A Stiff's Progress
A poem by Ernest Antony©Ernest Antony 1930
The world is round, and mostly mud and rocks and stones and sand,
And it's hard as hell if you're on tramp and broke, you understand;
I've landed broke in twenty towns, and reckoned the game was fair,
When I didn't tramp from any place if I didn't tramp to there.
Like thousands more I drift around from a job to another job.
I own a swag and nothing more, like all the floating mob;
Just one of the fools who wandered off in the pride of unlearned youth,
To gain what's called experience, and to see the world forsooth.
I humped the drum to Chillagoe, and the distant Daly's bank,
Has seen my camp fire gleaming through the cane grass toll and rank;
I shunted trains in the Darwin yard—I kept a shanty there,
I ploughed the sand in *Groperland, I poisoned prickly pear.
I've toiled like hell at tarring pipes in the stinking claypan mud,
And once I lost my boots and swag in a roaring Queensland flood;
I've swung the pick and shovel, too, I've humped the golden grain,
I've rode behind the spreading mob o'er many a mile of plain.
I've steered the *"hunchies" the desert thro' and once when I was broke,
A job I took as a shearers' cook—they couldn't take a joke;
I've slaved like a nigger, cutting wood when almost dead with *sprue,
And I've nursed a rifle through the night in myall country, too,
I've toiled where the Murray winds its way down to the southern sea,
And I've shorn sheep and carted wool up in the Kimberley;
I've searched for gold, I've scratched for tin by steaming tropic swamps.
I've swung the axe in timber tall, and I've toiled in survey camps
I've camped where the Katherine River runs beneath the North-South line,
And I've cut my way through Queensland scrubs, enlaced with lawyer vine;
And I've cut cane where the mountains dark drive back the clouds that sail
Above the flats that wind their way from Cairns to Innisfail,
I've toiled along the waterfront in half a score of ports,
And sacked myself from forty jobs of forty different sorts;
I've camped in fifty hasheries and boozed in countless pubs,
I've drank the liquid dynamite that's brewed in Queensland scrubs.
I toil along like thousands more, just living day by day,
And make the best of good or ill, as either comes my way;
Nothing I ask of heaven or men, and nothing I have to give,
And of earth alone I claim the right of the meanest worm—to live.
There are things I've done, I wouldn't do had I my time again,
And there are things I might have done, but might have been in vain;
And what is done is done with, and I'll answer if I've need,
But I've no fear of heaven or hell, nor faith in any creed.
Life's gift I wasted some will say, and by their law it's true,
But circumstances in the main, decide what all men do;
And if I've chased the rainbow gold instead of place and pelf,
Well, any wrong that so was done, was done against myself.
For what I've had of earth I've paid, yes, paid in toil and sweat,
The only world-wide currency that man has found as yet;
And I've little care for what is gone, no fear for what's ahead,
For all my little faults will be forgotten when I'm dead.
*Groperland: Western Australia.
*Hunchies: Slang term for camels.
*Sprue: A coastal fever prevalent in the Babinda (N.Q.) district.
This poem is in Ernest Antony's book of thirty three poems titled The Hungry Mile and published in Sydney in 1930.
Ernest Antony and the Hungry Mile Launch of Second Edition 2008
The Hungry Mile And 'Maritime Invisibility' by Rowan Cahill and
Ernest Antony: Forgotten Poet by Rowan Cahill
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union songs..........a selection by mark gregory