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The Sardine Box (1887)

Near creeks gushing from mountain wells,
Over the fossils and stange sea-shells,
Where the traveller's mind with wonder fills,
And ... sand Castles which strew the hills,
There's a quaint named hut--a queer abode ;
For weeks and months it stands silent and lone,
A ... rom the West Coast Road,
By tramps and tourist alike unknown,
Till the musterer's cry resounds from the rocks,
And the shearers tenant the Sardine Box.

This mansion is scarcely ten feet wide,
With bunks erected on either side ;
While extra comfort the place to lend,
There's a few in addition at either end ;
The frame is of birch much stronge than neat,
And the total length's about fourteen feet ;
Of furniture minus, for nobody cares
To trouble us shearers with tables or chairs
For the hawk has a nest, there's a hole for the fox,
But men must sleep in a Sardine Box.

The iron that covers the walls and roof,
Is scarcely weather and water proof ;
For years ago a misfortune dire,
Destroyed the building one day by fire ;
And though forced to erect the frame anew,
They considered the old iron again would do ;
So from the old nail holes close to our bunks,
Like the loop holes used by the ancient monks,
We can gaze on the beautiful rivers and rocks
As we shiver and shake in the Sardine Box.

The floor is of dirt, which time never stains,
And the more it is worn the more it remains ;
While, not to leave us in darkness quite,
By one small window to let in the light.
And we never again will be left in a fix,
By the fire getting out through a crack in the bricks
Of a badly-built chimney, as often is done,
Has saved us from that by giving us none ;
So to keep our feet warm we must sleep in our sox,
Or perish at night in the Sardine Box.

We scarcely can say that we're all in a heap,
For we sleep in bunks only three tiers deep,
With nearly a foot and a half between,
To hanging our clothes and keep them clean.
The bunks are sacks, I'd just like you to know,
And each move shakes the dust on your neighbour below ;
So hearing him sneezing and choking for breath,
You know very well that he's not frozen to death,
And thus we are saved from the terrible shocks
From finding dead men in the Sardine Box.

They reckon we Shearers a pretty rough crowd,
At drinking, gambling, and cursing out aloud ;
And they seldon think the maxim to try,
Of doing to us as they's be done by ;
But they might if they only would think, now and then
That even Shearers and Pressers are men,
Whether squatter, narangie, ot jackaroo,
And would, no doubt, treat us as well as their flocks,
If they first spent a week in the Sardine Box.

Friends ! Workers ! Brothers ! all hear what I say
The reforms we need must come some fine day,
But not while all dangers and duty we shirk,
Each leaving the others the troublesome work.
If you will not boldly do it yourselves,
You deserve like Chinkies to sleep on the shelves,
To be treated worse than the squatters flocks,
And live and die in a Sardine Box.

1887......Castle Hill, Canterbury, N.Z.


From the Wagga NSW newspaper the Hummer Saturday 9 January 1892, p. 3.

Born in New Zealand Rae was an active member of the Australasian Shearers' Union (by 1887 the Amalgamated Shearers' Union of Australasia), joining the New Zealand branch on its formation in 1886. Arriving in Australia in 1889, he worked in Victoria and New South Wales as a union organiser, narrowly escaping prosecution
In 1891 Rae was elected to the New South Wales Legislative Assembly representing Labor for The Murrumbidgee. From the outset he propounded the benefits of state socialism, and, although an ardent free trader, dismissed the 'shandygaff' policies of both Free Trade and Protectionist parties in New South Wales, arguing that 'you will find monopoly' either way.
He co-founded the Hummer (later the Worker) in 1891, and, in the following year, travelled extensively through Tasmania and New Zealand. On 28 July 1892, while in New Zealand, at Blenheim, he married Annie, the daughter of Harriette and William Fryer. As president of the General Labourers' Union (1893-94) and vice-president of the Amalgamated Shearers' Union, he helped create the Australian Workers' Union (AWU) in 1894.
He was active in the first conscription referendum, and the following year was secretary and press representative of the No-Conscription Campaign, in which capacity he added his share of vitriol to an already poisonous debate.
He was secretary of, and in 1922 Senate candidate for, the Socialist Labor Party. He was also a member of the Anti-Deportation League and the Plebs League. He continued with his journalistic career, now working with Common Cause, official organ of the Miners' Federation of Australia, and was soon active in 'white-anting' the AWU through the Bushworkers' Propaganda Group.
He was a member of the Movement Against War and Fascism, and between December 1934 and February 1935 toured New Zealand helping to organise the local peace movement. He was also still active in the PWIU. Rae departed the Senate in April 1935 expressing 'the kindliest feeling towards every honorable senator'. Despite his advancing age, during the Spanish Civil War he took a leading role in the Spanish Relief Committee, and during World War II was involved in Russian Medical Aid and the Friendship with Russia League.

From Senate Biography Rae, Arthur Edward George (1860--1943)


australian traditional songs . . . a selection by mark gregory