Australian Folk Songs

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Jack the Ringer (1895)

One bright day in May he started away,
Like a warrior of old going to battle ;
His spirits were light and his prospects bright.
For his mount and " pack" were good cattle.
A rinuer was he, and he said, " You'll see
If I don't make a good tally rattle."

But he changed his song before very long,
For he learned that to obtain a stand
He'd have to revoke, at a single stroke,
His liberties at the squatters' command.
When they read the clause he said, without pause,
Before, he'd sign he would cut off his hand.

He turned away, not with spirits gay,
But with contracted brows, which told quite plain
That deep in his heart he carried the smart
Of tho gross insult which he did sustain ;
So he rode along with the sense of wrong
Burning like hot coals in his heart and brain.

His horses grew poor-- they could go no more--
So he shouldered his swag and let them run,
And started to tramp, through desert and swamp,
Footsore and weary 'neath the broiling sun ;
And though much altered he never faltered
From the resolute course he had begun.

Five months from the day he started away
I met him again--a mournful sight :
His clothes worse for wear, his feet nearly bare--
I hardly knew him, he looked such a fright.
With denial of self, the good-natured elf
Said : "I'm sorry to see you in this plight."

And, to say the truth, it was hard to dispute
Which of the two was the most woful sight :
I started away like himself in May
With two good horses and prospects bright ;
But I don't regret the losses I met
Or the hardships endured--the cause is right.

" Sit down for a pitch," said Jack, with a hitch
Of his belt, wliich was growing long of late :
" Between Dibbs and Reid and the squatters' greed
And the scabs who left us to fight our fate,
It is a hard row for the Union crew
But we'll beat them yet--or I'll emigrate."

We threw down our swags, our billies and bags,
And all you require to travel out back,
And as we sat down I said : " Strike me brown !
You can emigrate if you like, friend Jack,
But I'll still stand in my native land
Till I got my rights--or die on the track.

We've rights, by birth, to our native earth,
And in spite of all the base foreign crew
Who would us replace with a servile race,
Or crush us until we were servile too,
I will stand and light till I gain my right--
Or die like a man, to liberty true.

Nor can I see why men should fear to die,
When death is so certain to meet us all ;
And if we survive ten ages alive
We never can in a better cause fall ;
And you're better dead than work in a shed
'Neath loafing hirelings and powder and ball."

" I don't say you're wrong, but you're rather young,
Though I like your style," he gingerly said ;
" I'm a native, too, of the earth like you,
And to regain my own will risk my head ;
But I greatly fear in Australia here
Of our taskmasters we're too much in dread.

Don't get out your shirt," he said, " till you're hurt,"
When I retorted in an injured air:
" The sons of toil on Australia's soil
Are as good and brave as they are elsewhere."
"I mean no offence, but you've lost your sense
If our protests to brave deeds you compare.

We're wronged every way and robbed of our pay,
And the right to live on our native soil,
And our valor at best is a week protest
'Gainst what should make our blood surge and boil.
If you call this brave your pardon I crave,
For I thought it the grov'ling of toil.

You hear near and far the toilers at war
With monopoly and wrong of every kind,
And nearly every day men gallantly lay
Down their lives for the cause ; but you never find
In Australia's land men for their rights stand,
But when danger threatens they lag behind.

We won't stand and light, nor our votes unite,
Tho' we boast of our valor and unity ;
And our leaders, too, are a vapid crew,
Who'd rather wangle than light monopoly ;
So you'll still stand in your native land,
But I'll own no land where there's not liberty.

I am loth to own our leaders are prone
To be led too much by our enemies,
And we don't unite as well as we might.
But don't be discouraged by things like these :
Wait till you behold what next year will unfold
Before you condemn us," said I, "if you please."

" I'll wait till next year," he said ; " never fear,
I won't run away while a man holds out ;
There are yet a few to the Union true
Who will stand for their rights I have no doubt ;
But if the eighth clause be forced down our jaws
For other pastures I'll then look about."

But, sad to relate, he did not emigrate,-For a few weeks after at Nariene shed. When they asked him to sign,
he said, " I opine it were better to cut my throat instead." " Zounds and pedition ! that's bald sedition !
Arrest the traitor !" the inspector said.

(The arrest narrated in the last stanza is not a poetical digression, but an event which actually occurred.
At Nariene roll-call the manager introduced the P.U. agreement: "The men refused to sign it. The manager,
holding the agreement up, said " I've 100,000 sheep to shear. Will you shear them ?" , "We'll shear them
under " Conference agreement," replied a shearer who was standing near him. "Will you shear them under this
agreement ? This is the agreement I want you to shear under," returned the manager. The shearer replied,
"We'd be slaves to shear under that agreement." The inspector of police, who had the men hemmed in by a
phalanx of hirelings, when he heard this shouted, "Arrest this man for intimidation !" The man, who is a
popular Unionist, was taken to Mungindi, where the case was dismissed, the charge being too frivolous to
hold water--even in despotic Queensland.)

J. M.
Bourke, Dec. 16.


From the Wagga Newspaper the Worker 5 January 1895 p. 3.

This poem, composed and published in early 1895, describes in some detail the aftermath of conditions faced by shearers following the famous 1891 shearers' strike. The Australian Shearers Union was rebuilding but the draconian anti-union laws in Queensland were still being applied in the shearing sheds.


australian traditional songs . . . a selection by mark gregory