Saturday, January 29, 2022


I have previously published a number of the less well known poems of Australia’s best known and loved bush poets, Banjo Patterson and Henry Lawson.

Here is another by Henry Lawson, To an Old Mate, published in 1896 in In the Days When the World Was Wide and Other Verses.

Henry Lawson

In the Days When the World Was Wide and Other Verses (1896) was the first collection of poems by Henry Lawson. It was released in 1896, and features To An Old Mate as the first poem, serving as an introduction and dedication.  

The anthology contains a drawing by Frank Mahony humping the track with his bluey:

Mateship has always been a strong element of the Australian psyche, culture and ethos, although its existence is disputed by some. It has been explained as having evolved from the convict days when men stuck together against authority, developed on the goldfields and forged further at Gallipoli and other battlefields. It has been described as being more than just friendship, that it includes bonds of loyalty, equality, solidarity and fraternity.

Ned Kelly, escaping from the siege at Glenrowan to warn off supporters, then returned to the standoff of the three members of his gang and the police. Those three died, Kelly was badly wounded and arrested. Asked why he had returned when he had gotten away, he responded “A man would have to be a dingo to run out on his mates.”

Those wishing to look further into the topic of mateship and the writings of Henry Lawson should read an article by Deborah Scheidt (yes, I agree, unfortunate author name for a scholarly article) entitled "Mateship and egalitarianism in Henry Lawson's short stories".  It can be read at:

The abstract at the beginning of that article reads:
Mateship is an important element of the so-called “Australian Tradition” in literature. It consists of a particular bond between men who travel the rural areas known as “the bush” or “the outback”. This article examines some of Henry Lawson’s mateship stories, with a focus on the different connotations that the term can assume for the author, especially regarding the theme of egalitarianism. It considers how the Bulletin Magazine, which “discovered” Lawson and published many of his stories, had a role in fostering a special model of Australian democracy and a peculiar style for Australian literature. It also reflects on how the dissemination of Lawson’s stories through periodicals in the last decades of the 19th century helped create a feeling of what Benedict Anderson calls “nation-ness”

The poem:

To An Old Mate

    - Henry Lawson

Old Mate! In the gusty old weather,
When our hopes and our troubles were new,
In the years spent in wearing out leather,
I found you unselfish and true —
I have gathered these verses together
For the sake of our friendship and you.

You may think for awhile, and with reason,
Though still with a kindly regret,
That I've left it full late in the season
To prove I remember you yet;
But you'll never judge me by their treason
Who profit by friends — and forget.

I remember, Old Man, I remember —
The tracks that we followed are clear —
The jovial last nights of December,
The solemn first days of the year,
Long tramps through the clearings and timber,
Short partings on platform and pier.

I can still feel the spirit that bore us,
And often the old stars will shine —
I remember the last spree in chorus
For the sake of that other Lang Syne,
When the tracks lay divided before us,
Your path through the future and mine.

Through the frost-wind that cut like whip-lashes,
Through the ever-blind haze of the drought —
And in fancy at times by the flashes
Of light in the darkness of doubt —
I have followed the tent poles and ashes
Of camps that we moved further out.

You will find in these pages a trace of
That side of our past which was bright,
And recognise sometimes the face of
A friend who has dropped out of sight —
I send them along in the place of
The letters I promised to write.

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