THE CALL OF THE NORTH

Magnetic Island, 1906, SLQ 158258

 

A creaking crane and a swinging weight, the moist, hot dark about us,

And the laugh of a girl from the prow, with mirth that seems to flout us;

And over there, where the crouching rock, lion like, leans o'er the town,

The reds and greens of the signal light, from the slender spar look down;

And here and there on the sleeping deck lies a gleaming shaft of white,

Here and there the long soft shadow creeps on the pathway of the light,

Where the mighty engines wake and stir, hid under the polished wood,

The shadows cover your drooping head, just as though they understood.

A whistle cuts thro' the wide black night, as the train slides o'er the rail,

The last train out from the sleeping town, with its midnight load of mail;

And overhead, in one swift red spark, a meteor spurns the sky,

And a voice that seems a spirit thing, trails faint in a last "Good-bye!"

A slack chain swings, and a rope drags past, and the pulsing engines beat,

The shore bell jangles above the thud and the rush of naked feet,

And fair and far in the oily wash of the tide that draws us forth,

One white crest lifts in the sheeted gloom of that deep curved bay up North.

 

I have left behind the jetty wharf, and the hulls of the waiting ships,

My hand still warm from another's hand, my lips from another's lips;

And Magnetic Island, on the left, seems a menace in the night,

While dwindle aft, o'er the churning waves, the gems of the Signal light.

I have left behind the long brown beach, with its haunting tropic charm,

The Chapel hidden among the trees, and the ragged groves of palm;

I have left behind the red-streaked rock, and the still pandanus glade,

The mango trees o'er paling fence, with their great unbroken shade;

The tamarinds in the garden plot, and the cannias on the rise,

The bougainvillea's regal-red, and the milk white orchids' eyes.

To the citied South have set my face, as the rocking boat speeds forth,

And yet the cry in my soul to-day, is a cry for the green-isled North!

 

 

                                                                          Return to Poets

 

 

 

 

 

 

From AUSTRALIA UNDEFENDED

 

                                    I.

The blue sea skirts her slim, sun-ambered feet,

Fort Lytton, SLQ image

Upon her mighty brow red gold is bound, 

Upon her breast mimosa flowers press sweet,

And hills and forests lap her beauty round.

 .........

All day the breeze sings to her maiden ears

A lullaby, like croon of scrub-hid doves,

And, rustling in the brig'low boughs she hears

The lusty bronze-wing boasting of his loves.

She sleeps-and shall we leave her to her dream?

The sun is very bright on hill and dale,

O'er vine-hung rocks the silver waters gleam,

And moss lies all untrodden in the vale.

                                    II.

They left her, where the purple mountains loom

Untenanted, above the Northern seas,

Rimmed round by palm, or fir of tufted gloom,

Or the stiff shoots of dry pandanus trees,

Left her to rest in woodlands green and still.

........

There came a muffled stirring in the East,

From rock to rock a stealthy creature stept,

Red war unleashed – a sullen, sateless beast,

To prey upon her beauty while she slept!

                                    III

Australians, will you leave your dear land, Maid of the sun, and Queen of the blue seas,

To cringe 'neath an alien master's hand, to hug his feet, or fawn about his knees?

And will you let his savage, reiving[1] touch mar the  white beauty of your Southern maid,

For she has trusted long and overmuch, to rise up shudd'ring, rifled, and afraid?

They murmur round the gates to East and West;

their footsteps echo in the halls of Strife,

With hov'ring hand above her perfect breast,

with sear of bullet, or red, sudden knife!

The smoke will rise o'er quiet settlers' homes,

but not the smoke of peaceful hearths afar,

But that which, smiting heaven's blueness comes,

the horrid following of a bloody war.

.........

                                 IV

 Do you think that you could thole[2] it, Australian born and free,

Where the call of many rivers finds an echo in the sea?

Do you think that you could bear to feel the chain that grinds you round?

'Midst the chitter of the bell-birds in your happy hunting ground,

Will you die – or live to learn it, when the crucial moment comes,

And the crook'd and yellow fingers curve on undefended homes?

Let every unit find his place, a part of one great plan-

Australians must remember, 'tis the boy that makes the man.

Take the brown-faced ladies as they play along the street,

Let them listen to the rhythm of the steady marching feet,

Teach the keen young eye to sight the gun, the keen young hand to thrust,

Do not let the young glance waver, or the good steel barrel rust;

Let them play the game like soldiers, let them scout the lucerne field,

With the rifle at the shoulder, and their honour for their shield;

Let the lassies bind a token in the sun-kissed mountain glades,

For the bravery of ladies and the purity of maids!

 

...........

 

Would the man who swings a leg across the sweating outlaw's back

Swerve aside before the Maxim that is mouthing in the track?

The stuff is there – then train it – put the means within the hand,

Fate has given you a treasure to be guarded in your land!

Oh! the fair-maid country calls you, as she couches in the sun,

That you keep her honour stainless with the power of your gun!

 

                                              Next Poem by Mabel Forrest

 



[1] An old northern England and Scottish word, broadly meaning ‘raiding’.

[2] Archaic word meaning ‘suffer’

 

READY MADES

 

All day she works at the sewing machine, in the factory opposite,

Where the staring blindless windows gape in the glow of the summer light,

And all day long comes the clang and whirr, from the dusty, sun-flecked room,

Cothing Factory, Caxton St, Brisbane, 1910, SLQ image

Looking on to a narrow city lane, where the tall black chimneys loom;

Her pale face bending above her work, thin hands on the fabric laid,

From morning bell to the closing bell, she toils at the "ready made".

A sparrow hopping athwart the sill, glances in at the long bare room,

And it brings a breath from the city parks, where the jacarandas bloom;

Up from the street, on the other side, comes the lilt of a passing band,

But her eyes are fixed on the level seams that slide from beneath her hand.

In the drag of the sultry days she works her treadmill from morn to night,

Behind the blindless window panes, in the factory opposite.

And what does she think of?  Sitting there, hour by hour, in the beat and whirr,

Ah! What are the thoughts of happier days that rise up and laugh with her?

 

She sees the line of the pale blue hills, and the river like sheeted glass[1],

Hears the cattle tramp to the branding yards, all over the tussac grass,

And she sees the hare bells about the plain, and the windmill on the rise,

The long green sweep of the tasselled corn, that is grateful to aching eyes;

She sees the sheep in wool-shed pens, and the myalls along the ridge,

And she hears the swish of the brown flood tides race under the swinging bridge;

And she sees the gate by the ruined yard, where young love and laughter met,

While the night wind scattered the honey sweets of the unseen mignonette;

She sees the jasmine's petalled stars, and the buds of the ti-tree flower,

And she rocks afloat in the cedar boat, for one still delicious hour;

She sees the skies that are far and clear as the eyes of a dreamer's dream,

All the while that her prodding needle pricks on over the hard white seam;

And the thoughts of days that are dead for aye, rise up and laugh with her,

As she works the treadle at "ready mades," in the thunder and the whirr!

 

                                                                Next poem by Mabel Forrest

 

 

 



[1] Alpha Centauri, (1909) has 'grass' here, but it's an obvious typographical error.

 

 

THE BIG 'ROOS' FEEDING GROUND

 

In the heart of the timbered country, where the boles of the trees show white,

 
Pet Kangaroos, Central QLd, 1895, (SLQ Image)

Where long leaves flicker above the grass in the hush of a moonless night,

Where the Vandyke grass grows rank and lush, and the sweetest herbs are found,

Lies the grassy sweep of the promised land, and the big 'roos'* feeding ground.

 

They steal thro' the red-gum ranges and they fly past the splitters' camp, 

They spring down by the shallow crossing, and they circle the quaking swamp

And they stand for a moment, front paws raised, bright brown eyes glancing round

Then off again, with a thudding tail, go the 'roos to their feeding ground.

 

And the men from the survey hear them, as they beat past the low white tent,

And the pigeons wake the iron bark, where they great dark boughs are bent;

And ere the peak of the topmost hill, by the eye of the dawn is found, 

They will take their fill of the grass and shrub in the big 'roos' feeding ground.

                                                                                        Next poem by Mabel Forrest

 

*Roos – Kangaroos