mouldering swag Out Back.

For time means tucker, and tramp they must,
where the plains and scrubs are wide,
With seldom a track that a man can trust, or a mountain peak to guide;
All day long in the flies and heat the men of the outside track
With stinted stomachs and blistered feet
must carry their swags Out Back.

Submitted: Thursday, January 01, 2004

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