I’M STEWING in a brick-built town;
My coat is quite a stylish cut,
And, morn and even, up and down,
I travel in a common rut;
But as the city sounds recede,
In dreamy moods I sometimes see
A vision of a busy lead,
And hear its voices calling me.
My flaccid muscles seem to tweak
To feel the windlass pall and strain,
To shake the cradle by the creek,
And puddle at the ‘tom’ again.
I’d gladly sling this musty shop
To see the sluicing waters flow—
A pile of tucker, dirt on top,
And simply Lord knows what below.
’Twas lightly left, ’tis lately mourned,
The tent life up at Stop-and-See,
When shirts with yellow clay adorned
Were badges of nobility,
When Sunday’s best was Monday’s wear,
And Bennett gave us verse and book—
Poor Dick! a crude philosopher,
But, bless his heart, a clever cook.
An easy life we lived and free;
The wash was only ten-weight stuff,
The ‘bottom’ dry and soft at knee—
With Hope to help us ’twas enough.
Then none could say us ay or nay
Did we agree to slave or smoke;
The pan was ready with the pay
E’en though the graft was half in joke.
’Twas good when ‘spell-oh!’ had been said,
To watch the white smoke curl and cling
Against the gravel roof o’erhead,
The candles dimly flickering
And circled with a yellow glow—
To sprawl upon the broken reef,
And pensively to pull and blow
The fragrant incense from the leaf.
And where the creek ran by our tent,
Or lingered through embowered ponds,
In dusky nooks that held a scent
Of musk amid the drooping fronds,
It was a pleasant task to lay
The dish within the stream, and there
To puddle off the pug and clay,
And pan the gleaming prospect bare.
Oft in the strange deceit of dreams,
I swirl the old tin-dish again,
And Wondee’s rippling water seems
To cool my weary limbs as then;
And down the hill-side bare and dry
A digger’s chorus faintly comes,
And mingles with the lullaby
Of locusts in the drowsy gums.
The barrels rattle on their stands,
And in the shaft the nail-kegs swing.
The short, sharp strokes of practised hands
Are making pick and anvil ring.
I hear the splitter’s measured blow,
The distant knocker rise and drop,
The cheery cry, ‘Look up, below!’
The muffled call of ‘Heave, on top!’
No piles were made at Stop-and-See,
No nuggets found of giant size,
But, looking back, it seems to me
That all who laboured there were wise.
For there was freedom void of pride,
There hate of forms and shallow arts,
And there were friendships all too wide
For narrow streets and narrow hearts.
Marching somewhat out of order
when the band is cock-a-hoop,
There's a lilting kind of magic in the swagger
of the troop,
Swinging all aboard the steamer with her
nose toward the sea.
What is calling, Billy Khaki, that you're foot-
ing it so free?
Though his lines are none too level,
And he lacks a bit of style.
And he's swanking like the devil
Where the women wave and smile,
He will answer with a rifle
Trim and true from stock to bore,
Where the comrades crouch and stifle
In the reeking pit of war.
What is calling, Billy Khaki? There is
thunder down the sky,
And the merry magpie bugle splits the morn-
ing with its cry,
While your feet are beating rhythms up the
dusty hills and down,
And the drums are all a-talking in the hollow
of the town.
Billy Khaki, is't the splendor of the song the
Or the whipping of the flags aloft that sets
your heart a-swing?
Is't the cheering like a paean of the toss-
ing, teeming crowds,
Or the boom of distant cannon flatly bumping
on the clouds ?
What's calling, calling, Billy? 'Tis the rattle
Of the cavalry at gallop and artillery in play;
'Tis the great gun's fierce concussion, and the
smell of seven hells
When the long ranks go to pieces in the
sneezing of the shells.
But your eyes are laughing, Billy, and a
ribald song you sing,
While the old men sit and tell us war it is a
When the swift machines are busy and the
grim, squat fortress nocks
At your bolts as vain as eggs of gulls that spatter on the rocks.
When the horses sweep upon you to complete
a sudden rout,
Or in fire and smoke and fury some brave
regiment goes out,
War is cruel, Bill, and ugly. But full well
you know the rest,
Yet your heart is for the battle, and your face
is to the west.
For if war is beastly, Billy, you can picture
There's the wrecking of an empire, and its
broken people's curse;
There are nations reft of freedom, and of hope
and kindly mirth,
And the shadow of an evil black upon the
So we know what's calling, Billy. 'Tis the
spirit of our race,
And its stir is in your pulses, and its light is
on your face
As you march with clipping boot-heels
through the piping, howling town
To uphold the land we live in, and to pull a
Thou his lines are none too level,
And he's not a whale for style,
And he's swanking like the devil
When the women wave and smile
He will answer with a rifle,
Trim and true from stuck to bore,
When the comrades sit and stifle
In the smoking pit of war.