Vonda Stanley's collection of early Australian bush poems


The Swagman  


Oh, he was old, he was spare;

His bushy whiskers and his hair

Were all fussed up and very grey

He said he’d come a long long way,

And had a long long way to go.

Each boot was broken at the toe,

And he’d a swag upon his back.

His billy-can as black as black,

Was just the thing for making tea

At picnics, so it seemed to me.


‘Twas hard to earn a bit of bread,

He told me.  Then he shook his head,

And all the little corks that hung

Artound his hat brim danced and swung

And bobbed about his face; and when

I laughed he made them dance again.

He said they were for keeping flies

‘The pesky varmints’ from his eyes.

He called me ‘codger’ . . .  ‘Now you see

The best days of your life,’ said he.

‘But days will come to bend your back,

And, when they come, keep off the track,

Keep off, young codger, if you can.’

He seemed a funny sort of man.


He told me that he wanted work,

But jobs were scarce this side of Bourke,

And he supposed he’d have to go

Another fifty miles or so.

‘Nigh all my life the track I’ve walked,’

He said.  I liked the way he talked.

And oh, the places he had seen!

I don’t know where he had not been –

On every road, in every town,

All through the country, up and down.

‘Young codger, shun the track,’ he said.

And put his hand upon my head.

I noticed, then, that his old eyes

Were very blue and very wise.

‘Ay, once I was a little lad,’

He said, and seemed to grow quite sad.

I sometimes think: When I’m a man,

I’ll get a good black billy-can

And hang some corks around my hat,

And lead a jolly life like that.

 C J Denis

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