Salute to the Paddle Wheels

They were churning up the Murray, in the struggling days of old,
They were locked in competition for its wool and wheat and gold,
There was talk of irrigation, locks, of fruit and wealth untold,
So the paddle wheels kept turning, with their boilers never cold.

There were busy scenes - and battles - in those early Murray days,
When the wealth of every station rode the winding waterways,
Feeling through the dark of midnight to the morning’s purple haze,
Skippers, firemen and deckhands - not a soul to sing their praise.

When the droughts dried up the River, paddles settled in the slush,
Kiss of death to river traffic, ‘til the long awaited flush,
Then the banks would burst again and river bends were short cuts in the rush,
For the first to get there got the trade - and out before the rush.

Then came pumps and irrigation channels, fruit and vines galore,
Acres dressed in green and purple such as never grew before,
There were currants, raisins, muscatels, and bag huts by the score,
Where the irrigation housewives swept the bare clay kitchen floor.

There were heartbreaks, there were fortunes, there were those who packed the swag,
Leaving penniless, disconsolate, their homes of tin and bag,
And the paddles played a doleful dirge around each river snag,
Taking soldiers, too, who rallied to the raising of the flag.

But at last, good times abounding brought relief of aching backs,
Even railways reached steel fingers out to serve the Mallee tracks,
There were tidy little homesteads now, instead of stifling shacks,
And the paddlers kept on plying fruit from sheds and drying racks.

But wharves, these days, seem high and dry, the paddle pulses die,
A string of black swans stir the stream where paddlers used to ply,
But they won the way to greater things and lived at last to see,
What a wealth lay in the water which they churned unceasingly.

So when the Queen has come again - before her travels end,
If she wants to see Australia - and I’m sure this is the trend,
I suggest they set her paddling on a “South West settlers friend,”
Where the blue gums kiss the water round a sweeping Murray bend.


The mention of the Queen suggests 1950s

A poem collected by Ron Edwards from Harry Dawkins, Cairns, Qld, 9 June 1972, who in turn had it from an un-named friend.

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