How the Land was Won

Henry Lawson, 1899

      The future was dark and the past was dead
             As they gazed on the sea once more —
      But a nation was born when the immigrants said
             'Good-bye!' as they stepped ashore!
      In their loneliness they were parted thus
             Because of the work to do,
      A wild wide land to be won for us
             By hearts and hands so few.

      The darkest land 'neath a blue sky's dome,
             And the widest waste on earth;
      The strangest scenes and the least like home
             In the lands of our fathers' birth;
      The loneliest land in the wide world then,
             And away on the furthest seas,
      A land most barren of life for men —
             And they won it by twos and threes!

      With God, or a dog, to watch, they slept
             By the camp-fires' ghastly glow,
      Where the scrubs were dark as the blacks that crept
             With 'nulla' and spear held low;
      Death was hidden amongst the trees,
             And bare on the glaring sand
      They fought and perished by twos and threes —
             And that's how they won the land!

      It was two that failed by the dry creek bed,
             While one reeled on alone —
      The dust of Australia's greatest dead
             With the dust of the desert blown!
      Gaunt cheek-bones cracking the parchment skin
             That scorched in the blazing sun,
      Black lips that broke in a ghastly grin —
             And that's how the land was won!

      Starvation and toil on the tracks they went,
             And death by the lonely way;
      The childbirth under the tilt or tent,
             The childbirth under the dray!
      The childbirth out in the desolate hut
             With a half-wild gin for nurse —
      That's how the first were born to bear
             The brunt of the first man's curse!

      They toiled and they fought through the shame of it —
             Through wilderness, flood, and drought;
      They worked, in the struggles of early days,
             Their sons' salvation out.
      The white girl-wife in the hut alone,
             The men on the boundless run,
      The miseries suffered, unvoiced, unknown —
             And that's how the land was won.

      No armchair rest for the old folk then —
             But, ruined by blight and drought,
      They blazed the tracks to the camps again
             In the big scrubs further out.
      The worn haft, wet with a father's sweat,
             Gripped hard by the eldest son,
      The boy's back formed to the hump of toil —
             And that's how the land was won!

      And beyond Up Country, beyond Out Back,
             And the rainless belt, they ride,
      The currency lad and the ne'er-do-weel
             And the black sheep, side by side;
      In wheeling horizons of endless haze
             That disk through the Great North-west,
      They ride for ever by twos and by threes —
             And that's how they win the rest.