Australian Folk Songs

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Picking Peas (1930)

'Twas at a farm by Murrami
I met old Bill, the other day,
Misfortune had him in its grip
And many things he had to say;
His garments were like Joseph's coat,
The pants were ragged at the knees,
And here's the tale he told to me
Of his attempt at picking peas:

"I've swung an axe and drove a drill,
And with a saw was not amiss,
I've knocked down cheques and humped my swag,
But never thought I'd sink to this;
I fought with a policeman once
(I'd had one of my wildest sprees),
And picking oakum for the King
Was bliss compared to picking peas.

"I've rung a score of sheds or more
From Camoweal to Ivanhoe,
And now it seems an awful thing
To me, that I should sink so low;
My back bent like a boomerang,
Or kneeling on my bended knees--
As a devout might kneel and pray--
And aching while I'm picking peas.

"I've handled slag at Broken Hill,
Been fossicking round Lambing Flat,
And made my tucker cleaning up
The tailing dumps at Ballarat;
And always took things as they came,
No man was easier to please,
And every cloud was silver lined,
Until I started picking peas.

"My back has ached from lumping wheat,
My muscles have been racked with cramp,
And often I've been wet for days
And slept in blankets that were damp;
"I've known much suffering and pain,
Had every kind of sneeze and wheeze,
But nearest to paralysis
Are aches that come from picking peas.

"We look like emus on a plain,
As lowered heads and bodies bent,
We pick and pluck the bulging pods
From sunrise till the day is spent;
Fat women grunt, and thin ones sigh,
While children do the job with ease,
Yet low the rung and stiff the grade
To heights beyond the field of peas."



From the Leeton NSW newspaper the Murrumbidgee Irrigator Friday 31 October 1930, p. 4.

Henry Lawson was a resident of Leeton in the early days of the settlement. He was brought here by the Irrigation
Commission to publicise the area by his writings, and he lived in a little cottage down near the swimming baths. It
was a coincidence that Henry Lawson and his mate, Leeton's own honoured poet, Jim Grahame, met in Leeton and resumed
a close friendship after a lapse of many years since they both humped their swags together and lived the life of
sundowners on the plains beyond the back of Bourke. Jim Grahame often used to relate with a chuckle how he made a
rendezvous with Henry Lawson on the top of Hydro Hill one Saturday afternoon. Something detained Jim and he was late
in arriving at the meeting place. When he did arrive he found Henry Lawson standing on the top of the hill and cooeeing
at the top of his lungs. See the Murrumbidgee Irrigator Friday 21 May 1954, p. 6.


australian traditional songs . . . a selection by mark gregory