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The Song of the Knife (1918)

The southern press has again been referring to the, "conspiracy" among the Queensland sugar growers
to keep up the price of their product. This industry, it says, is always on the verge of being ruined,
but seems to be doing, remarkably well nevertheless, and instances particularly the enormous earnings
of the cane-cutters, which run to 300 a man for the season. The southern taxpayer is really paying
these wages, it adds, simply that people may be induced to live in the North. If the above is correct,
then it is about up to the cane-cutter to add his little quota to the "tale of woe," and not leave the
whole burden of the "conspiracy" business to the grower. We are all in it. I submit the following ballad
as the cane-cutters' contribution towards this laudable object. Price, 1d., post free.

With, muscles weary and worn,
With back aching, heavy and dead,
The cutter stoops in his working rags,
Swinging a knife for his bread.

Chop, chop, chop !
'Midst the trash and heat--what a life !
And still with a curse, but, never a stop,
He sings the "Song; of the knife."

Work, work, work!
Ere the cock is crowing aloof;
And work, work, work
Till the stars shine on the roof!

It's O to be a slave
And dwell with some colored race
If a man can never a shilling save
And this a Christian place!

Work, work, work
Till the brain begins to swim;
Work, work, work
Till the eyes are heavy and dim!

Row upon row of cane--
Reasons all tangled in steam,
Till over the stools I fall asleep,
And chop them down in a dream.

Oh, southern friends, be kind!
Say not the price is steep!
Pray God that sugar may be dear,
Not flesh and blood too cheap.

Chop, chop chop,
'Midst the trash and heat with my knife;
I shorten at once with a two-fold cut
The cane as well as my life.

Work, work, work!
My labor never flags.
And what are its wages? A canvas bunk,
A crust of bread--and "fags."

That iron hut--and this concrete floor
No table--not even a chair--
And a wall so blank, my shadow I thank
For sometimes falling there.

Oh, but for one short hour!
A respite, however brief!
No blessed leisure for cards or "pitch,"
But only time for sleep!

A draught of beer would ease my heart;
But in its droughty bed
My thirst must stop, for every drop
Would rob my daily bread.

With muscles weary and worn,
With back aching, heavy and dead,
The cutter stoops in his working rags
Swinging, a knife for his bread.

Chop, chop, chop--
'Midst the trash and heat--what a life!
And with a curse, but never a stop
(This-song's for the South, and only a sop),
He sings the "Song of the Knife."


From the Queensland Newspaper the Cairns Post July 1918 Page 6.

Graeme Smith comments:

"The Song of the Knife" is another parody of Thomas Hood's poem of 1843 "The Song of the Shirt" which decries the cruel exploitation of the Victorian piecework seamstress. The canecutter's version uses the poetic shape and many of the images of the original.


australian traditional songs . . . a selection by mark gregory