The Navvies

A Poem by James Boag 1922

The builder-kings of the olden time
Works mighty and wondrous did ;
They spake ; on the peopled plain sublime
Rose the towering pyramid !
Yes, proudly on high colossal things
Looked the wondering ancient sun ;
But mightier works than the olden kings
Have our own stout navvies done ;
For the navvies, then, hurrah !
Hurrah for the boys who've mightier things
wrought than were wrought by the builder-kings !

Nature our land for the Celtic stock
At first rude together threw ;
Our navvies wrought in the clay and rock
And made up the land anew !
We saw them at work; sturdy and strong
Were they of the wild brigades ;
From one to the other, with shout and song,
They tossed the hills on their spades.
For the navvies, then, hurrah !
Hurrah for the boys of the wild brigades
Who tossed the hills on their sturdy spades !

Oh, Commerce then with exulting glee
Saw the pathless mountain tall
And the valley rise—saw sea to sea
Love-linked by the long canal !
For water, its burning thirst to slake,
Gasped the restless, fevered town ;
Our navvies strode to the cloud-high lake
And tumbled a river down !
For the navvies, then, hurrah !
Hurrah ! for the boys who tumbled down,
A river cool on the gasping town !

But wild was the work in the dim-illumed
Hill-land amid the sea-smoothed strath,
Ere the locomotive, thunder-wombed,
Rushed forth on its iron path ;
Through riven hill see the morning hurled,
Revealing to wondering men
The rocky crypts of a coffined world.
Whose cairn is the mighty Ben.
For the navvies, then, hurrah !
Hurrah for the strong-thewed Titan men
Who rent the heart of the granite Ben.

The sons of the future, awed, I ween,
Will view the stupendous bridge
Wide-leaping a rivered vale between—
From aerial ridge to ridge ;
They will say: "The giants have tolled !"
They will say: "Here the Titans strayed !"
And Titans they are, our nomads wild,
The men of the pick and spadel
For the navvies, then, hurrah!
Ye Isles, which they and the tempest made,
Hurrah for the men of the pick and spade !


From The Worker (Brisbane) Thursday 23 February 1922. Reprinted in The Worker Wednesday 4 May 1932 p.3

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