A Lay Of Newchumland
Henry Lawson, 1890
Will you allow me space in your columns to refer to a social question of some importance, and that is with regard to the utterly reckless way in which young men are drafted off from England to Australia! Not a steamer reaches us in the colonies without bringing scores of these unfortunates, who are simply run out of their homes by their parents. The situations they occupy in the colonies are potato-peelers at inferior hotels, washers-up at sixpenny restaurants, billiard markers and similar menial and degrading positions. Let anyone take a turn along the Yarra and the wharves in Melbourne, or through the domain in Sydney, and he will find new chums by the score. In all the cities and bush towns of the colonies they are the outcasts of our civilisation, without money and without a trade. We are told that these young men come here to seek their fortunes, but from what they say, it is evident that, in reality, their parents and relatives pay their passage to Australia in the hope of never seeing them again.
Let me say in conclusion that to send to Australia a poor young man without a good trade is to confuse him to hopeless drudgery in the centres of civilisation, or to oblivion and death in the vast silent wastes where even the blacks sometimes die for want of water.
Sydney correspondent, London Field.
"The poem 'Newchumland' was founded on the diary of a newchum in West Australia, and is at least true as a description of newchum life in Australia. The verses, which are by a member of the Boomerang staff, were printed in an Albany tri-weekly paper last winter."
So yer trav'lin' for yer pleasure while yer writin' for the press?
An' yer huntin' arter "copy"? well, I've heer'd o' that. I guess
You are gorn ter write a story that is gorn ter be yer best,
'Bout the "blunders an' advenchers ov a new chum in the west?"
An' you would be very thankful an' acknowledge any hint?
Well, I karn't say as I hankers fur ter see my name in print;
But I know a little story an' I'll tell it out ov hand
If yer'll put it down in writin' that the swells kin understand
(It's a story ov a new chum, and a story ov the land.)
He had lately kum from Ingland you cud tell it by 's cap
Fur "kerlonial exper'ence" (an' he got it, too, poor chap).
'Twas in town he met the squatter, an' he asked, as if in fun,
"If the boss 'ud want a flunkey or a coachy on the run?"
Well, it riz the boss's dander, an' he jumps clean orf 'is 'oss
"Now, me fresh, sweet-scented beauty, watyer giv'nus?" sez the boss;
"I hev met yer kidney often, an' yer mighty fresh an' free,
But yer needn't think yer gorn ter come a-lardin' over me!"
But the new chum sed that 'onest he was lookin' for a job,
An' in spite of his appearance he had blued 'is bottom bob.
An' as beggars karn't be choosers same as people wot are rich,
Said he'd go as stoo'rd or gard'ner, but he warn't partickler which.
Well, the joker seemed in earnest, so the boss began ter cool,
An' he only blanked the new chum for a thund'rin' jumpt-up fool.
Then he sed, "Well, there's the fencin', if yer'll tramp it up from Perth,
The boys 'll find yer su'thin p'r'aps, an' giv' yer wat yer worth."
Ov course the squatter never thort ter see 'im any more,
But he wa'n't the kind ov new chum that the squatter tuk 'im for;
No, he wa'n't the kind er cockeroach that on'y kums ter shirk,
That wants ter git the sugar, but is fri'tened ov the work;
For he sold 'is watch 'n' jool'ry, 'n' lardi-dardy suits,
Stuck a swag upon his shoulder, 'n' 'is feet in blucher boots;
An' I dunno how he did it, he was anythin' but strong,
But he 'umped his bluey ninety mile an' kum to Bunglelong.
He earnt 'is pound and tucker borin' holes an' runnin' wire,
An' he'd work from dawn to sunset, an' he never seemed to tire;
But he must have suffered orful from the tucker an' the heat,
An' the everlastin' trampin' made 'im tender in the feet,
An' he must hev thort ov England w'en the everlastin' flies
Ware a-worrit, worrit, worrit, an' a-knawin' at 'is eyes;
An' he used to swear like thunder w'en the yaller sergeant ants
Took a mornin' stroll, promiscus, on the inside ov 'is pants.
He uster make 'is damper six or seven inches thick
It was doughey on the inside an' the shell was like a brick,
An' while the damper made 'im dream ov days ov long ago,
The little boodie rats 'ud kum an' nibble out the dough.
He biled 'is taters soggy, an' 'is junk was biled to rags
(The little boodie rats 'ud kum an' chew 's tucker bags),
But he took 'is troubles cheerful, an' he fixed 'em like a pome,
An' writ 'em in his darey to amuse the folks at home.
At first he flashed a coller an' was keerful with 'is hat,
An' he'd black 'is boots ov Sundays, but he soon grew out of that;
An' he lernt ter bake 'is damper, an' he leant to bile 'is junk
An' sleep without a-getting up all night ter shake 'is bunk.
He soon got out ov takin' "shorter cuts" across the flats,
An' he learnt to fling ole bottles to the sorror of the rats,
An' learnt to sling kerlonial and like the bushman's way,
An' it did us good to see 'im smoke 'is "nigger" in a clay.
He would sing an' play 'is fiddle when we gathered round the blaze,
Till ole Frenchy got excited while he'd play the Mascylays;
An' Bill 'ud take 'is hat off while he'd spout the Light Brigade,
An' Scotchy got oneasy when the "Bony 'Ills" was played.
So we got ter like the new chum for we'd met with many wuss,
An' we made it easy for 'im an' he seemed to take to us:
The toilin' an' the trampin' was a-cookin' 'im we found,
So we made 'im cook an' stoo'rd just ter keep the chap around.
Well, the months went bakin' broilin' on until Christmas nex',
When we tramped it down to Perth to spend our 'ollyday (and cheques);
But Possum sed he'd save 'is tin an' stay and mind the camp,
So we left 'im in possession an' we started on our tramp;
(We useter call 'im Possum, but for short we called 'im Poss,
For 'is eyes was black an' twinklin' and a little chap he was),
We never would have left 'im if we'd know'd (but that's the rub),
Comin' back we found 'im dyin' in 'is gunyah in the scrub.
We fixed 'im up an' nursed 'im; but we seen without a doubt
That consumption was the matter, an' the chap was peggin' out;
But the lion heart inside 'im was as strong an' stout as six,
An' while he'd smile an' thank us he would joke about 'is fix;
An' he said 'twas very jolly to be dry-nursed in a tent,
An' he reckoned that the Christmas was the best he'd ever spent;
He would talk of 'ome and Inglan' when 'is head began ter swim,
But he never blamed the country that had been so 'ard on him.
He would say, "I like the country; if a feller's blind er halt,
Or if he's got konsumption, why it ain't the country's fault.
The tea that's boil'd in billies is far sweeter stuff, I know,
Than the cursed drink w'at blasted all my chances long ago.
I would hev cum out sooner if it was my destiny,
An' I daresay that the country would have made a man ov me.
But w'at's the good ov energy, an' wat's the good er 'push'
W'en a feller's sick an' dyin' in a gunyah in the bush."
But he tole me all about it as I sat beside 'is bunk
How he'd spent 'is tin in Melbourne an' was allers gettin' drunk;
How he thort he'd take it easy while he had a little gold,
And, before he turned the new leaf, how he scribbled on the old;
An' among a lot ov nonsense w'en 'is mind began to drift,
He told me that the new leaf was a heavy leaf to lift.
But w'ats the good er writin' this, it's nothin' very new,
The land will see enough ov it an' suffer for it, too.
An' he said w'en he was dying, (when his lung was spit away)
An' we all was standin' round 'im in the gunyah where he lay,
An' he said, "I've watched the sunset when the wind began to 'woosh',
Like a layer ov coals a-glowin' on the dark bed ov the bush;
An' I felt my fingers slippin' slippin' slowly from the ropes,
Wen the West was cold like ashes like the ashes of my hopes;
An' I Sit beside me Peter let me 'old a bushman's hand,
For I'm gorn to 'ump my bluey through the gates ov Newchumland."