Henry Lawson Poetry: ‘The Song of the Darling River’

by Henry Lawson

 

 

The skies are brass and the plains are bare,
Death and ruin are everywhere —
And all that is left of the last year’s flood
Is a sickly stream on the grey-black mud;
The salt-springs bubble and the quagmires quiver,
And — this is the dirge of the Darling River:

 

`I rise in the drought from the Queensland rain,
`I fill my branches again and again;
`I hold my billabongs back in vain,
`For my life and my peoples the South Seas drain;
`And the land grows old and the people never
`Will see the worth of the Darling River.

 

`I drown dry gullies and lave bare hills,
`I turn drought-ruts into rippling rills —
`I form fair island and glades all green
`Till every bend is a sylvan scene.
`I have watered the barren land ten leagues wide!
`But in vain I have tried, ah! in vain I have tried
`To show the sign of the Great All Giver,
`The Word to a people: O! lock your river.

 

`I want no blistering barge aground,
`But racing steamers the seasons round;
`I want fair homes on my lonely ways,
`A people’s love and a people’s praise —
`And rosy children to dive and swim —
`And fair girls’ feet in my rippling brim;
`And cool, green forests and gardens ever’ —
Oh, this is the hymn of the Darling River.

 

The sky is brass and the scrub-lands glare,
Death and ruin are everywhere;
Thrown high to bleach, or deep in the mud
The bones lie buried by last year’s flood,
And the Demons dance from the Never Never
To laugh at the rise of the Darling River.

 

 

from Henry Lawson’s collection, Verses Popular and Humorous (1900)

 

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About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and footyalmanac.com.au He has written columns and features for numerous publications. His books include Confessions of a Thirteenth Man, Memoirs of a Mug Punter, Loose Men Everywhere, Play On, The Pearl: Steve Renouf's Story and Life As I Know It (with Michelle Payne). He appears on ABCTV's Offsiders. He can be contacted j.t.h@footyalmanac.com.au He is married to The Handicapper and has three kids - Theo11, Anna9, Evie8. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst three. His ambition is to lunch for Australia.

Comments

  1. Rain and heat have come and gone through history, but putting aside climate change, the theft of our inland water by cotton irrigators (aided and abetted by political cronies of all stripes) is a bitter scandal.
    I recall a conversation in the 90’s with an indigenous leader who grew up on the Darling. I asked what changed in those outback NSW towns. She said mum was a nurse and dad a cleaner at the local hospital. “Us kids just played and swam all day in the river and looked our for each other. You didn’t just steal our water – you stole the childhoods from future generations of kids.”

  2. Cracking bit of verse this. Australia is a tough country with its own rhythm. What arrogance if we think we can tame it.

  3. DBalassone says:

    Great poem. I thought of two things while reading it: a novel by Anson Cameron and a song by Jimmy Barnes…

    Pushin’ ever westward, across the great divide.
    Beyond the darling river,
    Towards the outback sky.

    The lawless and the brave, searching for a dream.
    When all they found was sand and stone,
    Where rivers once had been.

  4. I find it strange that more has not been made of the prescient nature of Anson Cameron’s funny and insightful novel The Last Pulse.

    Yes, I am with you DB.

    And yes, Dips. Interesting that when I visited the Mallee to write a story I found resilient people,accepting of the realities of weather, and in no way shying away from the fact that they made the decision to be there. They certainly understood they had no control. The identity of some people is deeply entrenched in the place – and if that means rainfall of 12 inches a year, so be it. They are dry country people. I loved doing that story.

  5. There’s no way I’m going fishing in the Darling the way it is these days.

  6. A cracking piece of verse, this. But he had many, didn’t he?

    Anson’s column in the Age on Australia Day was at once serious and sad – and he made reference to his fine book.

    Yep, this Darling River issue is a scandal of generational proportions

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