The Great Grey Plain

Henry Lawson, 1893

      Out West, where the stars are brightest,
             Where the scorching north wind blows,
      And the bones of the dead gleam whitest,
             And the sun on a desert glows —
      Yet within the selfish kingdom
             Where man starves man for gain,
      Where white men tramp for existence —
             Wide lies the Great Grey Plain.

      No break in its awful horizon,
             No blur in the dazzling haze,
      Save where by the bordering timber
             The fierce, white heat-waves blaze,
      And out where the tank-heap rises
             Or looms when the sunlights wane,
      Till it seems like a distant mountain
             Low down on the Great Grey Plain.

      No sign of a stream or fountain,
             No spring on its dry, hot breast,
      No shade from the blazing noontide
             Where a weary man might rest.
      Whole years go by when the glowing
             Sky never clouds for rain —
      Only the shrubs of the desert
             Grow on the Great Grey Plain.

      From the camp, while the rich man's dreaming,
             Come the 'traveller' and his mate,
      In the ghastly dawnlight seeming
             Like a swagman's ghost out late;
      And the horseman blurs in the distance,
             While still the stars remain,
      A low, faint dust-cloud haunting
             His track on the Great Grey Plain.

      And all day long from before them
             The mirage smokes away —
      That daylight ghost of an ocean
             Creeps close behind all day
      With an evil, snake-like motion,
             As the waves of a madman's brain:
      'Tis a phantom not like water
             Out there on the Great Grey Plain.

      There's a run on the Western limit
             Where a man lives like a beast,
      And a shanty in the mulga
             That stretches to the East;
      And the hopeless men who carry
             Their swags and tramp in pain —
      The footmen must not tarry
             Out there on the Great Grey Plain.

      Out West, where the stars are brightest,
             Where the scorching north wind blows,
      And the bones of the dead seem whitest,
             And the sun on a desert glows —
      Out back in the hungry distance
             That brave hearts dare in vain —
      Where beggars tramp for existence —
             There lies the Great Grey Plain.

      'Tis a desert not more barren
             Than the Great Grey Plain of years,
      Where a fierce fire burns the hearts of men —
             Dries up the fount of tears:
      Where the victims of a greed insane
             Are crushed in a hell-born strife —
      Where the souls of a race are murdered
             On the Great Grey Plain of Life!


      The Worker (Brisbane), 7 October 1893