Henry Lawson

How The Land Was Won

The future was dark and the past was dead As they gazed on the sea once more – But a nation was born when the immigrants said Good-bye! as they stepped ashore! In their loneliness they were parted thus Because of the work to do, A wild wide land to be won for us By hearts and hands so few. The darkest land ‘neath a blue sky’s dome, And the widest waste on earth; The strangest scenes and the least like home In the lands of our fathers’ birth; The loneliest land in the wide world then, And away on the furthest seas, A land most barren of life for men – And they won it by twos and threes! With God, or a dog, to watch, they slept By the camp-fires’ ghastly glow, Where the scrubs were dark as the blacks that crept With nulla and spear held low; Death was hidden amongst the trees, And bare on the glaring sand They fought and perished by twos and threes – And that’s how they won the land! It was two that failed by the dry creek bed, While one reeled on alone – The dust of Australia’s greatest dead With the dust of the desert blown! Gaunt cheek-bones cracking the parchment skin That scorched in the blazing sun, Black lips that broke in a ghastly grin – And that’s how the land was won! Starvation and toil on the tracks they went, And death by the lonely way; The childbirth under the tilt or tent, The childbirth under the dray! The childbirth out in the desolate hut With a half-wild gin for nurse – That’s how the first were born to bear The brunt of the first man’s curse! They toiled and they fought through the shame of it – Through wilderness, flood, and drought; They worked, in the struggles of early days, Their sons’ salvation out. The white girl-wife in the hut alone, The men on the boundless run, The miseries suffered, unvoiced, unknown – And that’s how the land was won. No armchair rest for the old folk then – But, ruined by blight and drought, They blazed the tracks to the camps again In the big scrubs further out. The worn haft, wet with a father’s sweat, Gripped hard by the eldest son, The boy’s back formed to the hump of toil – And that’s how the land was won! And beyond Up Country, beyond Out Back, And the rainless belt, they ride, The currency lad and the ne’er-do-well And the black sheep, side by side; In wheeling horizons of endless haze That disk through the Great North-west, They ride for ever by twos and by threes – And that’s how they win the rest.

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