Being an avid reader of colloquial poetry I welcomed the opportunity to once again be out in the countryside that inspired the great Australian Poet, Henry Lawson…
For those not familiar, Henry Lawson was a poet, a writer of fiction, and many will argue, Australia’s greatest writer.
Earlier this year we packed ourselves into “The Landy” and headed to Grenfell, his birthplace in the Central West of New South Wales, to attend the Henry Lawson festival, as well as just getting Out and About – of course!
On our most recent trip to the outback we visited Toorale Station which was a vast sheep and cattle property before its purchase by the Federal Government in 2008 and development into a National Park in 2010.
The purchase of the property did have political overtones, and was done, in part, to release water that was used for cotton growing back to the river systems.
At the time it drew a mixed response, but that is a debate for others…
Toorale had at its centre, a magnificent homestead, with a glass ceiling ball-room, sprawling verandahs, wonderful gardens and hand-painted wall paper.
Standing at the gate, my mind’s eye could picture a by-gone area, of women in long-white dresses sipping tea from delicate porcelain china, shaded by the afternoon sun by one of the many trees in the manicured garden, while men toiled on the land..
Janet, with a sly grin, casually mentioned how things had changed whilst casting an eye towards TomO and I…
Set at the confluence of the Warrego and Darling Rivers it remains a place of cultural significance to Australia’s first people, specifically the traditional owners, the Kurnu-Baakandji / Paakantji People.
Ross Morris, a member of the Kurnu-Baakandji / Paakantji family, showed us around and was enthusiastic about the opportunities ahead for the park, especially the cultural centre, which is teaching their traditional language, heritage and beliefs to younger members of their community.
In fact, it is now a language module offered at the local school in the nearby town of Bourke…
Ross spoke fondly of the time his father and grandfather spent on Toorale, and of the original owner, Samuel McCaughey, later Sir Samuel.
And it was Ross’s proclamation that it is no longer Black and White, a nice pun I thought, when he explained that we all have a bond to Toorale, whether through traditional ownership, or the heritage created by earlier settlers to the region.
His attitude brought a smile to my parched lips, as I love learning about aboriginal culture and history, something TomO shares in common with me…
Ross’s viewpoint was also echoed by other first Australians’ we spent time with on this trip, on our visit to Mutawintji and Peery Lake.
Samuel McCaughey was by all accounts a big-hearted bachelor and built Toorale for his much admired niece, Louisa, but tragically corporate ownership of the property in more recent times saw it decay and it is currently very dilapidated and in need of substantial repairs.
Janet and I asked each other how could such a treasure be left to ruin in the elements, Ross shook his head…
But what of Henry Lawson I hear you ask?
Henry spent the later part of 1892 working as a roustabout on the property and it has even been suggested that he penned one of his poems “When the Ladies Come to the Shearing Shed” whilst working in the shearing shed on Toorale…
Perhaps he did, but I cannot say that was the case with any certainty, but nor does it matter, as the “Toorale Shearing Shed” is typical of shearing sheds all over this great country of ours…
TomO, Janet and I were presented with a great treat whilst admiring the shearing shed.
A lady who was travelling with us on this particular day, Janice, stood in front of the shed and recited, with great aplomb…
“When the Ladies Come to the Shearing Shed” – By Henry Lawson
‘THE LADIES are coming,’ the super says
To the shearers sweltering there,
And ‘the ladies’ means in the shearing shed:
‘Don’t cut ’em too bad. Don’t swear.’
The ghost of a pause in the shed’s rough heart,
And lower is bowed each head;
And nothing is heard, save a whispered word,
And the roar of the shearing-shed.
The tall, shy rouser has lost his wits,
And his limbs are all astray;
He leaves a fleece on the shearing-board,
And his broom in the shearer’s way.
There’s a curse in store for that jackaroo
As down by the wall he slants—
And the ringer bends with his legs askew
And wishes he’d ‘patched them pants.’
They are girls from the city. (Our hearts rebel
As we squint at their dainty feet.)
And they gush and say in a girly way
That ‘the dear little lambs’ are ‘sweet.’
And Bill, the ringer, who’d scorn the use
Of a childish word like ‘damn,’
Would give a pound that his tongue were loose
As he tackles a lively lamb.
Swift thoughts of homes in the coastal towns—
Or rivers and waving grass—
And a weight on our hearts that we cannot define
That comes as the ladies pass.
But the rouser ventures a nervous dig
In the ribs of the next to him;
And Barcoo says to his pen-mate: ‘Twig
‘The style of the last un, Jim.’
Jim Moonlight gives her a careless glance—
Then he catches his breath with pain—
His strong hand shakes and the sunlights dance
As he bends to his work again.
But he’s well disguised in a bristling beard,
Bronzed skin, and his shearer’s dress;
And whatever Jim Moonlight hoped or feared
Were hard for his mates to guess.
Jim Moonlight, wiping his broad, white brow,
Explains, with a doleful smile:
‘A stitch in the side,’ and ‘he’s all right now’—
But he leans on the beam awhile,
And gazes out in the blazing noon
On the clearing, brown and bare—
She has come and gone, like a breath of June,
In December’s heat and glare.
The bushmen are big rough boys at the best,
With hearts of a larger growth;
But they hide those hearts with a brutal jest,
And the pain with a reckless oath.
Though the Bills and Jims of the bush-bard sing
Of their life loves, lost or dead,
The love of a girl is a sacred thing
Not voiced in a shearing-shed.
(© Henry Lawson)
If you are travelling in this part of the world, be sure to give Ross a call, he can be found at the National Parks Office in Bourke…
And remember, if all else fails, remain out of control and see what develops!