Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Song of the old bullock driver by Henry Lawson

Author, poet and balladist, Henry Lawson (1867-1922) would have known Capertee well as he would have passed through the village often, either by road or rail. Around the turn of the last century Lawson wrote a poem about the old bullock drivers that travelled the Mudgee Road with their loads of wool. One of the many high climbs for the bullockies was around the base of Blackmans Crown, a peak located just to the south of Capertee, and Lawson touchingly mentions the assent and its reward of a picturesque outlook over the Capertee Valley.

Henry Lawson. drawing by Lionel Lindsay
Courtesy National Portrait Gallery, ACT


Far back in the days when the blacks used to ramble
In long single file 'neath the evergreen tree,
The wool-teams in season came down from Coonamble,
And journeyed for weeks on their way to the sea.
'Twas then that our hearts and our sinews were stronger,
For those were the days when the bushmen was bred.
We journeyed on roads that were rougher and longer
Than roads where the feet of our grandchildren tread.

With mates who have gone to the great Never-Never,
And mates whom I've not seen for many a day,
I camped on the banks of the Cudgegong River
And yarned at the fire by the old bullock-dray.
I would summon them back from the far Riverina,
From days that shall be from all others distinct.
And sing to the sound of an old concertina
Their rugged old songs where strange fancies were linked.

We never were lonely, for, camping together,
We yarned and we smoked the long evenings away,
And little I cared for the signs of the weather
When snug in my hammock slung under the dray.
We rose with the dawn, were it ever so chilly,
When yokes and tarpaulins were covered with frost,
And toasted the bacon and boiled the black billy,
Where high on the camp-fire the branches were tossed.

On flats where the air was suggestive of 'possums,
And homesteads and fences were hinting of change,
We saw the faint glimmer of appletree blossoms,
And far in the dstance the blue of the range;
And here in the rain, there was small use in flogging
The poor, tortured bullocks that tugged at the load,
When down to the axles the waggons were bogging
And traffic was making a marsh of the road.

'Twas hard on the beasts on the terrible pinches,
Where two teams of bullocks were yoked to a load,
And tugging and slipping, and moving by inches,
Half-way to the summit they clung to the road.
And then, when the last of the pinches was bested,
(You'll surely not say that a glass was a sin?)
The bullocks lay down 'neath the gum trees and rested -
The bullockies steered for the bar of the inn.

Then slowly we crawled by the trees that kept tally
Of miles that were passed on the long journey down.
We saw the wild beauty of Capertee Valley,
As slowly we rounded the base of the Crown.
But, ah! the poor bullocks were cruelly goaded
While climbing the hills from the flats and the vales;
'Twas here that the teams were so often unloaded
That all knew the meaning of "counting your bales".

And, oh! but the best-paying load that I carried
Was one to the run where my sweetheart was nurse.
We courted awhile, and agreed to get married,
And couple our futures for better or worse.
And as my old feet grew too weary to drag on
The miles of rough metal they met by the way,
My eldest grew up and I gave him the waggon -
He's plodding along by the bullocks to-day.

from Verses Popular and Humorous, first published by Angus and Robertson in 1900

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