Letter | It could have been different if we'd listened to Henry

I HEARD this poem by Henry Lawson read on ABC by Ian McNamara.

It was written in 1904 and if the powers that be, from then to now, had followed his advice, what a different Australia we would have.

I hope you can reproduce it in the Oberon Review.

Lesley Kurtz


In The Storm That Is To Come by Henry Lawson, 1904

If the Bourke people, with a dyke of sandbags across the Darling River, could keep the steamers running above that town for months in the drought, what could not the Government do? The Darling rises mostly from the Queensland rains, and feeds her billabongs, and the floods waste into the sea.

By our place in the midst of the furthest seas we were fated to stand alone -

When the nations fly at each other's throats let Australia look to her own;

Let her spend her gold on the barren west, let her keep her men at home;

For the South must look to the South for strength in the storm that is to come.

Now who shall gallop from cape to cape, and who shall defend our shores -

The crowd that stands on the kerb agape and glares at the cricket scores?

And who will hold the invader back when the shells tear up the ground -

The weeds that yelp by the cycling track while a [...] scorches round?

There may be many to man the forts in the big towns by the sea -

But the East will call to the West for scouts in the storm that is to be:

The West cries out to the East in drought, but the coastal towns are dumb;

And the East must look to the West for food in the war that is to come.

The rain comes down on the Western land and the rivers run to waste,

While the city folk rush for the special tram in their childless, senseless haste,

And never a pile of a lock we drive - but a few mean tanks we scratch -

For the fate of a nation is nought compared with the turn of a cricket match!

There's a gutter of mud where there spread a flood from the land-long western creeks,

There is dust and drought on the plains far out where the water lay for weeks,

There's a pitiful dam where a dyke should stretch and a tank where a lake should be,

And the rain goes down through the silt and sand and the floods waste into the seas.

We'll fight for Britain or for Japan, we will fling the land's wealth out;

While every penny and every man should be used to fight the drought.

God helps the nation that helps itself, and the water brings the rain,

And a deadlier foe than the world could send is loose on the western plain.

I saw a vision in days gone by and would dream that dream again

Of the days when the Darling shall not back her billabongs up in vain.

There were reservoirs and grand canals where the Dry Country had been,

And a glorious network of aqueducts, and the fields were always green.

I have seen so long in the land I love what the land I love might be,

Where the Darling rises from Queensland rains and the floods run into the sea.

And is it our fate that we'll wake too late to the truth that we were blind,

With a foreign foe at our harbour gate and a blazing drought behind!