A Poem by L.J. Villiers

The pick en shovel ain't so soft a toil !
I done me dash en 'ere I'm wiv a camp.
Thet lays the plates [1] through spinifex en swamp,
W'ere blokes 'ave guyvered [2] 'bout the lovely soil,
W'ile all the breathin' sky's jist on the boil.
It ain't alright, en, struth ! some's dead to tramp [3]
The payday follerin' w'en there's bin some damp,
So's coots [4] kin tell all liquid isn't oil.

The seaside caper en the surf ell sand,
W'ere tarts [5] chuck off their duds to git the sun,
Is right, per'aps, but thet game wuzn't plann'd
Fer eny man escept a bloomin' gun.
This job's the start thet's got to ring the land
It's solid, but, my oath, it's somethun done.


1 Lays the plate--places the rail, in position for running.
2 Guyvered--made pretence.
3 Dead ter tramp--sure to leave.
4 Coots--generic term for people.
5 Tarts--young ladies.

From The Changing Year (A Sonnet Cycle) And Other Verses by L.J. Villiers, 1918, p 10.

February is the climax of Australia's heat. And it is the month of application to solid work. Holidays are ended; a hind is to be filIed, and "my oath, it must be done."
   This sonnet of February shows an aspect of lshmaelism without the despair of Hagar. Right away from towns and clearings the camp of the railway builder calls to the nomad whose muscles are firmer than his adherence to any locality, and whose heart is heating with the vim of the pioneer. Away "through spinifex and swamp" these lines must be laid.
   Families are disporting at Manly or Mordialloc; but the men who are "hard doers" have settled to the tasks of the times. Is there not poetry here ? In the idioms, as in the toil of the pick and shovel, the crowbar and ballast waggon, is there not a pregnant value thatmay live to be sung in splendor yet unrealised? Weakness soon ends–"some's dead ter tramp" but the purpose that can only be held by untrammelled strength goes on its exertions in spite of distance, exile, heat, drought and every hardship of primeval life.
   Never think, ye votaries of city servitude, that the rough minds of faraway pioneers are lacking in depth. Their sense of liberty and potential life pulse splendid poetry, even if the voice is little heard, or the guttural huskiness of modest strength shows in its infrequent articulation. It tells no music for ribboned harps, but it is not less the voice of action, of wealth, intoned with a depth yet to be plumbed.

More about Villiers' sonnet cycle

see also Gallopin' Out in this collection

and War on the Workers: Preface

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