Australian Folk Songs

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Song of The Pavement (1912)

(By H. J. White in "Homeland and Outland.")

I hear ten thousand spattering feet,
I hear them hurrying to and fro,
The zestless clatter upon the street,
As bargain hunters come and go--
They tightly clutch their hoarded pelf
While haggling 'o'er the market price,
And on each face is graven self,
As hard as steel, as cold as ice.

They do not know, who buy and cell,
They do not know the awful pains
Begotten in the sweating hell,
What blood each purchase cruel stains;
Alas ! they know, they do not care,
But close their eyes, and stop their ears,
'Tis naught to them, the rank despair
Of those who toil 'mid sobs and tears.

Oft those who breathe the anguished sigh
At sorrows suffered far away,
Still tearless chatter, brazen lie,
At half-pence more they're asked to pay ;
E'en though the price no margin leaves
For honest wage, for goods ill-paid,
Excuse, the selfish buyer weaves,
In that 'tis in the way of trade.

They blame the sweater in his den
For grinding down the outcast poor,
Yet help to build the sweating pen
And forge the bolts that bar the door
They do not know ? Ah, yes, they know
That goods are sweated for their gain,
Their willing patronage bestow,
That makes the cry of starvelings vain.

They do not know ? Ah, yes, they know,
The pretty garment marked so cheap
Is famine-fringed in every row,
And trimmed with tears and stolen sleep--
But p'raps they do not know so well
That pains and fever often lurk
'Mid many lines the sweaters sell--
The poison seed of lazar work.

And who shall know the coin saved ?
In bargain hunters' selfish quest,
Has retribution deeply graved
In germs of deadly plague and pest--
The sickly worker, wan and pale,
Emits disease at every pore,
Drops foulness in the sweated bale,
And settles thus the sweating score.

Grim sequel to the bargain met
In many a glaring postered sale.
The little gains, a gathering debt,
That dreadful settlements entail.
A lesson here--who says " 'tis naught"--
Regardless of a fellow's claim--
May find their bargains dearly bought
In wasting health and feeble frame.

But more, God's golden rule applies,
That Christ, writ on the sacred page,
And who dares break it but denies
What Christians teach in every age.
Be sure of this, who gets and hoards
At hirelings' and the poor's expense,
May bargain with what is the Lord's,
And get from Him just recompense.


From the South Australian Newspaper the Daily Herald 30 Mar 1912 p. 15.


australian traditional songs . . . a selection by mark gregory